Can martial arts be friends with music?

Talking about music and martial arts in the same sentence feels a bit like poking an ants’ nest with my big taekwondo toe.

I miiiiiiiight JUST get away with it unharmed or…

I may exit the scene shortly in a vast hurry with a few savage bite marks.

Either way! Where some will fear to tread, The Mortal Mouse will dive right in.

Stand by dear reader: Here it comes!


I discovered recently that it’s really cool fun to practice my Taekwondo patterns to music. *gasp!

Controversial you think?Taekwondo Blogger Kristy Hitchens

Not just ANY music though.

I’ve developed a bit of a playlist that channels just the right mood and attitude for making your uniform SNAP with those kicks, blocks and punches. Soooo satisfying!

I’ll share some of my chosen tunes with you in a minute but this discovery lead my mind on a whole other journey of wonder.

So many questions!

  • Are you supposed to listen to music while doing patterns?
  • Is it traditional for there to be silence?
  • Does practicing with music actually help?

Already in a spin with all of these lofty questions, you can imagine my eyes popping more than a bit when I discovered there’s a form of competition where freestyle patterns or poomsae are choreographed to music!

Mind seriously blown!

Is there a tradition?

Some research on the topic and discussions with others failed to find any evidence of silence being the traditional way to practice patterns.

Some martial arts history recounts their early development as a type of military training without the requirement for a partner.

Silence could have been part of the scene simply because there wasn’t the means or technology to play music.

At my club our instructors voice a count for us as we perform our patterns. Another enthusiast I spoke with says his club uses a drum for the same purpose. I LIKE the sound of THAT!

An ancient link

I DID find one REALLY interesting piece of history around the origins of poomsae that links it with music, rhythm and dance.

Fourth Dan Black Belts learn a form/pattern/poomsae called Pyongwon.

It means a plain that is vast stretched-out land. It is the source of life for all the creatures and the field where human beings live their life.

An ebook by Kingsley Umoh called Taekwondo Poomsae: The Fighting Scrolls points out a resemblance between Pyongwon Poomsae and an ancient ritualistic dance performed at harvest time to thank the earth for its bountiful gifts.

In later centuries, this dance was transformed into ‘The Farmers Music’ or ‘Nongak’ – an energetic dance that’s movements mimic the different uses of farming and harvest equipment AND performed to a drum beat.

A very early link between music and martial arts perhaps?

Hang on now because I’m steering this discussion in a whole other direction…exercise science!

What exercise science has to say

There is a mass of research around about the benefits of listening to music while exercising.

The general consensus seems to make two significant points:

  • Music while exercising can provide a gentle distraction from the exertion and make the experience more enjoyable
  • And, due to the way our bodies can naturally adapt physical movement to rhythm; there is a theory that listening to music can also improve performance.

When applied to practicing patterns, I’m wondering if being distracted from the task at hand is a bad idea?

Patterns or Poomsae require concentration and focus.

The second theory around our bodies adapting to rhythm though I can definitely relate to since the right music definitely makes me punch harder and kick with more exertion.

Right or Wrong?

As with my discussion around whether you should wear shoes to train in, my purpose here was not to determine a right way or a wrong way.

Merely to generate thought and discussion around a topic we are all so passionate about.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you listen to music while training? And if yes, what are some of your favourite songs?

Here’s my Playlist:

  • Mortal Kombat Theme (of course!)
  • Eminen – Lose Yourself
  • Prodigy – Firestarter
  • Muse – Knights of Cydonia
  • AC/DC – Back in Black
  • Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the name

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like to check out these prior Taekwondo blog posts by The Mortal Mouse:

My articles published elsewhere:



  1. TimTelcik Reply

    Nice. I remember an interview many years ago with an Australian velodrome cyclist at the olympics. He said he trained for hours while listening to “murder death kill” music. Worked for him. He won a gold medal, I recall.

    • Kristy Reply

      Wow Tim! Whatever gets you over the line I guess. Thank you for contributing to the conversation and for your ongoing willingness to share both information and your passion for taekwondo.

  2. Heather Tr Reply

    No Poomse I recognize in that Little Tigers video but I loved your article. Music does get us moving. They play Back in Black a lot at my Crossfit gym. You have great taste!

    • Kristy Reply

      I agree Heather! Music is an amazing motivator. And those Aussie lads from AC/DC seem to have a timeless quality for doing just that. 🙂

  3. Buffy Reply

    When I am working on my own music is a must! I get why you wouldn’t blast it in the dojung 24/7, but I find it helps me keep pace. Our Academy has a weapons requirement for 2nd Dan, and everyone who tests gets to select their music to go with it. It’s always interesting to see what people come up with! And – I must offer praise for including the K-Tigers in your post! I love those kids!

    • Kristy Reply

      Hey Buffy! Choosing music to go with a weapons requirement sounds awesome! 🙂 Be really interesting to see what different ages and personalities of people choose. 🙂

  4. Josh Peacock Reply

    I think they go well together, and it doesn’t matter what the history of poomsae is.

    Karate kata is linked to kung fu forms (sometimes called taolu). Some kung fu forms are performed to traditional music, some aren’t. Kata are traditionally not performed to music, although some kata share resemblance to traditional Okinawan forms of dancing.

    Poomsae was developed out of Karate kata, meaning there is no chance there’s a recent or direct history of performing them to music.

    Because poomsae (and most kata, for that matter) have a “proper” cadence with which they’re supposed to be performed, it’s highly doubtful they were meant to be performed to music unless the music hits those beats exactly.

    Pyongwon is less than 60 years old, and seems to be inspired, at least in part, by the unique Shorin-ryu Karate kata known as naihanchi.

    Any resemblance it shares to an ancient harvest ritual is either coincidental or fabricated, because beyond appearance, it has no tradition in Korea past the 60s or 70s when a team of Kukkiwon masters developed it for taekwondo.

    I don’t listen to music much while I’m teaching or training, but I’d like to. I used to be on the demo team years and years ago, and I’d like to add liveliness to my sessions this way. It’s a lot of fun.

    • Kristy Reply

      Hi Josh! I’m so grateful for your contribution to this discussion. You’re an utter wealth of information on a range of topics and it just blows me away. A wonderful instructor I have connected with through my blog sent me some literature around the history of Taekwondo being linked to Karate. There were many directions I could have taken this conversation in, links to Karate kata being another great one.Thank you again for contributing. Such a lot to learn so hope to stay in touch. 🙂

  5. Mel Reply

    Great conversation – I love reading your blog Kristy, it is very informative. In my personal training of poomsae, there is room for both – music AND silence.

    I like silence because it channels my focus, increases my attention and allows for expression (plus I like to hear the snapping “whip” sound of my dobok if I’m lucky enough to execute a strike or kick fast and strong).

    I like music because it is challenges me to become adaptable and it is just straight out FUN. I use wireless headphones and my music is LOUD. True, the lyrics can be distracting. I often listen to the instrumental versions of my favourite songs. That works for me.

    Contravening tradition or not – I wish I could learn to pull off a kick combo like the little K-tiger at 1.49. WOW – so cool! Thanks Kristy, please keep blogging.

    • Kristy Reply

      Thank you for your comments Mel. Can’t get enough of that ‘whipping’ sound! Very satisfying. Instrumental versions is a great idea. Best of luck with keeping it fun xo

  6. Rebecca Reply

    Thanks for sharing your playlist (and including a video featuring a BTS song!).
    I do often play music to practice to once I have completed learning the individual steps of a poomsae/pattern so that I can improve my timing and delivery.
    My favourite to practice to is ‘Patterns’ by Band of Skulls with an additional 20+ songs for other aspects of TKD training at home.

    • Kristy Reply

      Can totally imagine you rocking out while training Bec! xo

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