The similarities between the Fine Arts and Martial Arts

Written by De Laszlo scholar Sarah Thien

I have been a student of Hapkido – a Korean martial art, as well a student of fine art for some years.

On the outset they seem worlds apart but as a student of both I am increasingly fascinated by the similarities I find between them.

Both have origins in Greek and Roman mythology. The muses dedicated their lives to the arts, supporting and encouraging creativity, enhancing the imagination and inspiring artists. The word ‘Martial Arts’ originated from latin to mean the “arts of Mars” the Roman god of war, a series of combat and self defence systems.

The Spirit

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art” – Leonardo Da Vinci.

Da Vinci understood the importance of harmonising the one’s spirit with one’s body to achieve excellence.

By using our spirit we increase our focus and concentration, we draw on our experiences to guide and help prevent us from repeating previous mistakes. During moments of struggle, our spirit helps us overcome the adversities we are facing and often can lead up to find solutions.

This philosophy is even imbued in the name of the martial arts I practice;

the word Hapkido broken down is

Hap – Harmony of body and spirit,

Ki – life and body energy,

Do – way of life.

The Eternal Student

In both Hapkido and fine art, we never stop learning. There are always ways to improve our processes and techniques; be it a new material, tool or method. We may even learn a new application or methodology by delving into the past and learning from other’s mistakes and triumphs.

By always keeping a keen and open mindset – one of an eternal student; we are able to find better and more effective way of doing things, stay fresh with new ideas and keep moving forward.

Learn by Giving Back

In Hapkido, the higher the belt we achieve (grades), the more time we spend teaching students more junior than us. It is an expected duty. By doing so we get to practice and refresh the many techniques we have learnt, it is also an opportunity to further finesse them. However, most importantly; to be able to show and instruct fellow students, you must have a really good understanding of your techniques to be able to correct mistakes and convey key pointers. As confirmed by my friend and fellow LFAS Art Student Annam Butt in her Teacher Shadowing blog post “ My primary goal with assisting is to grow as an artist in as many ways possible… Teaching has helped me go back to the basics and refine those problem-solving essentials I had forgotten and replaced with bad habits.”



“The work of the art student is no light mater. Few have the courage and stamina”

– The Art Spirit, Robert Henri.

I believe the key to success in Art and Martial Arts is the willpower to continue with your practice despite the setbacks you may face in your progress. Courage will make you leave your comfort zone and adapt new methods to improve your progress. It will also help to keep your work fresh and relevant to the changing times and the tastes of audiences. Stamina will give you the strength to keep going when you feel tired, challenged or even have low morale.



“Feel the dignity of a child. Do not feel superior to him for you are not.” – The Art Spirit, Robert Henri.

As individuals to be able to move and succeed in the modern world we generally use our ego to help us strive and move forward. However,  in both Martial Arts and Fine Arts, having the humility to accept corrections and criticism from people who are more or even less experienced than you is key to improving and growing. People who are less experienced you often view things with fresher eyes, can point things out with a fresh perspective, and even ask questions that you have  considered before: e.g. new ways to paint, new materials to try out, or new combat moves that you can adopt. By letting our egos take over we stay closed minded to progress.


The stunning flow of movement in martial arts and the vibrancy of paintings and art are entertaining to view. However both involve dedication and lots of practice to accomplish. Consistent practicing improves muscle memory and problem solving, and can increase our speed.


For me the unifying word is “Art”.  As I started this piece I was aware of many connections between the two seemingly desperate activities but the more I delved the more they appeared to be cut from the same cloth. Spirit, Study, Giving, Stamina, Humility and Dedication.

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