Have you ever just screamed? It could be a wail let out in distress or a shout of joy. Either way, there is power in our voice, a power that carries out our spirit, energy, and emotion into the world. When harnessed, that energy can be let out as a powerful weapon.
Whenever we have a new student in our classes, I always tell them that the dojang (the training area) is a place where they are allowed to be loud. I want them to yell very loudly when they perform their punches and kicks. But when they let out that burst of energy, we don't just shout something random. Students say "Ki-Ahp". In Korean, this term (기합) refers to a loud yell, but not just a random scream. It refers to a yell that shows one's spirit or energy. But why do we have students do this? Well there are 2 major reasons.
A Ki-Ahp Shows Power
On the Fourth of July, many people light fireworks. You know if your neighbors are shooting them off because there is a loud popping and cracking sound that accompanies the light show. Fireworks are powerful and dangerous (if not used appropriately) and their power is demonstrated by the deafening boom that comes with them.
If a loud sound is a sign of power, then when we punch or kick, we want to have a loud sound as well. By letting out a Ki-Ahp when we strike it helps generate power. Like a war cry before battle, yelling can get the body pumped up and ready to perform the technique ahead of you. There have been plenty of times I have watched someone attempt to break a board. They have a strong technique, but the board doesn't break. Then, when they are reminded to Ki-Ahp, all of a sudden their techniques become more powerful. The simple act of yelling raises our power to new heights. It is a battle cry that not only lets our opponents know how capable we are, but it also reminds ourselves.
A Ki-Ahp Shows Confidence
Think about the most confident person you know. I am willing to bet that they are neither meek nor shy. Their voice is a weapon that shows they believe in themselves and they are capable. The same can be said of our Ki-Ahp. When we are faced with an opponent, bully, or attacker, having a loud voice could be something that discourages them from taking their actions further. People like to pick on those weaker than them, and when you let out a loud yell, it is a reminder that you are not weak. You are strong, you know it, and you want them to know it too.
There have been so many times I have watched students compete in tournaments and a Ki-Ahp makes a difference in the scoring. I have even seen sparring matches where a student throws a technique and Ki-Ahps, and even though it wasn't the cleanest point, the judges still award it. Why? Because if the student yelled, they must be sure they got the point (even if the judge didn't see it-- by the way that is a terrible judge, but my point still stands). Confidence breeds success.
But what about outside of the context of martial arts? When faced with a challenge at school or work, I highly discourage you yelling at your teacher or boss. But again, the Ki-Ahp is not just a yell, but a voice of confidence. Carry yourself boldly. When you answer a question in math class, don't second guess yourself. Provide your answer. If it is wrong, don't be discouraged but be confident that next time you'll get it right. What about in the work place? Maybe your boss assigns you a task you don't know how to complete. Don't be meek! Confidently ask for help and reassure them that next time you'll be able to do it even better.
Confidence and power are two things that students have to learn on their own. But by encouraging and practicing a loud voice, such as with a Ki-Ahp in our martial arts classes, students will be on the path to gaining these and many other amazing character traits.
We did an interesting experiment in our children's class the other day. I asked the students to give me some words that describe a warrior. I got typical answers like "strong", "tough", or "serious". All great answers, right? A "warrior" is literally someone who goes into war, who prepares for battle, and faces challenges. But is brute force really enough to qualify you as a warrior? When push comes to shove, what are the tools you need to fight the difficult battles?
I had a student once who was testing for his next degree of black belt and the board break that he was required to do was a straight punch down through several inches of wood. He was a strong young man and had more than enough technique and muscle to pull it off. However, when he lifted his fist up to the highest point before driving it through the boards, he paused and stuttered. He then drove his weight down to the target but his hand bounced off the wood.
Why could he not do it? He was tough, strong, and he took his training seriously, but in the moment when he was supposed to land a blow and win the war, he froze. This shows that there is much more a warrior needs to succeed than physical strength. There is a mental component as well. The student in the example must have had some small doubt or fear and so he wasn't prepared to do what he needed to do. There are lots of ways we could describe this mental piece of warrior-ness. We could call it confidence or ambition, but either way it is a requirement for a person to push through their toughest battles.
A warrior needs both physical and mental strength, but neither of those things will do any good if they don't have drive and ambition. By definition, a war is a conflict, and conflicts are never simple and easy. We prepare our students to be strong, but they must also have the resolve to use that strength. The only way to do that is to practice. Like steel that is tempered in a fire, a person's ability to stand strong comes only through facing trials and coming out the other side.
For our younger students, those trials might be small. Something small such as climbing up to the tallest slide on the playground may not seem like a feat worthy of a warrior, but to a young child, it is. So we should congratulate them on their ambition and strength. And the same can be done with they get older and the challenges become greater. We must build up a reserve of accomplishments so that when the student does fail, they don't aren't destroyed, but can focus on their overall strength as a warrior.
I remember back when I was a kid, there was no Disney+ or Netflix. You have to look in the TV Guide to see what was on, or you could just flip through the channels. I remember one afternoon I was doing just that, searching for something to entertain myself and I discovered a strong man competition on ESPN. These men had bulging muscles that they used to hurl barrels, lift weights, and pull trucks. They demonstrated incredible feats of strength which they had trained for years to perform.
That leads to a question about strength. What is it? In our martial arts classes, we don't do bench presses, but we do try to make our punches and kicks stronger. We aim to hit the target pad as hard as possible or break though multiple wooden boards. These are absolutely feats of strength, and they are impressive. Our students train for years and years to make themselves as strong as possible.
But physical strength is not the only type of strength. In martial arts, we look to develop the whole person, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. And though physical strength is impressive, there are other feats of strength that are equally hard to perform. This week in class, students have been hearing about virtue, that is, the quality of being morally good. But what does this have to do with strength?
Virtue is something everyone knows about. For example, take the virtue of honesty. If I asked you if lying was right or wrong, everyone would most certainly tell me how wrong it is to be dishonest. The same thing could be said of stealing. We all know on an intellectual level that stealing is wrong. However, in both cases, there have been times where we are tempted to tell a lie or take something that isn't ours. We have all, at some point in our lives, not upheld the virtues that we know to be morally correct. So when we talk about being emotionally or mentally strong, part of that is having the strength to act in a way that is virtuous. No one gets strong simply from looking at a dumbbell. You have to actually do the heavy lifting. The same can be said of acting in accordance with our morals.
Now, most of us reading this (if not all) are not body builders or strongmen. Why not? Because it takes hard work, dedication, and most importantly a desire to train in those areas of strength. The same can be said of virtue. So we need to seek a way to create that desire in our young students. Just like people might congratulate a weigh lifter on breaking their record, we need to acknowledge and point out when students do the right thing. We shouldn't wait for them to fail to punish them, but rather seek to praise them when they do right.
And just like there are benefits to exercise, there are also benefits to kindness, generosity, honesty, and other virtuous behaviors. We must point out these positives to our students by teaching empathy towards others and a confidence that allows for humility.
The impressive thing about a person who can lift a lot of weight is that they are literally pushing or pulling against a tremendous force. That is what makes them strong. But we must remember to not only be physically strong, but mentally as well. We must push against the pressure to act with corruption, and instead, stand strong and act with integrity. This strength is what is truly important in life, and whether you can break concrete with a punch or not, people will recognize and appreciate your virtuous character.
About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 5th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.