Monday, 14 January 2013

Kihap, "Taekwondo`s spirited shout"

Beginner students are the best! They ask great questions and sometimes I find myself learning more about Taekwondo teaching it than studying it. Last week I was asked about information on the "Kihap" that we frequently do during training. Apparently he had googled "Kihap" to learn more about the subject but google had turned out to be very silent about the matter for some reason. There were a few simple wiki answers and yahoo answers and an occasional thread on a discussion forum but there was very little indepth writing about Kihap, its place in Taekwondo etc. This topic fits in nicely here on the blog as last post I discussed Chumbi Seogi as a Kigong (excercise to practise Ki).

Contrary to popular belief "Kihap" does not mean shout or yell, at least not originally. In newer dictionarys you might find "spirited yell" or "spirited shout" as a translation but its original meaning is far from any shouting or vocabular sounds at all. The word "Kihap" is put together with two base words, the first "Ki" often translated as "energy" or "life force" and "Hap" meaning to coordinate, gather, concentrate. Kihap as a term therefore describe a concentration, coordination or gathering of energy, power or force. A related term is Hapki put together of the same base words in a different order. Yes it is the same words as Hapkido without the "do", and it is a term describing the key principle of Hapkido namely the coordination, or harmonising of power/energy. It is a "soft" concept of blending with the force of the opponent, while Kihap is a concept to concentrate all the power in an instant to create maximum power.

Specific to Martial Arts is the conotation of Ki and bio-mechanicly efficancy. Kihap with the shout is a training method to develop "Ki" so in the hard style of Taekwondo you have the "soft" training methods of both Chumbi Seogi and Kihap in our training.

The shout is not the Kihap rather it is a consequence of Kihap. You should abruptly focus your abdomen and core muscles forcing the breath out to generate maximum power (this is of course linked with the other factors of power, body weight, hips etc). The sound is a consequence of Kihap and it comes automaticly. The Kihap shout should be loud and short as it is a method to generate maximum power. Sometimes when I watch forms on youtube you will see looooooong screams without any involvment with the core muscles made to impress the spectators. For a traditionally trained martial artist this is a display of ignorance and it is only an empty copy of the original concept of Kihap.

There are some different usages associated with Kihap where the shout is a concequense and not the act itself:
  • Kihap as a method of maximum powergeneration
  • Kihap to scare the opponent
  • Kihap to psyche yourself up (confidense)
  • Kihap to heighten disipline in training
  • Kihap to ignore/work through pain
  • Kihap to protect your body
  • etc
Kihap as a method to generate maximum power in a short space of time is discussed earlier in the post. Kihap to scare the opponent on the other hand is something often overlooked in the Dojang. After a few months of training you and your fellow students will be more or less used to hearing shouths in training and sparring. It is "normal" or perhaps "New Normal". What people often forget is that a loud Kihap can catch just about any "untrained" off guard and make the freeze or stop in his tracks. I have often sparred with new beginners (love doing that because you never know what they might conjure up to use against you), and observed that those not accustomed to Kihap yet can be defeated through its use. Just a few weeks ago I sparred with a white belt (I was very nice and let him do his thing so he could learn). He telegraphed his attack and I did a loud Kihap. He froze for something that seemed as an eternity allthough it was perhaps only a second or two. For those seconds I was free to do as I liked... Another time my opponent started running the opposite way because my Kihap came so unexpeted....  A real life encounted by a friend that studies under the same master as I do was in a holliday in Rome. Two guys approached and tried to rob her of her belongings. She stepped into a fighting stance and did the loudest Kihap she could. The result: Two robbers (grown men) started running away from her as fast as possible. They might not have been frightend by the Kihap but it did draw a lot of attention.

That kind of floats over to the next point of the bullet list above; psyche yourself up. A loud Kihap does feel good and it psychological effects are well documented in other sports and warfare. In this setting the Kihap shout works as a kind of warcry. It can psyche up yourself, but done in unison it can also heighten the spirit of the group wich again makes us float into the next point of the bullet list; to heighten disipline in training. When I teach kids it is only a question of time before their curious minds start wondering off and the disiplin of training gets lower and lower. Everytime I sense this I make a point of doing simple techniques (maybe punches or something) with Kihap on every technique. This is a surefire way of getting them to pay attention again and they actually seem to like it.

Kihap as a way to work through pain: When you stomp your foot on a piece of furniture or something simular you often scream loud and clear. The Kihap usually take the form of "Sh*****************************t":-p It is a naturall response and according to one martial arts teacher of mine this is the body trying to get rid off an excessive "Ki" surge. He explained it with another example and that was when you receive a kick with your abdomen the kick creates a "shock force" into the body, trying to keep balance the one who received the kick makes a "Kihap" shout to rid himself of some of this excess energy or Ki. Timed right this can (again according to one of my teachers) protect your body from harm or at least confine it somewhat. I do not have any scientific evidence of this so do take it with a pinch of salt. In my own subjective experience I can attest to "feeling" it work, but I can not decide if it is psychological in my head or if it does actually work:-)

These are all the regular "Kihap" the ones where you produce a "spirited shout". At an advanced point in training the students should try to make a "silent Kihap", one where there are no sound. This does not work as well as a Kihap that also produces a sound but it does work better than no Kihap at all. Another way to put it is to use "controlled breathing" in your techniques where you breathe out timed with your techniques. Breathing is the most important thing in Taekwondo so it is not strange that we do have breathing excersises like Chumbi Seogi, Dan Jun Ho hop (abdominal breathing), Kihap etc. I do hope I have shed some light on the issue. There is still a lot more to be said about Kihap as a concept but I will leave that to another post:-)

Good and happy training everyone:-)


  1. One of the challenges we face teaching professional adults is they can be very reluctant to shout at all, sometimes for as much as a couple of months. I think they hate to draw attention to themselves and their 'beginner' status. I spotted an instructor with a good approach to overcome this the other day: she got her beginner students to shout out a count as they punched. She corrected their shouting as much as the punch. From here, it looked like an easy step to a kihap, as they were learning to use their breath without the confusion of what sound to make.

    1. That is an interesting way to do it:-) I might try it out sometime. Thank you for sharing Jemima. In traditional Taekwondo though you will Kihap a lot in Your training because there are a lot of "set" Points in training to Kihap. We Kihap in basics when we get into a New stance. We kihap on the Count of 10. We Kihap when we turn 180 degrees. We Kihap before we attack as attackers in formal sparring. We Kihap before we defend in formal sparring, we Kihap in Poomsae and after Poomsae (depending on the Poomsae) etc. I think that if this is all regulary done in training People will overcome the fear of Kihap in training after a short time :-)

  2. Hi, I have been practicing for almost a year and I have not done a single Kihap. I was pressed to recently but I had a panic attack and could not proceed with the form. I just stood there and my heart pounded and I began to cry. My head felt hot.
    How do I over come such fear that I learned as a child that crying meant severe punishment. What techniques for healing from that?

    1. Thanks for commenting. Kihap is akward for most beginners, but in the Dojang's I have trained with and in we have it as a natural part of training from the very start. Each time the instructor reaches count or rep #10 we Kihap, each time we turn while doing linework we Kihap, before any formal sparring and at the end of all formal sparring we kihap etc. If you guys don't do that in regular training I can see that it might be difficult to get this ingrained. Perhaps you could try to do what we do in all kinds of training, starting low (just outside of your comfort zone) and then increase to a full kihap? Do your form, count inside you as you do your movements. When you reach the Kihap point instead of counting it within you silently, just say it out "eighteen" or whatever. When this feels comfortable, say it louder. When this becomes the new normal do a kihap low. Then increase it to the desired loudness :-P Hope this helps.