Recently I was working with Rick, my stellar 65-year-old Jiu-jitsu student, on a couple of his higher impact breakfalls (breakfall #8 and #9 in Can-ryu). He had been working on improving them diligently for over a year now, trying to overcome his fear of falling hard. Being an older guy, he is naturally a little scared about hurting himself. As a result, he has always found himself holding his breath, tensing up and resisting the flow of energy when doing these higher impact falls, when what he needed to do was quite the opposite; he needed to breathe out and relax to take the edge off the impact, and go with the flow so his body could naturally turn into the ideal falling position. For months we gave him the same type of feedback, making very gradual progress all the while, but then he reached a plateau and he wasn’t making the jump he needed to really “get” the breakfall.
Then we added the kiai.
I could see that he knew all the feedback and was always trying to put it together, but it always seemed like one factor or another would get left out. Last week, I got some time to work with him one on one and I told him to try doing a kiai as he did his breakfall #9. At first, it was a bit awkward, mostly because he was timing the kiai as he initiated the fall rather than when he made impact, but then it all came together. He started to breathe in as he initiated the movement, then made a strong kiai as he hit the ground. And it was decent! When I asked him how it felt, he told me it felt good too. I knew we were on to something so I got him to do it again to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Again, he did the fall well. Then we tried the same method with breakfall #8 (a similar fall, but a little more difficult). Again, the performance was repeated. We were both smiling ear-to-ear. I then gave him a double high five and a big hug, gushing about how happy I was that he got it. Check out the video below to see Rick taking falls.
Rick explained to me how the kiai helped him. “When I added the kiai, I stopped thinking. I was in the moment and just letting it all come together.”
The kiai, is not simply a tool for distraction and gaining witnesses or a way of increasing your power, it’s also a way of bringing everything into focus into one moment, the one that counts. It helps you get rid of all the junky thoughts you think in your head that hold you back, bringing you into that one moment in time so you can just let your body do what it’s been trained to do. Of course, having a good kiai on its own won’t make you good at something you haven’t learned and trained, you still have to put your time in. Rick put in many months of work on those breakfalls, never giving up even though his learning has been far more incremental than it has been for other students 20-40 years younger than him. Adding the kiai though helped him forget all his fears and about making a conscious effort to do it, so he could bring all that training together into his fall. And we’re proud of him for it. It gives us all hope that maybe we don’t necessarily have to slow down so much when we hit our senior years. Rick only started his training in his 60s, so that means if us young whipper-snappers keep it up, we should be just fine when we get to his age.
Have you got any stories of how a kiai was used to help you do your best in a particular moment? Please share in the comments. Need help with your kiai? Read Kiai: What It’s for and How to Do It.