What Do You Say When You Punch In Karate?

If you have ever watched a martial arts movie or observed a Karate class you may have been surprised by the shouting that can take place.

This shouting usually coincides with a move, such as a kick or a punch, and it can be difficult to hear if there is something specific that is being said or if it is just random noise.

What Do You Say When You Punch In Karate

Many people, both inside and outside of the world of Karate, question why there is a need for what can seem like random shouting when practicing any martial art.

Well, we are here to explain exactly what the shouting is for (see also ‘Why Do People Shout In Karate?‘) and what exactly is said when punching in Karate. 

What Is Said When Punching In Karate

When punching many people will shout Kiai, which is translated loosely to mean fighting spirit.

There is often huge debate around the Kiai as some Sensei believe it should be a natural thing that is uttered by Karate students when they need to release their fighting spirit, for example after punching.

Other Sensei believe it should be taught and then students should take time to find their Kiai so that it becomes a personal thing and a way of releasing their strength.

The Kiai in most instances is a short shout that is heard like a loud burst of noise. 

The Importance Of The Kiai

There is huge importance behind the Kiai in Karate. Firstly it can be used to stun an opponent or an attacker. It can also potentially scare them, depending on the amount of strength and focus behind it. 

Once students find their Kiai it can be emotional as it gives them a way to release pent-up energy.

Teaching the Kiai can sometimes help people to focus but often Kiai exercises are meant with initial laughter, especially for children. 

The Sensei must teach that the Kiai is more than a random shout, it should be made as a result of actual fighting spirit.

When the Kiai sounds authentic it is most impressive and can truly work in an attack situation.

Another important reason why people Kiai is during Kumite or sparing. It can be used as a way to exhale any extra breath to avoid getting winded should a punch be delivered to the gut, which would leave the person extremely winded. 

The Kiai is very much linked to breathing, which is another very important part of Karate that is often overlooked. 

The Importance of Breathe In Karate

Breathe is essential to life, we can survive without water and food for days but we cannot survive without breathing.

In sports often breathing is not focused on or maybe forgotten about yet it is hugely important that we are aware of breathing in order to control our bodies.

Karate is no different, one of the biggest mistakes made by people studying Karate is that they hold their breath.

This means that during Kumite, or sparing a person will have a hard belly as they hold their breath, when a punch is delivered this can be extremely painful and often leaves the person winded, as mentioned previously. 

Having control of your body can help you to be lighter on your feet and also allows you to use your breathing as a way to engage your power.

In Karate exhales are often made alongside movement. Sometimes these exhales are vocalized which results in small ‘tsk’ noises but when there is a lot of energy and fighting spirit put behind these exhales they often result in a Kiai.

Breathe should be used in Karate as a way of connecting the brain with the body.

There are four different breathing techniques that are often taught in Karate and students adjust their breathing depending on whether they are performing a Kata, practicing basic moves, or involved in Kumite.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The focus here is to feel your belly expand and contract with every breath you take. When breathing during this exercise you will breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on breathing deep down into your lower belly.

Ribcage Breathing

Lateral breathing can be difficult to get a grasp on. The focus here is to expand your ribcage with each inhalation.

Focus on the ribcage as you breathe through your nose and out through the mouth. This style of breathing can be more difficult to see but it can be felt very distinctly when done properly.

T-Spine Breathing

Associating breath with the spine is not a common practice but this exercise sees you drawing breath into the tissue that surrounds and protects your spine.

It can be useful to close your eyes to focus on this exercise, again breathing through the nose and out through the mouth. You may feel your back extend during this exercise.

Chest Breathing

The final breathing exercise often taught is chest breathing. Chest breathing will feel the most natural as often we only breathe into the chest and not to the pits of our stomachs.

You will feel your shoulders rise and chest expand during this exercise. As with the other exercises, breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth.

Final Thoughts 

Now that you know the importance of the Kiai you will be in a position where you can hear the fighting spirit in people while punching in Karate (see also ‘How To Win A Karate Fight‘). What a great thing to be able to witness! 

While Kiai shows strength in someone, as we have seen in this article, it is also hugely linked to breathing in Karate.

People may not also shout Kiai perfectly, it may come out more like a long dragged-out version of ‘ya’  it could sound more like a ‘bah’ when coming from pursed lips. 

Regardless of the sounds that people may make, you now know what is actually meant to be said when punching, or making other specific moves in Karate, as well as the science behind it.

If you practice Karate we hope this piece benefits your practice and that you now understand the importance of finding your own Kiai.

Christopher Anderson
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