Violin and Martial Art

July 12, 2008 at 10:12 PM · What are some of the things in common for both violin and martial arts? I find it a bit unusual that alot of violinist also are martial artist (myself included!!). I was watching some youtube video and found that some violinist also has video of themselves doing karate/taekwondo. It is actually quite dangerous for a violinist to practice martial arts where there is definately a risks of injuries to the hand. (I've gotten injuries of my right wrist while practicing wrist locks!). Thoughs?

Are you a martial artist as well? Chime in?

Replies (46)

July 12, 2008 at 10:22 PM · Martial arts will definitely get you injured. Carefully study the following exchange:

"I know karate."

"Yeah? I know Smith & Wesson."

July 13, 2008 at 01:57 AM · Yes there are risks to your hands so you must be very careful with what you choose for breaking during testing or demonstrations.

I always planned ahead when I used my hands for breaking by using the hitting post on a regular basis and tons of finger tip as well as wrist push ups.It took me literally years to build up to breaking bricks and concrete.As with the violin,technique is so extremely important,not just callousing body parts!

July 13, 2008 at 01:58 AM · Hi, I practiced karate during 3 yearsor maybe more, and i realice than i can't play the violin doing karate. So focus on the violin and do another physical activity like i do. I run 3 times per week in the mornings and that is enoughly good. Cheers :) !!

July 13, 2008 at 11:28 AM · Well, if I bashed someone over the head with my not so dainty Chinese violin would that count?


July 13, 2008 at 11:44 AM · PM,did you warm up your wrists before practising the wrist locks?As part of an hour class,the warm up was usually fifteen minutes in length.The HapKiDo techniques involved wrist and arm locks and I remember well how painful that could be.As I've posted previously,martial arts helped my violin playing enormously and I truly miss it.The awareness of body mechanics and musculature was (and is)invaluable and I highly recommend it for musicians...

July 13, 2008 at 11:46 AM · Well back to the original poster's question of what is in common:

I've been interested in martial arts on and off over the years, studied some Krav Maga lately. I was really afraid of the hands at first, but then realized that generally there isn't too much risk, and it even strengthens you against injury after some time and you don't feel any pain at all (re wrist locks etc). As long as you warn your partner to be careful it should be ok.

Anyway I think it's related to violin playing because it's an activity that requires fine motor skills of the body, including the arms and hands. Somehow that just seems to appeal to us I guess. Isaac Stern once said to Muhammed Ali that they both make art with their hands.

Also maybe the sadist inside us wants to destroy something with our hands after we spend all day practising "creating" something with them.

Other than that, violinists naturally have good co-ordination and motor skills, as well as above average strength in their arms, and I guess that makes learning a martial art easier.

So who else does something here?

July 13, 2008 at 12:10 PM · Sorry to get off topic Larry.PM made a comment about a wrist injury so I offered advice.Pardon me...

I didn't practise it "on and off" but three nights a week for thirteen years straight.

Anyone else have similar experiences?

July 13, 2008 at 12:18 PM · My daughter who is 8 does both violin and karate. She started both of them around the same time, when she was 6. She's moved up regularly through the junior belts (white, yellow, orange, purple, blue) and is now a junior blue belt.

For a while she was making better progress with karate than violin, and I think it was because she had a better relationship with her sensei than her violin teacher. Her sensei does some of the same "respect" routines that remind me a bit of Suzuki violin: he makes them bow to the sensei, to their parents, and to each other. He has them recite a class creed ("I will develop myself in a positive manner . . . "). He exhorts them to practice at home and has at times kept tabs on their homework sheets. They have demonstration teams and tournament teams for performance.

The difference seemed to be that he did it with underlying humor and a sense of fun, and her violin teacher did not. Her violin teacher was all business, and took everything very seriously. Also, he doesn't require demonstrations or tournaments of everyone. She doesn't want to compete and that's okay with him, there are plenty of others who do want to. The kids who want to just work on making steady progress and rising through the belt ranks aren't treated like second-class citizens or pressured to do more. Whereas in violin, her teacher kept holding out performance as a carrot or a reward and she viewed it as a stick. "Do I haaave to?"

Then she did the string program in school last year and the parts that worked for her were similar to what worked for her in karate: when the teacher used humor and fun to teach the rules and the discipline, when there was a little gentle peer competition (but not too much), when there were reasonable, achievable expectations and goals without too much pressure to perform.

As she gets older she seems more interested in the performance aspect of both activities, and is now starting to have the maturity to handle it, at least a little bit.

July 13, 2008 at 12:49 PM · I enjoy playing instruments as well as Okinawan GoJu Ryu Karate.

Practicing on the violin and performing Katas are a lot alike. You can spend years doing them and there is always room to make it better.

Perhaps one day, I will be able to smash bricks by playing the violin, and karate my way to Carnegie Hall.

: D

July 13, 2008 at 01:17 PM · I admire you Karen for letting your daughter practise both arts.It sounds like a very good Karate School.You're so right about the katas Jahriel.I always found the patterns similar to forms in music thus making it easier to memorize both.

July 13, 2008 at 04:06 PM · Interesting indeed! Yeah, i know that proper warm up is key. The thing is we mostly do kicks and some punches, rarely we practice self defense jujitsu (only on sundays and once in a blue moon on regular training days), but when they do, and if your partner is not seasoned and just jerked the movement, it hurts.

I also fell on my shoulder once without properly breaking my fall, and now my shoulder feels weird when I raise it at a certain angle, I sometimes feel it when I play n the G string...

July 13, 2008 at 05:42 PM · I hear you PM.Be careful!!!

July 13, 2008 at 07:38 PM · PM: I think they share one characteristic. To excel at either you need to have extraordinary concentration. In many forms of martial arts there is a relaxation or centered balance and mental calm that is critical for success as well. Same in violin in my opinion.

July 13, 2008 at 10:30 PM · Greetings,

Midori has a black belt in karate although a black belt doen`t carry the same overtones of huge almost supernatural fighting ability in Japanese. Indeedd I know black belt knedoka who are only 8 yeras old. Could be brown, the restriction on judo is age fourteen for shodan.

On the whole i think trhey are a real plus. One should just exercise caution about what kind. perosnally I would avoid ones that involve posisble injury to shoulder which tends to prelucde Aikido. I have practiced that extensivley. Wrist lock are a litlte less worrying as long as you warm up properly a sPeter sdaid.

Benifits: friends outside the music world, conditioning, calm, body awreness, stamina, circulation, patience, maturity, possibly enhanced spirituality, self control and you can kick the crap out of a conducter;)

A good choice is T`ai Chi Chuan although anyone who is udner ther impresison that doesn`t involve high speed combat and weapons may well learn otherwise at some point. Taught properly te roughly ten minute kata (depending on style) is one of the most gruelling workouts invented by man. Injuries in this style- very rare.



July 13, 2008 at 10:40 PM · Shinichi Suzuki was a ninja.

July 13, 2008 at 10:51 PM · hmmm...If you have to get rid of your old violins I think Karate would be very helpful! :)

July 14, 2008 at 07:25 AM · Karen, I used to teach Irish stepdancing and found the same thing to be true with the kids and stepdancing, the kids responded the most to humor but also to challenge.

As to performance, I found that if the kids felt like they knew their steps backwards and forwards, and they felt confident they were not going to embarrass themselves on stage, once they heard that applause, getting them to STOP performing was sometimes the most difficult part! :)

Interestingly, I took up skiing at the same time I took up Irish stepdancing. Eventually, I stopped skiing for the same reasons as not practicing a martial art at the same time as playing an instrument: I felt the likelihood of sustaining an injury while skiing was too high while I was still competing as a dancer.

July 14, 2008 at 11:11 AM · Zina, that's definitely the way *some* kids respond, but there are more performance-phobic kids around than a lot of adults think. They tend to self-select and drop out of activities and then the adults don't see them and don't think they exist. It's hard to be the parent of a kid like this, exactly for that reason.

July 14, 2008 at 01:23 PM · Another similarity I discovered was how ,after many years training in the martial arts,your body becomes an "instrument" of sorts and can be used to make up new moves and techniques of your very own.It is similar to Baroque or Jazz improvisation.

Also ,like any traditionally taught art,you have to keep resorting back to foundation moves and continually review the most basic techniques.We used to start black belt class with white belt patterns with the idea in mind that you are never done improving even with the most rudimentary concepts.In contrast,the lack of ego and deeply ingrained modesty inside the dojang was a stark contrast to my professional world of "artistes" and "personalities".It was refreshing to leave that behind for a few hours when I was working out.

As some of you know out there,the five tenants of TaeKwonDo are courtesy,modesty,perseverance,self control and indominatble spirit.People in the music business should take these to heart!

July 14, 2008 at 04:09 PM · I have been a "lurker" for the past several months, and this subject finally inspired me to register.

I began studying martial arts 4 years ago, and am a first degree black belt in San Sai Ryu karate (this style is based on American Kenpo). I played french horn and guitar when a teenager and young adult; only began taking violin lessons 2 years ago, and recently was promoted to Suzuki book 4. I've been interested in both karate and violin since I was a little girl, but waited until my 40's to begin learning them.

It's interesting to find out I'm not the only one who sees similarities between martial arts and the violin. When playing my violin, there's something about the motion of bowing that reminds me of the fluid movements in tai chi. There's also an "ebb and flow" feeling in bowing that is similar to a sparring strategy my sensei calls "water", which involves fading back to avoid your opponent's punch and then smoothly springing forward with your own counter-punch as the opponent steps away from you, much like an ocean wave pulls away from and then crashes over the beach.

I, too, am concerned about damaging my hands during karate training, but in 4 years I've never done so. (I have gotten a broken nose and a broken toe and numerous bruises on my shins and forearms, though!) There are ways to protect yourself during class so that other body parts (instead of your hands) bear the brunt of abuse.

July 14, 2008 at 05:33 PM · You were probably told many times Glenda to keep your thumbs tucked in tight which I always forgot.I always used forearm blocks in sparring and I remember being barely able to hold my bow the next day.

July 14, 2008 at 05:59 PM · Yes, I do keep my thumbs (and my elbows) tucked. But I'm a lot smaller than most of the other adult students (5'1" and 110 lbs) and due to the difference in "reach" between me and my opponents, I tend to kick way more often than I punch. If I'm able to get close enough without being clobbered myself, I'll throw in a few punches for good measure. But overall, a side effect of being short and having small hands is that my legs and feet are way more useful weapons while practicing karate, thereby saving my hands for making music with the violin!

On another note, I was talking to a guy that runs one of our local violin shops, and when I mentioned that I had played french horn before starting violin, he exclaimed, "I can't tell you how many musicians have told me the very same thing! I wonder what it is about horns and violins that appeal to the same people?" Have any of you on the forum noticed such a pattern?

July 14, 2008 at 07:20 PM · Glenda, my community orchestra conductor is a professional french horn player and he used to play the violin as well.:)

Re: smaller people in sparring, I'm on the small side as well, and i kick ALOT more than punching. There are alot of boxers that also train my studio which makes it difficult. THey know that I'm really afraid of punching and in close fights, they always try to get in close with me which scares the crap out of me.

July 14, 2008 at 08:07 PM · I'm playing violin for only 5 years now, but practice Tai Chi for more, and recently started Krav Maga. I find that the thing in common (at least with taichi, kravmaga I dont know) is awareness of the body. Maybe that's why I saw Yehudi Menuhin doing a taichi style leg-lift in a video on the net..... I think he was practising yoga for enhanced awareness and concentration, maybe taichi for the same reason.

As for physical injury, I find it useful to learn to punch with the palm, instead of the fist. That spares the basal joints. The only disadvantage is that you're a bit shorter on the arm. Of course this is probably more possible in eclectic, and not traditional styles, like krav maga, where the students are encouraged to use whatever technique they know..

cheers, Krisztian

July 14, 2008 at 09:41 PM · I've found that if taught properly how to punch, one won't hurt one's hand(s).

That being said, I've practiced a complete Shaolin art for over 25 years without any decay in my violin and piano playing (this is both hard and soft/internal styles). If anything, it provided me with the physical stamina to get through some of the longer pieces and the self-discipline to keep working, even when progress seemed to take years.

If you are damaging your hand(s) in your Kwoon, hall or DoJo, get corrections from your instructor. If he or she is damaging her hands, go to another school.

A bright soul once commented that the ability to toughen the hands and arms into meaty bludgeons does not go far in bettering the hands that are supple and nimble engough to build electronic time delay fuses....

July 14, 2008 at 10:14 PM · Greetings,

Peter , your comment about black belts practicing white belt kata as a no ego thing remninded me of one of one of the principles behind the older generation of karate teacher sthinking. They never bought new blak belts but let the old one get so worn that it returned to the original color (not) of white. It always goes full circle.



July 15, 2008 at 12:37 AM · Well said Buri! I always enjoyed the symbolism of the uniforms.In our school,my Assistant Instructor uniform was all white with a small black diamond pattern running throughout it.It means you are at the "guppy" stage of being a Master.

When you reach Master level(at least 4th dan)you receive a black coat BUT with a small white thread running throughout it meaning you may be a high level but you are just a beginner again.

Grandmasters (7th dan)wear the black uniform but choose any personal color they want for the lapels,signifying they have attained a certain level of individuality and an enormous amount of experience(but they still have white somewhere on the uniform!)

July 15, 2008 at 05:31 AM · I think there is more cross over between violin playing and the marital arts. I mean, after I've been drinking I think that. Or thought it. Once.

July 15, 2008 at 06:00 AM · I used to be able to break a bottle with a whip crack. I probably still could if I tried. Does that count as martial art?

July 15, 2008 at 06:34 AM · I too have studied martial arts, becoming a Master in San Soo before I even took up violin, though I did continue to play guitar throughout my training. I only had the occasional broken thumb to worry about (not to mention the broken tooth).

I'm surprised no one has noted the similarity between finger position (intonation) and the conditioned-responses learned in martial arts movements; the body becomes aware of things like position and balance without concious thought.

Discipline and dedication; like any art, you get out out it what you put into it, and when you achieve competence you know you've earned it yourself.

July 15, 2008 at 12:30 PM · How many years did it take you David to achieve Master level?Are you an instructor with a school?

Good point about discipline and dedication.Its unrelenting work...kind of like raising kids!

July 15, 2008 at 02:07 PM · Buri,

your comments remind me of something in my own experience. Generally, in Shaolin martial arts, when a student becomes proficient at forms, hand to hand fighting and has undertaken the early internal forms, they are placed back at the beginning. this usually happens around the 5th year or so of studies. The student then goes through the exact same excercises with the "novices" until they work through to the level they left off and then continue. this happens again at later stages. In many ways this teaches "temperance." In my school they say there are three kinds of students: The ones that don't last a week, the ones that only last 2-5 years and those that stay.

In my Jesuit education there was another type of temperance which built self-discipline and supressed the ego (or, pride as many might call it). If a student had 4.0 in each of their courses, the Jesuit fathers teaching them would draw lots as to which would give the student a 3.9 or 3.8. In my own university, only 6 people ever graduated with straight 4.0's in the institution's 125+ year history. I was lucky enough to meet one. He is currently a professor at Harvard and the best orator I've ever seen or heard.

July 15, 2008 at 08:40 PM · Peter,

I studied from 1984 through 2005 with a year or so off here and there for some major illness, so, Master can be reached in less time. I mostly trained twice a week with periods when I went up to 4 times a week. I think 2-3 a week is optimum. More than that & you don't have time to assimilate each lesson.

I taught officially up through 5th degree at my instructors studio in So. Calif. I also did some time as "Mr. Karate" at a popular daycamp near Irvine. Since moving to Washington state several years ago Ive been mostly inactive except for the occaisional teaching of situational awareness & simple get-away moves to some friends and neighbors.

July 15, 2008 at 10:44 PM · Bravo David! You put in a long "haul".I started in 1986 through to 1999.I had to quit when I dislocated my knee during testing for Assistant 4th Dan and its never been the same since.I would like to get back into martial arts and maybe try Judo and save whats left of my knee ligaments.Do you think Judo would be the answer?

July 15, 2008 at 11:21 PM · Greetings,

sorry to but in, but that would be one of the worst possible choices.;) Judo is notorious fro being extremely dangerus for the knees because one puts the body into ratehr contorted psoitions while trhowing.

I would recoomned real Tai Chi Chuan IE with a teacher who knows taht it is a hard core martial art as well as a healing art fr old people.

The first slow kata you learn is the basis for all that follows in weapons, sparring (as opposed to push hands) and the like. The initial demands it makes on the legs can be as huge or as little as you like and will always be under control. At my school in Britain which was headed by the last disciple of Chen Man Ching we often had interested practitioners form otehr styles of very high level (4th dan plus) come and try out what they thought would be an easy exercise. They were ratehr shocked;)

I think what confuses people about Tai Chi Chuan as fighting art is that for the firts thre eyears one is not apparenlty doign anything that would help in a fight. Then you get in a fight and realise what you have been learning without knowing it.

Its actually soemwaht similar to Aikido except the circles are much smaller. I decided to atke a yeras Aikido before I cam e to Japan as a kind of preperation. I discoverd to my dismay a small but crucial difference. In Aikido one learns to let go of fear and the ego by being thrown. In Tai CHi Chuan one learns through pushing hands to let the beginning of a throw happen and use that to provide an openign in which one counterattacks and your opponent loses becuase they are vulnerable at that point. Thus unintentionally I was often unable to practice Aikido without counterattackign and neutralizing my opponent which made me rtaher unpopular. And it wan`t a conscious thing done in the wrong spiirit. Tai CHi Chuan trains one to operate at such an unconscious level one is unaware of what one has done or how one has reacted after the event.



July 16, 2008 at 12:01 AM · Well written Buri and points taken!! Thank you...

July 16, 2008 at 12:56 AM · Peter, i have not taken judos, but we practice some judo throws and take downs in my club. I would not recommend it either....

July 16, 2008 at 01:28 AM · Thank you PM...

July 16, 2008 at 07:44 AM · Buri, your input is always welcome, as is that of others! One of the things I like about this place is even though we don't always agree there seems to be a higher level of thought involved than many (most?)other sites.

Peter, I agree about the judo, and the Tai Chi. I might also suggest looking into Kung Fu San Soo as it's sparring is done in a controlled manner. There are always techniques that CANNOT be practiced that way; the trick is to recognize them. This is where your own experience and a good instructor come in. As in violin playing, control is critical. There is a natural hierarchy in martial arts: First,accuracy, only then speed, and when these two are in place you can work on developing more power. I think it is quite the same in music.

A last thought; there are many techniques you could still do even with a bad knee, so don't give up on the idea of continuing-but be smart about it.

July 16, 2008 at 12:08 PM · Sage advice David and I kindly thank you for your input!You're right about the last point.I just have to be smart about what I can and can't do(i.e jumping kicks)

Another similarity I enjoyed between music and martial arts was the "group activity" concept where the entire class is performing the same patterns or kicks.It was akin to a "martial arts orchestra" playing in unison.

Many classes were in a musical "masterclass" set up where a student would "perform" a pattern or self defense technique in front of the class,receive constructive crticism from the instructor and then we were all required to try the technique we had just observed.

July 18, 2008 at 12:14 PM · Adding to your point David,I studied with Lorand Fenyves back in '85.His philosophy was not "practise makes perfect" but you perfect a technique and then reinforce it with practising.These little "kernels"of knowledge from this man saved me so many thousands of hours of 'fruitless',unproductive practising.

July 18, 2008 at 01:10 PM · During the Hapkido training that I did I was told that a technique needed to be repeated at least 700 times before it could be considered "learnt". I'm somewhat fascinated at the moment by the notion of unlearning, and how long that takes, as applied to both martial arts (switching to another style where things are done differently) and viola playing where I might want to change fingerings on difficult passages to find better solutions.

July 18, 2008 at 02:12 PM · Good point Nigel.About six years ago I tried out an introductory lesson at a Judo club which was just a block away from our house.After all the years learning HapKiDo I had a very difficult time doing Judo technique since I was "hardwired" with HapKiDo.Needless to say,I didn't sign up for any Judo classes (good thing after the points raised on this thread!)

I can relate to you about fingering changes.I am trying to learn the viola and with the size differential combined with a foreign clef ,its proving a daunting task.

July 18, 2008 at 05:37 PM · Ohhh! And here all along I thought you were talking about the "marital arts."

Actually, I took Karate lessons very briefly when I was young, and although I didn't get more than a couple of months of it, I have to say that it was beneficial. Whether that translates to the violin, I guess some of the comments here make sense (concentration, coordination, etc.).

But the major problem I see with taking both Karate and violin lessons is that you have to be careful not to get them confused.

Some pieces written for black-belt violinists include:

Bartok: "Cracking the Wooden Prince in Half."

Choppin' Mazurkas.

Sarasate: "Caprice Bash."

Paganini: "24 Car Pieces."

Stravinsky: "Punchinella."

And who was it who wrote, "I get a kick out of you"?

:) Sandy

July 18, 2008 at 08:40 PM · We had a piece written for us once where I was required to play viola, put it down and do a brief choreographed combat scene employing martial arts techniques, then go back and do more viola playing. It was a chamber music/music theatre piece. I don't remember the title but there was meant to be a giant puffer fish floating across the auditorium, but that idea proved too difficult to realize; the composer went to a local place to get balloon filled up with helium, and it popped on filling - a costly idea.

July 19, 2008 at 04:25 AM · truly art is evolving...

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