A little while ago I was interested to read an article in the London Evening Standard about female tennis players, regarding research into the reasons for, and effectiveness of, loud exhalations while striking the ball on court. Most top tennis players nowadays– both male and female – make such noises, and commentators regularly remark upon them, but only to the extent of noting how loud they are, and the fact that it is generally believed by the players and their coaches that the shouts assist in generating power in their strokes.
In martial art we would, of course, refer to this practice by many names, the most commonly used being the Japanese term, ‘Ki-ai’, which translates approximately as ‘Spirit Shout’. This has been practiced in the Japanese – and many other – martial arts for pretty much forever, but I’m not sure that all modern students have the purpose, or the mechanics, of the shout explained adequately to them.
There are, in fact, several reasons for the ‘Ki-ai’, and they span the areas of anatomy, physiology, psychology and basic physics. For the beginner, shouting loudly in a war-like fashion, even with little focussed technique behind it, has the effect of ‘psyching’ themself up, and the opponent out in equal measure– two useful outcomes in themselves.
Getting a little more sophisticated about it, learning to fully expel the air in one’s lungs at the moment of delivery effectively makes the body heavier – really less ‘buoyant’ – and therefore places the mass of the practitioner behind the technique, creating a stable base from which to apply leverage, and rendering it more powerful. Having taken a deep breath prior to the shout fully oxygenates the blood, necessary to the process of allowing maximum generation of muscle tension (physical focus) while fully exhaling as a technique is delivered.
Fully expelling the air from one’s lungs has the further benefit of making the intercostal muscles (the stomach muscles between the individual ribs) contract strongly and suddenly, effectively creating a solid ‘shell’ of the lattice-work of the ribcage, making the internal organs much more protected. This is significant in striking arts where there is the possibility of what, in karate, is termed ‘Ai-uchi’, or a simultaneous strike i.e. the practitioner is struck at the same moment as delivering his or her attack. In such a situation one’s softer and more vulnerable vital targets are better protected. This is equally useful in a throwing oriented art, such as Judo, where your own throw may be turned into a counter by your opponent, and you need as much protection as you can get when being slammed into the mat, or worse the pavement.
So when you are next watching a martial arts class, or even Wimbledon on TV, what previously might have seemed an odd, even slightly ludicrous practice should make a little more sense!
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