“Kiai is more art than anything else.”
I had asked sensei, for probably the millionth time, if the technique I was doing was defensive, or an attack. The above was his reply. No explanations of what he meant, just that cryptic phrase and slight smile.
We normally use two, sometimes three, different sounds with which to kiai, and which sound we use depends on what we are doing in a technique. It has to be said that my brain frequently switches up what I’m supposed to be doing and any manner of sound escape my mouth. But, that’s not really my problem.
MY problem is going from squeaking like a mouse, to roaring like a lion. Heaven help me, but sometimes the sound coming out of my mouth is literal squeaking.
When sensei said that thing about kiai being more of an art, it occurred to me that I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. I’d been trying to create energy and intent by focusing on imitating other’s sounds, and trying to get it “right” (whatever that means). As a novice it’s easy to get caught up in mimicry, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but at some point I needed to find my own voice. What I was missing was the connection between my emotions and the sound I produced. Sure, it’s helpful to say the correct sound in practice, but what about in pressure situations? Is it helpful then? Eh, not so much.
To release the lion within, I needed to find something to connect to, like a sense of worth. To grow as a person, and a martial artist, I needed to understand my own value. Through various means, my (Heavenly) Dad showed me what He thinks of me, and what I should think of myself. He installed a sense of purpose coupled with the idea that I had value simply because I existed. As my favorite Krav Maga instructor put it “We have to protect what God has given us.”
I’ve encountered people who value themselves in way not connected to their usefulness. Their sense of self is palpable, and if trained properly, can feel like a warning to “stay away.” A person who values their own existence is not an easy target, it shows in their walk, in how they deal with others, how they deal with conflict. Their ego is not driven by what they can do, but who they are on this earth. My concept of myself has changed so significantly in the past year, that I’ve noticed a change in my kiai. I get it now.
That sense of belonging, value, and self helps me to want to fight back, to release the breath of the lion when I need to. Putting energy into my defense, or attack, is about focusing my intentions and skill in the right direction, my kiai is mostly the end result of an internal process. The more protective I feel, the stronger the emotional connection, the more I can let my opponent know exactly how I feel.
Let there be less squeaking and more roaring.