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The importance of Kiai or how to scare Sand People


20130806-094621.jpgOver the past few months, I’ve been actively trying to develop my kiai. When you first start doing kendo I think you find the concept of kiai quite pointless and also a little difficult to do. This is probably due to ingrained Britishness about these kind if things. It took me a while to realise how much kiai actually can improve your performance in all aspects of kendo.

Despite finding the majority of suburi easier than I used to (maybe not sonkyo or matawari) I’ve realised over time how a good kiai helps during those times when you start to feel it. I find it interesting now that although you are generally told at the start that your kiai is a demonstration of your spirit, kiai can also feed your spirit, building it up. A good shout brings about a change of mind, putting you in a mental state risen for battle. Try and lift something really heavy and you end up shouting. The kiai feeds the spirit which feeds the kiai. I guess it’s just a very base level of neuro linguistic programming.

I’ve also noticed that the majority of more experienced kendoka I have met had a very distinctive and piercing kiai, generally of a much higher pitch and volume that carries round the dojo. The majority of us newer guys have generally much deeper kiai that is more like a standard shout.

I’ve read as much as i can a recently and have been trying to put it into practice, but what exactly is a good kiai? What are you aiming towards? Very little seems to be devoted to the subject except some fairly basic explanations.
It’s falling into another one of the combination of 3’s that I always see in life (that’s another article). Ki-ken-tai being the obvious kendo related one. Sword and body are things you have quite a lot of explanation about, but ki seems to be very much something you have to understand for yourself and develop with minimal guidance. Oh look, it’s my favourite phrase again. ‘You have to find the truth for yourself.’

So now during warm up and suburi, I no longer consider the counting as just counting. It’s kiai warm up and training. During each section of the warm up, sensei calls itch-ni-san-shi and we respond with go-roku-shichi-hachi. I read that kiai should not be separate from breathing and now try to incorporate the kiai as just another aspect of breathing. Breath out during itch-ni, breath in during san-shi, the remaining four counts are kiai level and then any remaining air goes out on the itch-ni, the cycle repeats.
In doing this it gives more to the power of the breath, enabling it to begin to resonate in the body without feeling like I’m forcing it out. This is also helping to train my breathing in a defined way. I’ve often heard it said by various singers that powerful singing does not come from the throat, it comes form the bottom of your lungs. I’ve noticed that when I manage to properly produce decent airflow, I am naturally raising the pitch of my kiai and I can feel it vibrating through my head, specifically the parts just between my eyes and at the top of the nose on the inside. I’m taking this as a good sign.

Next during suburi I concentrate on the counting again, using the count at a kiai level, breathing in time with my cuts. It feels more effective and I think it’s a part you can forget about during suburi, part of the ki-ken-tai. By the time this is all finished, I think I’ve warmed up my voice as well as my body.

During each rotation in kihon, my reigi during each bow reaches kiai level.
When sensei asks a question the response is ‘Hai!’ at kiai level.

Now comes the part I am exploring now. What is a good kiai? What should its effect be on your opponent? What’s a good word or sound?
My sensei put it that it should be something that is yours, instinctive and a vocalisation that feels right. Standard training goes with ‘Ya’ and this is good start with, but quickly feels inadequate. It feels like the ‘a’ sound can drag out, softening your kiai, making it feel less penetrating as a good kiai is meant to be seme as well. Go up against a high level kendoka and their kiai will do that to you, it feels disturbing like the cry of your own child when they are obviously in distress (parents will know what I mean). It stirs something primal.
There is definitely something very distinct about kiai at this level, there is a sharper intent and it’s unexpected. I’ve also failed to find any really good examples of kiai on the internet. I’ve found one interesting video from Sumi Sensei and his kiai is seriously intimidating and if you go any deeper in terms of reading on the subject, it’s gets very metaphysical very quickly.

If you want a good example of what kiai should do, I suggest this. It’s the scene from Star Wars where Obi Wan scares the sand people away from Luke as he lies unconscious. I re-watched this the other day with my son and found it really interesting how much of japanese culture has been lifted into the film. Vader’s outfit, Jedi costume is very much like a kimono the use of sword like weapons when guns exist and are quite destructive. The point is that Obi Wan is using his own form of Kiai and it is so good that he doesn’t even have to fight the sand people. He sees off three armed individuals with only the power of his kiai. It’s unnerving, intimidating and powerful. Just ignore the blueray version.

So kiai is just an extension of your spirit within the trinity of ki-ken-tai, pitched against you opponents three. If you train all three, you can defeat all three. As for the actual sound and wording of a kiai, I have settled on ‘Ah-Sai’ at the moment and from time to time ‘Ah-ra-sai’. It came quite naturally and developed over time from a simple ‘Sai.’ I’m sure there is some level of scientific possibility as research must have been done into what kind of noises are most disturbing to the human ear and also what sounds can be produced by the human voice. According to this article the range of sounds that are most distressing to the human ear are in the range of the human voice. I wonder if there is some scientific method to come up with a disturbing kiai based on the frequencies produced without resorting to simple trial and error.
The thing is though, that different people find different sounds distracting and unpleasant. Some may hate the sound of nails on a chalk board but others may not care.

The thing I find is that a strong kiai seems to me what makes the difference between kendoka who seem experienced and those that don’t. It’s also what I think really helps to define part of your individual nature as a kendoka and differentiates you from others.

For further reading, I also found this text on kiai. Although it is mostly karate centric, it has a lot of interesting insights into kiai and ki.

Although I may not have my kiai to exactly the level that I want it to be, I feel like I have a training technique now and I can see actual improvement.



Sci-Fi and the Illusion of Reality.


This a piece that I wrote some time ago after a probably familiar chain of thought events. I imagine many of you will be able to relate to this turn of events. I never really finished it before and have only now dusted it off with new and interesting insights.

Before proceeding, I should warn you that this contains spoilers for Inception, The Matrix Trilogy, A Scanner Darkly and possibly life itself.

As far as I’ve been able to see over my many years of watching pretty much every bit of sci-fi to grace cinema and TV, it seems to fall into two distinct categories. Space opera with the likes of Star Trek, Star Wars, 2001 and the thinly veiler political statement organised in the form of a piece that attempts to make you question the nature of your reality in it’s many forms.

Before going on holiday to Rhodes a couple of years back, I bought a book. I bought it in PoundLand so it was only £1. The book in question was ‘Matrix Warrior: Being The One – By Jake Horsley.’ Hardback too. It’s a fantastic piece of overthinking in itself and I strongly recommend it to anyone reading. In this book, Jake hypothesises that not only is The Matrix, hinting to the truth that reality is a dream world and that this is a concept that has permeated throughout most sci-fi and philosophical writing for a long time.

After reading over the course of my holiday and a little after I got back, I had the urge to go back and watch all the Matrix movies, which is what any good bit of overthink should do. Redirect you to the source.

I watched them with a different frame of mind. When I first saw the Matrix, I had seen none of the hype or anything about it. No idea how I managed that, but it happened. I was blown away by it. I think I must have subsequently watched it a good 30-40 times after that.

After watching these films again and reading the book, I was spurred on to think more and more about what other sci-fi and films give this idea.

I recently read a Scanner Darkly. The questions of reality within are massive. Not only does the protagonist, effectively split into 2 personalities, he questions which one is actually real and neither seem to be aware of each other towards the end. Philip K Dick really had a thing for questioning the nature of reality. The arguments for this permeates all his books in different ways and many other sci-fi books.

Then I saw Inception.

Oh crap, not another Inception article analysing it. That’s not what I want to do here. What I’m trying to show is that pretty much every piece of popular sci-fi written for the last 50-60 years is all saying the same thing.

Reality is an illusion. Or is it?

In the Martix, there is a key conversation between Neo and The Architect. Within this conversation we discover that the best way to make all humans within the Matrix accept the program was to give them a choice. Obviously the choice given to the subject is going to be one with outcomes that the program has already anticipated thus the choice is in fact a fallacy. This is obviously a bit of social commentary describing the illusion of choice that we have within our everyday lives. We think we have a choice, but in fact the choices we have are simply the selection of two or more already understood paths. Yet again, very few people actually tread a completely unknown path.

If we examine what is discussed in this conversation, effectively there is an anomaly in the Matrix program, namely Neo, one that is allowed to run it’s course, then reintegrated back into the original program and then restarted, thus improving the program. From what we find out about the program, keeping it perfect without the anomaly, seems to be impossible or The Architect would fix it. The Anomaly is then given the choice to save a few humans to keep the outside population going or to go back to the Matrix and save the woman he loves. Before Neo, all chose the former, meaning that Zion is destroyed, a handful of people survive, The Matrix is rebooted and the cycle starts again. According the The Architect this is the 6th version.

Neo on the other hand loves Trinity so much that he can’t stand to let her die so he goes to save her, thus as The Architect sees it, dooming all of humanity and probably the machine world to. Without the anomaly being reintegrated, then the Martix is doomed to be corrupted. The choice Neo is given is a horrible choice to have to make.

Although Neo makes what is seen as the selfish choice, he actually rejects both sides of the choices and makes up his own mind what to do in the end.

In The Martix, choice is seen as the power

In The Matrix, Morpheos calls that feeling that Thomas Anderson has that there is something wrong with the world, ‘A splinter in your mind, driving you mad.’ Isn’t that what an idea is? A splinter in your mind? If you don’t follow the idea it will drive you mad. As a writer I know this feeling all to well. You have to follow the idea or it stays, circulating and growing. They say there is a fine line between genius and madness and this is why. Not only can not pursuing an idea drive you mad, a genuinely new idea will seem like madness and pursuing it will seem like madness to the general populace.

Thus are not ideas and choice one and the same thing. An idea, a proper idea, is choosing not to choose an established path.

In Inception, the idea is the powerful thing.

There have been a ton of articles written about what Inception is. Is it a film about film making, is it attempting to incept us as an audience and if so what with?

The idea that is implanted first is that the world in not real. Is that what Inception is attempting to do? Plant that idea? Maybe, but that’s too obvious. You discount it because you can always trace the source of the idea, so what it’s really trying to say is that the ideas them selves are an illusion.

No one, apart from a very few individuals, actually have an original idea, ever. This article is not original. It was born from a bunch of other articles and opinions that all melded together in my mind to form an interesting hypothesis.

Most inventions around today are not original ideas. They are simply reworks of something that came before. A modern hammer is simply a better version of ones that were made before, that is a better version of a rock on a stick, which is better than just a rock in your hand. It’s evolution plain and simple. Knowledge is how we evolve now, not through physical adaptation.

When it comes to wanting or needing something, you would not want said item unless you had seen someone else with it in the first place. You cannot desire something that you are unaware of. For example, I saw an iPhone, I like it, my friend has one, my phone is crap by comparison, I want one.

Take yourself back 30 years. There are no mobile phones. If I want to call someone I pick up my house phone. I don’t want to have a iPhone because they don’t exist.

Where did the idea for a mobile phone come from? Who knows where it originates, but if you want an early example of the idea of one, how about a Star Trek communicator. It’s basically a small, handheld radio. Okay, portable 2way radios existed then and had for some time, but the idea of a small, pocket sized device for communication was not available. Was it a pure idea? Probably not.

If technological history has taught us anything it’s that things get more powerful and smaller for the same function over time. Imagining that a two-way portable radio would become pocket sized in 200 years is not far-fetched at all. Okay, I can’t talk to an orbiting ship with my cell phone, but a satellite phone could. It’s about the size of a house brick. No reason not to think that it will get much smaller in the next 100 years.

Ideas are not original, they are formed from previous experience and anaylsis of other facts.

This is the kind of thinking that is very much overthought in Jake’s book. Reason is a function of the illusion, and as such also completely unreal. Only unpredictability is true creativity and ideas. Once you have an idea and think about it, it is already not a true idea. In the act of spontaneity, a true idea is formed and only because it was done without thinking. And this is the nature of mushin in Kendo. Attacking without thought and preconcideration is creativity in its simplistic form. (Ha. I knew I’d kendo in here somehow)

In A Scanner Darkly, a fascinating chain of mental events is played out. Bob Arctor works as a narcotics agent. While undercover, he is himself, without disguise except his personality. When conversing with other agents, he wears a suit to disguise who he really is in order to keep anonymity. In order to do his he is effectively creating two personalities for himself in order to allow himself to be undercover and find the main dealers of Substance D. Neither of these two personalities in necessarily his true self. In taking D, he splits the two hemispheres of his brain and as such the two personalities he has purposefully created, begin to split apart. As Agent Fred, he refers to himself as a different person so often that eventually, Agent Fred just sees Bob Arctor, not himself. The other question is, who is the true personality? At the beginning, it’s the Agent Fred version of Bob, towards the end, it becomes much harder to tell.

At the end, another personality entirely. He is no longer Agent Fred as he doesn’t have his suit on and the Bob Arctor he has been for some time was just his undercover version of himself, also false.

By the end of the book, Bob / Fred has no personality anymore. Those two personalities were inventions or corruptions of himself. He is then at the end undercover again, with a new name and another false personality. His personality and mind are a complete illusion.

The Matrix is trying to tell you that choice is an illusion.

Inception is trying to tell you that ideas are an illusion.

A Scanner Darkly is trying to say that personality and mind are an illusion.

Most religion and spirituality is trying to tell you that your body is an illusion.

So what’s left?

I think, therefore I am?

So here I am back at the beginning.

The idea to write this article was not a true idea it was put there by a combination of outside forces that compelled me to do so. The combination of these outside influences became a ‘splinter in my mind’ that I had to remove. The only way to do that was to write this article.

I did not have a choice, I did not form the pure idea, but I had to do it, and thus what I think of as my personality and mind, is also completely illusionary.



Giving it all away and the path to being a Jedi. (The Purge Part 4)

Take this piece of musing any way you care to but I always been of the belief that no matter where a piece of information, or advice comes from it can still have meanings. It comes back to my belief in learning the truth for yourself. Regardless of the source, things can effect you fundamentally. I’ve always been struck on the part of Return of the Jedi, where Luke goes to see Yoda for the last time and during their conversation, Yoda tells him that his not a Jedi yet and must face Vader again. Only then will he be a Jedi. Why?

Luke’s path in Star Wars is pretty hard. The emotional impact of it is downplayed a lot, but if you sit back and explain it in simple terms, it’s pretty awful. He lives on a remote planet with his Uncle and Aunt, who probably aren’t, they are really his adoptive parents and he has never known his real parents. Then out of the blue, he finds a message that he thinks is for someone he knows, goes to see him and then officers of the oppressive police state in which he lives, murder his adoptive parents and burn his home to the ground. I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little pissed off about that and Luke seems to handle this pretty well.
Next he’s dragged into a civil war, see’s his mentor die, his childhood friend die, makes a few new ones, finds his long lost sister, trains in a weird jungle, gets his hand cut off by his own father and then has to go back, face his father again and the evil ruler of the galaxy probably to die. Phew, tough break dude.

So what does this really mean, and why is it that Luke is not a Jedi till he faces Vader again? It’s his last major piece of mental and emotional baggage that he has to shift in order to be at peace in his mind. It is also an act of sutimei. Giving himself up, completely and freely without fear to perform the perfect cut. That is why he freely walks into the Imperial camp and surrenders himself to them. He has to go face him to finally be free of everything. He’s lost all his material possessions and everyone that was there during his childhood so he has nothing left except the knowledge that maybe, he can save his father from the dark side and his sister. Why do you think he tells Leia that she is his sister? Because he has to do it to release the mental baggage. I also see it in a kind of old world feel like Luke has to become the head of the family and can no longer just follow. He has to lead and thus an actual power struggle between father and son has to take place.
He gives everything to do this and knows that he will either live or die but has accepted that. It is sutimei. The ultimate goal of the rebellion is to crush the empire. Luke’s primary goal is simple. He just wants to try and save his father because without doing this he will never be complete and will not be a Jedi.

I’ve tried to understand this in many ways, but I think it makes sense to everyone. Most of us have some issues with our family and all have those little pieces of baggage that we’d rather we were free of but we push them to one side in order to not have to deal with them and ignore them as just, oh it’s family. You don’t have to consider yourself the head of a family, but with the death of my own Father I feel like I have now taken on that responsibility. I’m the eldest living male of the Beaumont family and as such, have to set an example for my own son to look up to. I can’t do this without facing the internal family issues.

I always equate personal spiritual development to an onion. The outside is dry, cracked and brown. As you peal away the layers, more is revealed that is smoother and fresher than the last. You have to start with the dry, unpleasant layers before the good stuff is reached and you can only peel one layer at a time. The layer you have to peel away is the one that is at the forefront of you mind on a daily basis and as such this can be the burden that obstructs your sense of mushin and fudoshin. When we first started training, our Sensei would simply tell us to leave your worries and baggage at the door. When you are in the Dojo you think only of Kendo.
I think everyone should do this all the time. It’s a state of mind that you can take outside the Dojo and cultivate it there as well.
I know I still have many onion layers to peel before it no longer gets in the way and I feel like my physical development in kendo is much more like a giant wall of pigeon holes which some are already filled. As I learn more the holes are filled more and more, but I know this is an infinite area so concentrating on one a lot more will aid them to be filled better.

I’m not saying you have to become a Jedi, but the personal development messages contained therein are still messages that have a meaning for the real world. If you are a christian, do you look at bible stories and think, that was an amazing thing that really happened or do you look at them as a story with a message? A message that should be easy to understand and apply to your own life.

As part of The Purge, not only have I been trying reconcile all those emotional and mental blocks, i’m trying to sell off as much as possible so I can recoup some money and make space, I’ve also started to give some things away. It’s a really nice thing to just pass something on to someone who wants and will make use of something that has just sat around and done nothing.
Not only that but I am looking a little deeper and trying to purge those mental blocks, the things that cause a little bit of guilt, the unresolved issues that creep up on you at 2 in the morning when you can’t sleep.

Meeting up with one of my friends who I’ve not seen for some time really helped me get some perspective on a few things. I always used to feel that when I met up with people I hadn’t see for some time, I felt like they had been doing loads in the mean time and I was kind of standing still. This is typical for those of us that just have fairly secure 9-5 jobs with not much variation. You settle into your life, doing the day to day stuff. I realised that for me this is no longer the case and the funny thing is that as soon as we started talking, I was almost looking for a way to give him something of mine.

I feel like it’s all starting to come together now. Not only am I unburdening myself of material possessions, I’m purging those mental blocks and now I find my thoughts drifting more and more to my physical well being. Eating a bit healthier, not drinking alcohol and just being more aware of that aspect on things. Kendo is part of it but I feel like it’s all leading to that first part of the purpose.

To mold the mind and body.



Mostly Deadly – Release at last

Well it took me a long time but here it is at long last.

The release of my OOlite/Elite inspired fiction, Mostly Deadly.

Mostly Deadly EPUB
Mostly Deadly PDF

Copious amounts of thanks to everyone on the Oolite Forum and I hope you all enjoy it.
I await the torrent of spelling and grammar corrections that will no doubt be forthcoming.

Avatar – The film I wanted to hate.

For ages I have been lamenting the fact that there really haven’t been very many decent Sci-Fi films for quite some time, Moon and District 9 being a couple of exceptions.

So, at the weekend myself and the family sat down and watched Avatar on the HD on demand service. I’ve been avoiding watching it because I thought I was going to hate it and it’s in my nature to want to hate big budget films that have one word reviews such as “Astounding” and “Stunning”.

Every thing I had seen about it before hand had told me I would not enjoy it and probably had it spoilt by the Overthinking It article.
The upshot when it finished wasn’t that I hated it. It made me angry, but for the right reasons. I wasn’t angry about how it had been done, or that the dialog terrible, or the CG was bad. I was angry because the story line made me angry, but in the right way.

I’ve always said that art of any description has to do something to you. Well, despite what I thought it was going to be like, it moved me in a way I didn’t expect. I wasn’t expecting for it to provoke an emotional response in the way it did.

Oh… Spoiler alert by the way…

It made me angry because of the actions of the corporation guys and marines in the film. I got to the end and thought to myself that there is no way that anyone or any corporation would act in that fashion. Am I naive?

My wife saw it somehow a little different. She interpreted as more of an observation of events that have happened before within our own world. Oh heaven forbid that a Sci-Fi movie should make a commentary on real life. She also picked up on the very clever way that all the accents of the aliens within the film were a kind of mix and cross section of most of our tribal cultures.

I guess I expected Avatar to be a kind of spiritual, eco piece of space opera that was all style and no substance, but in fact it was a metaphor piece with a decent storyline. Okay it had a few cliche points but pretty good.

All in all, much better than I expected and very different than I expected. Also, to boot, visually brilliant.

The Theramist