If you want to know the proper stuff about karate, you are on the wrong blog. This is karate for the useless flailing beginner. Couched in these terms, your kiai (pronounced 'key eye') is your scary martial arts yell. For self-conscious English types, this is one of the major stumbling blocks in the path of getting involved in martial arts, coming behind 'poncing about in white pyjamas' and 'getting hurt'.
In judo you can get away without having a proper kiai. People will grunt and emit a snarling yell of the kind an ordinary person might make when struggling to lift a freezer. One of my coaches lets out a cobra-like hiss. Over the years we have come to recognise that this means she is about to throw you with a left-handed o-goshi. I really don't have a judo kiai at all, even after more than 10 years. The occasional girly shriek when being hoisted aloft by a large bloke is about as loud as I get. Well, apart from the common or garden aaaargh that signals another broken toe. Tuh, broken toe. We don't even go to A&E with those. They don't do anything for it, and if you turn up in a judogi they categorise it as self-harm anyway, and make you wait for hours.
But in karate you must have a good loud kiai. Sensei warned us all very sternly at training last night that anyone with a pathetic kiai would FAIL THEIR GRADE ON 13TH NOVEMBER! I won't be grading this time, so fortunately I wasn't called upon to demonstrate mine solo and in public. Everyone's kiai is different. But what should you shout, exactly? According to Wiki, 'Modern Kiai are often written by westerners as Hi-yah!, Aiyah!, Eeee-yah!, or Hyah!' I quite like the last one. It sounds quite friendly. 'Hiya!' Yeah: 'Hiya, I'm about to kick you in the nuts!'
For the first few weeks I experimented. I ruled out 'FECK!' quite early on, and gradually my vague bleat settled down into something more like 'HOY!' I see this as a logical extension of something I already felt comfortable with: the maternal 'OI!' As in 'OI! GET BACK HERE NOW DO YOU WANT A SMACK?' A speech therapist taught to me shout from the diaphragm rather than the throat, so as not to damage my vocal cords whilst bawling my sons out. This has proved to be a useful transferable skill. Your kiai should come from the diaphragm too.
But what's the point, you may well ask. Again, I direct you to Wikipedia as a good starting place. You will find several points listed. Here is my favourite: a well-executed kiai will 'startle and demoralize inexperienced or shy adversaries — especially at close quarters, especially if previously unobserved.' I may try it out during the Sharing of the Peace one Sunday in the cathedral.
About this blog
This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.