The “Spirit Shout”
“When you do a thing, do it with all your might.
Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your personality.
Nothing great was every achieved without enthusiasm.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years teaching martial arts, it is that sometimes it is the most natural of acts that are the hardest to coax out of people.
Take the “spirit shout” – the kiai that is such an important part of our art. When we’re infants and toddlers, loud yelling comes natural to us, both as expressions of displeasure and of joy. But somewhere along the way inhibition sets in, and letting loose with a resounding warrior’s yell becomes a terrifying thing for a lot of people. Getting students to a point where they can unleash their energy through sound is a huge mission for our instructors, not just because that sound itself lends more power to a strike, but because the intensity of feeling that it takes deliver that sound is crucial to succeeding at anything that we do.
Martial arts are like any art, in that technical proficiency alone is not enough. A painter can be an expert at mixing colors and applying them to a canvas, but cannot lay claim to being an “artist” unless they put emotion and spirit into what they are doing. Anything less, no matter how good the technique, is just moving paint with a brush. Bruce Lee called martial art “Expression of the human body.” He believed very strongly, as do I, that to effectively use their technical mastery of fighting skills, a martial artist has to invest all of their spirit and emotion into what they are doing.
This lesson is, like so much that we do in martial arts, one that we can apply to everything we do. I’m not proposing we let out fierce warrior yells as we undertake our daily tasks, but I think if we all examined how we live our day-to-day, we can find lots of things that we can put our souls into, stamp with our personalities. I think we would all be amazed at what a difference it makes just in the product of our work and the quality of our daily interactions, but also in our level of enthusiasm for what we do.
Having said that, if the spirit to let rip with a big loud kiai, don’t hold back.