Updated: Mar 21, 2022
I was at a big seminar recently, and taught a session on sword work. While there, some top instructors from other martial arts were teaching and talking about intent and using this to either stop an aggressor or in a training context. They made some very good points so I thought I'd put a blog up about the use of kiai - vocal intent - and the use of intent generally.
In Hatsumi sensei book 'History and Tradition' he wrote the following about the four different types of kiai:
The attacking kiai is a fierce explosive noise that causes the adversary to drop his concentration momentarily. Grounded from the lower abdomen, the kiai resonates through the body to startle, terrify and overwhelm the enemy. Though there are no specific words associated with the attacking kiai, a low, drawn-out almost growling "ehy!" sound is typical for native speaking Japanese. Reacting kiai
The reacting kiai is a heavy, intense noise that creates a sense of disappointment in the enemy as his tactics are thwarted. From the tightened midsection, the kiai issues up through the body to accompany the mental charge upon discovering the enemies hidden weapon, or successfully avoiding his attack. The hollow sounding exhalation usually takes a "toh!" form with Japanese speaking practitioners.
The victorious kiai is a boisterous, triumphant noise that celebrates the overpowering of the enemy. The ringing kiai come from the solar plexus with the exuberance of a laugh, to discourage and bewilder the adversary after a series of blows have been dealt. "Yah!" or "Yoh!" are natural for Japanese speakers, although the sounds have no word meanings. Native speakers of other languages will produce noises fitting with their own tonal qualities.
The fourth kiai is not necessarily a vocal shout at all, but rather a total plunging of the body, mind, and feelings into the destiny of the fight. If any sound at all were to be emitted, it may take a "uhmm" sort of quality as this kiai form takes over the budoka fighting presence by spontaneously blending the attacking, reacting and victorious kiai in the budoka consciousness. This can be seen as intent.
Here is a video showing examples of this:
There was also a discussion on when training how some students would use a lot of aggression - as one instructor put it "They would travel over an hour just to get angry". This is different to using intent in training. I have always explained the difference between aggression and intent is a matter of control and focus.
Intent is a benefit in training but can be a liability in some situations. When you walk into a room there are some people who you immediately recognise as being dangerous or not to be trifled with. This automatically can make them high priority targets when assessing an area of operations. With Ninjutsu we must be able to use intent to control a conflict, be able to pick up on others intent in a high stress situation, and importantly be able to hide our intent to be able to pass unnoticed. Intent is a tool to be used as much as a sword, knife or shuriken.