I always feel weird when I kiai. I have no idea why...It might have something to do with the fact that it's not something that I do on a regular basis. I mean, I'm not standing in line at the DMV, practicing my kiai...
"Yes ma'am, I need to renew my driver's license! Hooah!"
"Check please! Osu!"
"Can I get twenty bucks on pump twelve? Aiyaa!"
"Glory be to the father...ICE!"
Seriously though, kiai-ing is just not something that I do outside of the dojo. (Unless I'm around Army folks, where the word 'Hooah' is used quite often...)
Then again, maybe it should be. You're supposed to kiai to focus your chi. It's also used to startle an opponent and to keep you from having the wind knocked out of you. And if you do it right, it should psych you up and get your adrenaline going.
I can back up that last one, for sure; we'll be in the middle of class and someone will suddenly start to kiai...And then it's hard NOT to kiai with them. But until that someone gives his spirit yell, the room can get kind of quiet.
I think it's also a matter of self-consciousness. In the dojo, I can't hide. Everything about my personality is exposed; strengths, weaknesses, good things, bad things, attitude, self-esteem, character...Everything is in plain sight for everybody else to see, and that feels weird. I think that a lot of people, myself included, spend their lives trying to cover up the parts of themselves that they don't want other people to see, but it's really hard to conceal anything on the mat. Those hidden things can sneak up on you and come out when you least expect them to. It's kind of frightening, sometimes, to try to learn how to do battle without your shields up.
One day in class we were practicing the Tioga I kata for the upcoming belt test and Sensei stopped us and said, "You know, I really want you to animate this. When you're practicing this kata, I want to see your strength. Good strong down-blocks, good strong punches. It should be quick and strong. And kiai loud!" He demonstrated what he wanted to see and I was like, "Yeah...Wow. Okay. THAT'S what it's supposed to look like." Everything that he did, he did deliberately and with firm movements, but that's not what caught my attention.
Sensei was into it.
Everything about him was intense and in the moment. His entire demeanor changed, as though nothing in the world was more important than executing that kata with as much strength, control, and enthusiasm as he could. It was really cool to see such passion coming from him.
And he kiai-ed loud.
When he finished, he told us that, "Sometimes when you do martial arts, you're not going to look cool. You might make weird facial expressions, you'll probably sweat a lot, you might be out of breath, people might think that you're weird, but if you put your heart and spirit into it, you'll find it rewarding in a lot of ways."
Applying that lesson to life off the mat is hard...To put your heart and spirit into anything, without a second thought about what people are going to think, is hard. Even when I'm on the mat, I'm worried about what my sensei and my classmates think. Even when I'm supposed to clear my mind and simply react reflexively, I tend to over-think and over-analyze. I'm finding that it's a hard habit to break; we want to look good. We want to look like we know what we're doing. It gives us confidence when we have the approval of others...But I guess that the approval of others isn't as important as we think it is. Especially since it gets in the way of what we're passionate about.
I've heard that more often people are afraid of success rather than being afraid of failure. Failure is expected of us; it's easy to fail. It's hard to succeed because success means taking responsibility for your accomplishments and finding ways to continue accomplishing great things, over and over again. And that's hard. That requires effort. That requires self-confidence.
And sometimes it requires us to kiai loud.
But regardless of how weird and exposed that feels, I think it's worth it. It means that you're passionate about what you're doing. It means that you're going to be ambitious and try your hardest to meet your goals, no matter what other people think.
And I think that a little bit of weirdness is worth meeting those goals.
So...I'm going to kiai loud.
Better start practicing!