Why Kiai?

Written By Christine Earl

I learned to kiai after about a year of doing Aikido. It wasn’t easy. There’s something that seems inherently rude about yelling in someone’s face as you try to hit them. Not that hitting them isn’t rude also, but this is Aikido, a martial art, so that’s what we’re here for. Once I’d gotten over my inhibitions about the kiai, I decided to keep it up, even if my partner doesn’t. I have four reasons for doing this.

First, when you kiai, you breath out. At least I haven’t been successful at producing a decent yell while breathing in. Breathing is important in Aikido. A strike is a flow of energy out, toward your partner. If energy is flowing out, you should be breathing out. By remembering to kiai, you improve your breathing without really having to think about it.

Second, it adds energy. I move faster and strike harder when I kiai. I also move faster when my partner kiai’s with a strike towards me. This helps the technique. Aikido relies on the energy your partner gives you. It doesn’t work without it. So when your partner asks for a strike, give it all you’ve got. Kiai will add to the energy.

Third, it’s a distraction. Just like many of our atemi’s or strikes in Aikido, the intent is to distract. A strong kiai accompanying an atemi is yet another distraction, causing the person attacking to be less focused on their attack for a fraction of a second. This fraction of a second is what you need to get them off balance.

Fourth, and this is the most important reason of all, it feels good. Try it, you might like it!

Published in Aiki Budo Centre Newsletter April 1997.