What’s your musical kung fu? 7 lessons for musicians from the martial arts

What’s your musical kung fu? 7 lessons for musicians from the martial arts

It is said that when two martial artists of different traditions fight, the winner does not prove the superiority of his martial art, but merely the superiority of his own kung fu, or fighting ability.

Similarly, when you are on stage, the audience doesn’t care what degrees you have, who you studied with, how many hours you practice a day, or even how good your chops are. Your audience wants to be moved. They want to feel a connection with you and with the music you are presenting. How well you do reflects your ‘musical kung fu’ – your ability to perform and convey the music behind the notes.

As it turns out, we musicians have much in common with martial artists. My own vocal and instrumental technique is full of lessons I learned in my years studying tai chi, not to mention the lessons I’ve learned from the Feldenkrais Method. And did you know Moshe Feldenkrais was a Judo master? In fact, much of the method is based on Judo.

Here are just a few concepts martial artists and musicians have in common, as well as some lessons certain martial arts have to teach musicians…

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What’s the right way to breathe? A different take on breathing exercises

What’s the right way to breathe? A different take on breathing exercises

What’s the best way to breathe?

Through the mouth or through the nose?

More in the belly, or more in the chest?

It it always better to breath deeply?

Some techniques teach the expansion of the abdomen as you breathe in, others as you breathe out. Which is better?

Here is what Moshe Feldenkrais had to say about the right way to breathe:

“I am generally against breathing exercises in the commonly accepted notion of breathing exercises…”

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My Summers in New Hampshire

My Summers in New Hampshire

Every summer now for over a decade I have had the great pleasure and honor of spending a few weeks teaching Feldenkrais at the beautiful World Fellowship Center at the foot of the White Mountains near Conway, New Hampshire.
I spend the first half of my stay teaching, coaching, and performing at the Early Music Week, and the other half teaching a four-day intensive Awareness Through Movement retreat.

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Sticking With It

Sticking With It

The casual observer might get the impression that I am advocating a way of being and acting that includes no commitment to goals or to improvement, a sort of anything-goes / take it easy / do whatever you like / it’s all good / whatever comes naturally philosophy with no sense of purpose or forward momentum.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What I am talking about here is the approach that allowed me to make my own impossible possible: to recover from chronic hand pain which for years made me feel like I would never be able to play my instrument again. It took me close to a decade of patient commitment to transform myself from a lost, confused, and pretty-much disabled recent college grad, to a serious student of movement, then a serious student of music, and finally a professional musician and Feldenkrais teacher. Many times I was tempted to give up, or just grit my teeth and push through (which, I quickly realized again and again, would amount to pretty much the same thing), but I am now very glad I kept with it.

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Self-Compassion and Self-Fulfillment

Self-Compassion and Self-Fulfillment

A friend of mine in conservatory once asked me, in all honesty: “how can I expect to get better without the voice that tells me I suck pushing me to work hard to improve?”

And, in all honesty, it’s a bit of challenge to argue with that. Who among us does not know that voice, and does not, at least at some level, listen to it and appreciate the motivation it provides?

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The Paradox of Desire

The Paradox of Desire

What does your heart truly desire?

I don’t mean something you’d like to have happen to you, like ‘win a million dollars.’ I’m thinking about something in the realm of action – a desire that you might actively pursue. What do you really want out of life?

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting ready to roll your eyes right now. Is this going to be one of those motivational messages, “law of attraction” nonsense? Fear not. I’m not interested in spiritual ideas unless they hold some tangible reality for me. And the truth is, we all have strong desires, which affect our lives in a variety of ways (not all of them beneficial), and it’s worth your while to pay attention to your desires and how they affect you.

Desire is the origin of creativity. This feeling of wanting to do something. This is chesed, the first of the seven mystical atributes which I am taking on (in a hopefully demistifying way) in this series of blog-posts. Usually translated as “lovingkindness,” for my purposes here it is perhaps better described as the outpouring of passion.

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