Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kime part 3: breathing (kiai) makes kime

Breathing make Kime

Breath (Kiai) make type of kime

This is extremely important but very tough to explain, I can probably demonstrate better than explain, but will try my best.

Aiko San and Sensei Nishiyama could correct my technique without looking at me, just by listening to the kiai. I will give some examples of how they taught me to use Kiai and breath to control my kime (and every phase of the technique, but that is not for this article) and than I will summarize what it all means. This is a subject that is harder to explain than technique mechanics, it is not tangible and require sensitivity, one has to get the feel of it, and this is where karate is more of an art.

Aiko San and sensei Nishiyama used to face me for a long periods of time and as I had to punch toward their face or stomach, they will tell me if the energy extended through or if I stopped the momentum at kime, or if my breath was such that the energy spread and did not focus, or if it did not come from lower abdomen, so muscles were recruited from the top body.

And it took hours to fine tune and to apply a simple reverse punch decently.

Sometimes Aiko San will stand in front of me and Sensei was standing behind her, and I had to punch at Aiko San, but sensei wanted the kiai and energy to hit him, and it was very hard to satisfy them.

Sometimes, Aiko San would ask to apply the kiai sharply as if cutting through water, as if not to spread but focus the energy, and at first that was very hard to grasp and see to what she wanted, but when it became clear it was beautiful, we spend sometimes a whole Sunday, maybe five hours of just doing that.

For training Aiko San will bring the Los Angeles Times, and hold the paper at the top, and I had to break the paper with Tsuki using sharp kiai, my homework was to finish the LA Times on Sunday.

Sensei Nishiyama will often say :Kiai destroy opponent”, this is very important, because first it implies that by giving all the breath, one gives all of his spirit and self, holding nothing, back into the technique, and it also means physically maximizing the use of all of our resources.

In karate you can see a lot of people trying to control the distance by consciously, from the brain, stopping the punch or kick, and stopping the energy, in this case the brain controls the arm, and the energy is not being delivered, the muscles will contract in wrong direction.

There should be no control of the arm, no mind in the technique, the intention center is in the Tan Den, 3 fingers under the belly button toward the spine, and the breath controls the muscles and energy from this center.

Many times Sensei Nishiyama will insist that the Kiai will peak at the impact point (not stop there), this is not easy, most people kiai will peak before kime and weaken at impact, in other wards the breathing, muscle action and technique are not matching.

Other times Sensei Nishiyama will tell me to do the Kiai as if there is no echo, the kiai does not come back, it all goes to one direction, and if one can do that, there will be no recoil, no bounce of energy.

Many times Sensei will say “one period of breath is total energy”, “give all breath in shortest time”. Of course we cannot give all the air out, but that is a feel, and the breath connects the mental and physical, it allows us first to mentally give everything, and to physically use total body musculature contraction, and when we say that we mean all muscles that contribute to the purpose.

Paradoxically, the more we give all air, and give the mind away, the more full we are, meaning, we are fully aware and ready for any necessary action, no mind is full mind, and that is natural Zanshin.

And physically, the more we give everything, the more pressure and contraction, the more potential for next action we have, next action will start as reaction of breath, Zanshin. Kime and Zanshin are very connected.

Regarding Types of kime, every technique require different application of power, different muscle activation, a block is sharp, a punch to the body needs more penetration, a strike is sharper than a punch, and sweeping block is smooth, a push require continuous contraction, all these type of kime are controlled by different Kiai which we call: Ei, Ya and To.

I’ll explain this in more detail in another article.


At first we understand that kime (focus) is mainly depends on 2 elements, pressure to floor at impact to create acceleration and deliver force and momentum accumulated in the technique, and second, contraction, to make the body dense, to maximize shocking power and make elastic collision at contact.

Both pressure and contraction are controlled by the breath, and with repetition, as we advance we do not need to think of details, the details become engrained in the nervous system, and becomes what Sensei Nishiyama called “body system” or in motor learning “motor engram”.

At this point the breath will make the focus, the timing of pressure and the when and where (at what distance) and how much, contraction will happen. I put my intention at a point and the breath will follow and set pathways for the muscles, the peak of the kiai is where contraction will maximize, but the breath does not stop, it rather extends through target.

By using the breath and forget about muscles I find that there is no access tension in the kime, just the due amount in the right time and direction.

And that does not contradict the fact that we want maximum and total body contraction, since we want optimal contraction, and not to activate muscles that will hold the energy and contradict the direction and purpose of a technique.


  1. Thanks Avi for this great explanation and for shearing this big experience worldwide. For sure people is more and more interested was Nishiyama Sensei tryed to explain and you is one of the students who now how to do it.

  2. Dear Master, Thank You for the "elastic collision". That's the point! Now i hope that "deliver force [...] accumulated in the technique" is my misunderstanding. Force can not be accumulated. It is interaction between two bodies. Best regards. Ian.

  3. Avi, that is good article and good explanation.Thank you. I do remmmember this training with the newspapers. That was not easy.
    Best to you JAN

  4. Thank You very much, Avi! Good article, perfect explanation. Thank you for your sharing. I will try to do my best to preserve Nishiyama Sensei karate ideas in my country!
    Good luck,