As a kid learning Karate we were encouraged to shout so loud we try to make the roof rattle.
It was called a Kiai.
All we new back then was that it made your stomach hard so if got hit it wouldn’t hurt.
What we didn’t know is that it is an essential part of generating insane amounts of power.
Fast forward to the present day and my knowledge and understanding has grown.
The word Kiai comes from the Japanese and translates roughly to “Life Breath” and it actually doesn’t need to be loud, we can Kiai silently, but where’s the fun in that?
But Kiai’s also go by the less glamorous names of “grunt”, “yell” and “scream” and one of the most famous Kiaiers of all was not even a martial artist but a tennis player.
Do you remember Monica Seles, put her name into google and you’ll surely get to hear her ear splitting yell as she struck the ball.
Plus, the Olympics have just finished, did you hear the noise the weightlifters make when the going got tough?
Or the shot putters? or the javelin throwers or any other power athlete?
So whats it all about?
Try the following:
Place your hands on your belly and feel it expand as you take in a deep breath. Now exhale as sharply as possible.
Did you feel your abdomen tighten and become like a rock? If you exhaled sharply enough you should have.
By bracing the abdominal and the so called “core” muscles you create a solid connection from the hip to the shoulder. So power generated by the legs and glutes can be effectively transferred to the shoulder and arm in order to lift/throw/strike efficiently.
The same bracing action is also very useful in absorbing a force, be it a punch, kick or tackle, and protecting the important stuff underneath, like your spine and the digestive system.
But why the noise?
If you are involved in Yoga or Chi Gung, you may already know that there are certain syllables that when uttered or chanted are supposedly very good for the mind and body. Probably the best known is the chant “Om”, however this isn’t the only syllable used, there are many others all with difering properties and effects on the body.
It’s something to do with vibration, but I’m not an expert so I’m not going to go on about mystic chanting, but I do think there maybe something in it.
When I deadlift I tend to make an elongated (the deadlift takes time to lift) “eeeeeee!!” noise, when I hit the bag I make an “ush!” sound and today while practicing Kettlebell jerks I noticed myself making a “itss!” on the jerk out and an “huugh!” on the drop to the chest.
Now I’m not the first person to make these observations.
I read it elsewhere, it may have been in one of Pavel Tsatsouline’s works, I don’t remember, and I’m not going to search for it. However the author mentioned how a notable strongman had varying noises for various lifts. On certain lifts he’d hiss, on others he’d yell, these noises helped him put up huge weights.
In the martial arts the Kiai has become something magical, pershaps the result of too much hypothesising and not enough practicing within the modern dojo.
Thankfully we can still see the phenomenon on the tennis court and in the weights room for what it is, without the movie magic and Bruce Lee impersonations. We can see that a good solid shout produces a solid linkage in order to best transfer power from the ground to the arm.
In short, Kiai’s are the real deal. I have several different ones for various occasions.
So next time you don your white pyjamas and coloured belt, Kiai, but do it with feeling, feel the whole body tighten and the mind focus like a laser.
Become the warrior, let your fearsome yell send shivers down the opponents spine, because with it comes power.
The power to cause serious damage.