Kiai, Presence and the Second Circle

A few days ago, I witnessed a remarkable change in the kiai of a longtime fellow dojo member.  Until that day, for as many years as I can remember, her kiai had sounded somewhat constrained, held back, controlled and partial.  It seemed to emanate from her throat area. That day, however, it sounded free, natural, powerful and full.  It seemed to emanate from her whole being.  Beautiful and inspiring.  As if something bottled up in her had been released.  Her strikes seemed more powerful, too.

This experience reminded of the book The Second Circle about finding one’s “presence” and one’s “true” voice by Patsy Rodenburg [Rodenburg] – a voice and acting coach.  Her list of clients include many well-known actors such as Judi Dench, Julia Ormand, Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Craig, Johnny Depp and Michael Caine according to her bio.

While teaching actors in colleges and theater companies and listening to many actors each week, the author noticed how some had stage presence and others didn’t.  How some had “it” or didn’t have “it”.  And how some would suddenly get “it”.  She “somehow had enabled [those] student[s] to find their true energy and this true energy was their presence [Rodenburg, p. xiii].”

I briefly summarize her book and present some thoughts on it and kiai.

Presence and The Second Circle [Rodenburg]

Here are some quotes from the introduction of her book which provide some sense of “presence” which she also refers to as “The Second Circle [Rodenburg].”  It is something that we possess naturally – more visible in childhood and seemingly less so as we age [Tremor_Childlike].  And something that we can sometimes recognize in others.

  • What I discovered was that it wasn’t a miracle that students found their presence, it was a tragedy that they lost it in the first place.  [p. xiii]
  • I began to know that presence is a universal quality that we all have but is somehow flattened out of us – “it” is a quality we all have locked away in our bodies and breath, which can be awakened. [p. xiii]
  • Presence thrives amid unconditional love and joy. [p. xiv]
  • Gradually, I identified three basic movements of energy.  What I came to call the First Circle was inward-moving, drawing energy toward the self.  At the opposite extreme was the Third Circle, in which energy is forced outward toward the world in general.  In the Second Circle, energy was focused on a specific object or person and moved in both directions:  taking in and giving out.  [p. xv]
  • Every human being has presence and it is this universal human energy that unites us all. [p. xv]
  • It is learned habits that destroy our natural presence and connection to others and the world. [p. xv]


I’d recommend the book for those interested in learning more about presence and the Second Circle concept [Rodenburg].  I believe that being natural, genuine, open, present and calm, while limiting one’s energy and attention directed towards the chatter and clutter of non-constructive self-talk, are some simple ways of getting “it” back.  Going back to the kiai in kendo, I suspect that the concepts described in her book would help those, in search of their voice, presence and kiai, to find it.

After practice, I asked the member what happened.  She replied that she felt inspired to let out her kiai after seeing another member who was “on” and sensing that person’s energy and intensity.  She later reflected that she had also wanted to give it her all since everyone in the dojo was watching her match during a mock shinsa.  Interesting how we can inspire one another.

A couple of final notes.   A few references are appended for those interested in reading more about kiai.  And a “Thank you” to a family member who recommended The Second Circle to me.


[KendoInfo_Kiai] Geoffrey Salmon, “kiai”,, June 22, 2009.

[KendoInfo_KiaiSae] Geoffrey Salmon, “Kiai and sae,” August 26, 2013.

[KendoInfo_Kihaku] Geoffrey Salmon, “kihaku,”, Aug 19, 2008

[KendoInfo_SuenoKiai] Geoffrey Salmon, “Sueno sensei on kiai,”, July 9, 2012.

[Rodenburg] Patsy Rodenburg, The Second Circle – How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation, W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.

[Tremor_Childlike] “That childlike state, and Love.”, Nov. 6, 2007.


Copyright 2018

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