The science of screaming in martial arts

Screaming in martial arts gets tested by Science!

If you grew up watching martial arts movies or went to a karate or taekwondo school, it’s more than likely at some point you’ve seen a martial artist screaming at the top of their lungs as they break multiple pieces of wood, ice or concrete into many, many pieces.

Known as ‘Kiai’ in Japanese and as ‘Ki’hap’ in Korean they are terms used in the respective martial arts that describe the short yell or shout expelled when performing an attack.

But does this shout give you the extra power necessary to destroy multiple blocks with your bare body or is something that is merely theatrical.


On this edition of Sports Science, John Brenkus and his crew seek to find out if screaming is all it’s cracked up to be.

To help carry out this experiment the Fight Science crew bring in Paul Pumphrey, who is a  world champion breaker and host of the hit show Human Wrecking Balls.

The setup is simple, the team sets up two giant stacks of concrete for Paul to destroy, with load cells rigged up at the bottom of the stacks. Paul will need to break one stack in signature fashion but for the second stack Paul will need withhold the scream and complete the break in complete silence.

After the tests the crew can measure the data and see how much impact the scream has on his performance.

Check out the experiment below.

Sport Science is an ongoing television series that explores the science and engineering underlying athletic endeavors that was broadcast on FSN and ESPN.

Each episode on series one focused on testing certain aspects of athletics (such as human flight and reaction time), while series two either poses more questions from previous episodes, or tries to re-analyze sporting moments, pitting humans against animals or machines, and even checking against other sports or challenging the odds with data. Professional athletes are featured prominently and are used to test the limits of the human body. [source: wiki] 

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