It’s amazing how many different martial arts use a grunt/yell when they strike.
Of course many systems of karate has their Kiai, which is expressed as a ‘Heeaht’, ‘Hyah’ or ‘Aiight!’
Very similar vocalisations are used in traditional Japanese ju-jutsu (like in the first 12 seconds of this Armbar vs a Knife video on Youtube).
And if you’ve watched or trained a lot of Muay Thai then you’re undoubtedly familiar with the ‘Ssst’, ‘Oosh’, ‘Haiii’, or ’Tssss’ sound many fighters make when they throw a hard punch, kick, knee or elbow.
Just check out how Muay Thai Fighter Pakorn vocalises every time he throws a round kick!
The effect of this grunt/yell/kiai can be very effective…
In my early days of training Emperado method Kajukenbo we used to do a LOT of hardcore medicine ball conditioning for the abdominal area: you’d lie on the floor and your partner would stand over you, throwing a hard medicine ball at your abs as hard as he could.
Then most techniques we’d practise in class would involve full power punches and kicks to the belt-line.
Now don’t just go out and punch your training partners as hard as you can, because there was definitely technique (and risk) involved in this madness.
But an important part of that technique was the abdominal contraction and – you guessed it – a diaphragmatic grunt/yell.
In Kajukenbo we used a kiai that can best be spelled out as ‘Ya-tze!’; yes, basically a louder, shorter, more grunted version of ‘Yahtzee’, the old dice game.
So why are martial artists running around grunting, yelling and carrying on like this?
There are lots of different reasons…
The first is to get an edge over the other guy – if you can startle, distractor intimidate him before you attack, before you land your blow, then you’ve just stacked the deck in your favor and the odds of you landing your attack have just gone up.
The second reason for vocalising on the exhale is to make yourself more powerful.
Verbalising and vocalising definitely helps you get more power behind a hard movement, if for no other reason that it makes you feel like a badass. Many bodybuilders and powerlifters vocalise when they’re attempting a 1 rep max lift in the gym (or, if they’re total douchebags, anytime they do any sort of lift at all in a crowded gym).
The third reason to make a noise when you breath out is, counter-intuitively, to make sure that you’re breathing and not holding your breath.
If you’re hitting the thai pads (or an opponent) hundreds of times in a round then you absolutely need to breathe. If you hold your breath then you’ll be exhausted within seconds. But if you’re vocalising then you know, and your coach knows, that you’re breathing. So it’s a good tool to use to prevent exhaustion.
The fourth reason is that vocalising can tighten up your core.
I talked about this earlier with the Kajukenbo medicine ball and abdominal punching exercises – by exhaling from the diaphragm, so obviously it can help you take punches.
But a tight core also keeps your upper body and lower body connected so you move more powerfully.
So what verbalisation should you use? Should you ’tsssss’ or ‘ossssh’ or ‘ya-tse’ or ‘sssst’ or ‘heeaht’?
Well, it depends…
In part it depends on whether you’re planning on this being a one-time maximal power sort of thing, or whether you’re planning multiple strikes…
If you’re landing the big karate-style, one-punch-one-kill, kind of attack then a hard-ending ‘heeaht’ might be appropriate.
But if you’re throwing a jab, cross, hook, cross, right knee, right round kick combo you probably can’t go with ‘heeaht… heeaht… heeaht… heeaht… heeaht… heeaht’. That’s too constipated and too exhausting.
So if you’re throwing multiple strikes you’re probably better off with a softer ‘tsssss’, ‘ossssh’, or ‘sssst’
And, ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference – experiment and find out what works for you. If it keeps you breathing, if it increases your power, if it allows you to take shots more effectively, then who are we to judge.
Here is Ritchie Yip, my friend and a very skilled kickboxing instructor, with his take on how to breath and vocalise while punching…
A Podcast Discussion of Exhaling While Striking
Did you know that I have a podcast? It’s called ‘The Strenuous Life’ and it has a very strong martial arts training focus.
And did you know that how to exhale and vocalise was the topic of episode 135 of that podcast?
If you’re interested in it then here are links to the podcast on various platforms…
Alternately you can also listen to the advice on the embedded player below…