How to Kiai
This is not something that should be part of a curriculum. Be that the case, I recall being told in three different clubs, of which two were karate, one was taekwondo, how to kiai. Could our time be better spent on other things?
In all seriousness, in one club we were told to kiai a certain way (the most ridiculous way I’ve ever heard: PAH-HO) and then spent over 5 minutes doing different drills where the focus was not on understanding the drill, but on making sure were were pronouncing our kiais correctly. I didn’t ask any questions at the time, but found it very silly.
Kiai is a gutteral expression of emphasis originating (in the Japanese arts) from the battle cries of Japanese warriors. Its considered a vocalization of focus in some martial arts and completely a showmanship feature in other martial arts. Power lifters sometimes grunt, sometimes yell. Tennis players sometimes yell, sometimes squeal. Ninjas used it from “the shadows” . In shotokan karate, it is a way of encouraging someone to focus by pushing everything else out of your mind. The idea is that outward actions can gradually affect inward actions, like being outwardly courteous to someone you would rather just push down the stairs in an effort that some day you will genuinely want to be courteous to them. It has many other purposes including demoralization, body protection by releasing air and tightening muscles, and others. For this last purpose, it can certainly be used to help people learn to coordinate breathing, flexing, and execution of attacks or blocks, but once mastered, might not be necessary at all.
If that’s the case, should there be instruction on how to kiai? I’d submit that it should be instinctive and sound however you want it to sound. If it gets your adrenaline going and improves your ability to focus, by all means go for it. But the oft cited mantra of “everyone chooses their own path in karate” applies to this as well. Experiment with different kiais until it feels natural. Let me know what you think.