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Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture
Kiai-Jutsu: Part 1

Hi everyone,

i bought a second hand copy of Karate Do Kyohan and this article was seperate inside and thought i would share. Sadly there was no name etc so i have no idea who wrote this great article. I hope you enjoy reading the following.

KIAI-JUTSU (part (1)

This terrifying scream is familiar to all followers of the Martial Arts..... but we wounder how many realize that this is merely part of an entire field of study known as KIAI-JUTSU.

The literal translation of Kiai-Jutsu have been variously defined as, the art of throwing ones spirit with sound, spirit meeting art or spirit shout art.

The Kiai is basically a shout / scream used at climatic moments of combat. There are, however, diverse ramifications of this technique, some of which border on the mystical. Storys concerning masterfull usage of this art abound. an expert Kiai is said to be able to wound an opponent at a distance and extreme cases even to kill him/her.

Conversely Kiai's have been known to resuscitate people, along with the appropriate physicla techniques. At first this may seem incredible, but one only has to think of the effects sonic waves can actually have on the auditory sense as well as on some inanimate objects to realize that this is in fact scientifically valid. The renowned opera singer Ennio Caruso could shatter class with his remarkable voice. War time interogation methods include the utilisation of sound via the high frequency whine of military radio sets applied to the ear drum and the beating of an oil drum whilst a prisoners head is held inside, to give but two examples. In addition, everyone is aware of the effect super sonic air craft like the concorde have upon green houses and windows. Applied sound can obviously be highly effective.

To kill with a shout may seem the epitome of combat, but the ultimate in this field the true Kiai seeks to overcome an opponent by nullifying his will to fight without physicla contact. It is in fact a weapon by itself.

What seems in the Dojo to be a simple yell can seem to be but one fundamental aspect of a truly extraordinary art, the higher manifestations of which need not necessarily even be auditory.

As a systmised and highy developed art Kiai-Jutsu belongs to the east, the west however is devoid of some knowledge of such tactics, as is evidence by references in history, legend and myth. The Trojan Warrior Hector, it was alleged had a ferocious aweinspirion shout which he used to great advantage on the battlefield. Famous irish warrior kings were known to have applied similar methods and throughout the annals of recorded history the class of steal on steal have been accompanied by fiercesome yells. Today in military combative methods soldiers are trained to scream at the enemy there by frightening and distracting them.

Although there are many types of Kiai used in Karate, Kendo, Judo, Bojutsu, laido, Naginata etc, there are fundamental principles governing them all.

These principles include:

(a) All Kiai are intended to induce a specific effect upon the opponent, according to the requirements of the combat situation.

(b) All Kiai have beneficial effects upon one's self: e.g. they purge the mind of fear and clear it of distractions thereby facilitating distrations decisve actions: they have strenghening effect upon the abdomen and respiratory system.

(c) Whereas the common shout or yell originates merely in the lungs and throat, the Kiai is propelled explosively by the abdominal muscles and diaphragm. This intesnely piercing screm emerges via the trachea as a synergism of tone, pitch, vibration and primarily will or spirit. Shouts made from the throat pass frequently for Kiai, but they are not and never can be true Kiai.

(d) Evaluation of an opponent's inner strengh can be ascertained by studying his Kiai, for the Kiai must embody the spirit. When the spirit is weak, the Kiai is weak and consequence so is the attack.

Adding to the traditioanal knowledge of the art recent physiogical evidence suggests that the Kiai more effectively impresses the result of the attack by adding sound to it!  As an example consider a person who has fallen and brken his leg. If when he lands he actually hears the splintering snap of the bones as it fractures, the resultant pain will be more intense. This is because an additional propricoceptive stimulus (hearing) is provided and the central nervous pathways are further stimulated. Tests indicate that this increase in stimulation is interpreted by the higher centres to be an actual increase in pain amd the body reacts accordingly.

Having examined the underlying esoteric principles of Kiai-Jutsu, let us now examine the actual sound of the Kiai. During the Kiai-geiko (practice) and actual contests of Kendo, the specfic  parts of the anatomy attacked are Kiaied e.g. 'men', 'Do, 'Kote', 'Tsuki', (head, body, wrist and throat) respectively. Apart from exceptions of this nature the Martial Arts do not employ a specfic pronunciation of Kiai. To a large degree this depends as much on the individual as upon the specific Kiai being used. Probably the first Kiais that students make are attempts at imitating their instructor's Kiai. Then gradually they develop their own sounds as their understanding , ability and feeling for their particular art grows. Monosyllabes such as 'yaah!, 'Saah!, 'Uttz!, 'Eeyaah!, and myriad combinations of like sounds are uttered forcibly as the movements are executed.

In the Martial Arts there are many different types of Kiai employed. Each one designed to produce a specific effectand consequently demands  a specific method  of performance. Let us examine three of these Kiais....one to augment the effectivness of a technique, one to cause a specific reaction in an opponent and one to temporaily 'freeze his thought and action.

To be continued................................

Kind regards,


Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I remembered this from back in the day

Good Article

Th0mas's picture

Hi Jason

I don't mean to be a cynic, but this smacks of Pseudo-science and wishful thinking.

i also remember seeing this on TV when it came out.... you had to suspend your disbelief for quite a lot of the demonstrations in that series..



Tau's picture

Does Kiai-Jitsu include verbal disuasion?

Kokoro's picture

i remember this from long ago. the kiai was suppose to be a different tone depending upon the part of the body you want to effect, for instance while striking the heart you would make one sound, while striking the lungs you would make a different one.

from my understanding this is no longer practice and the few old masters that knew about this stated in an article that almost everyone kiai wrong. Our kiai were too soft and not penetrating in the way it was suppose to be done.

One of my friends is a bit more into this then I ever was. I'll have to ask him next time I see him.


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Th0mas wrote:
I don't mean to be a cynic, but this smacks of Pseudo-science and wishful thinking.

I also remember seeing this on TV when it came out.... you had to suspend your disbelief for quite a lot of the demonstrations in that series..

I’m totally with you. All I see at work here is the power of suggestion and unconvincing conjuring tricks. In the video above he supposedly rings a bell with nothing but his voice (2 minutes in)… the heavy stamping with the right foot has nothing to do with it then!? Watch the clip and it’s obvious what is happening.

You stamp on the matted floor, the table which is on the floor is cause to vibrate and the bowl on top of it rings. No magic, no science defying energy, just simple vibrations caused on a matted floor by a man stamping very hard. At 2:20 they have the camera on the floor and you can actually see it jump as he stamps on the floor! The only reason anyone would see “kiai powers” here is because it’s what they want to see and have been told they will see. 

I think we all need to call “BS” on this kind of nonsense because it is damaging to the reputation of the martial arts.

All the best,


shutokia's picture

You should experiment by having a person throw a punch at you and than kiaing as he throws the punch and it will startle him that he will draw back with the punch and you would not get hit with his full power of the punch.

AllyWhytock's picture


I find a good shout is effective but actual blows and mind control is just plain stupid.

Some background.

Some reality.

Kindest Regards,


Kokoro's picture

How could i mis that first video from black tiger posted.  That video would make me think it was bs

From what I remember about the way this was explained to me.  It was suppose to be a real deep guttural sound, much more deeper then we kiai today. It was more like an opera-singer shattering a glass, but in the tone of a kiai. And it was added to your strike. You didn’t just kiai like in those videos.

Personally I never looked much into it.  More because I didn’t care and don’t have the time for this.  Although it does have a ring of hokeyness to the whole thing as well


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

shutokia wrote:
You should experiment by having a person throw a punch at you and than kiaing as he throws the punch and it will startle him that he will draw back with the punch and you would not get hit with his full power of the punch.

When a person throws a full power punch, with intent, at the right distance (i.e. within arms length) I really can’t see a shout having any effect at all. I know if I were to try this in my dojo I’d get hit with full power punches every time. It’s far better to cover, crash, slip, block, trap, control etc. I’m not saying kiai is not important, or that it does not have a role to play, but we need to be sure what that role is.

Kiai can intimidate the enemy, it can “psych us up”, it can be a natural response to an internal feeling of great commitment, etc. I don’t however think it can be a stand alone method to defeat an enemy or protect us from them. Kiai is not a strike and it is not a block. It is an internal feeling. Kiai is part of the psychological side of the conflict; it should not be mistaken as being part of the physical side.

All the best,


michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Kiais, battle cries, war shouts etc, etc are found thoughout history and in all fighting arts. Usually they occur natrually and under extreme circumstances (i.e. charge of the light brigade, or going over the top at the Somme).  Kiais, battle cries are a release and channeling mechanisim ; they release pent up energy and adrenaline while simultainously focusing the mind. 

One reason kiaia are practiced in Okinawan, Japanese and Chinese fighting arts is the Neo-Confucian habit of recording everything and making it a ritual, hence through ritual/ritual practice you gain expertese.  Where live combatives are concerned (systems used regularly in combat, or the arena) battle cries have practical applications and are viewed in a very pragamatic sense, "nothing special just a fighter's shout."  However when fighting arts are practiced for reasons other than combat, and realistic feedback is no-longer present, then esoteric elements take control and mysticism spreads like wild fire, leaving many practitioners to believe in kiai power, chi, etc, etc. This can and does lead to disasterous results as the above videos show and the Chinese boxer rebellion proves.

By and large karate today is practiced for sport, meditation, self-development and a little self-defense. However if something esoteric, such as stopping attacks with a kia, sounds to good to be true then usually it is. Bottom line is I wouldn't bet my life, nor limb on it.  I'm sure it works in the dojo, but then again everything usually does.



shoshinkanuk's picture

AllyWhytock wrote:


I find a good shout is effective but actual blows and mind control is just plain stupid.

Some background.

Some reality.

Kindest Regards,


It's sad to see these videos again, not only are this guys students deluded, but he is not a simple con man- he clearly is deluded as well. It's stuff like this and over analytical study and reliance on things like Kiai that really can bring martial arts into the 'joke' catagory.

Granted war crys, shouting loud in self defense do have a place. Interestingly in our Ryu there is no real concept of Kiai and it certainly does not appear in the classical kata we practice.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I would look at the Kiai the same way as the breathing is done in Sanshin or Tensho Kata, for those who don't know the breathing is pointless, but for those that do. Th Kiai is important. I see the war cry everywhere, in Tennis, Squash and other sports where extra 'effort' is required. 

War cries are listed not just in Japanese arts, but in other Asian and Western Arts too. Not too sure if any of you have heard of the scream of the Banshee?

shoshinkanuk's picture

Black Tiger,

The breathing method of Shorei Ryu (i.e in Goju mainstream modern karatedo) is a fundamental method to teach Go and Ju, done with emphasis the key to an isometric body building and health set. The Sanchin Dachi is the fundamental body positon for the method and it is where the force generation and delivery system finds it's home, among many other things.

Kiai, when used against you is also an ideal time to attack!

I can't really say more as I dropped Sanchin about 8 years ago, but previous to that I had practiced it for around 20 years and was familiar with the Goju, Uechi, Shito and Yong Chun White Crane methods, granted far,far from expert level.

Kiai, really is just Kiai and IMO is something that has been blown up as it has good crowd pleasing effect.

Battlefield arts I grant you may have a more solid use for Kiai, particulary group Kiai etc but thats hardly relevant to most applications of karate and kobudo.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I hear you Shoshinkanuk, but i just can't see the need for the Hara  breathing, never used it never needed to use it BUT I have used the Kiai and found it the perfect weapon. My.Ashihara Karate isn't like Okinwan or Japanese or Korean Karate ours is Jissen based not Goshin based. so I think its a matter of opinion

ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

the concept of KIAI is a broad one. The scream or battle cry is only one aspect to it. Here is an excellent article written by Harada Mitsusuke http://www.karatedoshotokai.com/viewArticle.php?article=11.

All that Kiai-Jutsu stuff is rubbish as explained and mentioned above.

Regards Holger

swdw's picture

Here's something I posted on a forum a while back. It's unfinished, but the core of what I wanted to get across is there.

What I will describe here is one veiwpoint on the kiai, so many will probably disagree. Although this is a long post, I'll try to keep it as short as possible by not going into intricate detail.

There's a lot of myth circulating around a kiai. Part of this is from MA history where a physiological reaction is explained from a spiritual perspective. This is understandable as there is much about the internal workings of the body that were unknown at the time.

Before talking about what makes a correct kiai and why, let's look at the physiological effects of a correct kiai. The effect on the practitioner is two fold. With a correct kiai, there will be a slight flush in the practitioner, the pulse rate elevates slightly, and in some cases, the hair on the back of the neck or even the arms will stand up. This is very similar to the reaction caused by an adrenaline rush. Some studies were performed that showed certain noises can produce an adrenaline rush in the body, regardless of the source. So this is one possible effect of a correct kiai

Note the effects of "yelling" in the following quote by a coach that teaches his athletes to "grunt" when striking a ball: "As described by Jim Viceroy, a Chicago-area exercise physiologist and sports psychology consultant, the body works like a piston-stretching and contracting, storing energy and releasing it-while executing a volleyball slam.

Says Viceroy: "Your body goes through a series of cocking all your joints. Your hips cocks and your trunk cocks, your elbow and your wrist-like rubber bands. You store elastic energy, you create the most tension possible in the body, and you increase the range of motion, including the chest. By taking a nice deep breath, you're presetting your muscles, stretching them. And so when you exhale, if you do it correctly, you'll get this whole marshaling of all those muscles at the same time, and this generates enormous force. Therefore you have more velocity, more power.

The effect is partially psychological; much like the kiai, the shout of the martial artist, it breaks down inhibitions and intimidates the opponent. Of course, the force generated by the kiai would propel a backhanded tennis ball over the fence."

Summary- The physiological/psychological effects of a kiai performed at the right time, help synchronize the movement with the kiai, firing the "cocked" muscles and creating a strong mental intent that breaks down inhibitions that would keep you from releasing your full strength.

Comment- earlier in the article, they explain that a "nice deep breath" means breathing with the diaphragm. In the last few years some LEO training articles have promoted the idea that regulated abdominal breathing allows you to "control" the adrenaline rush experienced in a combative scenario. See a connection?

The rapid release of breath in the kiai, coupled with the effects noted in the quote results in a noticeable jump in power. In addition, the forced deep inhalation also helps the practitioner utilize an adrenaline rush from the confrontation in a "fight" response rather than a flight response. One of the things kata practice does is aid in teaching you to control your breathing and link it to your movements.

Viceroy mention an effect on the opponent. Let's take a quick look at that. Short, loud noises create the freeze, fight, or flight reaction. This happens in species other than man. Example of such noises would be the initial clap of thunder, a pot dropped on the floor behind you, someone sneaking up behind you and yelling 'boo' loudly.

Many times this will cause a momentary hesitation or freeze before the flight / fight reaction takes over. The same thing happens with a proper kiai. It has the possibility of inducing a temporary "freeze response" in your opponent, which can cause a pause in their movement and thought processes. This gives you a great advantage.

The fact that a strong kiai breaks down inhibitions can be seen when teaching people to kiai. Hence- the teaching that a strong kiai= a strong fighting spirit. A beginner’s initial kiais are weak and ineffective. Making them stand and practice their kiai can often induce giggles and smiles in beginners. Ask them why and they'll say "it just seems funny". When they can get past the social conditioning (don't yell or raise your voice) and really cut loose with a good kiai, this mentally sets them up for delivering full power techniques. I get a chuckle when I see a beginner produce their first good kiai and actually startle themselves.

An important training point-, the more often a kiai is used against a person, the less effect it has. They adapt.

I use this as a training tool with my students. I have literally stopped them in their tracks during ippon on either their attack or counter. I work with them and tell them to learn to continue in spite of the kiai. They get better over time, although a kiai at an unexpected moment can still freeze them. You can see it rob power from a more advanced student's technique when delivered unexpectedly. Stand behind them and kiai as they perform a technique and you’ll see this. If you continue to do this at various times you’ll reduce the effect this has on them.

Now onto a proper kiai-

First- the air should be forced out using the diaphragm

Second- it should be SHORT. No Bruce Lee drawn out waahhh's, eeee's and oooohhh's. (sorry BL fans, but that was for the movies).

Third- it should be LOUD

Fourth- the sound is best produced without any consonants. The reason for this is, making a consonant sound like the 'k' in kiai restricts the breathing and slows down the expulsion of air

Fifth- do NOT exhale 100% of your air. Anyone that's been hit with no air in their lungs will tell you it's worse than being hit with your lungs full. Keep 15-20% of your air. (Sanchin anyone?)

Think of your kiai as a "Clap of thunder" or the sound of a gunshot. It should crack the silence like a whip. Hit your opponent with the kiai.

Can it kill? I guess if the opponent had a weak heart and was untrained it would be the same as some people that have literally been "scared to death". But there are no documented cases, just stories many generations old.

Can a kiai stop an animal? Yes- under the right conditions. Often the initial fright reaction makes an animal freeze (tiger's roar as an example). I've seen this happen to people. One student stopped an attacking Great Dane with her kiai.

AllyWhytock's picture

Hello Shoshinkanuk,

Yes, deluded is the prime word here. So many people are deluded by what they are taught and the realisation may come too late. I remember a discussion with shotokan colleague who had great control in terms of sun-dome until he had to defend himself for real. Guess what - he stopped 3cm from the target. A lesson learned for him and a lesson for me as well.

Best Regards,