“K” is for “Kiai” – Kiai in Martial Arts

Kiai Kanji - How to KiaiOr “Can I buy a vowel for that kiai”?

The kiai – Bruce Lee made it sound like a tortured chicken (imho), Fumio Demura sounds like a growling bear… how do you do it right?

We all are told why we kiai and what sounds we should make, but do we really know what sound makes a good kiai and why? Like any good technique have you really stopped to wonder just how to do it right?

As a kid I was told, make a noise, distract your opponent, say “Kiai” or “hiyaa” or some similar sound from deep within. Use it to distract, to focus your energy, to tighten your core, to get the air out of your system to prevent getting winded…

In my years of training I was told many different ways to properly kiai, but not to the detail of a joint manipulation for example. The difference was that the joint manipulation was met with some anatomy basics that helped you understand why the technique was working and how to apply it in a different situation.  When it came to the kiai I was taught “make ‘X’ noise, don’t kiai from your throat…”. But what makes a good kiai? Was there a good or a bad kiai?

What proceeds is my opinion. My thoughts based on pondering what makes a good kiai. Not having ever been taught the art of kiai-jutsu, and not being able to find any materials that answer the questions of “how exactly to do it”, means that I am not an expert in this field. I am hoping for feedback and enlightenment. Disagree, ponder with me, and or add support to the discussion.

Of the worldly collective knowledge in Wikipedia, it states:

Modern Kiai are often written as Hi-yah, Aiyah, Eeee-yah, or Hyah. Traditional Japanese Dojo generally use single syllables beginning with a vowel…

With the kiai have you stopped to think of what consonants and vowels make a good kiai, letters or letter combinations to avoid?

First of all, letters or sounds that cause your mouth to open, in my opinion, do two dangerous things:

  1. An open jaw is an easily broken jaw
  2. It takes more effort to keep your core hardened. Yup, the belly gets soft. Poke your fingers into your stomach and say “kiai” or “hiai”. You get a sudden jolt and then it quickly lets off the “shielding”.

What I like to use for Kiai

For a long kiai – I use an “H” to an “S”. Kind of sounds like “Husssssssss”. The H forces the air out fast with the diaphragm, and holding the S keeps the mouth closed with the tongue pressed against the sides of the mouth adding support. The S also helps keep the abdominals engaged. I find I can also make this combination quite loud for distractions and the prolonged exhale helps decrease internal pressure from impact during breakfalls.

For a short quick kiai – I use an “H” to an “M”, kind of like a nasal “Humm”. This allows the same initial expelling of air and then allows for the mouth to be fully closed and to maintain the abdominal “shielding”. The final bit of air can be exhaled through the nose. An alternative is “H” to a “P” which I find gives great core tightening, allows for a quick and strong kiai, but the downside is although the lips finish closed the jaw is open and the tongue is down and back.

Keep in mind these types of kiai are to get the best combination of energy focus, distraction, core strengthening, removal of air. There may be more effective breathing methods to do the job. For  example, if the need to distract is not there, more of a simple forceful exhale through the nose may achieve some of the goals of a kiai without opening the jaw.

What do you use in your school to kiai? What are your thoughts on the methods mentioned above?