Kiai, use of voice in martial arts

By Yossi Sheriff

Kiai, 気合, קיאי, is a Japanese term for the forceful use of the voice in martial arts and combat.

The use of a battle cry has been known since antiquity and is a trans-cultural phenomenon. From the ancient Greek warfare shout Alale alala (Ἀλαλά) that follows the name of the goddess who escorted Ares, the god of war and has a rudiment in the Sub Saharan Ululation, to the Slavic Urah derived from the distinct Turkic Uran (lit. battle shout) every Steppes tribe had.

While the Japanese Kiai is written in popular culture Romanji as Kiaiii! or Haiyaa!!, there is no universal intonation of the Kiai in Japanese martial arts and many, system specific, variations exist: Tō, Hep, Yō, Sha, K'ihap and so on.

Uses of Kiai

The Kiai may be uttered before battle, right before a technique, in the middle of execution of technique, to de-stabilize a status quo or after the technique has concluded.