One of things that draws passersby into a dojang is the yelling they hear coming from inside the dojang. What the people hear is the kiai being sounded by the Taekwondo students while they are training (a sound similar to that heard when opening a TKDTutor page). Just like the uniform, colored belt, and bow, the kiai is an integral part of Taekwondo training. When people hear a kiai, they immediately associate it with the martial arts.
Samurai warriors were renowned for their powerful kiai in battle—a startling war cry that was said to paralyze opponents with fear. A warrior who could summon a powerful kiai would rarely be viewed as weak or tired by his opponents. Unfortunately, most people think of the whining howl used by Bruce Lee or other movie martial arts is the sound that all martial artists make. Actually, the grunt or puff sound used by boxers is closer to a kiai than most movie martial arts yells.
As a student of Taekwondo, you learn how to kiai properly so it reinforces your technique. You also learn to not flinch and freeze at sudden loud noises so you will be able to more quickly assess the source of the noise, whether it poses any threat, and what, if any, response is required.
Meaning of Kiai
The word kiai is made up of the ideogram "ki," which means energy or spirit, and the ideogram "ai," which means matching or unite. Many Far Eastern people believe a force flows through all things. This force is called ki in Japanese and chi (or qi) in Chinese. Therefore, kiai means "working with ki" or "harmonizing ki" or "uniting the spirit." E.J. Harrison, in his book The Fighting Spirit of Japan, describes it as the "art of perfectly concentrating all one's energy, physical and mental, upon a given object with unremitting determination so that one achieves one's goal."
How to Sound
The sounds Taekwondo students make when sounding a kiai are "E-eye" or variations of kiai, such as "ya," "oh," "or-ya," "utzz," "kiyup," or "e-yup". The exact sound of the yell will vary from person to person. You should experiment to find the best sound for you. However, do not try to sound like Bruce Lee—keep it simple and traditional sounding. Staying with the standard kiai sounds will keep you from saying something offensive in a foreign language. One famous Karate expert was well known for using the word "kusoh" for his kiai—it means feces in Japanese.
When to Sound
The kiai is sounded:
Just like what the military tells you about when to salute: "When in doubt, do it." Use a kiai every time you execute a technique. Depending on the circumstances, it may be a low volume kiai similar to a whisper, or it may be a blood-curdling kiai that even causes the spectators to tremble.
The kiai serves several purposes, it:
Proper breath control during execution of a technique requires:
The kiai accomplishes this type of breath control.
The kiai is composed of a high frequency first syllable (ki) and a low frequency second syllable (yup).
You sound "ki" at the start of a technique. When sounding "ki," you forcibly expel air through constricted vocal cords using the diaphragm, which restricts airflow, increases air pressure within the lungs, and forces oxygen into the blood stream. This relaxes the body so all muscles may work together for maximum speed and power.
You sound "ai" at the moment of impact. During the execution of a technique, all your concentration and power is focused on the moment of impact and the sounding of the "ai." When sounding "ai," you release a burst of air from the lungs that relieves the increased pressure and tenses the entire body, especially the abdomen. With the abdomen tensed, the upper and lower body are solidly connected into one integral unit. This permits the body to transfer power from the legs to the point of contact and permits the body to transfer the reaction force quickly through the body to the ground and back to the point of impact before contact terminates.
After the "ai" is sounded, you continue with a normal exhale. This disconnects the upper and lower body, relaxes the entire body, and allows it to quickly return to the on-guard position.
There are five types of kiai:
In Taekwondo class or in no-contact or semi-contact free-sparring, we kiai with the mouth open. But in full-contact free-sparring or an actual fight, opening the mouth makes you vulnerable to losing teeth or a broken jaw. So, in a combat situation, it is best to use a semi-silent version of the kiai and keep the mouth tightly shut—make a sound similar to the puff sound boxers use.
Example of Kiai's Effect
To see the way the kiai locks the upper and lower body into an integral unit, try to perform a full-extension push-up. To perform the push-up:
Most people are unable to do a full-extension push-up the first few times they try. They push up the upper body and the lower body, but the abdomen stays on or near the floor. To see how a kiai locks the upper and lower body into one cohesive unit, properly sound a forceful kiai and tense the abdomen at the moment you attempt the push-up. Most people are now able to perform the push-up.
© 2000-2003 by TKDTutor Software