Something that is almost never mentioned in any depth is the Kiai.
When I began we were shown to Kiai at seeral points in kata. Most kata 2 kaia. And for Kusanku kata 3 of them. Outside of being shown where to kiai I can remember no discussion of them, Nor was there any discussion of what shout to use.
I had a long history of choir singing, in church and school, so making a loud noise was not difficult for me, and somewhere I began using extremely loug kiai when competing with kata.
It was not a constant thing, Often in the dojo working on kata I would not Kiai at all.
Then, later, I read a bit about Kiai as a ‘Spirit Shout’, the definition mainly given, and that it could be vocalized ot performed soundless, at any time in a kata. I also understood that the shout was referred to as a Kiai, but the sound produced was not the word Kiai, rather something else.
I began to understand the use of Kiai, not a fixed point or sound, rather a focused intensity to use, at times reinforced by sound. But that focused intensity could be done at any instant, for my understanding.
Far too soon, right after black belt, I was teaching, and of course taught the youth I was teaching the same Kiai points I was shown, I explained what a Kiai was, demonstrating it, and that the shout was referred to as a Kian, but the shout used was something different. I used a variety of Kiai that I had developed.
What I discovered was that beginners would never understand what they were told, and when I told them to Kiai, they would always shout “Kiai” at that point. I also discovered that for beginners, those under Dan, other uses were often beyond their understanding.
So Kiai just remained a fixed point in Kata for them, an introduction to be explored later.
In those years at the Boys Club of Scranton, at the start of the school year, we would often perform a demonstration of the students’ karate at the Boys Club for parents and family friends.
So one year we began with the kids performing a group Seisan Kata, and using their Kiai. Where they literally would shout Kiai at the appropriate points in the kata. And their shouting Kiai was with very small child voices.
Then the parents would give a small titter of laughter when the kids did this.
I could not let the chance be missed.
In a quiet steady voice (by intention) I asked all the parents to stand up. Then I explained what the Kiai was, not the shout of Kiai that the kids did, rather a very different sound was the future intention. A shout that could strengthen their technique and also stun the opponent setting them up for a defensive response. All the time I was speaking softly.
Then I continued speaking, “What the Kiai should sound like is something like this.
And then I blasted a Kiai, with all the force I could muster behind it.
The parents all dropped to their seats,
No more titters, just shocked looks on their faces, and a valuable teaching moment for the kids. The beginning of a lesson….
Years later we were no longer doing demonstrations, I had come around to the point that every class possible was too important to miss. And the parents were always welcome to watch class too.
No matter how I taught them, new kids (all of them under black belt) would most often still shout a weak kiai when doing group kata. Suddenly, inexpertly I would then respond with a forceful Kata, louder than the entire group together, and the kids would get the same startled look on their face.
I continued to make a point.
But I did not go further with the kids about Kiai.
I had come to realize that Kyu training was more to develop the power in technique and stance, that would then be utilized in Dan training.
Developing a Dan was very important to me. It was helping them recognize how much there was still to learn, and that they would be responsible as adults, to chose to train of not train. To learn or to not learn, how much their choice. For that is what we should be training everyone to be able to do, To make responsible decisions every time.
For example almost 100% or the youth who reached black belt, will make the responsible decision to leave karate, as their lives are more important to them. School, work, military service, marriage, and so forth are far more important choices for young adults to consider. A very few will make choices that lead to their return. Those who are already in adult lives, can decide to undergo into the depths of Dan instruction, as they have already found a place for karate training in their lives. However in time they will all come to a point where they face other considerations, and if you have done your job right, you will celebrate their choice, even if is to move away from other training.
This making choices is another step in understanding how to use Kiai.
As I write this audible Kiai is almost an impossibility for me anymore. The weakness in my facial muscle makes most of my speech impossible to understand. But I can still utilize Kiai n what kata I practice.
As I have come to understand it kiai is the full use of the body, more correctly a force enhancer with the use of correct body enhancement, another force enhancer too.
The vocal version of Kiai, can do more than become a force enhancer. It can serve to startle someone unexpectedly, perhaps just for an instant, but that instant allowing an opening to be created in their defense. There are legends that Kiai alone might kill. Of course who can point to anyone who has really killed with their Kiai. Most likely just the stuff of legends.
But at close range, of if attacked in an enclosed space where the sound would be magnified, remember those parents who dropped into their seats and consider what something unexpected might do.
More likely the other use of kiai, whether vocal or silent, as another force enhancer, strengthening the force from correct alignment should be considered.
To develop such ability is a personal journey, working to make the use of a Kiai when technique is executed with same.
An instructor can but point the way. The journey is a solitary path you choose to undertake.
A bit unconventional that all things are not used by everyone in all karate practices. But a point of view I developed over my decades working with skilled adepts, each choosing different ways to grow their art.
Along my way I was shown a method of incorporating some Aikido in our karate practice, A method where Aikido was integrated into karate training, both arts being present.
That does not make me an Aikido-ka by any means, but understanding Aikido a bit because I have done this.
I was shown for example the Aikido that could be found in Heian Yon da,
And on my own found many aikido in Chinto kata.
I also discovered I never met an Aikido book I did not like. At the same time even a good book would sit on my shelves for many years before I would realize what it contained.
Back around 2000 I purchased “Total Aikido the Master Course” by Shioda Gozo. I realized it was a good read, but it took me 18 years before I realized how much karate was in there, and great links by me between understanding karate principles from an aikido point of view.
One such moment is where Shioda describes ‘Atemi Striking’ and I see a relevance to Kiai too. The word Atemi meaning the strike, what we use constantly in karate.
“The moment of contact becomes the strike.
The founder, Usheiba Sensei, said, “In a real battle, atemi is seventy percent, technique is thirty percent.” The training that we do in the dojo is designed to teach us various sots of techniques, the correct way to move our body, effective way of using our power, and how to create a relationship with the other person.
In a real battle, we must use the power that we have developed in our bodies in the dojo and use it explosively in an instant; we must decide the outcome of the fight at that moment. In that situation atemi becomes very important.
In aikido, we don’t use any special strength to apply atemi, Just like in all the other techniques, we can generate power through the use of focused energy. For example, in the case of shomen-tsuki, if you can use the front knee to effectively transfer off os the power of the forward movement of your body, all of the body’s energy will be transferred to your fist. Basically, this is the same as the principle of hiriki no yosei (elbow power movement.
In atemi timing if of course very important. When uke comes toward you, if you can time it so that you make your strike at the moment he is off-balance you will be able to hit with great power. Strikes as they are used in aikido are not limited to just hitting with the fist of tegatana (side of the hand). If you make contact with the uke with focused power, that is atemi, si it is possible to use your shoulder, your back, or any part of your body to make the atemi.
There is a lot to think about there,
The relationship with Atemi and our striking is but one possibility.
But the way they talk about focused power behind the striking, does suggest parallels to karate Kiai too. Now an Aikdo-ka mignt not agree with me, suggesting they are very different things. I just suggest there are similarities too. And how often do you think about striking an attacker with your back reinforced with kiai…. Hmmm.
To think… perchance to dream…. And