Friday, October 11, 2013

Your Signature Kiai

In martial arts, there's a practice called the 'Kiai' (kee-yaahhhhh).  My son's sensei is so good at it that when he does it, parents like myself who are just sitting on the side benches shudder and startle to death.  Every. Single. Time.

The Kiai is a yell that's done mostly before and during a technique.  As was explained in my son's karate class, you do it to intimidate or scare the opponent, as well as help add some force to your technique as it forces you to breathe out and punch or kick from the gut.  

It's a useful technique that really makes a difference.  But as tempting as it might be to do a Kiai in our daily lives, we all know we'd be put in straight jackets in no time if we did so.  However, I believe we do practice a saner version of the Kiai in our daily lives.  We just call it impression management.

My husband often wonders why I bother to put some make up on, fix my hair and 'get all dressed up' when we go out, especially on weekends.  Other than the fact that as a stay-at-home parent, those are really my only opportunities to feel and look 'different' (translate: not keep looking like I just swept the chimney ala cinderella in sweat pants and torn up shirt), trying to look 'nicer than usual' also helps me put some 'Kiai' in my social interactions.

Let's face it.  First impressions count.  No matter how much we deny and reject superficiality, we see first and foremost, and construct situations initially based on what we (think we) see.  The way we respond to strangers is largely shaped by how they appear to us, what qualities we attribute to them based on how they appear, speak and act.  This is why I find myself adjusting my 'Kiai' based on where I'm going, or what situations I anticipate finding myself in.  It makes sense for me to dress differently when I'm just casually running errands, versus those days when I know I'll be in the more affluent side of town (filled with snobs and old money...yes, they exist where I live).  I also make sure I look respectable and 'smart' when I know I'm meeting my son's teachers, without looking unapproachable and uptight. When I go to church (which is in the 'rich' side of town), I've also learned that dressing 'appropriately' doesn't only mean 'semi-casual' but more importantly 'tasteful with just a subtle hint of expensive'.  Think Brooks Brothers, J. Crew or Banana Republic with a hint of Eddie Bauer (not that all my clothes come from the above stores...I wish!).

We adjust the way we look and behave based on situations we find ourselves in, not to deceive, but to be received better, and therefore be more effective in our social interactions.  Practicing impression management (or your signature 'Kiai') helps us set the tone, define the situation to our advantage, as well as gives us greater self-confidence.  When you know you look good and you look the part, somehow it helps you deliver.  But just as in martial arts, a loud or forceful Kiai won't do much without proper technique and execution.  As one of my favorite university professors taught me, 'It's important to be cute.  But after five minutes, you need to be competent'.

What social situations do you find yourself practicing the most 'Kiai' in? Do you feel it's effective? 

When do you most employ impression management?  Has it become effortless for you at this point, or do you still give it much thought and energy?


  1. I don't care any more, really. As I get older -and none the wiser, I wear stuff I like and I smile. Don't get me wrong, I like to have a bit of make-up and be well-dressed, but I don't make too much of an effort. maybe I should?

  2. I totally get myself put together whether I'm going to work or to the grocery store on a Sunday morning to pick up milk and eggs. I shutter when I see people sporting their pj's in public! Care about yourself enough to make a first impression. You never know when you're going to need to impress!

  3. LOVE the ending. Cute without competence is just plain stupid!


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