Saturday, 12 November 2016

Yelling in martial arts

Before I began my study of the martial arts I have regarded shouting as a natural part of fighting. That is what we do when we are angry, right? Let me rephrase- that is what we do when we are angry and brave enough to show it.

Without the mental conditioning of martial arts training a loud voice tends to instill fear in most of us. Hell- even with my mental conditioning I find being yelled at unbearable. Even if it doesn't scare you, you must admit that it stirs one emotion or the other in you.

Now before I type out my observations over the years- let me share what I have been able to find on the internet thus far. One of these videos shows a teacher of some Japanese martial art demonstrating the effect of a sudden yell on an unsuspecting student and then- from two of my favourite movies from China- Princess and the Seven Kungfu Masters and Kung Fu Hustle the "Lion's Roar" done by female characters in these movies:

Now- since I have been studying Chinese and Japanese martial arts the most I shall limit this post to the martial arts of China and Japan. I know Korean styles actually has similar techniques, but because I have not studied Korean martial arts with as much enthusiasm as those of Japan and China I shall rather not include anything about Korean  styles.

In Japanese Martial Arts:

The collective term for Japan's battlefield arts (that existed long before karate) is Bujutsu meaning "Warrior Art". This term refers to all methods of combat that were employed in Feudal Japan,whether armed or unarmed, on foot or on horseback.

Now- in the time of bloody battles and defense of a warlord's interests took priority over mere self defense it was customary for Samurai to charge into battle loudly announcing their names or that of their warlord. This is not unique to the Samurai. In fact- any movie showing Vikings, Spartans or Celts going into battle will show warriors yelling their lungs out.

After the Feudal Era we found a focus on one-on-one fighting. In this new age the kiai is found in systems like Kendo and Kenjutsu. A person whom I regard as Japan's foremost martial artist in this time, Miyamoto Musashi, had this to say about shouting in swordplay.

I know- we see nothing of focussing energy or committing to the strike in this, but we see that yelling as a psychological means of attack is recognised and encouraged. 

In Feudal Japan the Samurai were the only people that were allowed to practice martial arts. So- civilians were not allowed to defend themselves. In spite of this a group of people have nonetheless trained their minds and bodies in what is most likely the most intriguing and mysterious martial art system in the world today- Ninjutsu!

Now- the Ninja had very little use for making a lot of noise when he struck. They are known to us today for striking silently and disappearing without a trace. Well- that is true, but the Ninja was also an expert in psychological warfare. In the right circumstances a sudden shout could freeze an opponent long enough for the Ninja to escape or to even disarm him. I was surprised to read about Ninja master Masaaki Hatsumi demonstrating such an attack on one of his students. To briefly describe to you what he showed was that the student stood ready with a bokken (wooden sword). Dr Hatsumi kiaied suddenly and loudly- a short, explosive yell- and his opponent was immediately rattled. Before he could recover from being startled Dr Hatsumi had stepped in and disarmed him.

It seems that timing plays a huge part in an attack like this.

Then there is Karate. Introduced to Japan in the 20th Century by Gichin Funakoshi I suspect that karate was the first proper method of fist fighting that Japan has ever had up to then. As a karateka I can confirm that we strike with a sharp, explosive exhalation from the abdomen. This sharply tightens the abdominal muscles. When we kiai the yell also comes from the abdomen and the sudden contraction still takes place. The yell is loud, explosive and short. I have noticed some contestants charging in with a loud yell in WSKF tournaments and they are allowed to do so. Recently I have been taught that the jump in one of our katas (Heian Godan) has a kiai while you are in mid-air. This feels entirely different from the sharp yell thatis in sync with your strike. It does indicate, however, that the yell is recognised as useful for more than just concentrating effort into a blow.

In Chinese Martial Arts

Well... Taijiquan may be slow and tranquil as the majority of us practice it, but the way members of the Jingwu Athletic Society practice it- it is a very aggressive martial art. In this school yelling is used to raise the fighter's courage and  to instill a feeling of strength. These yells are not the explosive kiais that I have come to know in karate. It is more like a primal scream... 

Ever since this had come to my knowledge I have realised that Bruce Lee's yell is not the kiai I have learnt in karate and that it is based on an entirely different principle.

Yells that actually accompany the strike are found in Xingyiquan. Xingyi uses explosive strikes. Although I have heard Chinese practitioners (even masters) using a long "Haaaaaaa!" or "Hoooooo!" when striking I have decided to stick to the "Ei!" I know well. This supplements my strike whereas a long sound feels as if it actually drains the technique's power.

Shaolin Kungfu shows a lot of similarities with Shotokan Karate in this regard. The yells that accompany strikes are also short. For some reason they just do not sound very explosive...

In one of the exercises I do in Shaolin Kungfu the palm is pushed out ten times as I breathe out. In this movement I feel the hand being driven forward by internal force rather than my effort. After that the fingertips shoot out as I make a strong "heerrrrit!" sound. The reason for this was never told to me, but the feeling of focusing energy in my index and middle finger as I do this has changed my nukite in karate for good.

In Wenhsiuquan:

Well- knowing stuff is not of any news if we don't put the knowledge to use, right?

So- I still have the explosive kiai from my Karate training in some of my blows. In each of Wenhsiuquan's striking forms there are also two kiai points like we find with karate. The kiai here marks a committed attack executed with a "do-or-die" spirit.

 In a situation where you absolutely have to act, but find your body unwilling to comply (due to fear for instance) the kiai is also used to shut off all thought and emotion while you charge in kamikaze style. In instances like this I regard it as a sign of desperation and one's desperate situations tend to disappear as you become more proficient at a martial art. That is why I am often content to spar without making noise. 

As far as distractions go- there are many methods with which to throw off an adversary. A short sudden yell is one of those ways.

I am not one for long battle cries, though, and Wenhsiuquan does not have that. Funny thing- in spite of Bruce Lee's movies I doubt that Jeet Kune Do has it either...

Well- that is what I had to share on this topic.

 In case anyone wants to develop a technique with which to knock out an opponent with your voice you might like this article:

Have a great weekend, everyone!

See you next weekend!

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