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Martial Arts and Music Practice: Artistry in Motion

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

by Cecilia Tan

At first glance, playing the violin or piano might not seem to have much in common with kicking and punching. Yet, the practice of music and martial arts such as tae kwon do have many similarities. Both ultimately lead to tremendous growth in brain, body, and spirit - and, both achieve these through similar means.

Studies of musicians and of martial artists have shown that both groups have faster reflexes and quicker reaction times than people who do not practice either. Both groups also show improved attention span and long-term memory. The reason that both are effective at improving our brainpower is likely due to the similarity in the way both are taught and practiced. Just a few of the benefits found in both music and martial arts include:

  • Better hand-eye coordination

  • Improved Reflexes

  • Better Dexterity

  • Ability to level up skills

  • Increased Self-confidence

When working with the right teacher's guidance in both music and martial arts, we learn to implement thoughtful repetition when we practice certain motions again and again. With the goal of achieving perfection, repeated practice builds up muscle memory, transfers skills into the realm of the automatic, and frees up the mind to concentrate on refinements like expression and artistry. The more regularly we practice, the more likely we are to achieve “flow state,” where everything in mind and body are working together in concert. This holds true whether one is in a music rehearsal or in a tae kwon do class.

In both music and the martial arts, we employ slow practice, where a tricky passage or difficult technique is done in slow motion. Sometimes it feels “easier” to speed through and let momentum carry us, but better results are reached through better control. Imagine doing two pushups - one slow, and one quick. Which is more challenging? Naturally, the slow - it gives you the opportunity (even if you don't want it!) to notice the transition of muscles and movement required, and learn how much room there is for precise control. Slow practice builds that control, and control leads to mastery of the tricky parts, eventually working up to high speeds!

In the martial arts, students begin as white belts and work their way up through a series of colored belts to black belt. In music, students begin with etudes and easy repertoire, eventually working up to more difficult pieces and concertos. This system of graduated difficulty charts a path up the mountain. Although some students may climb at different rates, everyone is able to participate in the journey, which is equally impressive, no matter the pace.

For both martial artists and musicians, many people consider the biggest challenge to be when the time comes to demonstrate our skills to others. Working through performance nerves to give a successful recital or to take the promotion test for the next belt ultimately leads to increased self-confidence, not just in music or martial arts, but in all areas of life.

Cumulatively, the benefits of both music and the martial arts are not only useful skills, but an incredibly powerful learning vessel as well. These acquired skills from both fields are easily applied into the academic classroom, the workplace, and beyond. Come try out a class and see!

This post was produced as part of a cross-collaboration between the Village Youth Conservatory and the Jae H. Kim Tae-Kwon-Do Institute in Cambridge.

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