The importance of kiai [spirited shout]

We recently discussed the use of kiai in a class, mainly because I observe that few Aikidoka choose to use kiai when training tai jutsu and only occasionally use it with bukiwaza. I think beginners are embarrassed and older students can find it tiring perhaps. But what does kiai add to our training? Is it a natural expression of power or energy or is it simply a habit one picks up? I would like to know what people think about using kiai and whether it benefits their Aikido training? One of the Cambridge students (Eddy Zabcik) showed me a synopsis (below) about kiai from O’Sensei; you might find this interesting.
*From: The Secret Teachings of Aikido by Morihei Ueshiba*
    In the martial arts there are various shouts. For example, “/ei/”, “/yaa/”, “/too/”, “/ha/” and so on. There are many more possible shouts than these 4 sounds: they are all derived from /kototama/ theory. These /kototama/ sounds are based on deep breathing and the rhythm between the voice and the mind. The sound “flies out” when a technique is executed: its quality expresses the extent of one’s mind/body/unity. When voice, body, and mind are unified, excellent techniques result. /Aiki/ is to train to develop the splendid power that is generated by the unity of spirit and body. This unity of voice, body and mind is the essence of traditional martial arts training, practiced over and over – such concentrated spirit is the pillar of /budo/. Follow the example of all the great masters, martial artists such as Yagyu Jubei [1607-1650, Yagyu Ryu swordsman] and Tsukahara Bokuden [1489-1571, founder of Kashima Shinto Ryu]; realise that /budo/ energy is a blessing of the gods that we need to treat and harness with reverence.
    Take the words of these great exemplars to heart and make their teachings part of your being by practicing them every day. Harmonise your breath with the breath of heaven and earth. On occasion, we cut with “/ei/”, receive with “/ya/”, and separate with “/too/”. When you and your partner are in tune, the /too/ separation /kiai/ [spirited shout] works well, but if one of the partners has an opening, the /ei/ and /ya/ /kiai/ will not be effective. In the old days, it was said that when the /ei/ and /ya/ were harmonized, the /too/ separation /kiai/ would work. In short, the /kiai/ were used to facilitate training without openings or slack. If such training was done in earnest, it would be possible to sense an impending attack and neutralize it immediately with an appropriate technique. This sense is the key to effective throws and pins. Train diligently in the techniques and improve your level, and forge your spirit.

Posted in Aikido.


    • Jenny, I’ve thought a lot about your post. Remember the lesson you taught at the closing seminar at Orwell? The mind being right for approaching the horse as a way of approaching aikido itself? Well a wild kiai would not fit that purpose. I wonder why O-Sensei did it … we may never know, but did he do it in taijutsu? Did he reserve it for weapons and if so, why? I get the feeling from my own experience that weapons work takes on the role of attacker too easily. They strike … nasty people, we move and strike … ahaa, the good guy wins … good job we didn’t complete the cut. In the 3rd kumitachi on the final defence I now follow their ken, entering in and changing which side my ken is to theirs, as they continue their strike they enter a weak posture while I have done nothing to harm them. Harm only comes about if they choose to accept it. If I added a kiai none of that would work.
      Therefore I question the use and even the methodology of a kiai …. until I find a better answer. I think you have the real aikido in your being, yours is a mind set I admire, I wonder if kiai serves it well. many thanks, always my teacher Jenny, best wishes, Richard

      • Interesting thoughts Richard. It makes me think about kiai being used to disturb or disrupt the attacker. But if it disturbs ourselves, then it obviously won’t help us. I guess if we practice with kiai then we become familiar with it. I agree it is easy to become an attacker during weapons practice – think how often we can swap roles and the movements during the 5th kumitachi for example!. So again our state of mind during training, as you indicate, is very important. All good ideas to think about. Thank you.

  1. Very interesting and beyond my knowing. I have once seen someone demonstrate sound with movement and it was obvious that everything was connected as she did so, mind, body, spirit, sound. Sometimes we can see such things even if unable to achieve ourselves.
    If I kiai, I find that it creates a tension in my body. Tension is something I try to lose while still extending ki to take out the slack. Tight joints, hips, shoulders and neck are the very places where your energy flow can be blocked and as I hope to move without my own body causing problems for me, I try hard to be relaxed while still whole body connected. (You can relax outwards as well as the usual relax (collapse) inwards. Tai chi masters have awesome power, which uses principles I relate to O-Sensei. They do not kiai. However I don’t discount the value of kiai but wonder if we actually know at the right level what it is for … not just frightening the attacker … which of course it most certainly can. I too will be most interested to hear what others think on the subject.

  2. Also…

    In the book ‘Budo – Teachings of the Founder of Aikido’ by O-Sensei, translated by John Stevens, it goes on to say:

    “Morehei’s piercing kiai could be heard half a mile away”


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