Kiai: “In martial arts, the term commonly refers to a short yell made before, during, or after a technique. Students of Japanese martial arts such as aikido, karate, kobudo, kendo, or judo (or related arts such as taiko drumming) use kiai to startle an opponent, express confidence, or express victory.” (Wikipedia)
Many years ago, as an undergraduate student at Dalhousie University, I was prompted to take my first martial arts classes, a women’s self-defense class, after being attacked in Halifax, once at night and once on a crowded street during the day. I got away both times and I wasn’t hurt but my response, or lack thereof, really bothered me.
What shocked me was that I was silent while being held against a car on a crowded street. There were police officers across the street but I didn’t yell to get their attention. Not even a “Hello” or “Over here.” I don’t know if 19 year old me was scared the man holding me would hit me if I yelled. I don’t know. I just froze.
The police saw me and rescued me. Thank you. After, while getting a lecture from the police about being in that neighbourhood (I lived there!) I felt so stupid and so angry with myself.
So I did something about it. Along with a group of young women I spent a weekend learning some self-defense basics. I learned to get up quickly from the ground, to break a board into two pieces, and to yell. We were all surprised at how hard it was to yell.
Tonight I found out it’s still hard!
In Aikido, we kiai with each strike, throw, or pin. The purpose of the kiai is both internal and external. Externally, the goal is to shock or startle your partner. Most Aikido techniques begin by taking one’s partner off balance and a good kiai helps with this. But it’s also internal. The kiai focuses your own attention and energy on the technique and on the person in front of you.
A good kiai is a self defense technique in its own right.
And I do kiai. But too quietly apparently. My own perception is that I’m incredibly loud. But not so, I’m told.
When I teach, the voice of authority is the quiet voice. I almost never get loud to get my students’ attention. I speak quietly and make them come to me.
There are of course years of socialization as a woman in our society that Aikido is up against. In Aikido we’re told to stand tall, to make big movements, to be determined, and to be loud. Taking up space and being loud? That’s just about the opposite of what women in our society are supposed to do.
I think I don’t like getting attention through being loud. And being forceful in the way that Aikido requires isn’t easy for me. But I’m working on it. And I’m very certain now that I’d yell if attacked.
So I will have to get louder. Maybe my kiai will be my new morning call to wake up teenagers. 🙂 I can see that going really well.