The Kiai, Part II

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-09-25)

I have found that most people who kiai do so more for the vocal decoration or distraction than the fierceness that is within the realm of the true kiai. While the distraction is a positive application, done without the power of the breath, it is short lived. Mind you, I'm not saying that if you kiai you are not powerful. I'm saying that the potential of great energy and strength is diminished or even lost. Over the last forty-one years of training, attending inter-school challenges, and more specifically, participating in tournaments, the kiai has in some cases become just vocal decoration, and in that one sets his/her parameters where there should be none.

Let's assume you have practiced the breathing exercises in my first article. Now you have an ingrained, spontaneous reaction to an event either stressful or not, where you control your breathing and approach this event differently than before. Using stress as an example, you now find it necessary to attack your opponent. By using your kiai, you now have energy that propels you into your technique. Remember, it's not how loud you shout, but the strength of the sound you make that makes kiai powerful. You now have extended your true spirit, unified with your body motion to accomplish a successful end.

Taisen Sensei would say: "Kiai without any object or desire for profit". He meant that it is in the belief, practice, and realistic application of perfect technique, that kiai becomes "thoughtless".

I'm often asked where in our forms (katas) does one apply the kiai? For instance, where in Long Form 4 would you use the kiai without sounding like the "Little Engine That Could" or like a steam locomotive on it's last legs? It is difficult to teach everyone exactly how they should breathe; that's why the technique of breathing is learned first so that each individual puts his/her own signature to it. When mastered, then the teacher can critique the application within Long 4.

But let me say this: Don't compare the practice of a static or seated meditative exercise and concentration with the active training applications. If you continually practice the breathing it will enhance your forms and fighting. Taking Long 4 as an example, I have never thought it should be taught as a perfection of "gestures", but rather the attitude adopted toward them. To me that's what makes them right or not. The student must not think "I have to do this form this way". (Forms competition excepted; Judges seem to want performance first). I teach and preach to train the body and the mind to create each time, one total gesture mobilizing your balanced breathing, your fighting spirit in an instant. This is the essence of forms (katas) to me.

Breathing is a life long quest for perfection to the serious martial artist regardless of style. Practice your breathing technique, not to acquire some magical power through kiai, but in the way that the Art requires, and in the way of your day-to-day existence.

Finally, use your kiai "without any object or desire for profit". Most people want to get something outside themselves. Kiai is first and always within you, so just be.