Strength From Korean Martial Art Kuk Sool Won

Posted: December 17, 2013 by kirisyko in Crossfit, Fitness and Training, SykOtic
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Michael Dart, left, practices Kuk Sool Won with Sung Jin Suh. Laura Morton for The Wall Street Journal

When Michael Dart isn’t helping take retail companies private, the 52-year-old private-equity consultant is training for his fourth-degree black belt in a form of Korean martial arts called Kuk Sool Won.

Mr. Dart took up Kuk Sool Won 22 years ago after stumbling upon a dojang, or training center, in his San Francisco neighborhood. “I fell in love with the great combination of physical activity and the Zen side of martial arts, which is meditative and much more self-defense-oriented than aggressive,” Mr. Dart says.

He’s been training with the same master, Sung Jin Suh, ever since. Despite a demanding work schedule that requires a lot of travel, Mr. Dart balances that rigorous regimen with other workouts to stay in fighting shape: CrossFit, Bikram yoga and Korean kickboxing.

The Basics of Kuk Sool Won

Kuk Sool Won is a Korean form of martial arts founded by In-hyuk Suh in 1961. His son, Sung Jin Suh, is Michael Dart’s instructor.

According to his son, In-hyuk Suh traveled the country reading ancient documents and meeting with locals to create Kuk Sool, which incorporates the techniques he came across.

Kuk Sool revolves around self-defense, Mr. Suh says. In a single class, students will practice kicking, body throws, hand-striking and other techniques. They may also incorporate weapons, such as swords, canes and spears, he says.

Compared with other forms of martial arts, Kuk Sool is known for being more fluid. Other forms of martial arts can be very rigid or linear, says Richard Roper, a seventh-degree black belt who runs a Kuk Sool Won school in Kingwood, Texas. In Kuk Sool Won, for instance, students can move in circles instead of sticking to linear movements, he says.

Kuk Sool students are also taught techniques inspired by real and imaginary animals that can be used in self-defense, including the praying mantis and dragon.

In a dragon stance, the left foot goes behind the right foot. The left hand then covers the right side of the face and the right hand moves next to the right waist. A practitioner of Kuk Sool would use this stance when being attacked from the side, then turn left or right to attack, Mr. Suh says.

Kuk Sool also places a strong emphasis on meditation, breathing and healing exercises, including the use of acupuncture and herbal medicine.

Mr. Dart, who heads the private equity and strategy practice for management consulting firm Kurt Salmon in San Francisco, conducts due diligence on retail and consumer companies for private-equity firms considering acquisitions. When in the middle of a deal, he travels and spends long hours meeting with companies and their boards. Mr. Dart also is in the process of co-authoring his second book about the business of retail.

Kuk Sool centers on combining intricate movements, called forms, and self-defense. It also incorporates meditation and breathing-control techniques. It has been a major part of his life for years.

For Mr. Dart, exercise, work and family are a meticulously calculated juggling act. He times his workouts for when members of his family are sleeping or getting ready for school. He gets back home in time to drive his children, an 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, to school and gets to the office by 8:30 a.m. “In the evening I try to make sure that I have family time,” he says. On days he isn’t traveling, the family eats dinner together. On the weekends, he also works out and writes early to have down time with his wife and kids, he says.

Mr. Dart says the techniques he has learned in Kuk Sool have helped him at work. “It keeps me grounded and calm and has made me much more centered in working with other people,” he says.

Mr. Dart does strength training. Laura Morton for The Wall Street Journal

The Workout

Mr. Dart typically works out at 6 a.m. Twice a week, he will do a morning Kuk Sool class for about an hour. When Mr. Suh is in town, Mr. Dart often does four personal sessions a week with him. A Kuk Sool class incorporates a mix of techniques where he practices strikes, identifying pressure points that could disarm an attacker and even throwing opponents. The class later focuses on doing forms, which are aerobic and anaerobic, and might include using a weapon, such as a sword, or empty hands. Mr. Dart does push-ups between forms. He does kicking exercises the last 10 minutes of the class.

On days he doesn’t do Kuk Sool, he does Bikram yoga, kickboxing or CrossFit before work.

Mr. Dart got involved in yoga in part to become more flexible for Kuk Sool. He uses kickboxing and CrossFit to help him develop skills that aid him in Kuk Sool. “Kuk Sool is the root at which other things flow out of,” he says.

On the weekends, Mr. Dart allows himself to sleep a little later and go to a 7 a.m. class.

Kuk Sool Won black belt Michael Dart. Laura Morton for The Wall Street Journal

The Diet

Mr. Dart tries to avoid carbohydrates and unhealthy temptations, especially while on the road. “I use a modified South Beach diet,” he says.

For breakfast, Mr. Dart typically makes a shake with strawberries, bananas, yogurt and ice after his morning workout.

For lunch, he has a salad or a sandwich with a cup of soup. Dinner is usually a protein like chicken or fish with vegetables. He also tries to eat sushi regularly.

Mr. Dart says he sometimes goes off his diet to have a burger and fries or ice cream when out with his children. About once a week, he does a juice cleanse, drinking nothing but juice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Gear

For Kuk Sool, Mr. Dart wears a dobok, martial arts pants and training top with a belt, which cost $100 combined. Kuk Sool private lessons cost $100 each. The testing fee to reach a new belt level costs around $1,500, he says.

Mr. Dart has memberships for a CrossFit gym, a Bikram yoga studio and a Korean kickboxing gym. He says he spends around $1,000 each year on Bikram yoga, and around $600 a month for his CrossFit and kickboxing memberships combined, including personal training.

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