In popular culture, the phrase hi-ya is always associated with karate. Everyone expects people who are doing karate to always use this phrase like some sort of caricature. It reminds me of what my friends used to ask me when I first started karate when I was a child. They had this notion that karate schools brainwashed their students into being killing machines. It was funny to me.
So back to all of this hi-ya yelling. What is this all about? In Tang Soo Do, we call this a ki-hap – a “spirit yell”. In reality, you do not have to actually say a specific phrase. This is simply a starting point for you. A ki-hap is a noise that comes from your core, your belly. We do this yell at certain times for 2 main reasons.
To gain power
Think of most major tennis stars. Most of them are very noisy when they hit the ball. They are letting out yells or grunts. They are doing this in order to summon more power into their shots. Letting out a loud yell when you are breaking a board gives your muscles & your mind more power. Why? It is mostly psychological. It is a way to use your body to focus your mind on the technique, which then helps you focus your body on that technique.
There is also the notion that breathing helps you in karate, and forcing yourself to ki-hap is a guaranteed large breath out while executing the technique. This is far more effective than holding your breath.
To be scary
Think about this – you are a criminal. You spot a victim. You walk up and start to grab this person. The victim, instead of submitting to you, jumps back and starts to yell like a crazy person & gets his or her hands up.
The chances are that you’ll not want to continue. This is clearly a crazy person & it is likely not worth the effort. The same idea applies to a ki-hap – it can scare your opponent. It is a form of psychological warfare.