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So You Wanna Try Budokon?

Tap your inner Karate Kid while building flexibility and calming the mind in this challenging new martial art.
Friday Feb 13, 2009.     By Maya Henderson
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Joseph Ensign doing an extended crowBudokon instructor Joseph Ensign doing an extended crow.

You won't find a workout like Budokon at many gyms in Chicago, because technically it doesn't belong at a gym. It's definitely not a group fitness class and it's much more than just yoga. Whether you're a busy business professional who can barely find time to get to the gym, let alone try something new like yoga, or a yoga-enthusiast looking for a more challenging, cardio workout, Budokon has something for you.

Created in 2000 by Cameron Shayne, Budokon combines meditation, yoga and martial arts moves for the ultimate mind-body fitness workout. Students develop physical alignment, strength, agility, endurance, control, balance and flow. It's popular on the West Coast thanks to celebs like David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Sean Penn and Olympic volleyball star Kerri Walsh, all of whom practice it to keep their bodies in peak physical shape. Budokon (which literally translates to Warrior (Bu), Way (Do), Spirit (Kan) in Japanese) is just making its way to the Midwest.

Oddly enough, of the two people trained in Budokon here (there are about 80 teachers worldwide), one just happens to be quite the local celebrity himself: Jesse Jackson Jr. Joseph Ensign, who teaches Jackson, is the only certified instructor in Chicago, and you can currently only hop into his classes at Equinox Fitness (he does teach one class a week at David Barton Gym).

The Skinny: There are currently two styles of Budokon available at Equinox. Budo-Flow, a slower paced, predominantly Tai Chi and yoga-based class, and classic Budokon, a more vigorous combination of strength building yoga moves and dynamic martial arts practices.

Every class begins with meditation to calm and ready the mind. Next, the yoga series begins to unfurl. Ensign flows through these poses as fast as most advanced classes go through the sun salutations. For example, instead of pushing back into downward dog from plank, students tuck the chin, activate the core and use the strength of the entire body to curve the back and end up in downward dog. Fifteen or 20 minutes into the class, unless you've had extensive yoga and martial arts training, the fatigue will start to set in. In my case, I can feel it deep within my thighs as I activate muscles to hold myself to transition from yoga pose to deep sumo squats to quick, yet controlled side kicks. My body has no idea what to expect, nor does my mind, but I'm intrigued and determined to go on.

Joseph Ensign doing a reverse downward dogJoseph Ensign does a reverse downward dog.
"Budokon challenges your body and mind to new movements and opens you up to new energy levels," says Ensign, a former dancer and Navy Seal who has done martial arts since he was a child. "When I took my first private lesson I was completely blown away. I could do the moves, but it really created this fatigue for my mind because I always had to think about what was coming up. I still haven't lost that. There are still many avenues to explore, new combinations of movements and it always challenges me."

Classes really do vary. Especially for the martial arts section, which uses moves from Capoeira, Jiu-Jitsu, Tae Kwon Do and Karate. You may go through a series of breakdance-like floor slides, holds and kicks or do more traditional punching combos with lunges. Anything goes in these 60-minute classes, but each session ends with shavasana, or corpse pose in yoga, when you simply relax the mind, quiet the breath and release the muscles and lay flat on your mat. You'll love letting go of all that tension and melting away the weekly stress.

The Get Up: Start off with yoga gear or what you'd wear to the gym. You'll be doing lots of kicks and moves on the floor, so stay away from loose-fitting pants or tops that can slow you down. Also, you'll spend the class barefoot, so leave the fancy running sneakers at home.

Wear and Tear: Because you're doing lots of squats, kicks and dynamic movements, it's important to be mindful of alignment, especially of the knees and ankles. Listen to Ensign's cues and don't be afraid to ask questions if you need help with movement.

Commitment: Budokon is a martial art, so while you're more than welcome to come and take classes continually as part of your Equinox gym membership, you can also get serious about the program, train with Ensign and work your way up to belt status. In fact, a few members of Equinox wear their white belts to the classes on Friday nights. There's also a yearly retreat with Cameron Shayne in Hawaii and plans for a Budokon academy here in Chicago.

The Cost: For now, if you want to practice Budokon on a regular basis, you'll have to join Equinox. The gym, which has 3 locations in the city (the 900 N. Michigan and Lincoln Park locations have the most classes), isn't ideal for those on a budget, but you'll get a ton of perks, like a nice, chic locker room loaded with amenities, a pool and access to all their other inventive group fitness classes.

Difficulty Level: No matter how you slice it, Budokon is a challenge, physically and mentally. Having a background in yoga or martial arts will definitely help, but it's more important to show up with an open mind and no expectations.

The Verdict: Like we said, Budokon is a challenge. Besides physical fatigue, you'll be challenged to find mental peace and to develop a humble outlook on your body. We can all run on a treadmill or do a jumping jack, but there's no denying the awkward feeling that may come during an unfamiliar pose or combination of movements. But the inner peace that comes after class, and the amazingly sculpted physique and strong core, are well worth the initial awkwardness.

Budokon classes are available throughout the week at Equinox Fitness in the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park. For more information about the philosophy, lifestyle and Cameron Shayne, visit


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