Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The single most important 'training point' of true karate

I was recently asked what is the single most important point for budo/bujutsu (martial arts) karate training. So here you go...

The number one point is: 'You will respond as you have trained'... Not only in developed technique, power, speed, distancing, timing and tactics, but, especially in regards to 'training context'. That is, if you have not developed these skills in the context of freestyle "...when facing a real situation your martial arts ability will lack reliablity".

1. Never forget: 'You will respond as you have trained'. Also, 2. Never forget: 'Just training nice looking  movements and 'ideas' with compliant training partners can never be enough'. Needless to say, this type of karate has become increasingly popular outside Japan; however, it is has "...no relationship whatsoever to authentic martial arts karate".

Best wishes from Oita City, Japan.

Osu, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Saturday, 10 February 2018

MA 間

The two kanji (Chinese characters) which form ‘ma’ are a combination of mon (gate) and taiyo (sun). Ma therefore depicts the sun seen through, or between, a gateway. Here in Japan ma is used by the various traditional art forms namely for distance and timing.
For example in Shodo (Japanese calligraphy), Kado (flower arrangement), Sado (tea ceremony), and other cultural disciplines, ma is a top priority. For the budoka, control of ma’ai (meeting distance) in a fight outweighs everything else. Why? Because fundamentally all successful evasive maneuvers and attacking techniques are completely dependent on ma.

A great illustration, if you want to really improve your own ‘ma’, is to study the actions of a shodo shihan (Japanese calligraphy master). If you have seen a true master at work you will know how motionless they sit in seiza, how their washi (rice paper) is perfectly situated in relation to their position, how they take time to meticulously cover their brush in ink, then finally.., and with total decisiveness, make each stroke of their brush to form beautiful kanji. Their action is the same as karate kata, some techniques rapid, some increasing or decreasing in speed, others very slow, yet others heavy, light, or a combination of both.

Ma in kata
I’ve heard many people asking “how can I move like the elite Japanese karateka?” especially in regards to kata, and the answer is threefold: Firstly ‘precise Japan trained kihon’. Secondly, ‘high repetitions of this exact kihon’. And thirdly, ‘proper use of ma’. The lame excuse of Westerners claiming “Japanese exponents have ‘better' or 'advantaged physiques' for kata" is utter rubbish. However, correct use of ma does require a comprehensive understanding of Japanese culture, via living and training extensively in Japan. It is a 'total experience' not a partial one. Like it or not, this is the reality of practicing a 'Japanese martial art', and is undeniably why Japan still sets ‘the standard’. Karate instructors who haven't made long-term pilgrimages to Japan (or have trained, for many years, under a sensei who has), are simply incapable of teaching ma, and authentic karate in general. Needless to say, correct ma in kata immediately reveals this.


Ma in kumite
Obviously correct use of ma in kumite destroys the adversaries distance and timing, and also allows one’s own attacks and counterattacks to ‘work’. In traditional karate this means that percussive blows will destructively penetrate the target, if not arrested*. However, in sports karate, often fully stretched attacks, which could have never seriously damaged the opponent, are still awarded points (like a game of tag). Scores are allocated to competitors by simply reaching/touching the surface of the target, which clearly illustrates a ‘major void’ between traditional (martial art) karate and sports (game) karate.

* Correct karate ma’ai, in dojo kumite training, or competition jiyu-kumite, is where the legs/hips and body weight, are fully committed to drive through the target, but the respective attacking limb does not penetrate. Therefore, when impacting on the makiwara, sandbag etc.., or in a real altercation, the karateka simply does the exact same technique(s), but without arresting the striking limb(s). Dojo jiyu-kumite and kyogi-kumite conducted in this 'correct manner' are useful tools for effective martial arts training (note: this was the base of the traditional Shobu Ippon rules).


To conclude I'd like to reiterate the following points: Firstly, ma is the extreme contrast between stillness and movement, ma is rhythm. Rhythm can be fast, slow, poised, accelerating, decelerating and so on. Rhythm determines distancing and timing, success or failure, therefore it determines everything! Secondly, ma highlights the difference between authentic traditional karate (karate as a martial art), and imitation karate (karate played as a sport/game). And lastly, ma is an important part of Japanese culture, something that karateka need to fully understand, and physically express, if they want to execute traditional Japanese karate-do.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008: (Republished, February 10th, 2018).

Monday, 15 January 2018

Strong seiken (fore-fists) and shuto (sword hands)

Relaxing the fists lightly, before and after kime, is an important skill; however, it can only come after strong fists have been mastered.
OPENING STATEMENT: Regularly I find that people have swift and strong movements, however, their karada no buki (weapons of the body) are often weak.

Needless to say, this post could address the many different weapons of the body; nevertheless, today, I’d like to focus on: (1) the most common form of fist: 正拳 ‘seiken’ (the fore-fist); and (2) the base form of all open hands in Karate-Do: 手刀 ‘shuto’ (the sword hand).

So, here we go…

正拳 ‘SEIKEN: One of the first things—taught in karate—is ‘how to make to a proper fist’. Yet, look at the immense numbers karateka, and even high ranking Dan grades, who have weak or ‘incorrectly formed’ fists.

The problem is not that these karateka do not know how to form seiken correctly, rather, it is about a loss of consciousness/awareness of their fists. Underpinning this is the commonly eventual “…too much focus on the movement at the expense of the weapon”. In other words, this is like a warrior, holding a spear, and focusing on ‘moving the staff only, as opposed to ‘also focusing on the tip of the blade’.

The source of this error is “the difficulty of simultaneously having firm fists and relaxed arms/shoulders”. This skill requires to essentially be able to autonomously compartmentalise: (a) shime/squeezing of the weapon; and (b) the looseness for everything above the wrist. Needless to say, this applies also to the shime of foot formations and relaxation of everything above the ankles in ashi-waza (leg techniques). In sum, this skill—in all techniques—clearly elucidates “the constant relationship/interaction between hard and soft”.

My advice is that ‘karateka spend more time hitting the makiwara’ then ‘to strictly use their makiwara fists’ throughout their Kihon and Kata. With constant practice and review, relaxed arms/shoulders and strong seiken will be achieved.

手刀 ‘SHUTO’: It is also commonplace for karateka to have weakly formed ‘sword hands’. Like seiken, if not firm nor correctly formed, shuto will be less effective—or even nullified—as a weapon.

To avoid this, make sure: (1) the four fingers are as straight as possible and tightly connected; and (2) the thumb is bent to a 90 degree angle and firmly placed on the side of the hand—as opposed to the ‘palm side’. In the case of the regular, most commonly practised, shuto-uke in Shotokan-Ryu, one must also make sure that the wrist/back of the hand is kept straight; that is, in line with the forearm.

I think it is important to recognise that poorly formed sword hands are a result of indecisive understanding of various techniques and their meanings/applications. A good example of this is something I often have to correct on black belt karateka: tateshuto-uke. I cannot count the number of times I have seen people with their thumb pointing sidewards when doing this technique. In this case, they have confused this technique with tsukami-uke (the grasping reception). Failing to have the thumb connected to the the side of the hand results in a significantly weaker waza. This is obvious when one thinks that the impacting sword hand is comprised of five digits connecting together with the ‘knife edge’ of the hand striking. Not connecting the thumb to the side of the index finger, therefore, means “…losing (give or take) 20% of reinforcement of the weapon”.


I believe that this article requires no further explanation; that being said, I’d like to conclude with a relevant quote that originally came from Azato Ankou Sensei (one of Funakoshi Gichin Sensei’s karate masters): 人の手足は剣と思え“Hito no teashi wa ken omoe” (this basically means ‘Think of peoples hands and feet as swords’). Winter greetings and very best wishes from snow covered Japan. Osu!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Monday, 1 January 2018


2018 is upon us, another year is here...

How can one maximize it? The answer is 'to break barriers'... To go to the limit and dare to cross it.

This is not merely karate, but our existence. I somewhat apologize for being so philosophical, yet this is the reality. PUSH BEYOND!!


Happy New Year. OSU! 
- AB

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Andre Bertel International Seminar, GERMANY 2018

 Below are the official posters for my International Technical Seminar in Deutschland (Germany) 2018: one in English and one in Deutsch.

For those who manage to get in, see you there!! Happy Winter holidays from Oita City, Japan. Osu, - André Bertel.

Monday, 25 December 2017


My second interview on NHK television. This time at the illumination of Funai Jo. Unfortunately, the video is from a family members TV, and the video cuts off!! Regardless, here it is. Osu.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Special training

Today I did a special training of very special kata from my late teacher. I was very privileged as I was the only one taught these highly advanced kata and their applications. Normally, I practice these kata in isolation. However, today, I did an unprecedented training of them all.

 Needless to say, this was a fun training, rather than a serious one. I think it is important to occasionally `just enjoy training’

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2017).

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Current self-training regime

Here is my current daily self-training regime, which I have used over the last month and a half. As followers of this blog around the world know, this training, which I undertake each day, is reflective of the daily socho-geiko (morning training) of my late teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko Shuseki-Shihan.

Finishing training at Gokoku Jinja, Oita.
基本 (Kihon): Currently I am working three techniques: firstly, oi-zuki; secondly, gyaku-zuki; and thirdly, mae-geri keage. However, Im  training all three with the following variations of karada no buki (weapons of the body): seiken, nakadaka ippon-ken, hiraken and shihon-nukite for both punches; and koshi/josokutei and tsumasaki for mae-geri. Taken as a whole, the aim is optimal form and trajectories, explosiveness, maai, maximum impact power and appropriate targeting; in particular, 急所 (kyusho). I would like to add here that these points are nothing secret; rather, they are merely the weak points of the body (derived from the meridian points of traditional Chinese medicine). Enough on that topic today: as nothing beats a poke in the eyes and kick to the testicles. 

Asai Sensei applying what he called 'koken' and what is more commonly referred to, in Shotokan, as kakuto. His unpredictable timing and impact power was nothing less than incredible. Nothing like the karate of the present time.
  (Kata): My kata training is currently quite broad to wrap up 2017. Im practising the following: (1) Taikyoku Shodan as a kihongata specifically for shomen and hanmi in zenkutsu-dachi, kakato-chushin, and the forward channelling of power; (2) Tekki Shodan for jiyu-kumite/self-defense, in particular, utilizing and optimizing ground power with lateral movement; (3) Enpi for the aforementioned points in Taikyoku and Tekki: but with a great focus on chikara no kyojaku; (4) Nijushiho for fine tuning―especially in regards to transitions; and (5) a Koten-gata, which varies every few days, based on my condition and any aspects I decide to further address; for example, yesterday I practised Kakuyoku Sandan to further work on my use of 重力 (juryoku/gravity) in techniques. 
Kotengata: Kibaken, which I originally learned from notes (kindly provided by Jon Keeling Sensei of Northern California).

組手 (Kumite): My kumite training at present is focused on the bujutsu karate applications for self-defence. The techniques and principles Im working on are directly related to my current kata practise. In sum, this includes aspects which I have never taught other karateka before. I will begin disseminating this deeper well of knowledge in Europe next year.

Soon I will change this routine as it has recently passed its peak. This process and analysis is how I have continued to grow especially in the last two decades. One of my motto's is "never seek mediocrity". This includes technique, application and dry humour. I will end on this note. Train hard and smart. Osu!!
Mae-geri kekomi utilizing tsumasaki as the karada no buki.
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2017).

Monday, 11 December 2017

Joshua Block from Germany visits

Over the weekend Joshua Block, from Germany, came for training here in Oita City. Of course, in addition to karate practice, it was lovely to catch up with him.

A.    Kihon: The main thing we worked on was using ones ‘kinetic chain’ correctly for optimal ‘snap’—in combination with applying the maximum amount of bodyweight: when executing various karate techniques.
B.     Kumite: The aforementioned aspects were then practiced in various forms of kumite with the most emphasis being on Kihon Ippon Kumite and Jiyu Ippon Kumite. 

C.     Kata: Again, to further in-still the correct use of ones kinetic chain and weight transfer into the target, the kata Seiryu was practiced; and its oyo (applications).  This essentially summarized all the previous technical points covered over the weekend, but from a more advantaged angle; thus, providing a window for deeper physical understanding. The training of Seiryu was the technical high point of the weekend.


In sum, it really was a great weekend of training and nice times. It was especially heartening to see him lift his technical skills, in several key domains. All the very best Joshua for your remaining time here in Japan. It was great to have you here! Osu, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2017).

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


Over the weekend karateka from Australia visited Oita—to practice Budo Karate with me—for two days. One of the practitioners was Don Walker Sensei whom I met, through the late Carl Marriott Shihan (whom first brought me to Western Australia), several years back.The focus during the six hours of training was ‘Karate as a martial art of self-defence in the real world’. This was achieved by the transmission of the foundational knowledge of Bujutsu Karate from which one can return Karate to its original potent form. While this certainly exists within the broad category of `Karate-Do’, for most karate around the world, it is either not practiced at all or, more commonly, practiced incorrectly.

I will not detail the trainings but will say it was a highly productive time and a great chance to spread Karate-Jutsu to Australia on a higher level. 

Overall, we wish you all the very best for your remaining time here in Japan. Osu, André

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2017).