In order to understand the reasons for the kiai in martial arts, we need to break down the word kiai. Ki = inner energy, Ai = join. When a student kiais’ it is the joining of all your energy. It is a very personal thing, believe it or not, but there are physiological aspects that should be the same for everyone.
Physiological aspects of the kiai
The properly executed kiai is not a scream. If you think about it, screaming is what you do when you are afraid! Certainly a martial artists looking to engage all of his or her inner energy would not want to scream.
Screams generally come from your throat. Kiai’s do not. If martial artists screamed out kiais, we would all lose our voices very quickly. And your voice is a weapon, so you wouldn’t want to wear out your weapon. A properly executed kiai is a much deeper sound than a scream because it is generated in your torso. Put your hands on your waist with your feet about shoulder width apart. Now lean from side to side. In order to maintain balance, you need to engage your core muscles. These same muscles help to “push-out” a proper kiai. ( Even more reasons to strengthen those ab’s!)
The 3 reasons why we teach our students to kiai
At The Bushido School of Karate there are 3 specific reasons for every kiai:
To scare the attacker, or bully
Imagine the shock you feel when someone surprisingly yells “BOO!” right in your face. It is disarming, and just might give you enough time to get out of a bad situation.
To call for help
A strong kiai will have a resounding affect and will alert others. A very important reason to continuously practice kiai’s is so that doing it becomes second nature. It is the same reason we practice the same kick over and over: to get better at it. When an individual is under a stressful situation, he or she may temporarily lose the ability to speak. This is a result of adrenal stress conditioning – (a topic for another day!) . But if the kiai is practiced as often as the kick, there is a better chance of a loud outcome.
To feel stronger ( the joining of your energy )
It is hard enough for adults to comprehend this concept, at least at the beginner level. So there had to be a more relatable way to get this very fundamental idea across to our younger students.
We give our students a narrative of the sounds made by a person attempting to lift a heavy box. Usually this is not done silently. For some mystical reason those grunts and groans give us more power. So kiais work in the same way; they give us more power.