What is a spirit shout? Contrary to popular belief it has nothing to do with vodka and my shouting into the porcelain megaphone – which is legendary, by the way. Rather it is each person’s outward expression of their inner spirit. Each person’s spirit shout is as unique as a finger print. Thankfully, my spirit shout has gone from strangled cat to something more roar-like.
The presence of spirit shouts in karate go together like a left shoe does with a right shoe. It appears during katas, in kumite and during kihon (on the 10th execution) and usually goes hand-in-hand with a punch. Its proper name is ki’ai (key eye), in Japanese.
Doing a spirit shout for the first time is embarrassing. The fear used to make my spirit shout a bit non-committal. Fearful that if I went the whole hog, I might do it at the wrong time and feel like I’ve just started clapping vigorously in a theatre full of people, only to find I’ve clapped in the middle of a concerto. Oh the shame – eye’s burning into my head from every direction saying, “Who was that heathen? Obviously uneducated. I bet he is a Geordie…” And then if you do decide to be non-committal (as I used to), your spirit shout sounds like a deflating balloon with the nozzle stretched – all squeak and no bang.
In my opinion a good spirit shout should have the effect of putting fear into the opponent and giving your attack an added oomph. I decided this upon experiencing Sensei’s spirit shout when he was 6 inches from my face.
Imagine if you will, a tight circle of about 12 karate-ka all facing into the centre. We’d each take it in turns to attack the person to our right with a Jodan punch (head level), your opponent blocks the punch and then turns to attack the person to their right. So on and so forth until the attack reaches me again. The person to my left? Sensei. He turns to face me and simultaneously fires his punch. If his fist flying towards my eye socket faster than a bullet wasn’t enough to put me off, Sensei lets roar with a spirit shout that made me physically step back. It was a coup de grâce. He’d won the fight before he’d even made contact. All I remember was Sensei’s face turn very angry looking, mouth open wide and then an awesome sound enveloping my head and scaring the living daylights out of me. Wow. I’m sure to the onlookers, the scene wouldn’t have been dissimilar to those of Disney animated film – you know the one, where the smaller character underestimates the larger character? The larger character roars and the smaller character jumps 3 feet off the ground and every hair on their body is blown back by the force. Yep, that small character was me.
I am glad to say that my ki’ai has progressed since that day. I’ve watched numerous You Tube videos, listening to other people ki’ai in the vain attempt to copy it. But copying someone else’s ki’ai is wrong. It needs to be your own and you need to find it yourself. And this week, I found it. It was whilst doing kata Saifa. There are two ki’ais in Saifa. Both are accompanied with a smashing fist. Your fist makes a looping arc over your head to then smashes down against an invisible opponent’s head. I don’t know what I did but something clicked. Perhaps it was the movement. Perhaps it was that I was feeling particularly angry that night. Whatever it was it worked a treat. The sound I made enveloped my own head and I almost scared myself.
And what does my new found spirit shout actually sound like? Funnily enough, it doesn’t sound dissimilar to my vodka induced porcelain megaphone shout, minus the chunks.