KIAI's - THEIR PLACE IN KATA

Discussion in 'Karate' started by isshinryuronin, Aug 7, 2020.

  1. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    When I began my practice in 1966, kiai's were generally thrown in on the last rep of each drill. They were also firmly entrenched in kata, usually two in each, at specific places within the routine. These places seem to be accepted as part of the style's kata, as much as a punch or block, sometimes found across different styles. We all know the purposes of the kiai, but as I delve deeper into kata, questions come to mind.

    Aside that they generally occur during a strong attack move, why are they in the kata at all? Were they always a part of kata, as taught by Matsumura or Higaonna, or something added in later, perhaps to conform to some notion of ferocity to impress the public? If later on, when? Why do they exist in all the kata I know? Was it found necessary to put them in all?

    These days when practicing alone, I often omit kiais. If the "ki" in kiai means spirit, is that not an internal and personal thing? If so, why should the time and place of it in kata be determined by some outside authority or convention? Shouldn't I be free to determine my own spirit at the time and place of my choosing as the feeling explodes spontaneously from within me?

    Reviewing my post, I see there were more questions than I realized. Perhaps too many for something as common and accepted as a simple kiai. But, as I have learned from my long study of karate, there is significance to everything.
     
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  2. Buka

    Buka Sr. Grandmaster

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    Great question and a terrific post, but the above? That's gold right there.
     
  3. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    Give folks a little latitude to kiai anytime they want and in no time, you have this:



    Guy is very athletic, and I'd kill to be able to move as quickly and precisely. But his kiai'ing seems a little excessive. :)
     
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  4. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    Well, he is a good entertainer. I'm sure all the kids enjoyed it. To all the adults in the audience - do not mistake this for kenjutsu. Now, on the serious side.....
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020
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  5. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    Sorry. I mistook the thread as tongue in cheek. You were being serious. Noted.
     
  6. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    Not to worry. My reply was a bit of both. :)
     
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  7. _Simon_

    _Simon_ Senior Master

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    Some interesting thoughts @isshinryuronin ... and yeah can't really speak to those questions with much knowledge. To me kiais were placed at particular moments within the kata that really called for intense focus and an 'all-in' technique, moreso relating to power, as obviously you want focus for all parts of it. An instant of total unification and multiple elements coming together all in a split second. Maybe like a particular 'marker' of that focus?

    But then you have to wonder, in the middle sections of Taikyoku Ichi with the three punches, why is it only on the third punch? All of those steps and punches are the same... but perhaps more of a metric for beginners, and a way to build up to that moment. Having it on the first punch could throw off your timing or focus for the subsequent ones...

    But I absolutely see what you're saying, and like the idea of it being natural and spontaneous. I'm just recollecting now in all the katas I know where the kiais are placed... they seem to be at big moments... Bassai Dai the kinsetsu geri after trapping the arm and pulling them in... Kururunfa on the big rising elbow strike after the deflection uraken mae geri... Seiunchin on the uppercut after grab and pull in... Pinan Ni on the nukite (!!!).

    Could it even be related to the ol "Ikken Hissatsu?" Or more of a way to delineate and separate specific phases or themes of the kata, like a punctuation mark?

    Seems to be at a certain pivotal moment where everything 'comes together', a significant part of the kata...

    Just musings!
     
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  8. _Simon_

    _Simon_ Senior Master

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    Needs more cowbell.
     
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  9. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    I don't have a problem with his kiai. If anything he may have been a little mellow in some places. He performed an excellent, elite level routine; most people don't appreciate what it takes to get emotionally up, and stay up, to perform at that level.
    I played college football and still remember how loud some guys would get during a game. No, it was not formally known as a kiai but the intent was much the same. My point is there is a very natural element to kiai (kihap) in the everyday, real world. I am sure we have all made the very loud 'grunt' when picking up something heavy. That is akin to the formal kiai. In kata or poomsae it is used to help on mental focus. It is the crescendo.
    Something I tell new students (well, all students) is that kihap literally means 'expulsion of air'. It take a very forceful expulsion to perform an effective kiai. Using the mental target helps 'feeling' the movement and makes it tangible and understandable.
    Do I kihap every time I practice a form? No. It falls into the learning phase and conservation of energy for me. But when it is on and I want to practice/perform full stroke, then yes kiai/kihap is it's own element with it's own purpose and meaning.

    I cannot say whether they have always been an integral part of kata. For me it does not matter because I know they have a lot of function for me now.
     
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  10. JR 137

    JR 137 Grandmaster

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    I really like this post. That said, I think the OP was getting more into why they’re at specific points of the kata rather than why they’re in kata. And have they always been there.

    This thread has got me thinking. I’d venture to guess they weren’t initially there in specific places. Teachers probably noticed students tensing up and not releasing that energy, thereby being counterproductive. We’ve all seen and probably most of us have been the student who stiffens up and holds his/her breath during a punch, kick, etc. They were probably formally introduced at specific points to add the element of proper breathing during the execution phase of movements. Put them in specific places rather than have everyone yell every time or having everyone yelling at different random times. Keep in mind the Japanese military-like mentality of uniformity.

    I haven’t pondered why they are where they are before. I have pondered why some movements are slowed down the way they are. Look at a Kata like Seiunchin. Why the slow opening movements? They’d never be slow in an actual fight. Why the slow-fast-slow tempo in parts like after the opening series. For example, after the opening sequence, there’s the faster pullback, punch, elbow combo. Then you slow down and turn 45 degrees in a back leaning stance, then fast step through with the alternating low blocks. Then slow down again for the next sequence, then speed up again. Why?


    About the pacing I learned it at, and similar enough to the way we do it.
     
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  11. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Interesting set of questions and thoughts here... I hope you'll forgive an interloper from other Japanese traditions here...

    I wouldn't personally suggest that "we all know the purposes of the kiai", as, in my experience, there is a wide range of understandings of the concept, stemming from greater or lesser development or appreciation of the concepts involved...

    In a number of lines of karate, the comment is sometimes made "without kiai, there is no karate"... so asking why it's in one of the most fundamental and important training methodologies (kata), I feel, is a bit redundant. They're there because they're important to the concept of karate. As a result, I would suggest that they were always there... were they always as they are now, well, that's another question... and I'd suggest they probably weren't... but that's just part of the natural development of a martial art over time. What I will say absolutely definitively is that they were not put there as any kind of "show", or to demonstrate "ferocity".... that's a complete misunderstanding of what kiai are in the first place, as well as some major cultural gaps.

    So, in order:
    - Because they're vital to karate.
    - Always there, just maybe not in exactly the same placement/form... then again the kata you do aren't exactly as was laid out by previous generations either.
    - Nothing to do with "ferocity" or "a show".
    - Perhaps altered later, for reasons the teacher themselves found important.
    - They're there as they're an integral part of karate.
    - Yes. It is absolutely necessary. Without them, you've missed a major part of the kata.

    Hmm... while the "ki" can be rendered to mean "spirit", it's really not the same thing as you're potentially thinking... I've seen people translate "kiai" as "spirited shout" before (hell, I've used the term to get across some concepts), but that's both not literal, and not accurate. I would suggest that in incorporates some "internal" aspect, but it is not anything like this idea of a "personal" thing, and therefore not subject to external reasoning and dictates... if that's your thing, honestly, then go make up your own art... whether a "new" form of karate, or something else entirely... because you're now wilfully not doing the art you're purporting to.

    So, really, no... you are not free to choose when such things occur. You are not free to "determine" anything of the kind. Once you start down that idea, you're moving further and further from the art you claim to practice. That in and of itself is not a problem, provided you're happy not doing your own system anymore.

    Ha, believe me, we've hardly scratched the surface... and to be honest, while this is a bit further than most go in their thinking and questioning, it's still quite a long way from what kiai even begins to mean...

    Yeah.... that not only wasn't anything to do with ki-ai, it wasn't anything to do with, well, martial arts. It's a gymnastic routine... a flamboyant, showy one, that you may describe as "martial themed"... but in no way even close to anything resembling anything I'd recognise as martial arts... honestly, the ki-ai is the least of it...

    From an athletic level, sure... but the very idea of "get emotionally up, and stay up" is the exact opposite of what a martial art teaches... this is the guy with the swords in Raiders... the emotionally-driven fool who charges into the enemy machine guns to get mown down senselessly... this is, simply, the equivalent of a dead man, martially speaking.

    Honestly, all of that is almost precisely what kiai is not.

    That's much closer.

    In a way, yeah... or, really, it can be. It can also be other things...

    The problem is that it, quite literally, doesn't. At all.

    Actually, I'd argue that it really doesn't. And the more forced it is, the less of an actual kiai it is.

    Okay.

    Cool. Good to hear!
     
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  12. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    says the guy whose entire understanding of anything “martial” is strictly academic. don't be such an elitist. XMA isn’t karate, and truly I posted that video tongue in cheek as I said earlier. But, it’s as much a martial art as ninjutsu, wushu, or anything else. May not be your cup of tea, but it doesn’t have to be.
     
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  13. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    So many unsubstantiated comments, it's hard to know where to begin. For starters, I think the quote you're thinking of is, "If there is no kata, there is no karate." by Nagamine Shoshin, founder of Matsubayashi Shorinryu karate. Next point, since kiais ARE in such a fundamental as kata, that is EXACTLY why we should ask about it.
    ,
    Oh, I think I am free to determine many things about the art I "claim" to practice. How much depth do you have in karate study? Be aware of whom you are addressing before making such comments.
     
  14. Buka

    Buka Sr. Grandmaster

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    That was really funny. I'm hurting today,knees, back....I really needed a good laugh.
     
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  15. Buka

    Buka Sr. Grandmaster

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    Fortunately, there is no "one way only" to practice Karate. Nor is there one style of Karate.

    At least to us upstart heathen Americans.
     
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  16. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    Sorry you’re hurting today, buka. Hope you get some relief soon.
     
  17. Buka

    Buka Sr. Grandmaster

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    Thanks, Steve. My wife has apparently come up with a solution. She says if I get on my hands and knees and wash the hardwood floors, my back will feel better from that position, and if I have some decent padding under my knees they'll probably feel better, too.

    She's often mistaken for Florence Nightingale, yes.
     
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  18. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    You brought up some good observations and questions on Seiunchin kata, JR. Katas are meant to be examined and questioned and explored. This is not modern day heresy - even the masters of 80 or 100 years ago said as much. Other than the kiais being on a strong attack as a rule, I don't have a definitive answer to the why's and where's of them in kata. You may be right that they are there simply for uniformity in the Japanese tradition. But I think at the advanced levels this strict, rote uniformity is meant to be diverged from as the masters encouraged, while still keeping the principles of the kata intact.

    I thought the video showed a very good rendition of Seiunchin - slightly different than my style's version, but all the Naha styles of it are remarkably similar. Regarding the slow movements in various kata (other than dramatic pauses in competition), my opinion is that they often represent moves against a resisting opponent, such as grabbing and pulling him, and are often accompanied by a tight dynamic breath to show implied strength.

    The fast/slow rhythm of the moves you wonder about is another thing I've thought about as well. It may be a tactical thing, the combo requiring a quck timing to make it work, in contrast to the slow resisting moves I suggested above. My studies and readings lead me to believe that some things are not as strictly required in kata as I had been brought up to believe. Perhaps the rhythm is one of those things we can adapt to our own likes.

    Kata was originally designed as effective, no BS combat techniques - very direct. When I look at it from this angle, some bunkai makes more sense. When it makes less sense, I know I'm missing something. But I still wonder at the lack of historical info on kiai.
     
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  19. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    Have you ever competed at a high level or professionally? It is a very different animal and the emotional drain is hard to describe. I agree there is a distinct difference in getting up (maybe more your idea of kiai) and staying up. I do not know your style and I am not very familiar with soft styles but that sounds more where you ideas lie to me.
    It sounds pretentious to say it is the exact opposite of what a martial art teaches. Some martial arts? Sure. But it is incorrect to make such a general reference. Hence the term martial.
    I am not at all talking about blind emotion and especially not fear. But your reference is an accurate one. The focus and willingness to go into something when the odds are very low (you machine gun reference) is a mentality hard to imagine or understand. The reality is for some that is their calling. On a different level but elite athletes are in a similar vein. There is a difference in knowing and believing your destiny and in thinking you can make a difference. All these higher minded ideas are hard to elucidate but they are embodied in the focused energy of a kihap. So I have to disagree with the dead man walking analogy since the mentality is completely different.

    You are going to have to better explain your viewpoint here.

    I understand what I said is a figurative statement. I use it literally to help people understand the ideas within a kihap.
    I think we have learned a different method. It sounds like your understanding is what I have heard referred to as the 'peep' method. A short, swift sound using little expulsion or air. Uber tense and taught. I was taught it is a weapon. A directed energy, a release, a flow. The expression and possibly intent is different. This is a Korean ideology. I do not know if it carries over to JMA's or CMA's. My dabblings in Kung Fu suggests it does.

    Again, apparently different teaching.
    Another saying I like to use is 'if you do not breathe you die'. I am guessing this is different for you as well, but in the action of doing poomsae there is a lead in to the kihap. A beginning, middle, and end. This is not always a realism in competition or the real world but the application learned thorough kata applies and is hugely beneficial.
     
  20. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    I cringe at the thought of getting on my knees on a hard surface. Sadly I have gotten really good at just getting down on my butt when I need to do something on the ground for any length of time.
    My left knee is really hurting today after all the clutching I have done the last few days doing hay. It is definitely Miller time.123
     

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