Tag Archives: Tournament Fishing

“Fish On!” – Fishing Kiai

2 Jun

   CIMG5462  “Fish on!” – “Got one!” – “Y-E-S!” – “Woo-hoo!”

These are all examples of an exciting characteristic of fishing that has its roots in the martial arts. Ethnicity and language do not affect this characteristic.“Et Viola!” is an example from Andre Paradis, host of one of my favorite fishing shows, King Of The RiverOther examples include,

    CIMG3943 “Damn!” – “Lost him!” – “He’s off!”

What is this fishing characteristic?
It is a yell, born of excitement or frustration that occurs when we fish. It does not matter if you fish with bait, a lure or a fly. It matters not that you are young or old, a weekend angler or competitive tournament angler, anytime a fish bites and you set the hook, you will shout or yell. A few tournament fisherman have an almost trademark-type yell that is known by the public as specific to that fisherman.
This yell is interconnected with a martial arts practice known as “kiai” (pronounced “Key-eye”). When written in kanji (Japanese calligraphy) the word kiai is composed of two root words, “ki” meaning “spirit” and “ai” a contraction of the word “ to yell.” Thus kiai loosely translates as “spirit yell.”


Kiai is therefore not simply yelling. It is a yell or shout derived from, and incorporating your internal spirit. It is completely different that a loud exclamation lacking of emotion. Spirit or emotion is the driving force behind the kiai. The physical source of the kiai is from the inhaled breath stored within your lower abdomen. (See Endnotes # 1). This is important because a poorly executed kiai which originates from your throat will produce a sore throat whereas a properly executed kiai will not.
In addition to an expression of excitement or frustration there are other reasons to kiai. Within the martial arts, there are three reasons to kiai. They are, to scare your opponent, to boost your confidence and to provide or add to the strength of your technique. In fishing, only two of these three reasons are applicable. Since it could be argued that the fish is your opponent, while fishing, you would not kiai to scare your opponent. You may; however, wish to kiai to scare away those fisherman that are encroaching on your fishing waters, but perhaps that topic is best avoided.
Let’s look at the kiai from the perspective of boosting your confidence. In battle or any individual fight, one fighter may feel out classed by his opponent. To overcome this negative attitude, a sharp kiai is helpful as a confidence booster. Similarly when fishing during difficult conditions a kiai may be helpful. These external difficulties include wind, driving rain, excessively hot temperatures and the like. Through no fault of your own, these external factors make your fishing difficult. They often have the effect of dampening your spirit, decreasing your confidence and making you susceptible to giving-up. A sharp kiai may serve to cast out the negativity and rejuvenate your desire to fish enjoyably and successfully in these adverse conditions. Examples include,
saguaro   “Come on already!” – “To Hell with this weather!” – “Enough!” – “Get your head back in the game!”
Similarly, adversity may come from factors within yourself. Even on a picture perfect day and conditions that are optimal, fishing can be difficult. During these times, you may experience negative emotions. You may begin to doubt your abilities, doubt your chances for success (“There’s only three hours in this tournament and there’s no way I can win.”) or you may simply prematurely accept defeat (“What’s the use of changing lures?”). At this time, a deep breath and a powerful kiai can snap you out of your negativity and turn your attitude into a positive one. During such times, I take two minutes to kiai, perform an aggressive form of Sanchin, called Shobu (combat) Sanchin and again kiai. Then, with my mind back in the game, I return to my fishing. Here is a video of Shobu-sanchin filmed on the Lower Salt River, Arizona with watchful vultures.

Even the esteemed author and fisherman Ernest Hemingway was known to kiai. “Fornicate the illegitimate!” was heard during one eventful fishing trip on the Gulf Stream. (See Endnote # 2)
Kiai is also used when you find it necessary to increase your strength. Imagine a martial artist about to break bricks or a weightlifter lifting a tremendous weight over his head. Does he remain silent or does he yell and groan? Naturally he yells, grunts and groans. This is a clear example of kiai used for the purpose of increasing your strength. In fishing, you may encounter times when such a kiai is useful. If so, go ahead and kiai. This aspect of kiai is the one that is commonly manifested during the hook set. You finally feel a tug at the end of your line and your spirit swells from within and produces that kiai, that exclamation of excitement – “Yes”, “Fish-on”, “Got him”, etc. So, go ahead and kiai as you reel that fish in.
Another aspect of kiai to to alert others to your predicament. In karate, very often the sound one produces with a kiai is akin to “ai-ya.” I have students modify this. When I teach children karate, I teach them to kiai the word “help.” Similarly, I teach adult students to kiai the word “fire.” Why? Again, the word itself has no effect on the kiai so use the word to your advantage. Most people that hear a child yell for help will look in that direction and offer assistance. However, “help” yelled by an adult may not elicit the same response, rather people may actually look away. Thus, the kiai of “fire.” Everyone looks to see where the fire is. Similarly, the word used in your fishing kiai should be of additional help to you. Once a fish is hooked, you want to alert your partner to that fact. Once alerted they can help land the fish. They may need to get the net or gaff, pull in other lines to avoid tangles, adjust boat position, and the like. A kiai of “Fish on!”or “Got one!” accomplishes this goal whereas “Yes! or “About time!” may not.
Ultimately, the exact wording of you kiai is unique to you. It serves its intended purpose and represents your own uniqueness. Hey, you never know, you could become a famous fisherman and trademark your kiai. “Bam, Fish on!”
So, enjoy your kiai. Kiai often with tight lines.
In closing, I remain, casting, (hopefully) hooking, but always with kiai.

Sensei John

Sensei John

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1. Deep abdominal breathing can easily be practiced with a procedure known as “Sanchin Kata”. You can acquaint yourself for free with this procedure using this convenient link to my karate blog: http://senseijohn.me/sanchin-book/
2. Lyons, Nick (editor), Hemingway On Fishing, (The Lyons Press, 2000) p. 119. From “On Being Shot Again: A Gulf Stream Letter”, originally appearing in Esquire magazine, 1935.
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25 Jul

Whether we are fishing in a tournament for money, with a group of (competitive) friends, or simply out for a day of fishing, we all want to be successful on the water. Despite the many intangibles (such as being out in the natural environment, or amongst friends), success on the water is usually measured by one simple benchmark; namely, the number of fish caught. When you are on the water fishing, are you over concentrating on this benchmark? Are you obsessed with winning the tournament or catching more fish than your friends? If you are, you may have noticed that the more you concentrate, the less fish you are catching. If so, here’s a story from the martial arts that should be beneficial to a more successful day on the water.

The story is the lesson of the novice student and the black belt.

At the end of class, before dismissing the student population, it is customary for Sensei to ask whether there are any questions. One night, a novice student asked Sensei, “Sensei, how long will it take me to earn my black belt?” Hearing the question, Sensei looked at the novice and said, “Based upon all my years of practicing and teaching karate-do, I do not know how long it will take you to earn your black belt.” Although the student was somewhat taken aback by the non-answer of his Sensei, he thought it best to accept the answer.

As he lay in bed that night, the student thought about Sensei’s reply. The truth be told, the student felt Sensei had dodged his question. He was determined to  get Sensei to commit to a specific time period.

At the end of the next training session, Sensei again inquired as to whether the students had any questions. It seemed no one had a question, so Sensei was about to dismiss the class when suddenly, the novice raised his hand and said, “I have a question Sensei.” “If I work twice as hard as every student in the Dojo, how long will it take me to earn my black belt.” At first, Sensei was annoyed by the novice’s question. Class that night was particularly sweat-filled and overflowing with information. “Surely, some one must have a worthy question instead of this drivel about belts?” thought Sensei. Sensei hid his disappointment, looked at the novice and answered, “If you train twice as hard as every other student I know you think you will earn your black belt in one-half of the time, but you are misguided.” “If you train twice as hard as the others, it will take you double the time to earn a black belt.” While the senior students nodded knowingly at Sensei’s reply, the novice was clearly frustrated with Sensei’s answer.

That night, at home the novice realized his patience was exhausted, he asked a simple question, he thought Sensei should give him a simple answer. A few of the novice’s friends also studied karate but at a different dojo. At their dojo, a new student signed a contract enrolling them in the “black belt club” for four years and at the end of the four years, they were guaranteed to receive a black belt. If only the novice enrolled in that dojo, he would be a black belt in four years. Better still, logic would mandate that if he worked twice as hard as everyone one else, he would have a black belt in two years. Sensei did not use such financial contracts. Students trained on a month-to-month basis and could leave Sensei’s dojo at the end of any month. The novice was determined to leave Sensei’s dojo at the end of the month, but first, he would get to the bottom of the question as to the time period for earning a black belt from Sensei.

At the end of the next training session, Sensei asked his customary question. This time, the novice did not pursue his question with Sensei. Sensei dismissed the class. As the class left the formal training floor, the novice approached the most senior student, the Dai Sempai. “Excuse me, Sempai” the novice said. “Yes”, replied the Dai Sempai. “You seemed to understand Sensei’s reply as to how long it would take me to earn my black belt, is that true?” “Yes”, said the Dai Sempai. “Can you please enlighten me?” asked the novice. As the Dai Sempai turned away from the novice, he answered, “If you do not understand Sensei’s answer, then you must, once again, ask Sensei.” The Dai Sempai continued to exit the training floor, but looked back to the novice who seemed frozen in place and said, “That is, if Sensei feels your question worthy of further explanation.”

As the students entered the changing room and began to change from their gi (uniform) to street clothes, the novice remained standing, perplexed on the training floor. Noticing this, Sensei asked, “Is there anything else my novice?” The question awoke the novice from his puzzlement. “Excuse me Sensei, but I still do not understand how long it will take me to earn a black belt.” Somewhat exasperated Sensei looked at the novice, “Your question is the answer.” “You are focused on the black belt and not obtaining knowledge in karate-do; rather, you are focused on a symbol of the knowledge.” “That is why should you try twice as hard as everyone else, it will not take you half the time, but rather double the time.” “It is the knowledge that should be desired and not the symbol.” Focusing on the black belt will only distract you from the knowledge symbolized by the belt.” The novice thanked Sensei and entered the now deserted changing room.

As the novice changed from his gi to street clothes, he decided to remain at Sensei’s dojo.

Applying the story to fishing, one will appreciate its very simple lesson. In a competitive situation such as a formal fishing tournament, an informal day with friends  or even being on the water alone when you are “competing” solely against the fish, do not concentrate on achieving the final objective. Concentrating on the final objective, such as winning the tournament or catching more fish then your friends often results in loosing the tournament or catching less fish than your friends. How do you achieve success in these situations? Remember the novice’s desire for a black belt and the words of his Sensei; do not concentrate on winning the tournament (the black belt), rather concentrate on simply catching the first fish. Once that fish is caught, concentrate on catching the next fish and so forth. In this manner, the chances of success improve.

Respectfully submitted,

Sensei John

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16 May

There is a Karate-Do maxim, “Observe with the mind of a white belt.” The white belt worn by novice students is said to symbolize purity and innocence in terms of preconceptions as to Karate. (See Endnote # 1). When a novice first enters the Dojo, the fledgling observes without preconceived thought or emotion. Thus, one observes every detail, even the most minute, with the pure eyes of a child. In doing so, the neophyte student is able to capture the inner most aspect of a Karate-Do technique and incorporate it into their personal repertoire.

Prior to the advent of modern colored belts, a Karate-Ka (practitioner of Karate) would wear the same belt (a white belt) during his entire training. Although the Karate gi (uniform) would be laundered regularly, as a sign of respect, the Karate-Ka would not wash his belt. Over time, the white belt would become soiled. The belt would even be used to wipe the sweat from one’s brow after training. Thus, the belt would grow discolored, eventually turning black from use and wear.

As the student continued to wear his, now black, belt, it would begin to fray and tear. In this manner, over the course  of many years, the outermost layer of fabric would often be shed. Through this shedding process, the inner layer of clean, white fabric would be revealed. Thus, a circle of training would be completed; from pure white to soiled black and again to pure white. This return to a white-belt-like appearance of the black belt is the highest, most treasured belt a Karate-ka can possess. Having earned various formal black belts denoting advanced black belt ranks, I can attest to the fact that none have the endearing quality of my black belt which is now a grayish white from having been worn for decades.

The phenomenon of the pure white to becoming a soiled black belt is emblematic of the fishing experience. Recall the child-like amazement that we all had during our earliest fishing experience. The sights, smells, sounds and feel of being out in nature. The thrill of catching a fish and the desire to repeat the thrill enraptured us so as to demand our fullest attention. As a novice fisherman, we carefully selected a lure, bait or fly. Each live bait, whether worm, cricket, shad or other bait was inspected for “freshness”, “liveliness”, etc. Each lure was inspected to make sure there were no defects in the paint, the right color, size and shape was considered, hook sharpness was assured and the like. Young fly fisherman agonized over the choice of general fly pattern and then debated the size of the fly finally inspecting the specific fly to insure the feather were pristine, the hook sharp and the like.

Once a lure was selected, the knot was carefully tied and tested. Finally, the youthful, novice, white belt, fisherman was ready to cast the selection into the unknown waters in hopes of attracting a fish.

With time and experience, the white belt fisherman gained knowledge, experience and confidence in his or her ability to attract and catch fish. With this experience, the symbolic white belt of the fisherman, turned black.  At this stage, the black belt fisherman gets a bit sloppy from his or her experience. Perhaps a bait, lure or fly is selected because he or she simply knows it will catch a fish. Even one’s choice of fishing location becomes a function of experience. After all, “Surely this location holds fish at this time of year and day.”

I suggest, that based upon the “Mind of a white belt”, to maximize fishing results and the fishing experience in general, a fisherman needs to return to the mind set of a white belt, novice each and every time he or she is on the water.

By way of example you may wish to:

  • Choose your fishing location based upon experience, but pay close attention to what specific conditions are telling you;
  • Choose your lure, bait or fly not based upon YOUR expectations, but based upon what nature is TELLING you; to wit: are bait (worms, shad or other prey fish), forage (shrimp, crayfish, etc) or insects present?;
  • Notice each and every detail of the surrounding environment; are there indications of fish present at other locations that warrant a move?:

To be sure the above list is not inclusive but provides you with the general idea that, while experience is invaluable, remember to shed preconceptions. Allow your fishing black belt mentality to begin to fray and shed its outer layer. Let your fishing black belt begin again to turn back to white and fish with the mind of a white belt.

In closing, I remain eager to fish and be fulfilled by the experience each and every time I am fortunate enough to be on the water, if that makes me a fishing white belt, then so be it,

Sensei John


1. From the Academy Of Goshin-Do Karate-Do student handbook, page 29.

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