The word Kihap is a portmanteau of the Korean words “ki” and “hap.” Ki is an incredibly important concept in East Asian martial arts,. While ki is literally translated as “air,” “gas,” or “breath,” it is more commonly used as a term for a person’s energy, life force, or even mood. It is essentially a spiritual and psychological bridge between the body and mind.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art created during the mid-twentieth century as a combination of Chinese and Korean martial arts that makes use of kicks and punches with an emphasis on agile and fluid movement. In addition to physical movements, Taekwondo also strongly encourages mental discipline and focus.
One of the most common techniques used in Taekwondo to concentrate power and mental acuity is kihap. Although it is sometimes translated simply as “shout,” “yell,” or “spirited yell/shout,” that does not completely explain the meaning of the word.
In many martial arts, the proper use of ki is considered to be essential if a practitioner wishes to achieve their maximum potential. Hap, on the other hand, can be interpreted in English as coordination, concentration, or gathering force, energy, or power.
With these meanings considered, kihap is more conceptual than a simple translation would have you believe. Rather than just a simple yell, kihap refers to the manifestation of a martial artist’s life force into a single, intensive center. That buildup of energy is then released in a powerful shout. It is important to note that kihap refers to the rapid development and concentration of lifeforce, and not just the shout itself.
How to Perform Kihap
Kihap begins with a Taekwondo user focusing on their abdomen and core muscles, tightening them in order to prevent damage to the stomach. While they do this, the martial artist must also forcibly push out their breath. This force of breath should originate not in the throat, but in the diaphragm. As a result of this combined effort, a Taekwando martial artist will create a powerful shout.
A kihap shout may be short or long, depending on the specific Taekwondo school. However, both methods aim to generate the most power possible from the technique. There is no specific sound kihap should make, but some common shouts (spelt phonetically) include “ai-yah,” “ah,” “hi-yah,” or “ee-yah.”
It is even possible to use kihap without the signature shout. As mentioned previously, kihap is not the yell itself, but rather the concentration of energy. Some Taekwondo martial artists who have significantly progressed in their training will use a silent kihap, which is essentially a way of amplifying one’s technique. However, it should be stated that a silent kihap cannot be used in all the same ways as a typical kihap and is therefore considered to be less effective.
Disciplines Related to Kihap
Kihap is specifically a part of Korean Taekwondo, but it shares similarities with techniques in other martial art disciplines. The kiai of Japanese aikido, karate, kobudo, kendo, and judo, is almost identical to kihap both in its formulation and use.
It is also easy to confuse kihap with Hapkido, a school of Korean martial arts that shares common origins with Japanese Aikido. Unlike Taekwondo, which favors direct actions and rapid kicks, Hapkido makes use of techniques that redirect the energy of opponents through circular motions, footwork, and body positioning. Through the use of strikes, joint locks, grappling, and throwing techniques, Hapkido users leverage the power of their opponents in order to throw them off-balance without using raw force against them.
While kihap is a Taekwondo technique, and Hapkido is an entire martial arts discipline, there is some crossover between the two terms. Hapkido uses the same root words as kihap with the addition of “do,” which means way or path. Therefore, Hapkido is usually translated to English as “the way of coordinated harmony,” or as some variation thereof.
So, kihap refers to the singular instance of energy concentration, while Hapkido is a martial art that focuses on the manipulation of energy, both that which is found within the user, and that which is issued from their opponent.
What are the Uses of Kihap?
Kihap is a very versatile practice that can be implemented into a Taekwondo practitioner’s techniques in a variety of ways. First and foremost, it is a way of generating a burst of power. Through the use of kihap, a martial artist can put an extra boost of energy into their moves. For a martial art like Taekwondo that favors rapid, pinpoint accurate punches and kicks, proper kihap use can make a significant difference in the power of a move.
The act of concentrating one’s energy also serves as a way of focusing the mind and body. Through kihap, a martial artist may increase their confidence and generate excitement during a match. Furthermore, by using kihap when struck in the abdomen, a user may be able to redistribute some of the force, or at the very least mentally vent the pain of the blow.
A true, powerful kihap will not only physically and mentally empower the user; it will also be an effective deterrent to opponents. This is notably the case with newer Taekwondo students, as well as untrained opponents. The force of a kihiap shout, especially an unexpected one, is enough to completely stun someone. Those few seconds of dazed surprise generated by kihap may be enough to make the difference between victory and defeat.
In total, kihap is a complex and versatile technique that can produce several results, some which may be implemented simultaneously. These effects are useful both in a sparring scenario, in Taekwondo tournaments, and even in real self-defense situations.