Kiai and Kihap for Kids and Teens (and adults?)

Last week I asked one of my classes, “Which is worse: a wimpy kiai, or no kiai at all?”

Instructors, you know what I am talking about. Kids, you probably know, too. Every class has some students who are too shy or self-conscious to make a loud noise. When called upon to kiai, they let out a thin little squeak that sounds more like a sigh of surrender than the spirited shout of a warrior. And as a teacher, it sometimes makes me want to sigh in surrender. I’ve done everything I can think of to get a shout out of these kids (and sometimes, adults), and there it is again: the incredibly wimpy kiai.

So I tossed out the question, and there were good arguments on both sides. Context matters, of course. In class that day we were practicing kata, but there are other times where kiai might be used, and the question could have a different meaning.

What do you say, readers? Is a wimpy noise better or worse than no noise? Why?

And what can we do to help students who are too shy to shout? Do you have a tip or foolproof technique?

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7 Comments on “Kiai and Kihap for Kids and Teens (and adults?)”

  1. Sensei Smack Says:

    We like to take a multi directional approach to this problem. First off, if a child is shy, time and patience is required. Shy students do not just jump out of their shell. Steady encouragement and positive reinforcement over the long run will eventually yield results. Sensei Doug often refers to the Kiai as a “spirit yell,” and describes it as a blast from a sub-woofer. I also like to ramp up the energy by getting all the kids to scream their heads off, then letting them know that there are only a few times in class they are allowed to scream, and the kiai is one of them. Kids like to scream.
    When practicing kata, I like to stand at the end of the “I,” and when the kiai is done well, I stagger back (and sometimes fall on the ground) like I was struck with a powerful blow. At the next kiai, when the students see me getting in place, they kiai even louder! This works for large groups and individuals alike.

  2. Tanner Critz Says:

    Kiai is one of my favorite analysis tools for kids. In my opinion you’re getting a glimpse of how the student deals with being observed and feels about their training. Are they trying to hide, barely peeking their head out, hamming it up to disguise their embarrassment, or have they finally let go and started to work on their technique in spite of the scrutiny of their peers.

    Sometimes we work on kiai very specifically since they’re seeing empty screaming at tournaments and on tv that’s pretty far afield from the ki loaded projection that I saw Master Mary Davis drop large men to the floor with. I feel like making students kiai louder before they’re ready, though, will only encourage them to bolster up a false shout, so like a therapist, I mostly just ask and listen.

    Kiai breaks down literally to “Energy Harmony” so I try to sit back and use it as a tuning fork to how the students are ringing.

    Tanner

  3. Caryn Augst Says:

    It’s when they quietly say “kiai” that I feel they’ve completely missed the point. I usually explain that it’s like quietly saying “shout”, kind of ridiculous. I tell them to make a short loud sound that might startle somebody and show that they mean business. I also point out that in a tournament, test or sparring a nice loud kiai can tip you into first place or award a point which was otherwise borderline.

  4. redwoodojo Says:

    Great comments, everyone; keep them coming. Let me throw into the mix some answers to my “wimpy kiai vs no kiai” question. In class, during workout– the kiai isn’t an optional add-on; it’s part of the kata or technique! So, ‘no kiai’ is as bad as if you left a move out of the kata, or didn’t load for a block. But out in the world, a “wimpy” kiai makes you look/sound like a victim or target. If you can’t make it sound fierce, maybe it’s better to keep silent?? Really, it’s a must for self defense to train yourself- no matter how shy you are- to be able to call upon a fierce, LOUD inner spirit when threatened. That’s why the kiais in class are not optional.


  5. […] “Instructors, you know what I am talking about. Kids, you probably know, too. Every class has some students who are too shy or self-conscious to make a loud noise. When called upon to kiai, they let out a thin little squeak that sounds more like a sigh of surrender than the spirited shout of a warrior. And as a teacher, it sometimes makes me want to sigh in surrender. I’ve done everything I can think of to get a shout out of these kids (and sometimes, adults), and there it is again: the incredibly wimpy kiai.” (read more here) […]

  6. Heidi Says:

    I have tried to use the 1-10 scoring as we go around class to do our techniques and kiai’s (10 is great – 0 is not). I try to get the kids to see how a good kiai works by sometimes demonstrating a “0” type kiai – the kids crack up when asked to do things as bad as possible – but its that idea of leanring balance via imbalance that Master John Burns talks about. I also do the non-verbal thumbs up to every kid that does a great kiai and the other kids sometimes pick up on this and want the non-verbal recognition next time so they try to copy what the other kid did to achieve the recognition.

  7. Rachel Schneider Says:

    Having been trained in karate and TKD, I grew to understand that the yell is for multiple reasons. From showing self confidance, to scaring your attacker and to relese your air before eating a punch,the yell can be of many different levels of air relese and loudness.


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