Kiai is a shout used in Japanese martial arts (such as Karate) when executing a strike, breaking a board, etc. This loud shout is used in order to generate more power, startle opponents, create internal confidence, etc. This concept is also used in Korean martial arts (such as Taekwondo) and is known as Kihap.
In kata competitions, martial artists can lose points if they do not deliver a very loud Kiai during their routines.
Martial arts practitioners think that the Kiai's ability to generate increased power can be compared to the loud "grunts" used by tennis players (and other athletes). The tennis grunt is thought to help tennis players to exert maximum force when hitting a tennis ball. Some coaches believe that this loud exhalation helps to further engage a player's core muscles during the swinging motion and thus generate more power. This concept of increased core power also applies to the Kiai. Moreover, the tennis grunt can also be compared to the "battle scream" aspect of Kiai because it certainly irritates and/or startles some opponents!
In addition, some martial artists believe that a loud Kiai helps to focus and/or utilize their internal Ki energy. Nevertheless, the concept of Ki tends to be more controversial in the martial arts community.
Generate more power by engaging core muscles
Loud "battle scream" can startle or intimidate an opponent
Boost internal confidence and reduce internal fear
Forceful exhalation can reduce the chance of wind being knocked out of the martial artist during a strike & opponent's counter strike
Forces martial artist to breathe versus tensing up and holding breath
Loud Kiai can act as a warning to others and/or attract attention & possible help
Possibly utilize internal Ki energy - controversial idea in the martial arts community
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