The shouts you might hear

when passing a karate dojo
are probably kiais.
The 'ki' in kiai is the same as the ki in reiki.
Ki being the Japanese equivalent to the Chinese 'chi' found in tai chi and chi kung.

Kiai is also for taking punches to the mid-section. You meet the blow by slightly tensing your stomach muscles, pushing out to attack the blow, and verbalizing the kiai with a shout from deep in the belly. With enough practice over time, the kiai can be done silently, without conscious thought, enabling a martial artist to take a good deal of physical punishment.

Kiaing to take a strike beats getting gut punched, but if that does happen, a loud kiai from deep in the gut can restore your air.

In the right circumstance, any word or words can serve as a kiai. During my blue belt test, just as I was out of breath, unable to breath, I was told to do another action. I responded by kiaing "YES, SIFU!", restoring my air and ability to breathe and continue the test.

Kiai, "attacking" is the counterpart of aiki, "receiving". (Actually kiai means "the meeting of the ki's, but in practice, in the dojo it is attacking.) In aikido, kiai is used when force is needed, such as in jo waza, where you strike with the stick or block a strike. It is not separate from the strike, but a part of it. The sound will ensure you of the your own power to strike. A loud shout will perplex and distract the uke, so that if he is an opponent, he will fear your self-confidence. A loud kiai can actually prevent an unskilled and uncertain opponent from punching you, so that scuffling is not even necessary. Surprisingly many will stop and think for three to five seconds, and then decide not to attack. When you have trained for a long time, kiai comes automagically. You need not to always shout: a thought kiai may be just as effective. Then again, it won't have the shocking effect.

The sound "kiai" itself is not a good word, because it is formed mostly in the mouth. The kiai is best, when its sounds resonate in the belly: ai, ei, haa, etc. You can imagine how to moo like a cow, deep from the belly, so that you feel how the sound makes your diaphragm, sternum and abdomen vibrate. Then shorten the sound and make it louder, but do not use the throat! Use your upper abdomen!

The sound should not come from the throat, such as "EEEK!", or from the mouth. It should not contain glottal stops, like the "k" sound. The RReal RRolled R, the hissing S and the breathing sounds F and H are good consonants in a kiai, because they don't require closing or moving the lips, so that the sound can go freely through the mouth.

Here are some examples of kiai shouts. (Pronounce phonetically, not in an English way!)

  • HAI - sounds like Gypsy...
  • EI - has a higher pitch than HAI, but nevertheless, the pitch of I is quite low. Ei is "no" in Finnish.
  • SEIS and EI - seis means "stop" in Finnish, "ie" means "no" in Japanese.
  • HAA - very loud, but may sound stupid if you don't put all your strenght into it.
  • SAA - the same as the previous. Expand it to saatana to make it a Finnish swearword.
  • PERKELE - What this loses to the P and the K, it gains in its meaning. It looks like these swearwords were designed for shouting them hard. =)

Kiai is projection.

Special thanks to: gn0sis, isogolem

Throughout history, go (wei chi, baduk, etc.) has been considered by some to be a martial art in its own right. Therefore, it is not surprising that the term kiai ( 気合い ) is often used in commentary related to go games. Twentieth Century go master Go Seigen 9 dan used it often in his commentaries as have many others. Used in this context, kiai often translates as "fighting spirit" or aggressiveness or initiative. Kiai means keeping sente, not letting the opponent have his or her way.

I have heard the term used in the following ways. First, I have heard the term used in coaching. "You need to put some kiai in your invasions. You are playing much too passively." I have also told myself kiai as a mantra during games.

Examples of kiai moves would be things like answering a kikashi -- forcing move -- with an unexpected move, snatching sente away from the opponent or breaking through and counter-attacking. Kiai moves are bold and irresistable. They turn the tables and catch your opponent off balance. They are the opposite of passive or submissive. Rather than following your opponent around the board and answering her every move, rather than being reactive, you dictate the direction of play.

Think Patton. Think Bruce Lee. They had the kiai attitude.

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