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UNDERSTANDING THE KIAI - SPIRIT YELL IN KARATE DO...

When a visitor enters a dojo they hear the students "yelling" while training. This may seem odd to the untrained spectator but to a Karateka their yell is much more than simply making a loud noise. It is not uncommon today to learn that most dojo do not train their students to make a proper kiai at all. They actually train them to yell deeply and loudly instead of inspiring them to develop the true form of this demonstration of spirit. In today's article we will examine the Kiai, some of the proper developmental stages and even the controversy that occurs when the use of it is brought up.

What is the Kiai and where did it come from...

Although there are hundreds of definitions on what a Kiai is supposed to be we will use the Japanese method to describe this art. The study of development using your Kiai in martial arts actually has a name. It is called Kiaijutsu, which is the study of applying Kiai when performing techniques or training in the martial arts. A Kiai according to the Japanese martial arts is also called the "spirit yell" even though a yell is an inaccurate description of the true Kiai. The Kiai is the development and application of internal energy (Ki) against an opponent in combat. The sound is an audible indication of the application of this study and is commonly heard as a Kiya, Kiha or other similar types. Kiai can also be silent since it is done properly by aligning the body, with correct breathing applications and intent. The prime uses for Kiai as described in martial arts training are:

1. To startle or dazzle your opponent.
2. Prime yourself for combat by "amping" yourself up.
3. Protect the upper body against a strike by providing an escape route for exhalation of air.
4. Protect the lower body by creating a shield for internal organs.
5. Provide solid abdominal support for strikes.

Although these items as defined by Wikipedia are mostly correct, they also left out that it is a demonstration of proper spirit of the Karateka in their training.

How to train to develop a true Kiai...

Just any other aspect on a student's training the Kiai must be practiced daily to become effective. There are many methods of training the Kiai but none more important than practicing it as much as you can in the dojo. Kiai is a tool designed to help us focus our minds, learn proper breathing, timing and technical skill into one moment in time. This type of energy escapes the average person in their daily lives and is one reason why martial arts training is very important for the future of our country. The ability to learn to focus all your power, will power, determination and concentration on single moment in time can be very valuable to helping you learn to achieve your goals, inside and outside of the dojo.

The first stage of new students is to learn proper breathing techniques. Most people hold there breath when throwing a punch or kick. You must learn how to use your breathing to relax the body which will increase both your speed and power. There are hundreds of exercises for this type of training but it is relatively simple. As you begin to throw a punch you should start be inhaling with your abdomen, not your chest. Inhale fully and then exhale as your punch travels towards the intended target. Right at the moment of impact (or full extension if no target is available) you should force the breath left in your lungs out fully in quick exhale. This is easy to learn when practicing single techniques, much more difficult to learn when you are practicing multiple techniques.

Eventually you will begin to understand using the Hara, (tandem or center) to develop stronger Kiai in your exhales. When you are training to make the sound do not allow your vocal cords to make a word. Rather you must allow the sound to come from inside of you from the forceful exhalation of air through the vocal cords. In other words don't attempt to make the Kiya sound but rather allow the sound to create its own noise.

Once again you should practice this in all martial arts aspects of your training. Stances, strikes and especially Kata. A good Kiai is developed not spoken or created.

The Kiai controversy...

Even today the Chinese and Japanese systems differ on the view of Kiai in one's training. Most Chinese systems are internal and therefore believe that the sense of Kiai is to project one's energy into an opponent thus increasing their effectiveness of their strikes. They also use Kiai breathing to perform incredible feats of bending steel with their throats and so on. Although most Karate systems share the idea of energy projection into an opponent they do not believe the Kiai to be effective in terms of "mystical" powers. They understand the science to what occurs when a student effectively executes a Kiai. The use of the Kiai helps to create proper alignment, control and execution of technique thus increasing its overall power and effectiveness. It is important to note that many people today laugh when the some master use their Kiai against another opponent, but in reality they are misinformed since the proper term for that would be using their Ki, not their Kiai. They are interlinked but yet separate practices within one's study of Karate Do.