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shaunatk's picture
looking closer at the ' Kiai '

I've just found an article on the web site called '' Kiai: The Fading Cry of the Martial Artist '' by Jamie Clubb. And I must say I found it a refreshing read, as I have recently been asking myself many questions regarding the Kiai and my assertion of it during practice and training, I will certainly keep in mind the points made in the article during my next training session. If you have not read it please do so and you may, like me, appreciate the kiai a little bit  more than the '' insert kiai here '' moments a lot of us may have undoubtably witnessed or have done in the past.



Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

I'd second that! It's six years old that article (how time flies!) and still very much worth reading. Jamie has a great way of getting right to the heart of the matter in his writing. The article can be found here:


All the best,


Ives's picture

An interesting read indead. Kiai is used quite often in our dojo. Some kihon-excercises start with kiai; to get into the right mood - a spirit shout so to say. Especially a good tool for beginners, who often find it auckward to kiai.

swdw's picture

From something I did several years ago. One of these days I need to update it


What I will describe here is one veiwpoint on the kiai, so many will probably disagree. Although this is a long post, I'll try to keep it as short as possible by not going into intricate detail. There's a lot of myths circulating around a kiai. Part of this is from MA history where a physiological reaction is explained from a spiritual perspective. This is understandable as there is much about the internal workings of the body that were uknown at the time. Before talking about what makes a correct kiai and why, let's look at the physiological effects of a correct kiai. The effect on the practitioner is two fold. With a correct kiai, there will be a slight flush in the practitioner, the pulse rate elevates slightly, and in some cases, the hair on the back of the neck or even the arms will stand up. This is very similar to the reaction caused by an adrenaline rush. Some studies were performed that showed certain noises can produce an adrenaline rush in the body, regardless of the source. They also found deep regulated breathing allows you to "control" the adrenaline rush. Note the effects of breathing in the following quote:

As described by Jim Viceroy, a Chicago-area exercise physiologist and sports psychology consultant,

e wrote:
the body works like a piston-stretching and contracting, storing energy and releasing it-while executing a volleyball slam. Says Vicory: "Your body goes through a series of cocking all your joints. Your hips cocks and your trunk cocks, your elbow and your wrist-like rubber bands. You store elastic energy, you create the most tension possible in the body, and you increase the range of motion, including the chest. By taking a nice deep breath, you're presetting your muscles, stretching them. And so when you exhale, if you do it correctly, you'll get this whole marshaling of all those muscles at the same time, and this generates enormous force. Therefore you have more velocity, more power. The effect is partially psychological; much like the kiai, the shout of the martial artist, it breaks down inhibitions and intimidates the opponent. Of course, the force generated by the kiai would propel a backhanded tennis ball over the fence."
Comment- earlier in the article, they explain that a "nice deep breath" means breathing with the diaphragm. Summary- The physiological/psychological effects of a kiai performed at the right time, help synchronize the movement with the kiai, firing the "cocked" muscles and creating a strong mental intent that breaks down inhibitions that would keep you from releasing your full strength. The rapid release of breath in the kiai, coupled with the increaed adrenaline results in a noticeable jump in power (increased strength from increased adrenaline is a well documented phenomena). In adddition, the forced deep inhalation also helps the practitioner utilize the adrenaline rush in a "fight" response rather than a flight response. One of the things kata practice does is aid in teaching you to control your breathing and link it to your movements. He did mention the effect on the opponent. Let's take a quick look at that.

Short, loud noises create the fight or flight reaction. Example of such noises would be the initial clap of thunder, a pot dropped on the floor behind you, someone sneaking up behind you and yelling 'boo' loudly. This even happens in species other than man. Many times this will cause a momentary hesitation before the flight reaction takes over. The same thing happens with a proper kiai. It will induce a temporary "flight response" in your opponent, which can cause a pause in their movement and thought processes. This gives you a great advantage. The only thing is, the more often you kiai against an opponent, the less effect it has. I use this as a training tool with my students. I have literally stopped them in their tracks during ippon on either their attack or counter. I work with them and tell them to learn to continue in spite of the kiai. They get better over time, although a kiai at an unexpected moment can still freeze them. You can see it rob power from a more advanced student's technique when delivered unexpectedly. (Stand behind them and kiai). The fact that a strong kiai breaks down inhibitions can be seen when teaching people to kiai. Hence- the teaching that a strong kiai= a strong fighting spirit. A beginners initial kiais are weak and ineffective. Making them stand and practice their kiai can often induce giggles and smiles in beginners. Ask them why and they'll say "it just seems funny". When they can get past the social conditioning (don't yell or raise your voice) and really cut loose with a good kiai, this mentally sets them up for delivering full power techniques. I get a chuckle when I see a beginner produce their first good kiai and actually startle themselves Now onto a proper kiai- First- the air should be forced out using the diaphragm Second- it should be SHORT. No Bruce Lee drawn out waahhh's, eeee's and oooohhh's. (sorry BL fans, but that was for the movies). Third- it should be loud Fourth- the sound should be produced without any hard consonants. The reason for this is making a consonant sound like the 'k' in kiai restricts the breathing and slows down the expulsion of air Fifth- do NOT exhale 100% of yoru air. Anyone that's been hit with no air in their lungs will tell you it's worse than being hit with your lungs full. Keep 15-25% of your air. Think of your kiai as a "Clap of thunder" or the sound of a gunshot. It should crack the silence like a whip.

On to some questions I've heard Can it kill? I guess if the opponent had a weak heart and was untrained it would be the same as some people that have literally been "scared to death". I could find no documented cases with independent witnesses to show this has happened. Can a kiai stop an animal? Yes- under the right conditions. Often the initial fright reaction makes an animal freeze (tiger's roar as an example). I know a woman that stopped a charging, snarling, Great Dane with her kiai Anyway, this is a short explanation. This is an interesting subject and there is more info and other facets of this I didn't go into in this explanation.

BRITON55's picture

Interesting article ...my queerie is who decides where in a kata the kiai should be used as different styles employ solo double or more kiai in the kata some tae kwondo express it every move, so who decided where? this aspect of kiai an anomoly that has yet to be explained succinctly to me...any suggestions anyone?

Yours in Budo


Gavin Mulholland
Gavin Mulholland's picture

You do Steve.

Obviously in class you need to follow what everyone else is doing but kata is mostly a solo drill anyway and you will emphasis different bits of it at different times depending on what you are working on at the moment.

The same goes for pace. Again, in class it makes sense that everyone moves at the same time but when you train alone, you set the pace.

Al Peasland
Al Peasland's picture

I wrote this for MAI a while ago


My take on how Kiai is one of the most effective Martial Arts techniques that directly translates into street based scenarios

BRITON55's picture

Kiai or way aye cheeky I have heard many Kiai over the years ranging from sexy to monty pythonesque, and never saw any practical use for it...never used in competition boxing only correct breathing and exhalation, never used it in cage fighting mma, never used it it in street brawls....only ever made to use it in karate type competitions to accompany a strike to validate scoring a point or by an instructor when doing a kata, which always seemed to be put in like a full stop before repeating the same set of moves on the return journey in a kata.

No offence to Kiai enthusiasts... I have practiced meditation, yoga, shiatsu so i am familiar with energy channelling etc. cant seem to find a place for it unless used as a battle cry to give me the courage to bayonet charge my enemy.

See video attachment to discern its validity.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

BRITON55 wrote:
No offence to Kiai enthusiasts... I have practiced meditation, yoga, shiatsu so i am familiar with energy channelling etc. cant seem to find a place for it unless used as a battle cry to give me the courage to bayonet charge my enemy

I totally agree that “energy challenging” as no place in conflict. I don’t subscribe to the view that “Ki” is a force we can use to improve our health and to injure others. However I do believe in “Kiai” and it would be a great shame if people were to “mystify” something that to me is very straightforward. My view is that things are more inline with the “battle cry” side of the above statement.

My favoured definition of “Kiai” is “A coming together of all your energies, in a single instant, then ensures your goal is attained”. A less accurate more “colloquial” definition could be “giving it everything you’ve got”.  It’s that inner feeling of total full commitment to the moment that is Kiai. A side effect of this feeling is the associated shout. However, the shout is not the Kiai … it is a response to Kiai. It is also possible to Kiai without shouting.

If I were to set a bomb off there would be a loud bang. The bang is not the explosion though. Likewise, Kiai is not the shout.

For techniques to have the best chance of ending the fight they need to be delivered with total commitment so I see “Kiai” as being vital and integral to all martial arts.

In the above clip “Kiai” is presented as being the ability to project a supernatural energy and I don’t believe in that at all. I think all such notations are deluded.

Kiai is better thought of as a coming together our mental intent, emotional intensity, technique and physicality to ensure a powerful fight ending technique. The emotional, mental and physical coming together like that (kiai) has the physiological effect of eliciting a primal shout. We should not confuse the “cause” and the “effect” though.

In short, I don’t see Kiai as mystical at all. It is something that is very down to earth and has a very valid place within the martial arts.

BRITON55 wrote:
I have heard many Kiai over the years ranging from sexy to monty pythonesque, and never saw any practical use for it...never used in competition boxing only correct breathing and exhalation, never used it in cage fighting mma, never used it in street brawls

We may not see big screams all the time, but we see techniques with full commitment all the time. We also see the shouts too though. Miyamoto Musashi said there were “three shouts” which were before engagement, while executing a technique, and after the battle.

We shout before to psych ourselves up and to unnerve the enemy (as in the famous story of Matrumura). We shout during as a result of full commitment to the moment. We shout afterward to “dissolve the combative state” and to send a message (which Geoff Thompson has tales about in his book Watch My Back).

Above is picture of Chuck Liddell “kiai-ing” and here is one of Lenny McLean doing the same. As I say, “kiai” is a very simple thing and we should not be thrown off by the Japanese term and the deluded mysticism of a minority. It’s nothing more complex than the barking, growling and roaring we see in the animal world. In the primal world of conflict, we need to get primal too. That full commitment is “kiai” and the resulting shout is 100% natural and has nothing to do with the supernatural.

All the best,


Oerjan Nilsen
Oerjan Nilsen's picture

Like Iain Abernethy I see the Kiai as something straight forward and his classification (an Mushashis) of the three shouts (before, during and after) sums it up very well for me.

The Korean term for Kiai is "Kihap". A term made up from two words. Ki as in energy and "hap" as in gathering or collecting. So Kihap can be translated as a gathering of energy. I looked the term up in a Korean English dictionary and in the dictionary Kihap was translated as "a spirited yell".  

I thought you would find this relevant considering that most Taekwondo terms was the japanese terms translated into Korean.

Best regards from Oerjan.

Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

The most common use of Kiai I have seen in sports is in Tennis, particularily with the women's matches.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Here is a photo of an “MMA Kiai” (in fight version) that I was made aware of by “KaratebyJesse” on Twitter:

BRITON55's picture

Are you sure hes not just yawning?devil

Actually the best examples of kiai come from weight lifters...channelling everything into the lifts. I think trying to own a kiai strictly to ma is perhaps missing the point that intrinsic energy ..effort..is a natural human expression of that through kiai, and, kiai as the announcement of that energy.

Peace and harmony Pyung ahn

Yours in budo Steve cool