Becoming What Others Need (Kiaijutsu)

For positive outcomes of mutual benefit, we must begin by being who and what others need us to be.

Years ago, when I began digging into Japanese martial art history and philosophy, I sent an email to an author of several books on the subject, Ellis Amdur. Not only did he respond kindly and honestly to my inquiry, but that one email started an online dialogue and a friendship that still continues to this day. In fact, Ellis’s guidance led me to my teacher, Budd Yuhasz, and the name Kogen Dojo, the martial art school I own and operate with my brother and our friend, came directly from Ellis.

One of the conversations Ellis and I had through our emails was about the Japanese martial art principle of kiai. Kiaijutsu (the skill or art of kiai) is commonly known for its most superficial manifestation, the loud shouting (or sometimes grunting, screaming, or screeching) done by practitioners of classical, and some more modern, Japanese martial arts as they perform their strikes, sword cuts, etc. The essence of kiai, I came to learn, is deeper and more complex than this outward expression.

As has been said elsewhere, “Kiai is the manipulation of your own psychological and physical organization, and, in interaction with another person, manipulating them as well, hopefully for positive tactical outcomes, whatever that may be.” Kiaijutsu is not trickery, however, and manipulation, in spite of its often negative connotations, simply means having influence, ideally to positive effect for mutual benefit, over another person’s thoughts and actions. This is a necessary skill in leadership, parenting, and the deescalation of conflict.

Influence is constantly happening in all of our relationships in one direction or another, whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not, but kiaijutsu is the ability to take conscious control of influence as a skill. In this way, kiaijutsu, can be used as a means of fostering and developing more positive relationships and outcomes in our lives by circumventing conflict altogether and reorganizing ourselves to be exactly who and what others need us to be. This ability begins with empathy and sincerity.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh (artist unknown, unless otherwise noted).

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