The Karate Kiai! (Yell)

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: karate
11 Nov 2007

Most of you that have been exposed to movies and TV and have heard the karate kiai! The sound of the impending karate chop was supposed to frighten the opponent as well as release pent up energy. I remember reading books in my youth that mentioned particularly good practitioners of the kiai were able to kill small animals with a single yell! I use to practice the kiai at the same time I was toughening up my fingers to plunge into a chest and remove the still-beating-heart. :)


I should say that I did discover some good reasons to yell when executing an attack, including increasing speed, power, and getting some physiological effects from the yell. New practitioners of karate tend to hold their breath while punching and kicking. Holding your breath tends to increase muscle tension as well as slow down any strikes. A good parallel is a weight lifter trying to lift while holding his breath. It is better to exhale, grunt or yell while striking to remain loose and quick. Speed equals power – meaning that if you throw a loose punch fast, it packs more of a wallop then a slow, tight punch. 


When I was still competition my signature move was a lunging counter punch. I would employ critical distance to pick the best time to throw the lunge punch. I would use initial movement – leading off with the punch and allow my body to follow very relaxed and fast. 


One tournament I was matched up against a mean looking gentleman that was very well muscled. He spent a long time wrapping his hands while throwing me glares. I just smiled back and loosened up. When the match started, I quickly let him be the aggressor and when he came at me in an apparent rage – I met him half-way with my kiai and lunge punched him in the bread basket! He dropped and could not get up for five minutes!  The punch was fast, loose, and therefore powerful! 


One other significant benefit of the kiai is unnerving your attacker! A person that is yelling at an attacker is a person that is not willing to accept defeat gracefully. The attacker may have thought he had found easy prey… if you prove you are not – the attacker may back off rapidly.  Yelling attracts attention of nearby people that will, at the very least be aware of what is happening – another reason for an attacker to scram. While I do not subscribe to theory that a yell can kill your attacker – I do think the karate kiai is another good tool to help in a self-defense situation!

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One Response to “The Karate Kiai! (Yell)”

  1. Donald Dees Says:

    Very good, common sense article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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