One of the first things you’ll notice about a karate class is that the room is noisy.
People are hollering, shouting, grunting, and sighing pretty much all the time. Why?
Well, frankly, a lot of it is because they are physically struggling to make their techniques faster and stronger, and sometimes that hurts a little bit.
The more advanced the people are, the more effort they exert, and the higher the level of grunting, groaning, and sighing becomes.
Like any physical activity, karate requires effort, and in karate class, that effort is often verbalized.
The most important noise you hear in a karate class, though, is the kiai.
Why Do We Kiai in Karate?
Remember that two Japanese characters make up the word Kiai: Ki means “energy,” and ai means “to unify.”
Remember that ki means vital, or mental, energy. Ai means “get together.”
In other words, kiai is the “convergence of your energy.”
Kiai is therefore a Japanese term used in karate for a short-spirited shout that is used to focus energy when performing an attacking or defending move.
A kiai is a shout from the pit of the stomach that gets together your physical and mental energy and then focuses them for an instant on the target.
It is a shout of spirit and a shout of concentration.
The noise blots everything else out of your mind for a split second so that you can focus your mind on the target, and the tensing of the muscles needed to make the noise helps you focus your internal as well as external muscles on the target.
A kiai is a conscious extension of a natural phenomenon.
That is, when you try to lift something heavy and struggle with it, you naturally grunt and groan a little, and you tense your stomach muscles and your diaphragm (the internal muscle that makes your lungs expand and contract).
That causes you to put pressure on your breath and breathe some of it out.
All this gives you extra strength for your task and really makes you concentrate harder on getting the thing lifted.
A kiai is exactly like that, except that you make it faster, harder, and louder to bring extra strength and concentration together in an instant rather than slowly.
The benefit of the kiai is primarily for the person doing it, but there is also some chance that a sudden loud shout from the pit of the stomach might startle an opponent long enough to create an opening for a counterattack or an escape.
And not to be overlooked is the fact that executing a kiai just plain feels good.
“Kiai is a shout that unites mind and body for an instant and that adds strength to technique.” Martial arts republic.
Every single one of us has faced a situation in which stress and anxiety have built up to the point that we could just scream.
Well, in karate class, you can do just that: Scream! Let it out! Get rid of it! Scream and scream again! It feels good, and it’s good for you.
An important fact about the kiai is that the sound you make probably won’t sound anything like “Kiai!” or “Kiyah!” Kiai is a word that represents a particular set of sounds, just like the word “whistle” represents a particular set of sounds.
So, if your karate teacher tells you to whistle, you wouldn’t shout “Whistle!”
No, you would form your lips into the appropriate arrangement and make the sound known as a whistle. It’s exactly the same with a kiai.
If your teacher tells you to kiai, don’t shout “Kiai!” Instead, tense your muscles appropriately and make one of the sounds known as a kiai.
There are several of these, including “eh-ee!” “yah!” “ha-ee” and others.
Your instructor will guide you on which is appropriate at which times, but please don’t shout out “Kiai!” It just doesn’t make any sense.
Hi, my name is Godwin. I am a passionate martial artist with black belts in Taekwondo and Karate. I have over 15 years of martial art experience. I created this platform to enable me to help you learn martial art the right way.