View Full Version : Proper breathing and Ki-ai

11th October 2000, 00:18
Maybe this is the right place to start this threadf, maybe it is not.

Anyway, I would like to start a discussion about MA teacher and the Ki-ai (long time since I've seen this word written, hopefully I spelled it correctly.).

Before I started Muay Thai and still today, I see a lot of MA instructor telling their students to shout when they perform a technique such as a strike of a kick because in their opinion it controls the flow of energy through the body.

Three points of critism:

- Many teachers let the students repeat the technique when they didn't shout loud enough. I always thought that the Ki-ai was only an idea to show the students proper breathing technique. (I can tell you, at my gym nobody does a Ki-ai, but it's still bloody noisy when everyone is working on the pads or bags, because of the breathing technique)

- When students do a combination of techniqes or a kata, instructors tell them to finish with a shout. My problem with is that if the ki-ai is supposed to channel energy into the technique, then the rest of the combination except the last bit is weak.

- Wouldn't it be better to explain to students what proper breathing technique should be used, instead of still pointing at the Ki-ai, because it has been done like this for generations and why should it be changed.

I'm happy about any response, and open to critism. Maybe I've understood it all wrong.
The future will show!

Paul Mathews
11th October 2000, 21:39
I'm short on time so forgive the somewhat abbreviated response.

First of all I think it is a common misconception that KIAI = SHOUT, most likely due to erroneous translations that say that kiai means "spirit shout."

When students ask me what the difference is between a shout and a kiai, I generally have them close their eyes and "feel" rather than "listen." I have one of them shout like they have been doing, then I kiai. I have yet to have a student not feel the difference.

As to your points of criticism:
1) Proper kiai demonstrates proper kime (focus). Hopefully the instructors that you refer to expect a repeat of the technique because the student demonstrated a lack of focus rather than "they didn't shout loud enough."

2) Techniques within kata that are performed with a strong kiai often indicate a finishing cut, strike, kick, etc. Thus they require a more complete focus in the technique.

3) Wouldn't it be better to investigate why kiai has been emphasized for generations instead of discarding it because you don't have a firm understanding of it? (This should hold true for any tradition)

The problem is that like so many terms related to the asian martial arts there is no clear cut definition of Kiai. It gets even more confusing when you consider that the kanji for KIAI are the same as those for AIKI; they are just juxtaposed.

I recommend reading Ratti and Westbrook's SECRETS OF THE SAMURAI. It has a pretty good discussion of the art of Kiai-Jutsu.


22nd July 2001, 06:18

This is how I understand it and I am told. The kiai is used in a kata because it makes a person do a move (ie punch, kick, block, etc) a lot more harder, which means they give it all they got without them even thinking about it. So you can say it is a burst of energy. We always do it at certain points in a kata were the kiai was stuck in by the person who came up with the kata. We also do it at the end of a ten count for kicking, punching, etc. So I just interpret(sp?) as a energy burst to make someone do something better, faster, and harder without them really thinking about it.

Brent Leach

will szlemko
22nd July 2001, 07:52
Hi all,

Ki-ai is more closely approximated by the phrase "hamonizing ki". A ki-ai need not be vocalized. The verbalized ki-ai is, in my expeirience the easiest way to start a beginner on the way to proper breathing and energy/intent hamonizing. While we teach the vocalized ki-ai to beginners it is used much less often by the more advanced ranks as they have learned how to focus energy and intent without the verbal yell.


23rd July 2001, 10:20
Funny how someone will come along and write what you wanted to write.

If Kiai is "harmonizing ki" then a definition of ki must be given. I don't see it quite so mysteriously, but I agree with Will in teaching it.

One bit of advice, though. Never, ever tell them it is called kiai in the beginning. This virtually assures that the student will shout "kiai."

Kiai in advanced stages is often silent. It doesn't have to be heard, but felt. I've always used the analogy of lifting something heavy, not for the sound which eminates, but from where it comes. That is proper kiai, IMO.

Entering your third decade or so, one probably won't know his kiai has happened, but it best be an opponent who does.

All that out of the way, I'm not so sure all that much time has to be spent on it. Even with those so shy they won't or can't do so in the beginning, I've found they do eventually. It happens along the way so forcing a shout from them really doesn't help all that much.


Bustillo, A.
23rd July 2001, 16:06
The Muay Thai brething has as much effect, and depending on the drills, perhaps more so, as a loud Kiai.

In general, the Japanese martial arts have a somewhat para-military type format in the dojo. In some dojos,the loud 'kiai' while aiding to in focus and power, it also serves as a strong motivational shout,. In this case, the 'kiai', has the resemblance of the loud shouts, grunts encouraged in military boot camp type training.

However, in reality, to focus power you really don't need to give one of those short, exaggerated shouts. The more natuaral, without shouting, 'Tsssee' sound made to let out air from the lungs by boxers, kickboxers, and Muay thai fighters while moving and delivering blows is effective.

Antonio Bustillo
Miami, Florida

Margaret Lo
25th July 2001, 18:40
Are Muay Thai techniques intended to be delivered with absolutely maximum strength behind each strike?

I think not. My impression of boxing and muay thai is that strikes are delivered at sub-maximum power because any one strike is part of a combination of at least 3 movements. A bout will consist of many combinations for each round of about 3 minutes each, with several rounds total.

If each strike is at sub-max power, then breathing without a ki-ai is natural and right.

In contrast, karate-ka train for "kime" which requires absolutely maximum power per strike. As a result a karate student properly executing karate techniques uses muscles in a manner quite similar to a weight lifter making a maximum effort. Maximum muscular efforts usually force you to yell as you breath out.

So if seems to me that in terms of muscle use, karate and muay thai are quite different and as a result, breathing techniques differ.


Jeff Hamacher
26th July 2001, 02:31
i haven't received any specific instruction on kiai from my aikido teachers, and some of my current aikido colleagues (many of whom are students from the local university) seem to use kiai for almost any action at all, i.e. not only strikes or punches but also for grabs or even when they throw. it's my impression that my current teacher did not teach them this and they're just misguided, but then i've never seen my teacher "correct" them.

in jo there are specific kiai for specific types of technique and my jo teacher of course has taught me in some detail on the subject. my jo teacher explained that kiai is not a shout (as mentioned upthread) at the top of one's lungs, it is a cry that comes from much "deeper" in the body, right from the abdomen. this is much the same way that a singer trains themself to visualize the production of their voice. the kiai is not simply loud, it is powerful, clear, and has a kind of sonic "core", again much like the voice of a good singer.

i heard Kondo Katsuyuki Sensei say once that he had a particular interpretation of zanshin, in addition to the standard interpretation of "maintaining full awareness" following a technique. he said that the term might also be understood as "leave nothing of your spirit behind"; put all of the energy available to you into that one action, sort of like a well-tuned engine burning all the fuel and oxygen in its cylinders at every stroke. Kondo Sensei is also quite firm in his beliefs about timing the breath for cycles within techniques or kata: inhalation is for in (yin) state, when you are at the "weak" extreme of the cycle, and exhalation is for you (yang) state, when you are at the "strong" extreme. Kondo Sensei advises that you want to time exhalation/you with your opponent's inhalation/in for the moment when you execute your techniques.

one of my aikido teachers added to this by saying, "like the breath, you cannot hold on to ki forever; just as you must breathe in and out, so must you allow ki to flow freely in and out of your body while you move." i can't remember the source now, but the capper on this line of reasoning is that one must allow ki to flow completely out of the body so that the next cycle of "ki intake" can happen. to continue the breathing analogy, if you don't clear the lungs of deoxygenated air your capacity to take in oxygen-rich air is reduced by precisely that amount of stale air which is left over.

now for the grasping attempt at wrapping this mess up.:D in my mind, if you allow your kiai to assist with this outward flow of ki then i see it as being very beneficial. a clear, powerful kiai working with exhalation as well as proper mechanics should lead to proper execution of technique. looking forward to hearing back from others.

26th July 2001, 03:57
The concept of "ki"-"ai" and "ai"-"ki" are very related as can be seen by the words themselves. They are formed by a different ordering of the same concepts.

In karate, it has become more fashionable to force kiai into practice, "kiai" on the last strike. This robs it of its meaning, like saying "you know" every fifth word or so. I rarely ever kiai in my practice or classes, and I teach it as a concept about mid kyu ranks and on.

Kiai is spontaneous in its execution, but there are some drills to cultivate the external shout, and those are similar to many different types of breathing. If you don't mix it with the right movement, timing and distance you will get your head handed to you as you stand their shouting and contorting your face.

As Mark F. pointed out, the shout is not the thing, the shout is a tool to give students a point on which to try to accomplish kiai. However, if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.

A proper kiai can produce interesting effects. The mechanism operates on many levels, psychological, physical, maybe spiritual. Pick your paradigm, you can demonstrate kiai with any of them.

Kiai is as some have pointed out, all about feeling, not about noise. It is sensing the rhythm of the conflict. It is finding those moments of calm in the storm, showing them to your opponent, and then abruptly ending the conflict when they themselves mistakenly stop.

Despite my love of straight forward teaching, I find kiai is something to be experienced and will be described in many, many different ways. Then again, it is not a basic concept. It is one of those things that must be developed on a very individual level, mimicry will not do the trick.

Lastly, kiai is just as dependent upon the opponent as the one employing kiai, hence the relation to the concept of aiki. This is my take on the issue.

26th July 2001, 10:43
It has always seemed to me that Kiai, after Aiki, is possibly one of the most misunderstood terms in Budo.

When I first started martial arts (Wado Karate for a while ) it was taught to me as simply a shout from the diapragm.

Then I attended the 25th aniversary celebrations of a friends Kendo clubs, the Kiai made in the demonstrations produced a profound physiological response in me, raising hairs on the back of my neck , causing an adrenaline rush and slightly shaky hands.

Since then I've been convinced there was more to it than simply acoustics !

I wonder if anybody would share some of the drills or exercises that they use to teach this. I'm particularly interested in the 'silent Kiai', I've heard of this but never seen it demonstrated. How is it accomplished and what response does it cause in the target ?

Oh and Mike, croeso i E-budo. Always nice to see another member from Cardiff !


Bustillo, A.
26th July 2001, 12:19
To margret,

Indeed, the focus of the kiai/shout is different in Muay thai and karate and other arts. However, not for the reasons you stated.
For example, you don't shout in every move of a kata.

The messages posted after your comment explain it well.

And, yes, boxers and muay thai fighters strike in combinations. They do so for good reason. Although, we all would like to deliver a full force one shot knockout blow. Even so, no matter how fast, strong and proficient the martial artist, or how often and loud you kiai, the 'one shot drop the guy blows' are few and far between.

Antonio Bustillo
Coral Gables, Florida

Margaret Lo
26th July 2001, 19:41
Originally posted by Bustillo, A.
To margret,

Indeed, the focus of the kiai/shout is different in Muay thai and karate and other arts. However, not for the reasons you stated.
For example, you don't shout in every move of a kata.

The messages posted after your comment explain it well.

And, yes, boxers and muay thai fighters strike in combinations. They do so for good reason. Although, we all would like to deliver a full force one shot knockout blow. Even so, no matter how fast, strong and proficient the martial artist, or how often and loud you kiai, the 'one shot drop the guy blows' are few and far between.

Antonio Bustillo
Coral Gables, Florida

I was unclear, I am not saying that absolutely every movement in karate is performed with maximum force, kiais are interspersed in kata and in drills at specific points. Most of class is conducted without kiais but with breathing in time to sub-max exertion. Kiais only occur in the last set of a particular drill when instructors call for a maximum effort.

Also, I am not saying that boxers and muay thai use sub-max strikes without good reason. I only mean that the one shot power punch is very highly sought after in karate and training is aimed at producing martial artists capable of such a technique, and the kiai is part of the training for the knockout punch.

I perfer a practical rather than an esoteric view of the kiai. I think of it as a useful and natural method of training rather than something with a spiritual dimension.


Bustillo, A.
26th July 2001, 23:32
Ok. Thanks for explaining your point.

And, I agree that you--we-- should strive for good solid knockout power. However, regardless of how long we train, we must realize that in a real all out confrontation, it's difficult to land the 'one shot stopping blow'.

Thanks again,

Antonio Bustillo