NEW YORK Budokon, a workout program developed in 21st century America, blends the ancient mind-body practices of yoga and martial arts into a program that aims to reward followers with conditioning, mindful meditation and progressively colored karate-type belts.
"Budokon is a yoga, martial arts and meditation trifecta," said Mimi Rieger, who teaches the not-so-ancient practice in gyms, studios and workshops in the Washington, DC area.
An instructor in the 3,000-year-old practice of yoga since 2003, Rieger, founder of Pure Fitness DC, is one of approximately 400 teachers worldwide who are trained in Budokon, which did not exist before 2002.
Although mainly done in the United States, Rieger said she will teach Budokon in Turkey, Denmark and Sweden next year and workshops are also scheduled in London, Germany, Korea and Japan.
She says the hybrid offers the student an intense, full-body workout as it blends the integrity of the martial arts movement with the fluidity of yoga.
"It's like a beautiful symphony of the two," said Rieger, who is among the first women to get a brown belt in the Budokon sequence of six belts: white, red, blue, purple, brown and black.
Budokon, which is Japanese for "the way of the warrior spirit," began in 2000 as the brainchild of Cameron Shayne, a martial arts expert and yoga enthusiast originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, looking to solve a dilemma faced in his own practice.
"Through martial arts I experienced meditation; both yoga and martial arts share self-reflection, but both suffered from the same disease of being stripped down to a westernized workout," said Shayne, founder of Budokon University in Miami, Florida.
A typical Budokon session begins with 20 minutes of yoga sun salutations to, as Shayne says, "lighten and open the body," followed by a martial arts segment of explosive, dance-like movement. The end is a guided meditation.
"There is no breath count; we don't stop," said Shayne, who describes the movements as snakelike. Observers will note echoes of Tai Chi.
"Modern yoga can be very angular. Our primary series is a circular, continuous transition practice," he explained.
Adam Sedlack, senior vice president of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Gym, a national chain of family fitness centers specializing in mixed martial arts training, believes the novice should begin with a specific practice before tackling hybrids like Budokon.
"It's more efficient to take a karate class, then a yoga class, and then a tai chi class than it is to combine them," Sedlack said, "so the individual can focus on individual skill sets. The beautiful thing about mixed martial arts is that you're learning a skill while you're working out and burning calories."
He notes that martial arts is as much about the confidence of walking down the street with your head up high as it is about learning to kick and hit.
Richard Cotton, of the American College of Sports Medicine, said Budokon can offer a challenging change for people with more advanced levels of fitness.
"If you're a yoga or tai chi purist, it (Budokon) is not that, but it is variety, and variety is rarely a problem," he said.
He points out that one needn't do Budokon, or yoga or Pilates to have a so-called mind-body experience.
"Running strength training, and certainly golf, can be a mind-body experience if you're staying in touch with your body," he said. "You can have a mind-body walk."
A few years ago Shayne began offering a separate Budokon yoga practice because some people found the martial arts aspect of his practice intimidating or confrontational.
"It became a necessity to give that audience what it was asking for," he explained.
People either love Budokon, he added, or they hate it and that's fine with him.
"I don't need a million people doing Budokon. I don't need someone who walks into class looking for a quick fix," he said. "I need people who feel it as an art."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Andrew Hay)