KIAI's - THEIR PLACE IN KATA

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

  1. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    Want to address a few more of Chris P.'s comments. "Mushin" is an emptiness of mind/spirit as you define, but you stress it as an emotional (or lack thereof) state. This is just a part of a broader, deeper concept. Mushin has more to do with perception, the emptying providing a still surface without ripples, where things can be clearly reflected and seen undistorted (mizu no kokoro). Emotions are just one source of ripples. The main advantage to this clarity of mushin is that it allows "action and reaction to be one and the same." I am speaking here in regards to karate - Mushin may be nuanced differently in meditation or other "do" such as ikebana or kyudo (arts I'm not well versed in.)

    The kiai serves to startle the opponent, fortify the body and release one's spirit and power during an attack. It must be timed correctly, explosive and forceful to accomplish these goals. Those five second, drawn out kiai as seen in kata competition are not true kiai and serve only theatrical purposes, or to impress uneducated judges. The same goes for kumite when used to tell the judges "Hey, I just scored a point."

    Regarding the sound itself being the kiai, or just a manifestation of the internal kiai - Can the kiai be silent? A good question. Here is my opinion on it: I think not, sort of. While a sudden expulsion of air is needed as spirit and breath are connected, and in some cases can be silent, in terms of karate the sound is important as a tactical component of the attack to unbalance the opponent. And I also think it serves to help bring out the other elements of kiai as well.

     
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  2. Buka

    Buka Sr. Grandmaster

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    I haven't, but a friend of mine who has never taken a class in his life assumed what he thought was a Karate stance and yelled "Hi-ya" when he was about to fight two guys. He's an extremely tough individual who used to be a Bounty Hunter, and unbeknownst to the two guys, there were a dozen of us right there with him.

    The two guys backed down. He always said he dazzled them with his Hi-ya.
     
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  3. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    Good story. Lucky those guys backed down, because I don't think things would've gone their way had they not.
     
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  4. JR 137

    JR 137 Grandmaster

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    Speaking of kiai...

    A friend and I were in a bar. He was an American Kenpo guy, I was in a kyokushin offshoot. We were talking MA and a clown a few stools down said “aren’t you guys a little old to be doing karate?” We were in our mid 20s. My buddy says “I bet you $10 I can kick this ashtray off your head without touching you. The guy accepts. My buddy’s all of 5’5; the other guy is about 6’. My buddy gets into an angled kinda horse stance, lets out this hilarious Bruce Lee kiai, then side kicks the guy right in the stomach. You can hear this solid thud sound when he hits him. Knicks the guy back about 3 feet right onto his back. My buddy walks up, drops a $10 bill on him and simply says “I lose.”

    My buddy sat right back down next to me and picked up the conversation exactly where he left off. The guy hobbled over to his barstool where he was harassed by his friends.

    One of those”did that just happen” moments that I’ll never forget. Nothing that guy did surprised me. Always amazed me and got me laughing my a$$ off, but never surprised me. The kind of guy you’re glad he’s your friend and not your enemy.
     
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  5. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    Can't say I'm a fan of this story. There's one I've told before regarding Motobu Choki kicking a guy in the back as they were walking out of a bar, but that guy had threatened him with a knife and expressed the intent to kill him, so may be considered a pre-emptive attack. In your story, it seems your buddy was not threatened and just took a cheap shot on this guy. Not a very TMA action, nor in the spirit of Ed Parker's "Kenpo Creed."
     
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  6. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    In elementary school we played a trick where we would offer to play a game of who can punch the other guy in the arm the softest. The other guy goes first and barely taps you, then you hit him in the arm really hard and say, "You lose.".
     
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  7. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    A thought from outside the Karate world, and based entirely on my own experiece creating kata (so may or may not have any applicability to Karate kata). It's possible some things were put in just to be a challenge, or just to make sure that "thing" was somewhere in the kata. So perhaps someone was developing kata and thought, "I'd like my students to practice their kiai between sessions." Well, the kata was already going to be for that purpose, so why not throw a couple in. Choose some points in the movement when the kiai would best fit with the principles being taught (as I understand it, Karate usually focuses on using kiai for more intense movements and finishes). Then if that works well for the first person who does it, others borrow the good idea.

    It could be as simple as that.
     
  8. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    To me, this includes an implicit assumption that Isshin Ryu was "finished" and the person who codified it would never want to change anything. There's a point at which enough changes that using the same name may be confusing to folks, but I don't at all buy into the concept that arts should be held static or they're less that same art. That inevitably leads to degredation of the art, both relative to other arts and absolutely (as 100% transmission from teacher to student is impossible).
     
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  9. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks for the explanation of the term "kiai". I've known for some time the definition I was given was probably inacurate (through 3 generations of non-Japanese-speakers), but hadn't found a good, concise explanation of the words (not sure that's even the right term) invovled.
     
  10. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Kids often do.
     
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  11. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    If so, that would put kiai in most Okinawan kata from as early as about 1800. To be honest, I don't know if there were kiai even outside of kata at that time. Could be they were placed there in the 1920's, or even later. I have never come across any early reference to kiai in any of the books I have seen or heard about. Is it that they weren't a big thing back then and nobody thought to write about or reference it, or were they just not there at all? This is something I want to research.
     
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  12. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    That would be an interesting answer to have, to try to understand what changed that led to the addition of the audible kiai. Might be a small thing (as you said, maybe even as small as a performance bit), or might reflect some change in how Karate was taught.
     
  13. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    Very, very well said.
     
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  14. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    A couple of thoughts a to more modern reasons for the formalization of the kiai.

    As JMA's became more mainstream and introduced into their military and education systems, the kiai was/is used as an 'attention getter'. To help the person get and/or stay more focused. Something I find very helpful when teaching younger people.

    I think this would be more of a CMA thing but many elements in some styles were modeled after animals movements. A naturalists approach. The growl or roar of some animals is said to be the elements of a kiai.

    I realize this will not be historically accurate to some viewpoints (Parker) but it is true all the same. Makes me glad I am living in all of this great big world.
     
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  15. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    Correction. You would yell, 'I lose." Makes more sense that way. :) That's what I get for typing on a phone while also watching a movie.
     
  16. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    Kata had never been static. Each of the old masters changed (maybe "adjusted" would be a better word) what they had learned in small ways to fit their own individual skills or views. They borrowed techniques from other styles as well, since Okinawa was quite small and many of the old guys cross trained with each other. But it is important to note that these guys were true masters to begin with and fully understood their art as few high ranking belts do today.

    In regards to Isshinryu, in particular, it is one of the newest "modern" styles, dating from the mid 1950's, itself a synthesis of Miyagi's Goju and (mostly) Kyan's Shorinryu, along with a few unique tweeks from creator Shimabuku. But much of what he, and other masters knew, has been lost, or not passed down (except perhaps to family).

    As a general rule, I think it is a bad idea to tinker with machinery one does not fully understand, and better to rely on the manual written by the guys who designed it and put it through lengthy trials. I may change something (like kiai placement) for myself, but would not teach it as being the style - After many decades of practice and study and teaching, I'm not close to fully understanding kata enough to presume to change it and call myself a "master."
     
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  17. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    Very informative post. Question, though. You acknowledge that information is lost over time, which makes a lot of sense to me. It's inevitable for a number of reasons. The question is, if you don't tinker, how will you ever deconstruct the activities to master the skills? What I mean is, you know you're losing some insight... so, how does one rediscover that insight without some form of deconstruction? Or said another way, it seems without some tinkering, you risk attrition within the style.

    This reminds me of an article I read about the rediscovery of damascus forging in the 1980s. I don't know enough about metallurgy to get into the weeds, but the gist of the article is that the method was lost for (I think) a couple hundred years. But guys had enough skill and experience in forging to basically figure out how it was done, through tinkering and deconstruction. They knew the outcome they were looking for, and they had the skills as a building block. They just had to tinker around to figure out to get from point a to point b.
     
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  18. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Here's where I have some disagreement. Those old masters, back when they started making those adjustments, were instructors in much the same way some instructors today are. They understood the art, and made meaningful adjustments to make it work well (sometimes better) for their students). If you have understanding of the art, you should be capable of a similar approach. In my opinion, changes like that should propagate from active instructors (working with average students) up to the top, not the other way around. If all of the changes come from the folks who are currently controlling an association, it's like all the management decisions coming from the executive suite - which is a demonstrably weak way to run a business.

    I'm not suggesting everyone should be as liberal with changes as I am. That's a personality thing, and that approach fits for me (and my students), but won't be the right approach for everyone. But I suspect with "many decades of practice and study" you probably know many things the folks who codified those kata didn't know at the time (though they may have learned it later).
     
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  19. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    What if, through your accumulated skill and experience, you actually knew more than the old masters? It's a smaller world now than in the past. Less insular and more diverse. @isshinryuronin , you say you've been training/teaching this system for over 50 years. There's a veneration of the "Masters" that seems like it could be counterproductive.

    I've mentioned Bloom's taxonomy in the past, as a way to to explain the bottom end of building expertise. At the bottom end, it starts with Knowledge, then Comprehension, then Application. After that, it moves into Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The terms change slightly over the years, but the idea is, at a certain point, experts have to innovate and build on what came before them, or they will stagnate or stall. At the bottom, you have to get to application in order to progress. At the top end of expertise, meaning experts among experts... or the guys to whom experts go for help or instruction... those guys are expanding what is known and adding value to the field.

    At 50+ years in a system... I think if anyone is well prepared to write the manual, it's you. At that point, it's not tinkering any more. :)
     
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  20. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Black Belt

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    Steve & gps. All good comments above, Re: tinkering to "deconstruct" (this is a good spot to note "bunkai" basically means to deconstruct) - I sort of gave tinkering a negative connotation, which I meant to. What is good to do is reverse engineer the kata to more fully understand all it contains. To do this, we need to know the original intent of the moves we do. By understanding what old Okinawan karate was, we can look at the kata and try to discover the true meaning of the techniques which to us, simply look like blocks, kicks and punches - which they mostly are not.

    Thanks to hard work by some karate historians conversant in Japanese, the few older written records which still exist have been found and translated. Also, the older living masters are not as secretive as in the old days and freer in sharing their knowledge. From this we know the original Okinawan styles had few actual blocks, a very aggressive and offensive doctrine, few kicks (and those were below the waist) and a whole lot of grabbing with some twisting and breaking thrown in, as well as takedowns. So rather than haphazard tinkering, we can more knowledgably reverse engineer from the basics we see now, to what it was meant to be - quite different from what the GI's brought back in the 1950's.

    By the way, re: your last line in the post above, thanks for promoting me to master. In truth, I was not fully active that whole time and only fairly recently did I become "enlightened." ;)

    I respectfully disagree with your basic premise, Gerry. The old masters were not just "instructors" teaching classes to average students. They were masters (proven warriors, many were bodyguards/retainers to the king) personally teaching a few hand picked disciples who underwent very rigorous combat training. It was the top disciples of this group who went on to start their own style. It was not anything like what you see today. Definitely a different animal. There were no associations, no belts, not even clothes hardly. A couple of generations after that, things did change and there was some organization. But the head guy was acknowledged by his peers as being the top dog who earned his spot by his knowledge and skill, blood and sweat and dedication. I think few today can match these qualifications and make changes to their style however they and their students decide.


    But none of this prevents anyone from exploring and experimenting and discovering what is already hidden there. Each may find something different.

    Of course, these are just my views on the subject. Sounds a little dramatic, but the history of karate is dramatic - great stories, great personalities, great benefits to its practitioners. I love the sound of kiais in the morning!123
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2020

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