Contrary to popular belief "Kihap" does not mean shout or yell, at least not originally. In newer dictionarys you might find "spirited yell" or "spirited shout" as a translation but its original meaning is far from any shouting or vocabular sounds at all. The word "Kihap" is put together with two base words, the first "Ki" often translated as "energy" or "life force" and "Hap" meaning to coordinate, gather, concentrate. Kihap as a term therefore describe a concentration, coordination or gathering of energy, power or force. A related term is Hapki put together of the same base words in a different order. Yes it is the same words as Hapkido without the "do", and it is a term describing the key principle of Hapkido namely the coordination, or harmonising of power/energy. It is a "soft" concept of blending with the force of the opponent, while Kihap is a concept to concentrate all the power in an instant to create maximum power.
Specific to Martial Arts is the conotation of Ki and bio-mechanicly efficancy. Kihap with the shout is a training method to develop "Ki" so in the hard style of Taekwondo you have the "soft" training methods of both Chumbi Seogi and Kihap in our training.
The shout is not the Kihap rather it is a consequence of Kihap. You should abruptly focus your abdomen and core muscles forcing the breath out to generate maximum power (this is of course linked with the other factors of power, body weight, hips etc). The sound is a consequence of Kihap and it comes automaticly. The Kihap shout should be loud and short as it is a method to generate maximum power. Sometimes when I watch forms on youtube you will see looooooong screams without any involvment with the core muscles made to impress the spectators. For a traditionally trained martial artist this is a display of ignorance and it is only an empty copy of the original concept of Kihap.
There are some different usages associated with Kihap where the shout is a concequense and not the act itself:
- Kihap as a method of maximum powergeneration
- Kihap to scare the opponent
- Kihap to psyche yourself up (confidense)
- Kihap to heighten disipline in training
- Kihap to ignore/work through pain
- Kihap to protect your body
That kind of floats over to the next point of the bullet list above; psyche yourself up. A loud Kihap does feel good and it psychological effects are well documented in other sports and warfare. In this setting the Kihap shout works as a kind of warcry. It can psyche up yourself, but done in unison it can also heighten the spirit of the group wich again makes us float into the next point of the bullet list; to heighten disipline in training. When I teach kids it is only a question of time before their curious minds start wondering off and the disiplin of training gets lower and lower. Everytime I sense this I make a point of doing simple techniques (maybe punches or something) with Kihap on every technique. This is a surefire way of getting them to pay attention again and they actually seem to like it.
Kihap as a way to work through pain: When you stomp your foot on a piece of furniture or something simular you often scream loud and clear. The Kihap usually take the form of "Sh*****************************t":-p It is a naturall response and according to one martial arts teacher of mine this is the body trying to get rid off an excessive "Ki" surge. He explained it with another example and that was when you receive a kick with your abdomen the kick creates a "shock force" into the body, trying to keep balance the one who received the kick makes a "Kihap" shout to rid himself of some of this excess energy or Ki. Timed right this can (again according to one of my teachers) protect your body from harm or at least confine it somewhat. I do not have any scientific evidence of this so do take it with a pinch of salt. In my own subjective experience I can attest to "feeling" it work, but I can not decide if it is psychological in my head or if it does actually work:-)
These are all the regular "Kihap" the ones where you produce a "spirited shout". At an advanced point in training the students should try to make a "silent Kihap", one where there are no sound. This does not work as well as a Kihap that also produces a sound but it does work better than no Kihap at all. Another way to put it is to use "controlled breathing" in your techniques where you breathe out timed with your techniques. Breathing is the most important thing in Taekwondo so it is not strange that we do have breathing excersises like Chumbi Seogi, Dan Jun Ho hop (abdominal breathing), Kihap etc. I do hope I have shed some light on the issue. There is still a lot more to be said about Kihap as a concept but I will leave that to another post:-)
Good and happy training everyone:-)