The Physical Experience of Kiai

Makalakumu

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I recently attended a class where the entire point of it was to develop our skills with Kiai. I have been skeptical of this kind of training in the past and have personally seen some complete BS, but this class was different.

Sensei had us grab our wooden knives and work on some knife defense attacks and then showed us how to use a loud shout to disrupt our uke's concentration and make the defense easier. When this was demonstrated on me, I felt a slight startle that caused me to hesitate for a split second, allowing my teacher to complete an arm lock and take the knife away.

Later, the advanced students entered a circle of people and three people would attack. I turned sharply in one direction toward two attackers and shouted. They stopped briefly allowing me to turn toward the single person rushing at me.

It was pretty simple actually, there was no "knock you out and 40 paces" mumbo jumbo. The shout broke concentration and it didn't work on everyone nor did it work all of the time, but it was enough to make defending easier so that you'd want to use this tool more.

What has been your physical experience of Kiai? Did the training seem legitimate to you? Have you ever used kiai in a "live" situation?
 

Tanaka

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Kiai is a good way to startle someone, but it also helps you release your energy. There's an "spiritual energy explanation for it," but I've concluded it's just easier to release energy when you don't have the brakes on your breathing.
 

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Kiai is a good way to startle someone, but it also helps you release your energy. There's an "spiritual energy explanation for it," but I've concluded it's just easier to release energy when you don't have the brakes on your breathing.
Great point.
My Sensei used to always say fear in a situation, can be expelled with a strong kiai. You don't hear this word much any more, depending on the circles traveled.
 

Sukerkin

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Aye and kiai also helps to ensure proper breathing for, having emptied your lungs on execution of a technique with kiai, your body will automatically refill your lungs, providing oxygen for the next technique.
 
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Makalakumu

Makalakumu

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There's something about exhaling when contracting body movements and inhaling when expanding body movements that is related to Kiai. Coordinating the body movements with breathing seems to make them more effective. Does any one have a physiological explanation for this?

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Tanaka

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I think it goes back to what I said earlier. That your body releases energy better whenever you don't put the brakes on your breathing. For instance when you come in contact with an opponent. You grab onto him and hes grabs onto you and you both hold your breathe and go "arrgghhh, pfffft, errrrr." Well your body is basically stuck and tensed up, rather than being relaxed and allowing your body to freely flow with energy. You want your body to act as one whole, that is what can make a technique a lot stronger than if you are just using the strength of one arm independently.
 

Chris Parker

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Hi Makalakumu,

What you're describing in the OP is something that is found in some traditional Japanese systems. For instance, Kukishinden Ryu Happo Biken Kenpo (Swordsmanship) includes a couple of kata that use Kiai in a couple of different ways, including the way you describe. In NLP terms, it's referred to as a "pattern interrupt"; in other words, when someone is committed an action or thought process, by introducing an unexpected element, you can cause a momentary hesitation, allowing you to then perform other actions (in NLP, they're a bit different to knife disarms, though... ).

There's something about exhaling when contracting body movements and inhaling when expanding body movements that is related to Kiai. Coordinating the body movements with breathing seems to make them more effective. Does any one have a physiological explanation for this?

Sent from my Eris using Tapatalk

Uh, that's actually backwards. Breathe out when performing expanding (outward actions) such as strikes, kicks etc, and breathe in when performing contracting (inward actions) such as blocking actions.

In terms of physiological explanations, looking at what Kiai is in the first place might be an idea.

Kiai is often translated as "Spirit(ed) Shout", but the literal translation of the characters is "Energy" (ki) "Harmony" (ai). These are the same characters as in aiki(do or jutsu), just in the opposite order, so the idea is kind of the opposite from aikido. In aikido, as I understand it, the characters read "Harmony Energy", giving the inference of harmonizing with the energy of the situation, the attack, the opponent, or some other such concept. Kiai, on the other hand, reads "Energy Harmony", and that gives the idea of harmonizing your energy (or intention) together with your actions to create an effect on the outside environment, be it a person, situation, or something else entirely.

This kiai is more a concept of directed intention, rather than just a noise made for show. Of course, it is a very good way, as mentioned, to develop proper habits in breathing when striking as well, and to that end, there are a number of different physical (verbalised) kiai taught. In general terms, there are two main types of kiai, offensive (ending in a vowel - Yah, Doh, Ei etc), and defensive (ending in a constanent - Hut, Hup, Ei-Yush etc). The offensive kiai end in a vowel, as that allows the breath to leave the body, allowing the transferance of energy freely without the inhibition that comes form tensed muscles. The defensive kiai do the opposite, ending in a constanent specifically to hold the breath in and strengthen (re-inforce) the body to aid blocking and recieving manouvres.

 

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What you're describing in the OP is something that is found in some traditional Japanese systems. For instance, Kukishinden Ryu Happo Biken Kenpo (Swordsmanship) includes a couple of kata that use Kiai in a couple of different ways, including the way you describe. In NLP terms, it's referred to as a "pattern interrupt"; in other words, when someone is committed an action or thought process, by introducing an unexpected element, you can cause a momentary hesitation, allowing you to then perform other actions (in NLP, they're a bit different to knife disarms, though... ).
I don't want to be "that guy," the jerk that tries to poo-poo the hard work of others, but this concept, condensed down is "Loud noises can sometimes startle some people, particularly when they're not trained to ignore loud noises."

Like I said, I don't want to be "that guy" but my reaction is a combination of "yeah, doesn't everybody already know this?" and "umm... so?" I mean, you know, the Startle Reflex is pretty well understood.

The best I can come up with in defense of it is to compare it to a verbal "feint" -- a misdirection that maybe he'll fall for and maybe not.

Can it be a useful trick? Sure. But I'm not sure it deserves a whole seminar to cover or the really really impressive sounding title of "Spirit Shout!" Again, I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but a whole class that distills down to "I can startle someone by yelling loud"???

NLP = neuro linguistic programming?

Uh, that's actually backwards. Breathe out when performing expanding (outward actions) such as strikes, kicks etc, and breathe in when performing contracting (inward actions) such as blocking actions.
Well, this isn't exactly a universal concept. I remember reading of some competitive weight lifters who would "remind" each other to breath deeply in when the do "explosive" press-ups by saying "Big Wind!" And this sort of breathing is something that people do naturally.

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 

Sukerkin

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Is that part about the weight lifters really what is thought? Because that does not coincide with either what I was taught when I did weights (admittedly a couple of decades ago) or what comes rather naturally when indulging in either the movement of bodies or manoeuvring weights. With press-ups, you breathe in on the way up and out on the way down - I confess I have never heard anything to the contrary.
 

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To me, the best thing about a Kiai - nothing psyches me up more.
 

Chris Parker

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Hey Kirk,

I don't want to be "that guy," the jerk that tries to poo-poo the hard work of others, but this concept, condensed down is "Loud noises can sometimes startle some people, particularly when they're not trained to ignore loud noises."

Ha, yeah, that's really a big part of it... the "jutsu" (technique) idea comes down to picking the right timing to get the right effect, as well as other aspects. For instance if someone is standing in posture, solid and not moving (committing to an action) one way or another, the effect will be minimal, if any at all. If you use the kiai when they begin to move, interrupting their action, it's far more effective. So it's not just the "loud noise startling" effect, it's to do with interrupting the opponents mind (to use the vernacular), which is a timed and directed intention.

Like I said, I don't want to be "that guy" but my reaction is a combination of "yeah, doesn't everybody already know this?" and "umm... so?" I mean, you know, the Startle Reflex is pretty well understood.

The best I can come up with in defense of it is to compare it to a verbal "feint" -- a misdirection that maybe he'll fall for and maybe not.

Can it be a useful trick? Sure. But I'm not sure it deserves a whole seminar to cover or the really really impressive sounding title of "Spirit Shout!" Again, I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but a whole class that distills down to "I can startle someone by yelling loud"???

A whole seminar? Yeah, I can (and have) structured lessons around the concept, but a whole seminar would be a bit more than is needed. As I said, though, particularly in Japanese systems, it's a little more than just "shouting loud to distract"...

NLP = neuro linguistic programming?

Yep.
 

Jason Striker II

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Ki-Ai literally means "Spirit" and "Unified/Coordinated". Together it translates something like "Total Effort".

Kiai can not only be vocal, but even emanate from the eyes - frightening the opposition.

Anyway, vocal Kiai is a valuable technique - I once used it to stop a huge dog coming at me in attack-mode. I stood my ground, let out a piercing Kiai when he was about 20 feet from me - and he stopped dead in his tracks. The animal was just shocked. Then, with complete appearance (!) of confidence I told him "Sit!" He did. Luckily, then the dumb-*** owner came running around the corner - somehow the dog had gotten away from her while she was walking it.
 

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I use it to startle. Cackling loudly, and abruptly has a similar effect. That tends to disorient even more, in my experience.

I try to use my tantien as much as possible when kiaing.
 

Sukerkin

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I would strongly recommend that those that think that kiai has some mystical combat application think again.

Have a look at my picture on this post - what's that in my hands? What do you think I do with that if someone 'surprises' me? Hint: I don't drop it and run away.

Kiai serve to regulate breathing under stress and to, perhaps, modify the frame of mind of the person making the cry. If an opponent can be startled and discomforted by one, in a circumstance where violence seemed likely, then all well and good but that would probably mean no more than that they have not trained in a martial art that uses kiai.
 

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With press-ups, you breathe in on the way up and out on the way down - I confess I have never heard anything to the contrary.
Funny that! I breathe in on the way down and out as I push up. Must be something to do with us being 'down-under'. :boing2:
 

K-man

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I think it's all been covered by multiple posts. From the name, kiai obviously is to do with energy, spirit, breath or all three. One of the things I was told many years ago was that body and spirit together creates strength. It focuses your energy and is utilised, for example, in breaking. But, perhaps more fundamental is the bodies ability to produce a greater physical output when the lungs are empty. This ties in with the example of weightlifters and if you read up, it was the reason cited by tennis players for their loud grunting (and now shrieking as well). In tournaments we were not awarded a point for a strike unless the strike was accompanied by a kiai signifying focus and intent.

Using the kiai as a means of startling and attacker is also valid. Not only may it cause a momentary distraction but it could also almost be likened to the advice we give in self defence classes such as yelling, "Stop ... Leave me alone!" or the like. It may well be enough to stop an aggressor.

One thing I have noticed is that the kiai is not used anywhere near as much in Okinawan Goju as is the Japanese form so it could well be that it is more of a Japanese addition that something that was brought across from China.
 

lklawson

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I would strongly recommend that those that think that kiai has some mystical combat application think again.

Have a look at my picture on this post - what's that in my hands? What do you think I do with that if someone 'surprises' me? Hint: I don't drop it and run away.
I have a fun story, the essence of which is that my brother tried to startle me by jumping out of the shadows while yelling loudly (kiai?). My "startle reflex" was punching him in the nose. (I felt bad afterward)

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 

lklawson

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Kiai can not only be vocal, but even emanate from the eyes - frightening the opposition.
I participated in a set of back-to-back knife and singlestick tournaments in which I chalked a big ol' smiley face on my fencing mask.

Didn't seem to work at all.

The most effective "intimidating stare" I've ever had was in another knife tournament. I was having such fun that I was grinning from ear-to-ear. At least one of my opponents could see it through the mask and it creaped him out. Every other person was all like "eyes of the kill'a" and stuff. But I was just having fun.

I've noticed that intimidating stares and freaky looking mouth-guards don't seem to help MMA competitors much either so I'm a little bit skeptical of the utility of an intimidating ki-stare.

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 
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