Gorin no sho
In this inspiring book written by Musashi Miyamote (17th century) there is section about the shouts during a battle. The phrase ‘sen go no koe’ (before and after voice) 前後の声 is used to describe how to use shouts in a fight. He also said not to use a shout during cutting. This strategy is different from contemporary use of kiai in most of the Japanese martial arts.
The contemporary use of ki-ai
Our interest is only focusing on ki-ai during the decisive moment of “randori & kata”. This contradicts the advice of Musashi Miyamoto. We are looking for an efficient use of our combined mental and physical powers, while for Musashi Miyamoto shouting was a part of his strategy.
Kiai (Japanese: 気合, /ˈkiːaɪ/) is a Japanese term used in martial arts for the short shout uttered when performing an attacking move.
The term is a compound of ki (Japanese: 気) meaning energy or mood, a(u) (Japanese: 合).
In the board game Go the term describes fighting spirit and is representing an attitude of aggressively parrying your opponent’s plans and pushing ahead with your own. This is much closer to the Gorin no sho concept.
In kendo, for example, a point is only given by the Shinpan (referees) if the hit is accompanied by a strong, convincing kiai (shout).
Animal trainers use the power of the voice to manipulate the actions of animals. A powerful assertive voice can be used to reprimand an animal or as a defensive weapon if the animal should attack the trainer or another animal.
Breathing with the hara
A kiai is more than just a shout, it is the manifestation of physical power, mental commitment and psychological will. Everything is coming together in that specific moment when there is no past, no future but only “now”.
Basically, kiai is produced by using the hara. When using the throat, the sound of kiai is different and is lacking power. Using the throat is also bad for activities like singing and other voice applications.
You have muscles between your ribs and your entire abdominal muscle group for breathing. Without the skill of tension & releasing, breathing process will be limited and functional kiai will be without power.
There are many methods in the art of breathing, but it is in our research not a good idea to focus “too much” on the breathing techniques. Breathing is a natural process and by focusing too much on this action, spontaneity will be disappear and breathing becomes a forced action. Also some breathing methods has to be avoided because the potential danger for your health and body. If you are still curious about it : see Hakkei.
Breath with your belly
Breathe with your belly. The correct thing to say is: breathe using your diaphragm. But what exactly is the diaphragm?
The diaphragm is a flat muscle that sits underneath our lungs and aids with respiration. It attaches to the base of the thorax (ribs) and basically separates the lungs from the stomach and intestines. At the bottom is the pelvis. With the proper use of the diaphragm, pelvis and the surrounding muscles (hara: koshi, tanden & yōbu), kiai will become a vibrant shout, full of energy. This is only possible when we learn to relax.
Focus on “releasing the tension”
When people have a serious “tension” problem, Ritsuzen or standing stillness exercise can be very helpful to reduce tension. You can start with a few minutes each day. After a few weeks standing, 20 minutes or more will be no problem. In the beginning, you will notice a lot of tension in various places of your body and mind. By letting go of the idea of tension, some of the tension problems will disappear. If you still can’t decrease tension, you are advised to seek professional help.
If you notice, your breathing is becoming deeper, you have probably won your first breathing victory. This will have a possitive effect on ki-ai.
The sound of kiai
You cannot use random vowels and consonants. The art of making sounds is universal, and every society has its own version. In Japan there is “Kotodama” and is strongly related to religious practices. Remember also our Gregorian Chant, a religious way of singing in the Catholic church.
In the past, some Tomiki Aikido groups used “Eeh & Toh” as a standard kiai sound. A similar approach you can find in Jodo or jojutsu (Shindo Muso Ryu).
The sound “Eeh” was used as an open sound and used with sharp movements. “Toh” was used as a stopping sound with a decisive movement, for example a tanto strike. during tanto randori, which basically stops the game if there was a correct focus on the target.