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Why is this person yelling?

A karate black belt, Sarah Calande, performs perhaps the loudest kata in history.

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The video at bottom is, frankly, strange. But it can help, when unraveling the bizarre, to have some context.

What is Karate?

Everyone knows the short answer, so let's turn to practice. There are three fundamental parts of karate training - kihon, kumite, and kata. Kihon is basics, the equivalent of learning a jab, double leg, etc, in MMA. Kumite is sparring, using, in a freeform manner vs. an opponent, the basics developed during kihon. And then there is kata; the word means form in Japanese. It's a rigidly choreographed sequence of offensive and defensive martial arts movements, designed to be practiced alone. Kata is something like shadow boxing, but far more formalized.

Another central aspect of traditional karate training is the kiai. This is a short, loud yell, typically done while striking. If you have seen a powerlifter yell while attempting a personal best lift, that's about the same thing. The kiai can be used to increase power, to startle or intimidate the opponent, or to express victory, among other aims.

The USA is home to a number of well-developed karate tournament circuits, where participants can take part in forms and/or fighting. The largest of these is called NASKA. 

The fighting division is typically point sparring, where a kick or punch is landed relatively lightly, and then the action is stopped to determine if all judges agree the blow was clean and controlled.  The practice stems from a time when there was a widespread belief that a well-placed karate blow could kill, and had to be pulled substantially. The experience of Kyokushin karate, wherein full power kicks and knees to the head, body, and legs are allowed, as are full power punches to the body, categorically proves that karate strikes don't kill anyone, but point (some call it what's the point) sparring remains. 

The value of kata is more ambiguous than that of sparring, but remains a major part of karate competitions. Does it actually matter if you can formally shadow box really, really well? It seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, there will typically be different kata divisions for skill level, for age level, for sex, and for type (these tend to fall into two broad categories, traditional or freestyle/creative, with further divisions possible). 

Does Karate Work in MMA?

Although it is not a high-percentage route to mixed martial arts excellence, with alterations - as happens with all base martial arts - karate can work. Lyoto Machida, son of a traditional karate master, used his karate base to fight his way to a UFC title, without ever losing a round. Sparring in USA tournaments was hugely influenced by what worked under the point rules set rather than a predetermined view of what a good strike is, and a product of that approach, Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, fought twice for the UFC welterweight championship. He drew once, and lost a majority decision the second time, putting him a razor's edge away from being the best in the world in the weight class. George St-Pierre, arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history, and inarguably the greatest welterweight, has a base in the strongest karate - Kyokushin.

So the short answer is yes. Just don't focus on yelling as loud as you can, with your mouth as wide as you, on every move. More on that in a bit.

What is Shuri-Ryu Karate?

Robert A. Trias opened the first karate school in the mainland United States, in 1946. Over time he created Shuri-ryu, a style of karate with roots in Chinese martial arts.

Trias's Shuri-ryu has 15 core kata, including one named Go Pei Sho, also sometimes written as Gopei Sho. In English, it is called "Advanced Peacock Form." More on that in a bit.

The Loudest Kata Ever

A former top forms competitor, Sarah Calande, belongs to a large association called the American Karate Association (AKA). At the NASKA 2011 Dixieland Nationals, she got first place in women's traditional forms, performing an interesting interpretation of the Advanced Peacock Form. Then she entered the overall forms grand championship, performing the same kata; you can watch it below.

She really, really, really gets into it, even kiaiing during the bow, twice. If you rewatch with the sound off, it remains just as weirdly compelling, or perhaps even more so.


The Lesson

Criticism of Ms. Calande is misguided, and mean. She is a champion at what she does, the product of many long years of hard work, and should be applauded. If history is any guide, the training she underwent left her a far better, more disciplined human being. 

The issue is with an entire discipline, karate, that is, unfortunately, too often far removed from reality. Yelling this way in a fight is nonsensical, as you have to keep your teeth together, to keep your jaw from breaking if you get hit. The judges in events of this type evidently reward a lot of yelling, so they get a lot of yelling, from people who if otherwise properly motivated, would likely be refining methods that actually work, instead of self-harm.

Karate performances like this are so far removed from any practical use that they descend deep into unintentional comedy. However, in good news, there is a major effort underway to bring a high degree of realism to the practice of karate; for more information, check out Karate Combat.