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Guest Post: Kiai and a Barking Dog

This Guest Post is by my friend and mentor Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

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When I first started karate training in Okinawa Shorin-ryu, I noticed that there was no kiai (shout). After a few days, I asked Chibana Sensei the reason why there was no kiai. Chibana Sensei explained that in the old days, karate training was done in secret, so silence was necessary. He continued that "ki" means spiritual or internal energy and "ai" means to meet. Kiai, then is the precise moment (meeting) when the internal and external energy is brought together. Kiai is synonymous with kime. Kiai can be done with no sound, but with a strong exhale. Kiai and kime then is the instant when the neurological and physical response become one.

One day, as we (Chibana Sensei and I) walked to my car from Chibana Sensei's home, we heard the barking of a dog behind us. As the barking got closer, we turned and saw what I think was a German shepherd dog running at us in full stride. I took a kamae (ready position) to time the attack.

Just as the dog started to leap, Chibana Sensei stepped in front of me, extended his arms with an open hand and with the same timing, let out a kiai. The kiai was like a shriek and at the same time a growl, which sent a cold chill up my spine and the hair on my head stood up. The dog looked like it hit an invisible wall, spun in mid-air, landed yelping as if being hit, and took off running. I was in awe. I asked Sensei about what he had just done. Sensei turned to me, smiled, and said, "Kiai."

Pat Nakata