Why I Love Kung Fu: DJ Laidback Luke

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Photograph: Ruud Baan

The next time you’re tempted to complain about not having the time to fit in any exercise around your working day, consider the example of Laidback Luke. In between jetting around the world to DJ, he not only finds the time to regularly train in kung fu, but does so to a high enough standard to compete and win at world championships.

We spoke to the Dutch DJ about his love of the martial art and how it helps him keep in top physical and mental shape.

How did you get into kung fu?

I always did martial arts when I was a kid, mostly karate. But around the age of 14, puberty kicked in and I focused more on girls. I started making music as well, so I left the whole martial arts thing behind for ten years.

I wanted to get back into shape, but I didn’t want to just go to the gym and work on my muscles – as a kid doing karate I secretly wanted to do kung fu. I was working with this singer who said she knew a great kung fu school in the south of the Netherlands. I went to have a look and I never left.

When did you start getting more serious with it?

Seven years ago my teacher started to travel with me. I wasn’t doing kung fu that much and I wasn’t passionate about it. He told me if I took my kung fu to another level I would be able to deal with the schedules and stress that comes with being a DJ much better. I was always running up against burn-out and I noticed that the benefits of doing kung fu were immense.

So it helps you mentally as well as physically?

Absolutely. Coping with stress, coping with a lack of sleep and even handling my schedule. We use an old Shaolin method for that. It’s called “Looking through 13 windows”. If you have a day coming up with a very busy schedule you picture the day in advance. You go through every situation and scenario that could arise. Then whenever the day arrives – and it doesn’t even matter if it’s completely different than how you imagined – you already kind of went through it, so you’re much better able to handle it than coming in on a blank.

What other sports have you done in the past and what was it about kung fu that made it special?

I did a bit of MMA, a bit of Thai boxing, and as kid I had my karate roots. I feel that kung fu is the mother of all martial arts. All the martial arts stemming from the countries around China took a part of kung fu and made it their own martial art. Everything can be traced back to kung fu.

What’s the toughest thing about it?

It’s such a big system, you can easily compare it to a university degree. It’s so gigantic and being able to memorise it all and keep it memorised is very tough.

How would you recommend beginners get into it? You definitely need a teacher, right?

Absolutely. When you’re interested in kung fu it’s important to trace who is the teacher of the teacher, and the teacher of the teacher of the teacher, and even who was their teacher! We have a very prestigious lineage of masters and grand masters stemming from China who passed this system along.

It’s very important, because you can only become as good as your teacher. If your teacher is essentially crappy or just decided to teach because he thought he was good enough then you might end up being terribly disappointed after five or eight years. You’ll be stuck in a system that doesn’t do it for you.

I’ve been training with my teacher for 17 years and he’ll still give me something new every day. And he’s been training with our grand master for about 30 years now. It’s endless.

Have you ever fallen out of love with kung fu? What made you come back?

I did. I had a period of about five years when I would only train once a month. This was due to my international breakthrough as a DJ. I know the struggle of not being able to combine doing a sport to a high level with a career, because I was once there as well. Luckily my teacher showed me that it’s absolutely possible to do so and when it clicked with me I never let it go again.

Do you think you’ll ever give up DJing for kung fu, or vice versa?

There hasn’t been a DJ that’s really retired yet! Carl Cox announced it a couple of times but he’s still DJing. And our great grand masters in kung fu taught until they were 90. I want to do that, too. At a certain point it will become funny to see me behind the decks as a 60-year-old man, whereas in kung fu I’ll look cooler and cooler!

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.