East Asian martial arts have been practiced for centuries as both a method of self defense and a meditative spiritual exercise. “Kiai,” an exclamation made during or after an attack, is an important part of the execution of martial arts techniques. The kiai is explained as an outburst of inner spiritual energy, harmonizing the practitioner’s body and mind to press the attack; the practitioner focuses all their energy solely into the strike, and their exclamation has the added effect of intimidating the opponent. Additionally, the physical act of creating the diaphragm-based yell tenses up the muscles and prevents the user from becoming winded or taken by surprise by a counterattack. In this way, the use of kiai in martial arts resonates with our group’s theme of sound connecting the mind and body.
The sample I have included is a video of practitioners of kendo, a practice developed from samurai sword exercises, training. Each individual strikes the dummy opponent and emits kiai in conjunction with the hit. In this case, the syllable on which they are basing the shout is the Japanese word for “head;” in kendo, the kiai’s importance is such that in order to win a match, one must execute kiai for each hit, calling out the part of the opponent which they are striking. In this example, kiai is both a coordinated shout that strengthens and focuses the attack and a required ritual within the cultural and official context of the martial art.