Kiai is a Japanese go term representing an attitude of aggressively parrying your opponent's plans and pushing ahead with your own. Often translated as "fighting spirit", it has a positive sense, and can also be applied to individual moves demonstrating the kiai attitude.
One prototypical kiai move would be to immediately follow up on a threat your opponent ignores. After all, if it was not worth following up on, why did you make it in the first place? You may lose the game, but will at least preserve your honor.
If a player demonstrates kiai superior to his opponent, he is kiai-gachi (winning at kiai); if inferior, kiai-make.
Holigor: Interesting that the higher the level of the book, the more often the term kiai is referred to. Go Seigen uses it often, for example. It seems that good players strive to avoid being "kikashi'ed" (kikasare), being forced to do something. They are looking for the opportunity to find a counter for each move of the opponent's.
Andre Engels: From the places where I have read discussion of kiai, it seems to be about 'not letting your opponent have their way'. This is especially important with kikashi as HolIgor mentions - very good kiai is to take the opponent's kikashi, answer in an unexpected way, and either get sente or turn it into a thank you move. It applies to other situations also, however, for example if the opponent tries to make an exchange that secures territory on both sides, it is kiai to break through and counterattack. Maybe kiai is best understood as the opposite of submissive play? Just a guess.
kokiri: I thought it would be worth having an example with a more whole-board perspective.
This is from the recent Honinbo match. Yoda Norimoto is White. Takemiya said that with move , Black would like to either strengthen the bottom right (as played) or approach across the top to bring to life .
Yoda does not want to allow Black to get to play both spots. Hence, although locally clearly needs a reply, he wants to play with Kiai and so takes . Black follows up the attack with and White attaches at to secure the group.
One Japanese dictionary gives the following meanings for kiai:
- Emotional momentum when involving yourself in something in a concentrated mental way. Or, a shout showing such feeling.
- Technique for dealing with things. Or, mutual feeling. Breath.
Engaging in compositional semantics (breaking down a word and trying to understand it as the combination of the "meaning" of its parts) is not usually very productive for Japanese or other languages, but for those who insist:
ki 気 means "spirit", "mood". ai 合い means "joint", "together", "gathering". (It appears in miai 見合い "looking together" or "looking at each other" and in semeai 攻め合い "attack together" or "attack each other".) Thus one could make a literal translation of kiai as "Charging/Gathering your Spirit", or just "Pumping yourself up" in laymen's terms. Fighting Spirit would normally be "Toushi (闘志)"
damien In karate, which I have done for many years before I began Go, "kiai" (or kihap, for Korean arts) was explained to me as a "spirit shout." Such a shout does many things:
- Intimidates the opponent.
- Protects oneself from counter-attack.
- Encourages follow-through in techniques.
I try to apply these similar applications to my Go game.
- Kiai in your attacks may cause your opponent to play slow and heavy in defense.
- If you have sente, they may be too busy defending to attack you.
- Follow-through with attacks gains points and possibly more forcing plays.
- Kiai surprises the opponent, so degrades the value of his close reading, giving less opportunity for moves based on close reading (such as hamete or tesuji)
Zengarden Kiseido have published an interesting study of Kiai "Fight like a pro: the Secrets of Kiai" by Rob van Zeijst and Richard Bozulich (2012, "Mastering the Basics, Volume 8, K78). The book consists of four short introductory essays followed by detailed commentaries of 16 recent professional games, where Kiai is strongly exhibited.