“My Sensei Is Also a Student of Guitar”: Lawson Rollins on the Connection Between Martial Arts and Guitar Playing

Lawson Rollins
(Image credit: Ashley Batz)

Among acoustic guitar players, Lawson Rollins has carved out a place of his own with his impeccable nylon-string shredding. GP celebrated him for it in our August 2017 acoustic special issue, where we ranked him among 50 “Transcendent Acoustic Guitarists.”

In addition to possessing ninja-like picado technique Rollins is a dedicated martial arts student. Back in 2019, he took some time out from his busy schedule to chat with GP about music and martial arts where he enlightened us on the fascinating connection between the two.

Lawson Rollins

(Image credit: Ashley Batz)

You’re a man of constant action. What’s the big story in your world right now?

I’ve been lucky to avoid any major injuries, but this morning I cracked my thumbnail right across the middle while doing some martial arts training. It’s extremely painful at the moment, but it will grow out in a couple of weeks, no problem.

The incident actually makes me feel so grateful that I haven’t had any major injuries during 30 years of playing. It could all be taken away in an instant. One wrong move and you can lose a finger.

Can you draw any parallels between martial arts training and playing guitar?

The energy flow is similar. My sensei is also a student of guitar, so he appreciates the energies that I have to focus into my hands. We do a lot of work with arm flexibility and strength, which is probably why I don’t have tendinitis, even though I still practice guitar quite a bit every day and a lot of what I do is very technical.

I study a particular form of karate called Shaolin Kempo. It’s an offensive approach combining lots of different strike techniques into moves with names such as “The Eight Hands of the Leopard.” 

I’m trying to apply that to my guitar playing. Instead of focusing on one technique or another, such as arpeggios or scales, I’m working on seamlessly blending them together.

Lawson Rollins 'Rise' album artwork

(Image credit: Infinita)

Check out Lawson Rollins’ latest album – Rise here.

Jimmy Leslie has been Frets editor since 2016. See many Guitar Player- and Frets-related videos on his YouTube channel, and learn about his acoustic/electric rock group at spirithustler.com.