Kiai & Other Martial Art Pondering

Kiai! A man doing a karate chop with a sunset background

Like ignoramuses, we though the karate term “Kiai!” was “Hiya!” for decades. Typical phonetical stupidity on our part. So, here are some useful other phrases.


Dumb us realised this upon revisiting The Messenger, an indie game. We’ve now updated the embarrassing mistake.

Anyway, kiai (気合—kiːaɪ) is an official martial arts term. In the west, we often think of it as:

  • Hi-yah!
  • Aiyah!
  • Eeee-yah!
  • Hyah!
  • Achoo!
  • Excuse me, sir, I do believe I am about to physically assault you.

However, it’s important to establish kiai is a term for the shout. You don’t usually yell “Kiai, you bastard!” That is the kiai—the term for the shrieking. Yes?

Although you can just yell “Kiai!” if the mood takes you. But any manner of shrieking will do.

And martial artists take it very seriously. It’s not just a casual yell, you must do it so forcefully it’s as if you’re going to “vomit”. Helpfully explained by the gentleman above.

We can classify it as a short, sharp shout in use to complement an attack move (such as a punch to the face).

Its use is pretty varied and consistent across martial art styles such as aikido, karate, kobudo, kendo, and judo.

Useful Martial Arts Terms

If you want to go all martial with your arts, what better place to turn to than Street Fighter II Turbo?

It’s famous for some insane use of language. Three terms in particular are legendary:

  • Hadouken.
  • Tatsumaki senpuu kyaku.
  • Shoryuken.

Tatsumaki senpuu kyaku is the jump circling kick above. It’s our favourite as it takes more skill to say the term than complete the kick.

The big irony here is video games typically promote sitting around on your arse getting increasingly unfit.

Thusly rendering the Street Fighter fan unable to produce a slap to the face, never mind a mid-air romp.

Bruce Lee

Obviously, this term has entered popular parlance (fancy word, eh?)  thanks to the popularity of martial arts films.

Bruce Lee was the pioneer of all that, the international star who sadly died suddenly in 1973. He was 32.

Like with many martial artists, Lee’s approach was about much more than just beating people up.

Apparently, he had a vast amount of philosophical literature. And he was very big on Buddhist practices.

But he was an atheist, rejecting the Confucianist was of life in China. He also wrote poetry and develop personal philosophies for the wider world.

This reminds us of Yukio Mishima a fair bit (check out The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea).

Boasting a lean and mean physique, he was all about political revolution, literature, poetry, and culture. We bet Mishima did an epic kiai.

You Startin’, mate?!

Finally, to western fighting styles. We remember in an Eddie Izzard show him discussing the differences of eastern and western fisticuffs.

There’s the likes of Dumb and Dumber, which highlights how far removed we in the west often are with eastern concepts.

The above is part of a dream sequence LLoyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) is having, highlighting his utterly delusional state of mind.

In the east, it’s all about discipline, philosophy, and the harmonic movement of the body.

In the west, it’s about drunk and overweight blokes going, “You startin’, mate? YOU STARTIN’?!” And slugging a fist.

Thanks to films, many folks think fights go a bit like Catfight. Where you can whack someone round the head with a chair and continue on in a 10 minute brawl.

Whereas the reality is it’s usually over pretty quickly. Someone chucks a punch, the other person gets hit, loses consciousness, and that’s that. “I’ll see you in court!” etc.

Not quite as refined as the decades of practice martial artists put into their craft, eh?

Dispense with some gibberish!

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