In a brightly lit bar on the Norwegian Pearl cruise liner, a raucous scene was unfolding. As the ever-present thrum of muffled dance music mingled with the sounds of boisterous conversations and laughter, the vibe was certainly not Zen. But amidst the inebriated party-goers with bedazzled breasts and furry boots, Lucas Cornelis van Scheppingen (better known as Laidback Luke) moved through his martial arts routine with grace and serenity like a gently swaying palm tree in the middle of a hurricane. Completely unperturbed by the debauchery, he was warming up to teach a Kung Fu class to an eccentric assemblage of drunk ravers.
“The class was pretty chaotic,” Scheppingen says after the activation. “There was so much noise and lots of drunk people but it was lots of fun and I was just happy they wanted to participate. It was much more chaotic than classes I usually teach but I hope they left the class feeling revitalized.”
Clearly not a standard cruise, Groove Cruise is the original floating dance music festival that boasts a colorful lineup of electronic music legends and up-and-comers. Aside from the fact that it takes place on the ocean, what makes the festival truly unique is the opportunity for attendees to interact with the artists on the lineup through their activation series. One could partake in a blackjack tournament hosted by German DJ duo Cosmic Gate, show off their skills in a ping pong tournament with French House music hero Shiba San or play some beer pong with Aussie Trance DJ Factor B. In the case of Laidback Luke, attendees were able to test their might in a Kung Fu class taught by a black belt who also happens to be a world-renowned DJ performing later that night. An opportunity like that comes rarely, if at all.
As participants filed in shouting and slurring Mortal Kombat quotes, the vibe was light and silly. However, Scheppingen, who takes his Kung Fu practice very seriously, did not go easy on the hyped-up crowd of rowdy festival-goers. Beginning with a series of breathing exercises, the class got progressively harder as he got participants to do squats, pushups and jumping roundhouse kicks. Though the class was challenging and many people were sore for days after, there was no shortage of laughter and tomfoolery which is to be expected of a Kung Fu class on a floating rave.
For Scheppingen, however, Kung Fu is much more than a fun hobby—it’s a lifestyle. Studying karate for most of his youth, he quickly moved up the ranks and by the time he was 14, was on the verge of earning his black belt. Around the same time, electronic music was having its Renaissance and he became enamored with its infectious beats and colorful community. Just before he was meant to take his black belt exam, he quit karate to begin making music when he was still just a teenager.
Ten years passed and since that day he quit karate, he had found meteoric success in his musical career and was living the tumultuous life of a world-touring DJ. When he was not performing, he was in the studio producing music and living a mostly sedentary life. It was at this time that he realized he wanted to bring martial arts back into his routine. He has now been practicing Kung Fu for 18 years and has since incorporated it into his daily life, even while traveling.
“I discovered that it goes so much deeper than just motor skills,” he says. “It goes into mental health, it goes into growth and progression as a person. It’s been keeping me sane especially in this crazy DJ life, it keeps me down to earth, it keeps me being able to keep up and to keep calm. On tour, I do my Kung Fu practice as well and sometimes I’ll just sleep for four hours and set my alarm for an early Kung Fu training. Sometimes when I get up I just want to skip it, but I never let myself. When I stand up and start doing the breathing exercises, I’m ready to take it on and after I finish my practice, I’m revitalized and can tackle the day.”
While the DJ world certainly has its glamor, it is also an extremely taxing industry both physically and mentally. The traveling, the partying, the late nights and the constant pressure to perform and maintain that lifestyle can do serious harm to the psyche. The untimely passing of Swedish DJ superstar Avicii (née Tim Bergling) earlier this year is an unfortunate example of the damage a career as a world-renowned DJ can inflict. Since his death, the music industry has been under heavy scrutiny for the inhumane way Avicii was treated, which many people have speculated contributed to his demise.
Over the years, Scheppingen has become an advocate for mental health awareness. After being in the DJ industry for 25 years, he has seen it at its best and worst and has made it a priority to balance his health, career, and fatherhood. Kung Fu has played an integral role in him achieving that balance.
“What I recently learned is that I have my limits,” says Scheppingen. “It was only two weeks ago that I had a major anxiety attack and it was about a decade since I had my last one. That showed me that I need to have a day a week where I do absolutely nothing and not be on social media ‘cause I think social media is very much affecting a lot of people’s mental health. I feel like we need to keep on communicating about mental health and I always suggest that everyone, especially touring DJs, take up a practice like yoga or Kung Fu where you can just settle into yourself and get rid of all that anxiety.”
Though most of the Groove Cruise attendees are not living a life as hectic as that of a famous DJ, they are still partying heavily and have likely been doing so for a very long time. Taking a time out from the partying and copious amounts of alcohol to do Kung Fu undoubtedly made a positive impact on their weekend. Those who participated gave their bodies and minds a chance to move, breathe, and learn a new skill. Yoga and music festivals often go hand-in-hand for that very reason, but you don’t get to laugh, kick and bellow like Bruce Lee in a yoga class.
“This is my first Groove Cruise and I think it’s incredible such a great crowd,” he says. “It’s like one big happy rave family. What I love as well is that it’s an older crowd. These people have been partying a long time so I think the Kung Fu class was great for them. I am always down to teach and to share my passion with people.”
If taking a Kung Fu class with a famous DJ on a music festival cruise was not on your bucket list, it should be.