When we think of Ki-ai what do you think? If you are an old guy or a gal like me you remember that funny sound Bruce Lee made. An amusing story from the past involves the men’s after shave called Hai Karate. If you remember this then you must be at least 50 years old. This product was advertised on TV in the 60’s and possibly in the 70’s. Here is what the announcer said:
ANNOUNCER: “Hai Karate aftershave is so powerful; it drives women right out of their minds. That’s why we have to put instructions on self-defense in every package. Hai Karate, the brisk splash-on aftershave that smoothes, sooths, and cools. Hai Karate, aftershave, cologne, and gift sets. Hai Karate, be careful how you use it.”
Then there is a skit with a guy who has to fight off the girls who would try to grab him after using this aftershave. Some of my friends must have believed that I needed this because for several years, each Christmas I would receive numerous bottles. I really appreciated their genuine interest to help me out but I had to toss most of them because I could not use them up if I had lived to 100 years old. Besides I did not like the smell. I knew the aftershave would surely drive the girls wild or rather; it would have surely driven them away.
I also have a very memorable incident with ki-ai which I would like to share. I started karate 46 years ago (1963) in Kobe Japan. Thanks to the following experience in my very first class I still clearly remember that wonderful day. I can vividly picture this senpai, Tanaka (not the famous JKA sensei) in front of me. He stood a little over 5 foot but he was a towering figure to us. He slowly stepped up to the new students (me included of course). We were brand new, excited and were dying to learn those deadly techniques. He said very nicely, “You boys (no girls dared to join as it was thought to be too rough, but that was exactly the reason why I joined) have to learn how to say Osu.” As the readers know, Osu is a very convenient word in Japanese that can be used for meaning “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, “I will try”, “right”, “sure‘ or whatever. It could mean almost anything and, we were always happy to use it as we could sound like a tough karate guy. So, we all said “OSU”! The senpai then said “What? I can’t hear you!” So we repeated with a louder voice but that still did not please him. He then said “you guys just don’t have spirit”. “You are going to learn how to Ki-ai today and you will learn to show your spirit.” Then, he gave a real LOUD Ki-ai which pierced through our bodies and sent shivers down our spines. Then he smiled and said “OK boys you will Ki-ai without stopping until I return.” We thought he would return in a few minutes but he did not come back until the end of the class, 2 hours later. We were yelling “Ya” or “Tou” or whatever the Ki-ai we thought cool (we didn’t know Bruce Lee yet). The senpai’s word was the command (plus he was looking at us from the other side of the dojo) so none of us would stop. After 30 minutes or so we started to cough and lose our voice. At the end we could hardly make any sound at all. We left the dojo very quietly that day. Incidentally, all the brand new students except one did not come back after the first day. That was his way to separate the normal people from the crazy one (me). My voice was gone for several days but I showed up at training the very next day. I could only whisper on the following day and my mother did not seem to mind as the house was quiet for a change. Thankfully the senpai did not ask me to Ki-ai on the second day but my training did not get any easier either. He now told me to stay in Kiba dachi for 2 hours. He kept on saying, “Lower! “. When my legs gave out and I fell down, I guess I was too “low” so he said “Get up”. It went on like that (very simple exercise but very looooong) and I am sure you can guess how the rest of the Japanese way of training or breaking in the new student went on. I am still not sure if that senpai really knew what he was doing or if he was simply too lazy to figure out a more sophisticated training.
OK, you’ve heard enough funny stories about Ki-ai. Now more serious stuff… There are many articles on Ki-ai and most of the authors stressed the importance of doing Ki-ai and how to do it. Some explained the meaning of Ki-ai and the others showed the relationship to breathing. If that is the case, then you will ask why I am writing this used up and uncontroversial subject. Well I am one of those people who do not like to take things for granted. So today I want to take up the challenge and ask “Is ki-ai really important?” and “Is ki-ai necessary in karate training?” You might say, “You must be crazy to challenge these things.” Maybe the readers are correct and I may fumble nicely with this subject. But I think it is a good exercise to investigate instead of just believing something because many instructors and the “experts” say it is so. (read more...)
Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books: