Demonstrating Qi in Forms.

A good question was raised this weekend about demonstrating qi in forms training. Following is my response.”After the tournament today, it was suggested I demonstrate more Chi in my forms (fist and staff). I asked him if he meant vocally i.e. “Kia” where suitable, pretty sure his answer was yes (can’t remember the exact words he used to explain what he meant).
What do you think Sifu Jason??”

Without knowing exactly what he said and the context it was in, I can’t really comment on what he meant. But here are some ideas of my own to do with Qi in forms. I should point out my Japanese based training was limited to only a few years, so it’s possible my knowledge on kiai is insufficient to be too critical.

While the karate kiai is indeed a useful expression of internal energy (only done well/correctly by a small number of more advanced practitioners), in my opinion it is the use of breathing in the kiai action that is most important, not the sound made. Having said that, done correctly, the sound is perhaps the most obvious difference betwween 2 karateka doing poor vs good examples of kiai. I have even heard stories of attackers being stopped by the shock of kiai alone.

A good kiai has an open ended sound on the end – usually a vowel sound. This is because a hard sound like a ‘t’ or a ‘d’ requires a stoppage of breath. Likewise an ‘m’ or ‘s’ sound reduses the breath flow in order to continue the sound. Done poorly a kiai can introduce unnecessary tension, damage the throat and vocal folds.

As for demonstrating qi, traditionally we don’t vocalise it in Chinese Martial Arts (although Master Lee was known to do so occasionally in karate based competitions!), we don’t even ‘try’ to show it. It’s about feeling it, and using it. Someone adequately trained can then recognise that it is being expressed. To superficially show it, through shakes, yells, or mystical hand waving will likely only result in you being seen as a poser. I would instead focus on the elements that maximise creation and utilisation of qi.

For example, posture and biomechanics. A good upright spine (and head) with slightly tucked pelvis, feng soong body (relaxed but not limp), no hyperextended joints or cramped limbs, the use of the body as a whole i.e synchronised not independent parts. These assist in your energy being utilised most efficiently.

Next element would be the mind. This means no distractions yet full awareness of the surroundings, relaxed and calm yet fully focussed, and an absolute clarity of the moves you are doing and why they are being done i.e intention and applications.

Next element would be eyes, which show the visualisation of the opponent/s targets and the techniques being delivered. Eyes will generally lead the limbs/body into the technique and change of directions and show the focus and commitment of the technique.

Last element that comes to mind is the flow and breakdown of the form. If it is a constant string of techniques one after the other than it probably looks like a memorised routine rather than a sequence you are living out in the moment. Of course it is a memorised routine but we run the risk of getting to the point where the form is done on autopilot and we forget to maintain the individual purposes of movements/techniques.

“An amateur practices until he gets it right, a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong”.

Even a professional needs to make sure he is ‘in the moment’, else he won’t do his best work.

Having moments throughout the form where you can highlight or hold the last technique of a combination helps to demonstrate awareness of what you are doing. It also gives you a chance to resettle the focus if needed, and prepare a good breath for the next beat.

Another suggestion for demonstrating qi would be to find moves in the form that could alternatively be executed as a qi gong technique or else add qi gong movements to the (start of) the form. The skill here would be to do so in an organic manner so that it neither detracts or stands out from the routine, only embellishes it. For this, I recommend working with a Sifu.

If anyone has further questions or suggestions on this area, please let me know,


Train well,


Sifu Jason



  1. Good to read a little more about qi in forms as it is often overlooked. It would be good to have an article talking about the steps to achieve good qi during form. Here we have what we need to do but an article about how to get there would be awesome! 🙂

    I don’t know what the Karate judges are after but whether I’m in class or in competition, I tend to focus on my breathing while I’m doing my form. This helps me get better flow and pace (considering I know the form reasonably well). I don’t think I could shout in the middle of my form to show that I’m using qi. I personally think that it’s better to breathe deeper and correctly rather than to a “kia” to prove that you’re using qi (when in reality you really aren’t, or at least not properly – But as Sifu Jason said, some people can do it correctly which in this case can have meaning).

    1. Hey Vince, the previous blog on form practice suggestions will indicate a few options on how to address which focuses etc would be best for working on the “qi elements”. Biomechanics, applications, breathing, eyes, flow and focus.

  2. I can understand that if the referee is mainly used to Karate kata that they maybe think Shaolin forms lack what they are used to in terms of focus. Karate kata often have a more ‘dramatic’ pacing built into them with a fast sequence followed by a few slow and very concentrated actions that might be accompanied by very forceful breathing.

    Also in kata techniques are often performed in a staccato manner – 1. (tiny pause) 2. (tiny pause) 3.(tiny pause) etc rather than the continuous and fast flow in a Shaolin form. When I started Shaolin this stood out to me and my first impression was that Shaolin forms seemed rushed and unfocussed. Since then I’ve realised that all techniques are meant to be performed with focus but also with no break.

    Perhaps this was the perspective of the referee.

    Also, Sifu what do you mean by ” find moves in the form that could alternatively be executed as a qi gong technique or else add qi gong movements to the (start of) the form.”?

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Richard. As for your question regarding incorporating qi into forms, I can more easily demonstrate this to you when I next see you in class. Make sure you remind me 🙂

  3. Hello. I’ve enjoyed reading through your site. The above regarding kiai is interesting.
    I have done a few years of Chinese styles, where there was no use of kiai (or the back and forth hopping of kumite). Now as I am training Uechi Ryu the Sensei keeps telling me to kiai louder. I find this very distracting and uncomfortable especially as I have the years of Chinese training which was very different in approach. It would be disrespectful to say this to my current teacher, and I doubt it would result in any common understanding. It seems there often is a lot of useless screaming going on.
    I very much enjoy the Uechi Ryu, especially the forms, but back on forth hopping of kumite is awkward (maybe more experience is needed?). The Chinese styles I’ve studied, with sifus of Chinese origen, emphasized stillness and relaxation to benefits a quick snap response and to feel the others intention.
    The Uechi Ryu training has it’s own benefits (dojo around the corner and my daughter is going there as well as all her classmates… it’s a very nice “family” atmosphere).
    Regardin Qi, there seems to be a universe of difference between Qi Gong and the Shinkokyu respiration I’ve seen (no disrespect intended, and I’m half Japanese to boot).
    Thanks again for the good reading and your thoughts.

    1. Thanks for commenting, and best wishes for advancing in your training. Even if it’s not the “ideal” style/school for you, it’s great that you can analyse the pros and cons and focus on the benefits for yourself and your family. Maybe think of the kiai as an expression of confidence and see if that helps in committing to it.
      Yours in Ming,
      Shifu Jason

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