What Every Karate-ka Should Know About “Kiai!”

kiai-jesseCan you teach someone “fighting spirit”?

Tricky question.

  • Some people would say that you can’t teach it – it has to come from “the inside”.
  • Other people say that we don’t need to teach it – it’s such a “natural thing”.
  • And lastly, some people would say that we shouldn’t even teach it – there’s no use for it in “modern society”.

Oh yeah?

With that sort of mentality, perhaps we should just stop teaching Karate altogether?

Self-defense is such a “natural thing” that it will automagically come “from the inside” if it’s ever needed in our “modern society”, right?


Except, there’s a problem with that:

We, as human beings, are such crazily complex animals that we often need to be taught even the most basic, natural things.

We teach people how to run barefoot these days – even though it’s how we were born!

Indeed, personal trainers make loads of money teaching athletes how to run, deadlift and squat – even though running, squatting and lifting things are 100% natural movements.

And in Karate, of course, we regularly teach people how to cultivate their primal “fighting spirit” – even though survival is the very first law of nature and should come automatically to everyone!


It doesn’t.

Because modern society has lulled us in to a Disney-like sense of constant security; where our biggest fight each day is the internal Starbucks struggle of whether to have a regular caffè latte or decaf.

But here’s the thing, compadre…

If there’s one thing my Karate Nerd™ lifestyle has taught me – through interviewing, training with, competing against and observing some of the very best Karate people on earth – it has to be this:

The best Karate-ka all possess a die-hard fighting spirit of incredible proportions.

And this unyielding sense of grit always manifests itself in one phenomenon:

The dojo is on of few places where adults are not only allowed, but encouraged, to scream out loud. Use his opportunity for a primal release of energy.

Their kiai.

Hence, in my opinion, the quickest way to teach fighting spirit – to anyone on any level – is as brutally effective as it is surprisingly simple.

Practice the kiai.

And don’t only practice it, but study it. Watch it. Think about it. Observe it. Re-discover it.

Then let it transform you.

Because not only will a kiai make your throat sore, but more importantly it will kickstart your fighting spirit like nothing else can. And that – to me – is the real purpose and value of kiai; a veritable litmus test of your fighting spirit.

Show me your kiai and I will tell you who you are.

But of course, there’s an art to kiai.

And even some science too.

With that being said, here’s a couple of things every Karate-ka should know about kiai:

First of all, what is “kiai”, exactly?

To put it super simply; kiai is that scream you hear in most Asian martial arts.

(Not to be confused with grunting).

Although many people think kiai means something along the lines of “battle cry” or “spirited shout”, the truth is actually a little bit different.

A quick look at the kanji (Sino-Japanese ideograms) that make up the word should give you a hint as to what the term really means:

  • Ki = Energy
  • Ai = Join

In other words, kiai is the convergence of your energy.

Simple as that.

Nothing mysterious or magical about it.

Thus, when you scream kiai, you are not only “screaming”, but more importantly compressing and delivering an instant release of your stored energy.

(Of course, there exists debate among people in the martial arts community about the whole “ki/chi/qi” energy thing. Most of those people live on fluffy clouds. Here’s what ki really is.)


When should you use kiai, then?

There are no rules for kiai, but here’s when you could use it:

  • When you want to channel your energy.
  • When you need to kickstart your fighing spirit.
  • When you’re attacking or countering an opponent.
  • When you do a kata.
  • When you want to demonstrate your power.
  • When you need to breathe.
  • When you want to startle your opponent.

Simple enough.

Som how exactly should one perform a proper kiai, then?

Well, there’s more to it than “just screaming”.

Check it:

Here’s how to do a pretty awesome kiai.

  • Open your hands.
  • Put your hands by your sides, standing like a boss.
  • Push hard on both sides of your belly (below your ribs) with the inner ridges of your hands (the space between your thumb and index finger).
  • Now cough.
  • (You heard me.)
  • Cough again.
  • Feel that? That’s your kiai muscle (transversus abdominis).
  • Congratulations!

    Hold your hands here.

The intra-abdominal pressure you’re experiencing with your hands is exactly where your kiai should originate.

(That’s right; in your belly – not in your throat!)

However, at this stage you’re just letting your body work subconsciously. The next step is to achieve it consciously, with your mind (using a shout instead of a cough), and then in conjunction with a technique.

These three steps are known as “shin-gi-tai” (lit. “mind-technique-body”), and together they represent the glue that holds your kiai together:

Fighting spirit.

Now, let’s top this off with three commonly asked questions.

First one:

“I think kiai is pretty silly. Do I really need to scream just to “re-discover” my fighting spirit?”

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

More likely, you’re probably just afraid of sounding silly. But the only one who looks silly in a dojo is the person who doesn’t scream. Also, even if you think kiai is “silly”, don’t underestimate the value of placebo, closely related to the secret of reigi. Scream yourself to greatness.

Second question:

“I can’t find “my” kiai. How should it sound?”

Imagine the dark sound of rolling thunder. Then, suddenly, a crack of lightning viciously strikes down.

Now copy that sound!

Many people try to articulate the word “kiai” with their lips, not knowing that this is just the name of the scream – not the actual thing you shout.

So how should a great kiai sound, then?

It’s 110% personal.

Some scream “eei!”, some scream “yaa!”, some scream “ooh!”. But the sound coming out of your mouth is actually secondary.

Focus on the breathing and fighting spirit parts first.

Last question:

“But Jesse-san, I’m too shy. I can’t scream!”

Shy? Oh please.

If somebody held a gun to your head and told you to scream at the top of your lungs, you would scream without even blinking.

So use that imagery.



You’re not shy.

You’re just undermotivated.

Now, to really bring this point home, let me end with a story – as told to me directly by one of my old-school sensei back when I used to live in Okinawa.

I remember it like yesterday…

The Story of the Lion on the Savannah

“Listen closely…

You are standing on a savannah.

There are no trees around. No buildings or people. Nothing.

But there’s a huge lion in front of you.

And this lion is very hungry.

The lion roars!

“He’s gonna attack!”, you think.

The lion roars again, even louder.

In three seconds, you’ll become lion food.

The lion shows its sharp teeth.

You have two seconds left of your life…

You can’t run.

You can’t fight.

You can’t hide.

One second left…

The lion roars again, louder!

You have ONE last chance to convince it to not eat you – RIGHT NOW.”

What do you do?

Leave a comment and let me know.


    • Hah - that's the spirit!
    • Francis
      Hahahaha...Mikapiensa. The best answer!
  • Donnatello
  • We should totally make a sound library of all our kiais. Would be fun to hear :P
    • Donnatello
      mine sounds something like TZOIEET!!! (one syllable) One teacher didn't like my kia and said it should start with a vowel sound, and I understand his logic. I've tried changing it, but its just not as focused and clear as my natural kia.
      • Josh Simmers
        What is the logic behind starting your kiai with a vowel sound versus a consonant sound?
      • Ji Choi
        Nice one!
      • Ji Choi
        I would roar! My Kiai before fighting is "arghhh" while pounding chest and hitting my head, when fighting it's a mixture of "aoohh", "haaa", "baah!".
    • Who's up for the challenge?! :D
      • lobita
        I'm up!
      • Julio
        me too ><
      • George Mehnert
        I just read these posts and I am a couple of months shy of 77 years old. I studied Judo and Karate under a gentleman in Arizona named Bob Trias. I studied under Bob beginning at age 14 in 1955. At that time Bob was a 3rd dan, reaching something like 10th dan and he is better known as Grand Master Trias. Bob taught Okinawan style Karate, very grounded much like Gracie Jujitsu in its grounding-not much flying through the air. Bob passed away in 1989. I studied under Bob for 4 years before entering the Army and for 3 years after the Army and only mastered 1st dan. Bob, when I began was a Lieutenant on the Arizona Highway Patrol and taught many police officers as well as us things like come-along techniques, disarming someone with a knife, gun, club, nun-chuka, how to forcefully remove a recalcitrant person from a car, etc. In and following the Army I was in law enforcement for well over 20 years. Bob required that we play Judo for a minimum of one to two years, and in my case for two years because I was the so young at age 14 , except for his daughter who was younger than even me and was playing karate by then. We had to play Judo for a years or so, so Bob could assess our temperaments during that time because of the potential dangers or damage we could cause with what he taught us. Many of us also learned how to break. Bob taught the kiai as something that is mental, physical, and spiritual and that emanates from the lower abdomen, as a very sharp, crisp single syllable as either "ha" or my preference which was "sa". I preferred "sa" because an "S" is a hard sound whereas an "H" is a softer sound. It is almost a "bark". Much like an Army drill instructor barking a command of execution. I have played and taught tennis for many years and many tennis players who scream when they hit the ball, particularly even world ranked women tennis players today, say they are doing a kiai. Not so. They are expelling air and shouting or screaming. It is not the same. I even believe it is more to distract their opponent than anything else. I expel air when I strike a tennis ball, but not as a kiai and not loudly at all.. A quality kiai is essential to breaking and the timing of the strike and the kiai must be perfect. A kiai is something that must be practiced. Try it 500 times in a mirror. We began breaking thin pieces of wood and sod and worked up to bricks, tiles, and concrete blocks. But that was many, many years ago, almost a lifetime ago. I was privileged to know and to be able to study under Bob.
    • Donnatello
    • Candice Armstrong
      Love this idea!! Would be a great way for new people to hear what they should be in the comfort of their homes. Been working on teaching the stomach technique at my dojo!
    • Mariam
  • Ian
    Hey Lion, meet the Hurticane. PS: double-stomp the groin. Okay ... the kids who play around in the Dojo (and everywhere else) yelling at the top of their lungs ... when it's time for them to do a kata & kiai ... sound like their trying not to disturb a grumpy librarian. How does one get these kids to unleash their "inner playground fun" kiai during kata??
    • The Hurticane - correct answer Ian-san! ;) Regarding the kids, here's a tip: Download a mobile/tablet app that measures sound (green color = low sound, red color = high sound) and use it as a motivator for the kids to unleash their inner lions. Believe me, this works (too) well!
  • Philip Barr
    Mine always ends up being sort of a "RAAAAAHGHGGHGHH!". Not sure why the "R" at the beginning, but it works.
  • Dear Jesse San, The 'Kiai' Very well explained. You could also add to it by elaborating on the importance of the KIAI, Taekwondo too uses the 'Kihap' a similar sound to the Kiai, in their forms. The adrenalin rush it can generate is tremendous. One of our participants in our training session, a woman exclaimed, she felt very good after using the Kiai on her husband!. Then there are stories of old masters who could drop dead a bird during flight.... Keep up the good work.
  • Nightfall
    Hi there Jesse, I have started reading your articles only recently, and I am finding them very interesting. There's something I would like to say concerning the Kiai, tho. When I read your article, where you state "But the only one who looks silly in a dojo is the person who doesn’t scream." I kinda felt the need to reply with this. I practice ancient Shorinryu Matsumura Seito here in Italy. We rarely use Kiai. Well, pretty much never. While we are taught to use it in our Kenjutsu class, our Karate is definitely "quiet". Apparently, back in ancient Okinawan days, the masters of our style did not use Kiak THAT much. Maybe it was something that birthed from "Japanese-styled Karate", rather than the "Okinawan" styles?
    • You are most definitely correct! Back in "ancient Okinawa", screaming in Karate would be pretty unwise, especially considering the circumstances of old-school practice (nighttime, residential areas, secrecy etc.). Kiai is an integral part of modern Japanese (and Okinawan) 3K-Karate however, and I'm assuming this is the form of Karate most readers are familiar with.
      • Axira
        Not a practisioner of Karate, but of Shinto Muso Ryu (Japanese as well). Today in class my Sensei explained the kiai is used and developed so the teacher can hear you use your body correctly, (or not). My current understanding of it is: since timing of kiai is with moment of impact. He explained how later the external sound can becomes less while still using your body in this way. Gaining the ability to harness the power of kiai without the need for loud external verbalisation, learning to transfer energy from core of your body to the opponent at the right moment. Thanks for writing this article. The 'elusive kiai': I never had answers for my questions 'where does it come from' and 'how to do to kiai'. Never knew what muscles of the body were involved in kiai. Now I know. Thanks so much!
  • Uwe
    Nice article, Jesse, I really like the hint about using the noise level app on a smartphone to encourage the kids to shout out a bit louder. We have two esp. shy creatures in our classes who'll serve as guinea pigs tomorrow... should be fun! Cheers, Uwe
    • Awesome, Uwe-san! Let me know how it goes! ;)
    • jim
      Great idea Uwe!
  • Lobita
    Mine sounds exactly as a roar....usually the vocal is kind of an "o" but shamefully i gotta admit that while performing team kata i've been TOLD to make it into an "a" because it was more feminine :( what the hell does it mean "more feminine"??? It is what it is! btw i recently heard a 5 years old lil kid say GOOOOOOOOO! He wasn't forcing it, he's italian, doesn't speak english and just naturally says "go". How cute.
    • Talaniel
      I can explain this "go" thing :-) My son does the same. I think it is caused by the fact that we practise techniques in fives - five oi-zuki forward etc. And five = "go" and we are told to use kiai on the fifth technique. And the sensei counts like ichi, ni... GO! louder to indicate we should use kiai - and my six years old? well, he "GO"es too :-)
  • Szilard
    I can answer you only if you are standing right next to me. So while you focus on the lion, I think I can groinkick you with the appropriate kime-kiai combo, and then run while you beat the lion. I hope you know I have groinkicked you just to give the lion the illusion of equal chance.
  • How about making "Koi-Sounds"? :)
  • Another great article, sir! My TKD teacher once stopped me during sparring and asked, "Are you saying 'die'?" Not on purpose, but yep! Every now and then I get a student who reminds me of that... Nothing better than hearing a little kid screaming, "DIE! DIE! DIE!" :)
    • Szilard
      Someone in our dojo used to scream "Touche!" It was playful and still strong, very appropriate for randori.
    • Yup, I have some of those too! Disturbingly funny :)
    • Shelly J Story
      My natural kiai sounds like "die", also, but I am not connecting that utterance with the meaning of the word "die", I don't think. Maybe it is just the induced aggression subconsciously comes up with tha thg sound? I dunno...
  • Oliver
    Lions are big cats, therefore the answer is simple; I will belly-rub the lion into submission. Oh, who's the king of the jungle! YOU ARE! YES YOU ARE!" Ummmm....I mean I would TOTALLY Kiai and hammerfist his neck.
    • Hah, that cracked me up Oliver-san!
  • Oliver
    Great article, Jesse-san!
  • kynzing
    Kick his balls ..... a nukite in his eyes and shuto uchi to the neck and he's over hurrayyy !!!
  • Slimeslayer
    Did I miss something? I always kiai when receiving a strike... you know, when we all line up in horse stance with our arms straight out to your sides... and then we all rotate to kick or punch each other in the stomach... Also getting picked to be Sensei's uke... I would kiai then too... even if Sensei pulled his punches!!
    • Michael King
      Me too! (“I also!”?) My sensei (Ed Parker) taught us to kiai for DEFENSE. It was a way to prepare our core to receive a strike, whether with a foot, a fist or a sword. When I was 22 and teaching my skills to my 12-year-old brother, I would leap into the air and land on his abdomen (I weighed about 90kg at the time). If he kiaied, he was completely unhurt. (He ALWAYS kiaied!) I was taught to do the same when falling from a height. I’m sure it saved my life more than once when racing my bike! I was never taught that it was for startling an opponent or making a strike land with greater intensity. I can see where these things may be true; I just was never taught them before.
  • juise-san
    I think You should just bitch slap and pity that poor fool sucker Lion-san
  • Karate Geek
    Thank you karate jesse i really need to improve on my kiais and you helped me a lot! Thank YOU!
  • saaleha
    LOL Gyaku Mawashi geri TSSSEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! ...then run.. (;-;)
  • My biggest problem is the way some people kiai. They lift their chin, open their mouth, scream and throw a punch or kick. You get hit in the jaw in that position, its no solid food for 6 to 8 weeks! Other than that, kiai is a great tool to have in the toolbox but like all tools its use must fit the situation.
    Dear Jesse san, It time for us to apply the bunkai's of the katas we have learnt on the lion. If it works then there is the truth in the "mysterious or the hidden moves." If it is'nt working write a book on it on your rebirth.. How's that. T.MOHAN RAJA
  • Naresh Sharma
    Dear Jesse San, You have very informative website and provide very Good articles for Karate practitioners. Congratulations for that!! Wish you all the best. Naresh Sharma
  • I remember a few years ago i was at a Fudokan-Seminar. One of the topics of the seminar was some short lesson in Kiai-Jutsu. Well.. As far as i can remeber the teacher explained us that there are different ways to kiai for every strike! Like: for upper blocks somethin like "E-IIII" for low strikes: "E-AAAAH" and so on. I got to admit i dont remember them all beacuse i didnt rally practised this hole Kiai-Jutsu stuff beacuse i tought it was to complicated for me back then (shame on me)! Ever heard of something like that jesse-san??
  • Jim
    Well as a Lion is just a large Pussycat....... the answer has got to be BARK!!!!!!!! like a VERY Large Dog ;)
    • Francis
      Brilliant! :-)
  • Richard Lubkowski
    When facing the lion: roar back loudly. If it does n't work,pray to God for deliverance . If that does n't work and the lion pounces, then just hope to show the courage of the early Christians when facing a similar fate in Rome.
  • AlexN
    Well, considering that the lion's anatomy makes you actually FEEL the roar bouncing around in your lungs and rattling your ribbs, my guess is you wouldn't make much of an impression on the lion with your own little human yelp - but that's not the point. One thing I do have to say: I noticed that I actually do more with less. I only use sanchin "kiai" and sometimes regular kiai ( rarely because of the drawing of unwanted attention) just to compare outcomes. True, it's good for startling some poor unexpecting lifeform, but a motivated foe ? Sometimes the loud noise works and it closes the eyes a bit, maybe it causes a flinch. Or maybe it makes things worse. From my own training I got used to unexpected souunds and that changed my response. Explanation: in my country you can find dog packs at every corner + guard dogs in yards that you can't see. Some of these dogs like to bark when they get in one meter range of you; they used to scare the sh*t out of me. These days however whenever I hear a really loud bark (or other noises) I immediately turn towards the source - ready. My point is that maybe loud noises increase awareness of all the wrong lifeforms ( like an attacker... or a victim - hey, to each his own). So, for me at least, just using that elusive cough muscle is enough. All that aside, I really like a strong kiai.... BUT I like a psychotic laugh and grin even more, especially when it comes with a creative rape threat - as a deterrent ( not that I don't encourage rape, mind you, beacuse I do ).
    • Dorby
      "( not that I don't encourage rape, mind you, beacuse I do )" um, whaaat???
  • Jim
    Great article Jesse-san. This has been a hot button for me lately. It drives me nuts when we talk about all of the great reasons to pump out a good kiai in class, then right after I see all heads nodding, I still hear whimpers. NUTS I SAY! BTW - I agree with Szilard-san. If Mr. Lion is in front of me with someone next to me, I'm kicking that someone next to me in the jewels and running. In a lion fight, my goal is only to be faster than the person next to me, not the lion. ;-)
  • Christian M.
    - Draw a circle in the sand - Sit down inside the circle - Define the circle as the boundaries of a cage - By my very own definition everything outside the circle is "caught INSIDE the cage" - Watch the lion go crazy with rage (he's caught INSIDE the cage after all) while eating some popcorn OK, you may have gathered I'm an engineer...
  • Szilard
    What? We are talking about kiai and no media included? lets start with a modern scinematic kiai (and other scram) compilation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tccafJPCSU and the BL kiai compilation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj1ykyALOO4
  • Chan
    Great article... But about the lion. I can't run and I can't fight. Well, nobody said I could'nt call for an air strike :D
  • David
    First and foremost you should try diplomacy. What's wrong with negotiating with the lion? surely there has to be a solution that doesn't result in violence no?
  • zz
    what color is your belt? are you a coach? where are you from?how old are you?i think you are so little to learn us about KARATE :-)
  • JC
    Youve missed a point. Kiai technics has also a chock effekt, best studied by psykologick. There are storys of masters who couldt make aninmals faint just by a kiai at the right timing. You might have had the experiance if you ever tried to do something and at the same time an other noice hits you. This can be used for instance at the point when your opponant begins his attack. It must be done when he blinks or is otherwhise occupied with his attack.
    • JC
      Forgot to mention. Dont sneak up upon your fellow karate-ka's unexpectingly screaming kiai instead of buh, just to see the effect ;-)
  • Grab it by the nuts! and say we are not going to hurt each other are we???? then Kiai in its ear for all your worth!!!!!!!
  • Alan
    My kiai kind of comes up from my tantien and is sharp Hee ,sometimes I hear things reverberate always feels good letting one out lol!
  • maja
    hmm... my kiai is something like hø! or if it's a bit longer then it turnes into høaaAAARGH!!! (this has only happened once, I was imagining smashing someones face with my knee. it was very satisfying and my sensei stopped everything he was doing to laugh at my sudden violense! I'm usually a bit too careful even though I'm always loud), one of the girls here have a sort of hee-i! and sensei often has a kind of ipp! (I wrote it with norwegian pronounciation!) I have the cutest/funniest story about sensei using kiai to get the kids a bit more energetic! so this was actually an unusually good day because almost all the kids were really into it and making an effort to keep proper stances (not easy for an eight year old!) and everything. all except one boy, he was practically asleep on his feet! sensei saw this and went ''you know what, I think you need to wake up a bit and I have just the thing! once we get to ''go'' (as if five) you kiai. we all do! you forgot the last three times, but this time make it really loud!''. so we did and the boy turned out to have such a cute high-pithced kiai! sensei told him he had a very good kiai, ''right from the stomach!'', but the boy was a bit dissapointed because he ''sounded like a girl''. sensei then got us all to do ''girly'' kiai next time and I've got to tell you, sensei had the prettiest ''girly'' kiai ever ;) it killed my throat though so after a few times I asked if I could just do my regular kiai, one of the kids saved me by reminding me that ''but you already ARE a girl so you don't have to DO girly kiai, it just IS already no matter how it sounds!''. btw, am I the only one who ever kiai by accident? like if I'm really focusing on power (or if I'm really angry for some reason and try to channel that into something a bit more possitive) the kiai just comes whether I want to or not. I don't usually mind, but it's a bit embarrasing when it happens in the wrong place in a kata.
    • Swapnil san
      Use a kill face,stomp the lion groin,restomp the lion groin.
  • Ah, the kiaï thing! Another very very interesting article, Jesse-san. I think that, if i ever have to face a hungry lion i would use my darth vader-like kiai :) To be honest, I never understad people who don't want to kiai. Two of my students (university girls) don't want to cause they don't wanna look/sound ridiculous... I shall bring a lion to the dojo next friday! Thanks for the enlightenment, Jesse!
  • jc
    Kiai could be any word starting with a consonant. The air in the lungs wil be released suddenly and the emptieing will strengthen the body movement. The magic is in the heads of those scared or not understanding emptieing lungs. The magic also comes from those empatic enough to understand the opponent not ekspecting the sudden outbreak.
  • keep in mind: there is a difference between kiai and kakegoe/tokinogoe it isn't mandatory the a 'Kiai' makes a (vocalised) sound.
  • KarateMama
    Long before she stepped barefoot into a dojo, my daughter learned about kiai, and not from me. She was practicing natural horsemanship ground work techniques on a full-of-hormones mare. Just my daughter and the mare in a round pen - no halters, ropes, etc. The mare decided she was fed up with a puny, skinny little teenager and charged. Half ton hormone-charged animal moving in a relatively small space from zero to thirty in a split second. My daughter *remembered what she'd studied* She threw up her arms, hands in claws, put on a scary fighting face and kiai-ed (she didn't know to call it kiai, but that's what she did). The mare swerved and put on the brakes. Kiai works.
  • KarateMama
    Kiai can be done without ruining the vocal cords. Ask a voice teacher for pointers. Seriously. Better yet, take voice lessons - it gives your abs and intercostals a great workout, improves breath control, and teaches you how to get volume, power, and emotion out of your gut.
  • Alex
    I would try to seduce the lion duhh
  • Sue
    Hi Jesse, I discovered your Karate by Jesse, last night. The Internet was slow so I carried on today and found the story of the Lion, which I enjoyed, as I live in South Africa, on the East Coast quite near the Kruger National Game Park. I used to take karate many years ago, but my family was growing and I had to stop. Now in my young age of 74, I decided I wanted to start doing all the exercises again and started looking for Karate for Beginners, just so that I could recall all the blocks kicks and Kata's. I started going to a senior fitness class, but I was too slow for me, and I did not feel any benefit. Just doing a few blocks and stances, made me feel as if I had done something useful for my body. I love the way you explain everything, making it so understandable, with humor. Thank you, I will be back for more interesting information. Regards, Sue
  • Hi Jesse-san. Thank you for this great article. When I first started journey into martial arts, nobody explained to me what the kiai was, so I didn't really make any sound. Then later, some instructors I had said I had to make a specific sound, but those sounds seemed to me that I was just making a noise to make a noise. Then I had an instructor that explained it really well to me, and said there isn't really a set sound or phrase, it's just the noise that comes out of you. That really changed things for me. And he explained about the contracting of the abdomin as well. I'm glad somebody wrote about this. You have a great way to explain things that doesn't make it boring, bit you get the information out there in an fun and entertaining way and still keep it interesting and informative. Thank you so much! Keep up the excellent work!
  • Irwin Chen
    GREAT Article! In my opinion, It's purely internal. Energy is directed to generate a powerful force that isn't stiff and hard. It's an interplay between Jing, breathing and more importantly the mind. This is where regular and religious practice comes in. Mind-body boxing requires a relaxed state. We 'hiss' in Uechi-Ryu and release a silent breath on issuing a Fa Jing in Taijiquan. Cheers!
  • Just to play devil's advocate: Really, I doubt kiai is about noise. As you explain the word is formed from energy and join, probably energy and harmony. I read it as a focus of mind, which is not really about noise but about perception, concentration ..a mental virtue, not a physical one. Maybe it can be expressed by screaming. But so far I have mostly seen that kiai is not a focus but a scream with lost of mind. It seems like the world of most people on competition narrows on the kiai scream, whereas focus in the sense of zen would be the complete opposite, a perception which accounts everything. It is singular, but broad. That said a kiai that sounds mighty but is accompanied by unawareness is kids club not karate. That is probably effectful to impress on competition, but honestly, you practise karate for yourself or for the referee? But probably I know bull about karate and am completely unaware myself. Feel free to think about that.
    • Rui
      Well, I fully agree that it isn't about noise. But it's also not about "focussing energy" or the like. That would be Aiki (the same two kanji in different order)! Aiki can mean "focussing/concentrating/joining energy/spirit". But also "adapting your spirit". Kiai on the other hand can be translated as "fighting spirit" or better "suited/appropriate/matching spirit" or more loosely as "show the appropriate mindset". ? means also "appropriate" or "suited". So it's about bringing in fighting spirit in your karate. It's about letting out the inner beast, being aggressive, acting like if it was a real fight when you perform your techniques. If you have to scream and shout, well then, do it. But screaming and shouting doesn't mean that someone is showing Kiai, so as one can remain completely silent and show a lot of Kiai.
  • Great! Just great! *Thumb up* I had exactly that topic as my research paper for my Shodan-exam in april this year. 22 pages just about the Kiai. :3 I'm glad to find that your article goes into the same direction and I totally agree with it. Btw., what the lion does with his roar IS a Kiai. :)
  • paul browne
    Regarding getting kids to kiai, first watch Disney's The Jungle Book (any excuse will do) watch Baloo teach Mowgli to growl like a big bear. Apply lesson to you kids class (sing-a-long is optional). On a serious note, in Shorinji Kempo we refer to two forms of Kiai, the first loud and sharp, the second internalized and inaudible. Kiai isn't unique to Asian arts, it's been practiced throughout history the world over. Great site by the way.
  • Stalin
    why does Luca valdesi, Antonio diaz , Rika usami and others shout iiiiiiiiiiiiii instead of kiai in WKF kata competitions?
  • vic
    Do something counter intuitive(from the lions point of view and experience that is) keep in mind from his point if view dinner runs lol.
  • I once wrote an article in Traditional Karate magazine on this very subject. In the dojo where we train you can actually rattle the roof with a good Kiai, it's great. But well pointed out, it's not a shout from the throat. More an expression of an internal feeling. On the subject of kids who shout 'Die' as a kiai, this is considered unsporting in competitions and would be warned by referees. Remember that the origins are martial and consider the effect of releasing adrenalin. That's why paratroopers yell when jumping from a plane and why charging troops scream as they run towards machine guns. Also, it's a great way to relieve frustration, as well as building up your abs.
  • Anthony
    Well I would make it look like i'm as big and fierce as the lion and would shout a real Kiai to impress him!
  • kyle
    Sign up for lessons in AmeriDoTe
  • fenli
    The funniest I`ve heard in a competition was a kind of "YIPPIAIOU"
  • Nick
    The good first :p I really like the homepage and I really like that article. But, boy, I *hate* it, when people come with stuff like: "You’re not shy. You’re just undermotivated." I am *not* undermotivated or I wouldn't show up each class (I have social difficulties, extreme shyness), which is difficult enough at times. One of my coaches used the same idea: "You would do it, if you were motivated enough." Good, that at least others know, how motivated I am... I don't think, that there was any ill-will or anything in that phrasing, and that it's more my problem (yeah, I am aware of stuff like that :p ), but it annoys the life out of me. Problem is, stuff like that usually comes from people who have no idea how hard it can be to be socially challenged/ awkward ^^ So, enough rant ;) :D Still: Awesome page! I visit it regularly without actually doing karate (right now I'm into Japanese JJ, Judo and Hapkido), but who knows what might come my way in the future ^^ I took quite some ideas from here (even that article; despite the "you're undermotivated" part ;) ) and probably will keep doing so in the future! Keep up the good work!
  • Jesse, I have a few things I'd like to ask you about to get your opinion on. I didn't see these in the comments, nor in your post. In the Okinawan Shuri-ryu karate that I practice, we supposedly have two different kiais: 1. An offensive kiai sounds like "ha," "ta," or "sa," and is done in conjunction with a strike to an extremity of the body. 2. A defensive kiai sounds like "ho," "to," or "so," and is done in conjunction with a strike to the core of the body. I do not find myself using these specific kiais when I am practicing, and only when I am being drilled on precision by my instructor. It's also advocated these be held for 3-5 seconds. My opinion, like yours, is that a kiai should be personal. I don't understand what the difference would be in any permutations of kiais listed above - they're all going to do some damage, help you do some damage, and (ideally) help notify others of a conflict in their vicinity. Also, as a fun note for everyone, two of my instructors advocate doing kiais starting with each letter of the alphabet - "ayah!", "bayah!", "cayah!", "dayah!", and so on through "zayah!" as a way to help each individual find a kiai that suits them or a particular technique.
    • Adam-san, thanks for your comment! Interesting... I've never heard of anything like this before, neither in Japan nor Okinawa. Where did this kiai practice originate? I suspect it might be a unique Shuri-ryu method.
      • I suspect that, too. This appears in the Pinnacle of Okinawan Karate, written by Robert A. Trias in the 1980s.
  • Nijil Jacob
    I really cant describe my KIAI. When I do it its just there, I cant describe it, Well in the beginning I didn't even have a KIAI. My sensei helped me get it out and once I felt it, it took control of me. I feel kind of weird in saying this but people are impressed with my KIAI.
  • Keith
    "Imagine the dark sound of rolling thunder. Then, suddenly, a crack of lightning viciously strikes down." I love it! This is the type of kiai I train myself to employ in Isshinryu, especially my current kata, Kusanku Sai. During the third kiai in this kata, when I throw the imaginary Sai into my opponent's foot - RrrghrghghhRRRRRUYAAGGHHHH! :^D
  • Matt
    This is my favorite blog post so far! Great job! Must share with my adult class.
  • Tortured business
    .. I am having a serious sound issue regarding my business being connected by a wall to a Martial Arts business. My comment is this..I thought martial arts should teach inner strength, respect and quiet self control? Not only is my business failing because of the horrific sound coming through the walls for 4 hours a night, but I believe the teacher is not a "good teacher, he is not teaching Kiai of any Kiai Ive heard (both sons have had martial arts history). I have come to this conclusion after hearing his classes for the last 3 months for 30 to 45 minutes per class 3 classes per day(from 4 to 8 pm) all I can hear is excessive repeat sound.. I'm not talking deep diaphragm sound of energy, but his yelling one sound and making the class repeat him, for up to 45 minutes per class. loud, excessive, "I'm talking very, very loud yelling that does not stop until each class is over .. What is it for me? almost psychological torture, because he makes the same sound, and makes each class repeat the same sound during each entire class every day. Not only is this killing my business (yes Ive spoken with them and the building owners, they could not care less).. but Im afraid his students are only there to yell.
  • Adrian J Pullin
    Question: When should a kiai stop? There are plenty of videos on YouTube etc. where the kiai goes on way after the technique has finished, rather like a follow through in tennis. I get this if you have just scored ippon (or laid out the other guy in the street), or if you are making sure that you do not pull the technique (again like the follow through in tennis). But, if you want to generate kimi and demonstrate control, where a technique touches the gi rather than laying the guy out, then suddenly stopping the kiai as part of the "tense everything" seems more logical. Any thoughts on this?
  • Akshat Chaudhari
    I would shout kiai so loud that the lion would himself feel he would be my food now !
  • Christian Gagnère
  • Loriane
    Well said. I think we all have a fighting spirit, we just have to explore it hence the training we have. I remember practicing with my sensei. She said that the Kiai has to come from the inside. It's you, what kind of fighter you are. Some of the people in the class just screamed. It didn't have that deep sound that came from the stomach, the core. So she made us do it again and again until we had it right. Mine is like "yah" or something with the "ya" sound.
  • Pete Couch
    My Kiai, changes from HAI!, or gutteral OOFF, to mostly EEEEEEE-IT! depending on Kata or Kumite. Your technique to cough to feel the Kiai demonstrates it well, Practice my various kiai's has different effects but all work with my Hara! thank for the advice!
  • Aung saw moen
    I wud apply mawashi geri nd execute gyaku tsukyi to the Lions lung with full KHIAI !! :P
  • Vic
    I wood hope, initially, that the smell of fresh human manure in my underwear wood disuade my feline friend. If not, then im gone try to kiai it into submission. Lol evntho im sure the lion is using its version of kiai too.... so... whose kiai going to dominate!!!? The 1 with the kiai & sharp teeth?... or the happy meal pretending to kiai?... Lord help us. Lol great story btw. Lol
  • Graziela
    My Kiai is either a "KYAAAA!!!" or a loud "HA!"(I often use the last one in judo, more like a loud exhale)
  • Merub Absar Khan
    I would.... I WOULD SHOW THAT LION WHO IS BOSS , I AM!!!!!!! I would GET READY TO POUNCE ON HIM. *even though I totally love lions* The reason why I was reading ur article was cause tommorow's my Dan 1 test and that's too much stress for an 11 year old . (P.S) I'm the 11 year old. I found ur article really helpful for today our Sensai was telling us not to shout KIAI, but to should shout something else.
  • Chi
  • Lizzy
    Haha, new white belt here. My kiai sounds pathetic, but I'm working on it!
  • Anna Coutsomitelli
  • ReaRea30
    Hi when I started I felt silly shouting, I tried not saying anything one week and realized I felt even stupider. I'm still a little self-conscious but feel better when I realize that no one looks at me as though I'm an idiot. I like that they accept me without judgement. Thanks for the story about the lion it makes me feel better about kiai.
  • Irene
    great, thanks :)
  • rudy
    Use my Colt 9/11 ? Run a bit faster than whoever else is there? Yell and charge the lion?
  • Eric True
    I understand the loud scream of the Kiai is vital in tournament Karate but what about older okinawan schools like Matsumura Seito who dont yell? From what I have read of the history of Karate, karateka didnt yell until after the art was introduced to Japan. There is a story of Matsumura winning a fight with just a kiai, but I believe that version comes from a Shotokan story teller. I have have heard this story told with him winning with his glare and other factors from a different source. If this history of kiai is true does that make the Karate of those who use silent kiai worse than those who yell?
  • Bruce D McKenna
    Dear Sensei, I hope you are well and safe. My background is Chito Ryu karate, founded by Dr. Tsuyoshi Chitose. I was a white belt when I first met O-Sensei in 1973 when he came to Canada. My main teacher over the following 20 years was his student Shane Yukio Higashi. I attended many workshops given by Dr. Chitose, and later by his son Waka Sensei (Yasuhiro Chitose). At one of those clinics, we were invited to "Ask Waka Sensei anything!" -- I asked for an explanation of kiai. My request was relayed in Japanese. The answer that came back after translation was "Waka Sensei says there are five different types of kiai." This was quickly followed by a sharp request for the "Next question!" It was clear that was the extent of the answer. Over the years, even after I "retired" from karate as my knees disintegrated and I switched to tai chi, his answer pushed me to try and figure out what those 5 types would be. Many books and blogs and conversations later, I believe I have it cracked. I have enjoyed watching many of your videos and my respect for you has continued to grow. I would be happy to have a private conversation regarding my theory if you are interested. I wish you good health and prosperity for the new year. Respectfully yours, Bruce McKenna
  • Allie
    in our dojo, we yell something that sounds kind of like "EYAS!!" I have no clue how to spell it so don't judge lol
  • Enkamp Sensei, I have been taught that (perhaps from Okinawa secrecy) one may do a "silent kiai." Supposedly, it does not produce the same level of power as the verbal, but is effective in its own right. I have found reference to it with romaji, but never kanji or hiragana (katagana from Okinawa?) Do you know if any kanji or kana are available?
  • wayne sherman
    I'd take a deep breath, drop into Zekutsu-Dachi, and reverse punch him in the nose as I scream EEYAAA! Hey, if he eats me I at least got ONE good shot in!
  • Ryan Hurley
    Throw poo at the lion, you will probably be making plenty. My Kiai is Die, but it is hard to tell as it comes from my diaphram.

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