The Japanese Term ‘Ki-Ai’ (気合) as Defined Within Chinese Sources


In all my time training in traditional Chinese martial arts, either in China or abroad, I have never encountered a gongfu style that uses the ‘ki-ai’ (気合), or ‘power shout’. What is odd is that a number of Japanese martial artists have told me that the ‘ki-ai’ originated in China and spread to Okinawa, but from my research in Chinese sources, I cannot confirm this assumption. The idea of ‘shouting’ loudly is decidedly ‘non-Confucian’ and seems completely out-of-place within imperial Chinese society. Chinese soldiers (since ancient times) have been stoic in the face of danger and in the midst of combat. When facing injury or death, the response is usually one of disciplined ‘silence’. This is different from the chanting found in Buddhist and Daoist Temples, or even the different sounds used by Daoists to ‘clean’ the inner body. Within the Confucian Temple, a student sits quietly, reads carefully, and precisely turns the pages (without any undue haste). Within Chinese martial culture, the emphasis is upon ‘control’ of thought, feeling and behaviour. Shouting loudly at a decisive moment is out-of-place within this kind of culture, and would be considered brutish and uncouth. This would contradict the ethos of Chinese martial arts – either ‘external’ (as used by the military), or ‘internal’ (as used in temples), etc. Even ‘external’ Chinese martial arts are premised upon superior positioning (i.e. correct military formation inaccordance with terrain) and the unrushed retainment of ‘stillness’ (i.e. ‘potential energy’). This being the case, what do Chinese language sources have to say about the history of ‘ki-ai’ (気合)?

The ideograms ‘気合’ (Ki Ai) are written in the Japanese script known as ‘Hanja’ (which translates as ‘Chinese Characters’), but ‘気’ (ki) is not exactly correct for the Chinese written language, either traditionally or modern (and appears to be a ‘transitional’ character existing somewhere between the two). This ideogram stands for the Chinese character ‘氣’ (Qi4), which is simplified as ‘气’ (Qi). Therefore, the Japanese ‘ki-ai’ (気合) can be written in the Chinese language as ‘氣合’ (Qi He), or ‘气合’, also pronounced (Qi He). This translates as ‘Energy Gathered’, or ‘Energy Focused’. It can also mean ‘Energy United’, and this interpretation justifies the translation of ‘Energy Harmonised’. Qi (氣) refers to ‘breath’, ‘food’, ‘drink’, awareness, the bio-electrical energy functioning throughout the mind and body, bodyweight, and the energy received from both parents upon the conception of an individual life in the womb. Qi (氣) also refers to the ‘moral force’ (written as ‘炁’) generated by a person who continuously behaves with ‘virtue’ (德 – De). The Qi (氣) ideogram is written as steam arising from a cauldron of boiling water, which is hanging over a fire – within the water is cooking rice. Within certain contexts, ‘steam’ is taken to mean ‘cloud’, but also refers to ‘air’ or ‘oxygen’. As regards ‘合’ (He2), this ideogram denotes ‘two mouths’ – or two people coming A typical Chinese language encyclopaedia together and talking in ‘harmony’, as there is no discord.

A typical Chinese language encyclopaedia entry reads:




(1) This states that concept of ‘Qi He’ (气合) – or  ‘ki-ai’ (気合) in Japan – is a term now used within the game of ‘Wei Qi’ (围棋) – commonly known as ‘Chinese Chess’ in the West, but which has its origin within the Japanese version of the game, known as ‘Go’. It is a term which represents the principle of military forces gathering and consolidating around a specific geographical area or location. The objective is then over-run through the use of highly concentrated military forces, as all power is brought to bear upon a specific point in the enemy line. The enemy will be ‘pierced’ (and destroyed) through the momentum of a strong and disciplined attack, when this type of intense military force is applied correctly. Over-time, the Japanese term ‘ki-ai’ (気合) was incorporated into ‘Chinese Chess’ as ‘Qi He’ (气合).

(2) Within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ‘Qi He’ (气合) can be used to refer to all the qi energy channels of the body functioning perfectly and in harmony with one another, with no blockages or deficiencies. More specifically,  ‘Qi He’ (气合) may also refer to the ‘navel’ (脐 – Qi2), or even an ‘umbilical cord’.

I have not found any references for ‘Qi He’ (气合) or  ‘ki-ai’ (気合) existing within traditional Chinese martial arts, and must conclude therefore, that it is a Japanese invention sometimes ‘falsely’ assumed to be ‘Chinese’ in origin.

Chinese Language Source:气合

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s