Friday, 29 June 2007

The Optimum Karate Physique

The Optimum Karate Physique

Is there an optimal physique for karate?

I've always tried to develop a 'karate body', that is a physique which is optimal, for my execution of karate techniques (both performance and application). So much so that I foolishly crushed a disk in my spine, at 12 years old, trying to strengthen my body with heavy weights. This injury was the worst in my karate career, and still limits my motion. Thankfully it has not limited my karate, except in regards to some warm up/stretching exercises (i.e. - forward bending can put me out for weeks, so I simply avoid it, and spend more time on other stretches). Strangely enough, this has never hindered my karate, except when instructors have 'forced me' to do bending stretches.

I believe the best 'muscles' for karate are ones that are both flexible (please refer to my junansei/softness article) whilst allowing maximum explosive power. Of particular interest, and synonomous with these two points, is 'freedom of motion' (i.e - not getting 'muscle bound'). Via years of experimentation I found that with around 10% bodly fat, and the weighing in at about 70kg, has been optimal for me (Please note: I'm only 175cm tall). I realise that my body is 'poorly-sculpted' next to a body builder, and many other athletes. But keep in mind that my physique is merely the result of karate training (with no focus on 'looking' cut). Going by these points, I think it is fair to say that karate is quite effective, for toning up the body, without looking 'freakish' (with the exception of my knuckles, according to my wife Mizu). I have also noted that over the years, my students have also toned up nicely, with bellies shrinking and more cut muscles appearing.

Functionally looking at karate, and in particular, its focus on ikken-hissatsu (the single 'finishing' blow), we must maximise our impact power, but balance this accordingly with speed. Hitting hard but slow is limited combatively, particularly when one is specialising in 'percussive blows'. And being super fast, with insuffient impact power, is completely useless for traditional karateka (typical of many karate exponents, with too much focus, on the sporting aspect of the art).

This balance must be decided by each karateka, via serious training, and self-evaluation. Sorry if this is not PC, but generally speaking, ''fat people'' don't make good karateka, and at best, seriously limit their technical ability. To me, keeping in shape is fundamental for budoka (unless you are doing Sumo), as it results from training (that is 'really training'). People with two or more years of regular dojo practice, who are fat, simply aren't training with enough intensity. Regardless of dan rank, we must then question such peoples karate. In the picture above (tensing up to show some muscle definition), I am slightly overweight, sitting at around 72kg (last Winter).



So what exercises do I recommend to develop a 'karate physique'? Firstly, I no longer use weights. One reason is because I don't have access to any, here in Japan, and secondly, I pretty much stopped using weights several years ago, as I found greater success using my own body weight (largely due to my old injury). I have been using plyometrics for over a decade (within my own karate training), and found that these, coordinated with wind sprints, have greatly increased my explosive power. Some of my favourites exercises include: (a) various box jumps with karate techniques; (b) basic plyometric push ups; (c) ankle springs; (d) squat jumps; (e) continous 'machine gun' punching in kiba dachi (a favourite of Asai Sensei). (f) Stance thrusts from seiza (direct and spining).

More important than these exercises is specificity, that is, to supplement your dojo training with regular home practice of kihon. In particular focus on what your instructor is correcting in the dojo. For example if trying to improve your mae geri, try three sets of 20-40 repetitions with each leg. Make sure you can see yourself, to ensure you are not grooving a bad habit into your technique. Such training is karate specific and therefore develops a physique


optimal for karate. You can supplement this by kicking over a chair to practice a proper 'rear-chamber' and 'hiki-ashi' etc. Also look at sitting in basic stances during your daily activities, for example, I often sit in kiba dachi when typing on my laptop, and talking on the telephone. Before you know it, sometimes you will have found yourself sitting in a low kiba dachi, for three minutes or longer, with your legs burning. Training in this way makes great use of your time, and if done regularly, will really improve your karate.

Obviously diet also plays an important role in training, however I won't cover this here, as I am not qualified to comment (and have a very unorthodox system). In saying that, I'm the first to admit that I eat 'what I want to eat', and reduce my food intake when I detect weight gain. This usually comes as a result of not training hard enough (often influenced by the weather or my hectic teaching schedule - both of which are BS excuses). Personally, as a 100% karate-man, I would prefer to eat what I like, and train more with more vigor, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Summary:
The optimal karate physique is a body which maximises your potential, in the execution of karate techniques. The byproduct of this is having a balanced body, which is relatively cut, and both supple, and strong. Karate is defined by the frequency, intensity and quality of ones training, and the result of these things should be the ability to execute a 'single finishing blow' and the 'optimum karate physique'. If not, we have to question our training methods. Karate instructors must remember that ''Teaching is not training.'' Asai Sensei constantly emphasised that ''Instructors must train harder than their students if they are to teach properly''. Does your instructor train harder than you? If not, one has to question whether attending their classes is worthwhile.
© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Media

Some karate media
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Here are some internet media links in case you haven't seen them! The first is a demonstration with Asai Sensei I uploaded on Youtube several months ago. Again I am sorry about the terrible quality! I have heaps of other footage I want to upload, but as you can see by this clip, I've had plenty of trouble transferring it from video tape. The other main problem has been the PAL to NTSC transfer, not to mention the worn out (poor quality) state of my recordings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYYQauucQA8

Here is a newspaper article featured on the JKS (Japan Karate Shotorenmei) Tokyo website. http://www.jks.jp/japanese/2004news_paper.html


Asai Sensei video clip from Karate Pictures. http://sora.fuyu.gs/jks1/asaisensei.mp4

John Cheetham's Editorial for Shotokan Karate Magazine's 80th Issue (commemorating 20 years of this excellent publication). I was greatly honoured as it featured my 2003 New Zealand interview with Asai Sensei. Check out the Editorial comments! http://www.shotokanmag.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=45&Itemid=41

My final competition results, as a serious tournament competitor, the 2005 K.A.N.Z (Karate Association New Zealand) National All-Styles Karate-Do Championships. Would you believe, I competed after having serious food poisoning! I literally lost several kilograms 24 hours before the championships! That was an experience I will never forget, moreso than winning any plastic trophies or medals... http://www.kanz.org.nz/index_2005_nationals.html










In August of 2000 I was asked to give a karate demonstration for the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark. I had my student Lyall Stone assist me. This picture was taken after the lunch and discussions with the Prime Minsister and her security staff. You don't get much better media than that!
© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Kampai


We've been back in Japan for three months today, so kampai (cheers/salute) everyone!

June has been a month of important dates. We had our six month Wedding Anniversary (yes, aren't my knuckles pretty) on the 3rd, Asai Sensei's birthday (memorial training) was on the 7th, Mizuho turned 31 on the 12th, and of course being here for exactly three months today (the 26th). Please note: I started writing this on Sunday, due to my busy schedule, hence the incorrect log date.

For all you kiwi's in winter, here's todays weather, not rubbing it in! Yes a lovely 31℃. My advice is that you train harder to keep warm and avoid that winter layer! Currently my warm up is virtually non-existant, however I'm dripping with sweat before it ends. (PS - you poor buggers).

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6月26日(火)
曇後晴
最高気温(℃)[前日差]31

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''Fetch your bottle with your hiki-te, open it with shuto, and raise it with jodan age uke!''
















© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Friday, 22 June 2007

Junansei: The Essence of Asai Karate


















JUNANSEI:




The Essence of Asai Karate



Based on my study under Asai Tetsuhiko, I believe that the highest level of karate skill and impact power is found in junansei (softness). Prior to accessing private trainings with Asai Sensei, my prime focus was foremostly to make maximum power. Nowadays, my number one aim is to always be in a state of relaxation, to achieve the 'softness', Asai Sensei was always referring to. This challenge may seem simple, but in reality it is physically ongoing and very demanding. The softer you can make your waza, a deeper level of junansei is revealed, and the deeper you go, the more 'impact power' you can generate (or better put, transfer).

My training in karate-do, particularly the extensive private lessons with Asai Sensei, have snow balled for me, enabling me to have a greater appreciation of the internal arts, such as Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido etc. It has also helped me to see, that like karate, many of the instructors, teaching these arts, are merely demonstrating the external forms. This is the trend when too much focus is on martial 'sports', the practitioner is an amatuer (or poorly trained), or simply, they are a show-off.

The same power in the internal arts, when they are performed with expertise, must be applied in ones karate, if the karateka wishes to achieve a medium to high level of skill. This is the essence of Asai karate.

Always remember Asai's Sensei's constant advice! ''Snap''; ''Relax''; ''Natural''; ''Step by step!''

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How I approach junansei in my own training

All the above points are fine and dandy in theory, therefore I will now translate how this permeates through my own physical karate training. Essentially this is what Asai Sensei taught me the over the years, and/or my perception, of what he taught me. In saying that, Sensei often changed what he taught, but this was usually minor technical (surface level) tweaks, such as doing a nobashi zuki instead of a gedan barai etc. The strict adherence to maintaining a soft body was never compromised.

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Note: In this article I will use my approach to kata training, as Asai Sensei introduced so many new kata. I'd like expand here by saying, one of the main purposes (if not, the very reason), for his introduction, and development of these new kata, was simply to open students' minds to junansei (going from hardness to complete softness). It was his belief that he needed to teach junansei via a clean canvas. Of course junansei does not only apply to kata, but is universal in karate. So by doing the Asai kata in a typical JKA Shotokan manner actually defeats the purpose of doing them. I have sadly noticed this to be the trend of most people.


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1.0 My priority in kata keiko is junansei: I foremostly aim to perform, and apply kata, in a fluid manner as opposed to being rigid. Being devoid of muscular tension results in large scale body actions (wind up using more joints), permits maximum transfer of energy, and allows the posture to remain unbroken. Therefore, as opposed to shiai/competition karate kata, I prioritise smoothness and fluidity over speed and power. My priority checklist in self-monitoring my kata is as follows: (a) Precision of kihon-waza (stance, posture, movement/transitions, and techniques in general). (b) Relaxation/Lightness (smooth fluid karate movements maintaining a perfectly 'controlled' center of gravity). High emphasis on power coming from the lower abdomen, pelvis, and back bone after being initiated from the floor/ground via the legs. (c) Snap as opposed to force/muscle drive (this idea comes from the 'muchiken' which I will upload an article on very soon). (d) Kime (decisiveness, that is achieving 100% stillness; techniques should be frozen like a statue). I would like to add here that this is 'my own way'. Asai Sensei's way was continuous movement not unlike his approach to Nijushiho. (e) Bunkai/Oyo-jutsu (techniques must be fully understood and 'physically investigated' constantly). In my view, I believe that kata application is time wasted unless it trains 'street effective' techniques and tactics. Junansei allows this to universally be possible, whereas stiff 'robotic Shotokan' doesn't. Typically bunkai-jutsu practised here in Japan, by most dojo, is pointless. I refer to this as 'Best Karate Oyo'.

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1.1 My thoughts on the development of kata (based on discussions with Asai Sensei). According to Sensei ''Junansei was orthodox when karate was 100% a martial art'': Before I get slammed by the karate historians, politicians and everyone else who thinks they own karate, I would like to say here that I am just a guy who 'just trains', and has listened to what his teacher lectured. These points are only based on what Asai Sensei told me, and whether true or false, my ideas presented here are from his comments. Regardless, these ideas for me simply further justify my intense focus on junansei, and hopefully will help you to understand Asai Sensei's approach to kata (and karate in general). More than everything I have said here, what matters most of all is that you keep training, and keep improving! Junansei is the key to surpass your physical power once you hit that inevitable strength peak. Even more importantly, junansei means that you can keep getting better at karate as you age. Like Asai Sensei, you can still be at your peak in your early 70's! So here we go! My thoughts on the development of kata: (a) Firstly, kata is the base catalogue of all karate-waza and were/are the means of 'handing down the art from teacher to student. (b) Kata were apparently based upon the actual combat experience of warriors in China then later Okinawa. It is believed that what was proven ineffective was discarded. (c) Karate 'styles' were only established early last century, and were essentially defined by their respective kihon (which were the techniques found in the kata they practiced, and no doubt the sharing of knowledge). This kihon was altered by various instructors based on their own personal preferences and discoveries. In saying that, perhaps the minor technical differences/variations were created to merely 'define styles'? (d) In relation to points 'a' to 'c', Kata has evolved incorrectly since the development of kata competition. However, this was probably born prior to this time, by past generations of karate exponents, trying to 'show off' their power or athletic prowess. (e) The ultimate level of human action is when it is effortless, or appears effortless. When refined motor skills are made autonomous, and no superfluous action, or unnecesary power is used, it establishes true mastery. Kata is no exception to this rule, therefore the highest level of karate is the perfection of junansei (this was the ultimate biomechanical aim in bushido, as it permitted warriors to go physically beyond their seemingly natural limits). Asai Sensei often told me that karate was much 'softer' prior to the war, as it was trained as pure bujutsu (martial art). After the war he claimed that it was turned into physical education, and as a means to rebuild pride/spirit in a conquered and American occupied Japan. The ultimate demise of karate as a 'martial art' was the introduction of competition, as exhibiting more power than anyone else, espectially in the performace of kata, resulted in wins. Over time, karateka became more and more stiff, as that was what was percieved as 'good karate'. Many years passed, and now, the kata performed by most karateka is merely are stiff looking dance. Asai Sensei literally referred to it as ''Constipated style karate''.

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1.2 Junansei in karate requires a supple body. I won't address the subject of flexibility in this article, but rather cover it in a future one, in a more indepth way, includilng some special exercises. I have to say Asai sensei's body was like a yoga master, so much so that Koichi Hirota (of the Hirota Dogi Company in Tokyo) once said to me in his office, ''Your teachers body is made of rubber''. He said this after attending a course in Tokyo. Relating this back to kata, the flexibility of the body allows the karateka to make a larger chamber (or wind up) to permit a greater use of snap/joint power. This is again directly related to the concept derived from the muchiken. Asai Sensei's constant reference to the Seven Jointed Whip, like everything else, comes from the foundation of junansei, but more obviously from this principle.
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This stiffness of movement restricts the karateka's release of power and therefore counterproductive (more input and less output). Long-term it is also unhealthy, as it is not natural, and jars the bones and joints. On the contrary, junansei allows the karateka to apply natural energy, thus impacting harder than with their limited muscle power. It also permits smooth, fluid and more rapid techniques, not to mention the ability to adapt accordingly to unpredictable scenarios. Again, in Asai Sensei's own words ''Stiff karate is like fighting against yourself.''


In conclusion I'd like to say that regardless of what I am working on, that junansei is my physical priority. Others, who wish to follow Asai Sensei's karate way, must not Shotokanize it, but rather aim to make their Shotokan soft. If you can make a 'committed physical effort' to erradicating muscular tension in your karate, you have found the essence of Asai Karate.





© André Bertel, Japan 2007

My current training routine




My current self-training routine








One of the things I would like to share on this site is my current self-training routine (I will upload them on here every so often). Of course, this often changes, so this 'karate blog' can give some insight into what I am doing, in real time. My self-keiko isn't overly flamboyant, but it does keep me 'training', and allows me to monitor my personal progression. My belief is "Why work out unless you are getting better?" Also, I consider 'self-deception' as the biggest weakness of most karateka, especially in the way they percieve their own technical skill. Based on this philosophy, I developed a strict self-monitoring system. This 'self-check system' is the nucleus of my karate training, as it dictates to me what I must work on (and what I must alter in my regime). In addition to Stamoulis Sensei and Asai Sensei, who both encouraged this approach to karate, this 'system' has been my main instructor. For those wishing to follow Asai Sensei's way of karate, they have no choice but to do this, otherwise they can never get beyond 'standard' JKA technique. Asai Sensei's karate was unlimited as he found his own way, via strict self-reflection, and physically pushing himself to the limit daily.

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my training, for people bothering to read this, is my integration of Shotokan and Asai style karate. This is particularly interesting in regards to some of the drills and kata I practice.

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Here is my current training regime.

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Kihon keiko:

Since arriving back in Japan I have pretty much been focusing on the following techniques. Please note that I have only provided a general overview of techniques and repetitions here, as opposed to my 'personal targets'. I will describe some of these in subsequent posts, in particular, aspects pertaining to Asai style karate.

(1) Chudan gyaku zuki (from stationary zenkutsu dachi, and thrusting up into zenkutsu up from seiza) practising both seiken and nakadaka-ippon ken. (2) Stationary mae keriage from seiza. (3) Jodan tsumasaki geri from stationary zenkutsu (this is a kick with the toe tips, and is a kekomi). (4) All variations of muchiken implementing haito, shuto, shihon nukite and ganken. I train this typically from a stationary fudo-dachi. (5) Asai Sensei's second stationary empi uchi renshu. My typical repetitions are currently 30 each side, but sometimes I will do up to 100 repetitions (that is, 50 each side). In all cases I typically do a warm up set of usually 20 reps.


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For Ido-Kihon I am following a standard Shotokan routine: (1) Sanbon zuki. (2) Sanbon mae geri. (3) Yoko keage kara yoko kekomi with the same leg in zenkutsu dachi. (4) Yoko keage ashi o kaete yoko kekomi (in kiba dachi, changing legs in the typical syllabus fashion). (5) Mae geri kara chudan oi zuki. (6) Jodan mawashi geri kara chudan gyaku zuki. (7) Ushiro geri kara chudan gyaku zuki. (8) Jodan age uke kara chudan gyaku zuki. (9) Jodan age uke kara chudan mae geri sara ni chudan gyaku zuki. (10) Chudan soto ude uke kara yori ashi yoko empi uchi, uraken yokomawashi uchi sara ni chudan gyaku zuki (with the usual stance transitions). (11) Chudan uchi ude uke kara chudan gyaku zuki. (12) Chudan uchi ude uke kara jodan kizami zuki sara ni chudan gyaku zuki. (13) Kaiten shinagara gedan barai kara chudan gyaku zuki. (14) Chudan shuto uke in kokutsu dachi. And (15) Chudan shuto uke kara shihon nukite (with the standard stance transitions). Currently I am doing eight to twenty repetitions of each technique, all with maximum snap. In saying that, I usually only do around 10. Also, I tend to have rest periods. Usually I do equal amounts of slow repetitions to warm up and 'groove' my technique.

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KATA KEIKO:

My current focus has been the Tekki-shodan, Kankudai, Sochin, the five Joko kata, Seiryu, and Hushu. Repetition, and training in general, have currently been dependent on my physical condition, but as a general rule, I will usually practice any given kata at least three times. In saying that, in some sessions I will go through up to 30 kata (i.e. - 10 kata three times each). Other days I will just practise one or two kata five to ten times each. Usually I am more organised in my kata training. I hope to return to a more 'set' and disciplined system soon. My excuse is the Kyushu heat, humidity, the rainy season, the human race not getting to Mars yet etc ...

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KUMITE KEIKO:

Besides free sparring with some of local 'rugged boys' I have mainly been focused on further-refining my practical kata application (bunkai/oyo-jutsu). Over the Japan summer holidays, I'm being paid to teach a number of self-defence courses, so I will include some gems from my latest discoveries.

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Weak points in my training...

The weakest point in my training since being back in Nippon, is not having regular access to a makiwara, heavy bag, focus mitts or impact shield. Before, in New Zealand, 'full-power' impact training was something I experienced on a daily basis, and in my opinion is nothing less than crucial. I will certainly invest in a new makiwara soon!








© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Asai-ryuha Kata

Asai-ryuha Kata

I'm constantly being asked about the many kata that Asai Sensei taught me, making it clear that numerous people are eager to learn them. To me, this is just awesome, as I believe that they are filled with insightful biomechanics absent in the 26 kata (and perhaps better formulated). They also train a vast array of techniques, and effectve fighting applications/tactics, not featured in the standard Shotokan kata. Sadly now, they are also memorials to Sensei himself.

The occassional person (usually someone I don't even know) is rude enough to demand my time and money i.e. - have me film myself performing particular kata, and then posting a dvd/video to them! Obviously I have refused such demands, afterwhich they have typically replied by saying that I have ''no ownership of Asai Sensei's kata'', and ''it's your duty to share Asai Sensei's kata with others''. My answer to these people is threefold. Firstly, ''I have no duty to teach, or deny teaching anyone. That is because the karate I have been taught, is my own.'' Secondly, ''No, I don't have ownership of anyone elses karate, including Asai Sensei's. I am just another karateka''. Thirdly, ''If you are so keen to learn, fly me to your country, accommodate me, and host a seminar''. Sadly, because I am not Japanese, there is always less offers to teach courses globally. But in saying that, when I do take courses, I always teach something that's completely unique. That always includes Asai Sensei's more obscure kata and techniques, depending on what my sponsor requests. From a selfish perspective, I hope that more dojo/organisations from outside of Japan host me in the future.

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I will begin by briefly covering the standard kata of Shotokan-ryu karatedo and their respective categories. These orthodox kata formed the foundation of Asai Sensei's karate, from his training and teaching with the Japan Karate Association (JKA). From this perspective, they are the essential to fully understand Asai Sensei's karate background.

The Standard Shotokan-ryu Karate Kata

26 kata were established by the JKA as 'standard Shotokan'. In recent years, the JKA dropped Jiin kata, rounding the list off to 25. Just as a side note, Jiin was one of Asai Sensei's favourites, and was the base kata for the Junro series (along with Hachimon). Asai Sensei extended the list to 27 standard kata in the early 90's, as he included Hyakuhappo (more commonly know as Superinpei, or in Shotokan circles, Hyakuhachiho). Here are the respective categories.

SHITEI (MANDATORY) KATA

These 10 kata are prerequisite for attaining kyu and dan, and more importantly, to establish (and maintain) a strong base in Shotokan.

The six kihon (fundamental) kata: Heian-shodan, Heian-nidan, Heian-sandan, Heian-yondan, Heian-godan, and Tekki-shodan.

The four sentei (assigned) kata: Jion, Kankudai, Enpi, and Bassaidai

JIYU (FREE) KATA

The jiyu kata are optional as tokui (favourite/specialised) kata for those attemping the Nidan-shinsa and above. They are also required if someone gets to the final round of competition. None of them are 'compulsory', however, it is the norm for karate experts to have between one and three tokui kata, each of which they can perform at a very high level.

The jiyu kata: Hangetsu, Jitte, Gankaku, Tekki-nidan, Tekki-sandan, Kankusho, Bassaisho, Chinte, Meikyo, Sochin, Nijushiho, Gojushihosho, Gojushihodai, Wankan, Unsu, Jiin, (and Hyakuhappo).



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The Asai style kata that I was exposed to...

I know 62 bujutsu (martial art) kata, generally referred to as Asai style kata. Admittedly several of these forms were not taught to me initially by Asai Sensei himself, but in those cases I always had Asai Sensei check, and correct me in person, at a later date. Other kata, and applications I was taught, I feel Sensei was 'experimenting'. In these sessions I learned huge amounts about Asai Sensei's karate and 'technical philosophy'. The majority of kata I was taught, were taught to me directly, and in some cases, in later times, Sensei would alter a technique, application, or even an entire section.

Of those 62 kata, three were kurumaisu (wheelchair) kata, and several were kata which Sensei said were not necessary 'for me'. A perfect example of this, was Rantai, which Asai Sensei literally did not want to teach me. When, during an informal chat, I asked ''Why?'' He answered by saying ''You are a world class kicker so you don't need it!'' I couldn't believe it! What a compliment! Anyway, I had him check my Rantai, (which was initially taught to me by my friend, Verena Kamer, of IJKA Switzerland) based on wanting to ''improve my students kicks, and not teach the kata incorrectly''.

So here is the list...

(1) Jo no kata, (2) Gyaku zuki no kata, (3) Kihoken-issei, (4) Kihoken-nisei, (5) Kihoken-sansei, (6) Shinken, (7) Rantai, (8) Kibaken-shodan, (9) Kibaken-nidan, (10) Kibaken-sandan, (11) Kibaken-yondan, (12) Kibaken-godan, (13) Fudoken-dai, (14) Fudoken-sho, (15) Junro-shodan, (16) Junro-nidan, (17) Junro-sandan, (18) Junro-yondan, (19) Junro-godan, (20) Kyakusen-shodan, (21) Kyakusen-nidan, (22) Kyakusen-sandan, (23) Kyakusen-yondan, (24) Kyakusen-godan, (25) Kyakusen-rokudan, (26) Kyakusen-nanadan, (27) Shotei-dai, (28) Shotei-sho, (29) Sensho, (30) Meikyo-nidan, (31) Meikyo-sandan, (32) Nijuhappo, (33) Sanjuhappo, (34) Joko-issei, (35) Joko-nisei, (36) Joko-sansei, (37) Joko-yonsei, (38) Joko-gosei, (39) Juroppo, (40) Tekken-dai, (41) Tekken-sho, (42) Hachimon, (43) Senka, (44) Rakuyo, (45) Kakuyoku-shodan, (46) Kakuyoku-nidan, (47) Kakuyoku-sandan, (48) Seiryu, (49) Kashu, (50) Suishu, (51) Roshu, (52) Hushu, (53) Ryubi, (54) Kaminari-arashi, (55) Yokotawaru-tatsu, (56) Shinobiyoru-hayabusa, (57) Shoto, (58) Hakkaishu, (59) Raiko, (60) Shorin-dai, (61) Nirin-dai, & (62) Sanrin-dai.

Do I regularly train all of these kata? No, I train on kata according to my wants/technical needs, at any given time. Also from the advice Asai Sensei gave me. For example, if I want to extensively work on Sensei's muchiken arm techniques, I spend lots of time on Seiryu. If I am training the integration of elbow strikes with middle and long range techniques, I'll work on Joko-yonsei etc.

Some of the kata, I simply don't practice at all (just walk through from time to time), as they do not interest me, such as the wheelchair kata, the Meikyo series (nidan and sandan), which interestingly enough Asai Sensei dropped (for some reason he came to hate them), the three parts of Kihoken (now taught, as three seperate kata), Rantai, the Kyakusen series, and some others. These kata I have merely kept in my notes and on dvd/video tapes from private lessons. The Asai style kata I particularly enjoy are as follows: the Joko series, the Kakuyoku series, Ryubi, Shotei-dai, Rakuyo, Kaminari-arashi, and Seiryu. Ironically, I find that all of these kata are particularly useful in developing my junansei/softness (please refer to my upcoming article on this topic). Seeing yourself 'technically improve' and having 'fun', I believe, are the two main psychological reinforcers to 'keep training'.

The kata of Asai-ryuha are divided into two distinct groups:

(1) Basic training kata. These kata work on specific foundational techniques (or an important principle). Asai Sensei designed these kata to target his percieved weaknesses in peoples kihon. For example, if the karateka needed to refine 'leg snap' a Kyakusen kata may be recommended; similarly, if the karateka needed to refine their kiba-dachi, the Kibaken series might be the order of the day. An important point I would like to mention here, is that even though the Junro series were made into shitei kata (because originally they were not accepted by branch dojo in Japan), they were primarily designed to be designated to people, according to their technical deficiencies. Likewise for the Joko kata. Therefore, someone may select from any of these basic kata, according to their needs, without feeling the need to follow an 'orderly system'.

(2) Advanced free kata. These kata provide 'extension training' in Asai Sensei's karate, in particular, softness, snap, rotation and reverse rotation, and a repetoire of techniques, not included, in the 27 Shotokan kata. In addition to these points, the advanced free kata were also introduced to give more options, to experienced karateka, in regards to their selection of tokui-kata.

To conclude I would like to answer a question often fired at me. ''Do we need any more kata? Doesn't Shotokan have enough already?'' Well, of course it has! One kata is enough. My personal belief is that everyone must 'routinely train' all 10 shitei kata, and at least one specialised form from the Shotokan jiyu kata list. Above that, they can freely choose whatever interests them! Personally I spent many years religiously studying the 26 Shotokan kata, but now, I just focus on the kata I want/need. This is what the Japanese do! I rarely meet any Japanese high rankers here, who can demonstrate Tekki-sandan, Jiin, Chinte, Wankan, Meikyo and other 'less common' kata. They just stick to the Shitei kata, plus Kankusho (since its inclusion as an official 'representatve' kata by the JKF). On top of this, they have their tokui kata, typically Sochin, Gankaku, Unsu, Gojushihodai or Gojushihosho.

The Asai kata I practice have greatly enhanced my technique and made training far more enjoyable for me. They continue to make my Shotokan technique better (stronger, faster and smoother) and further understand karate as a martial art. Therefore, in my opinion, they are essential in my personal regime. Whether you train Asai Sensei's kata, or not, is completely up to you. The main thing is that you optimise your own skill development and have fun in the process. I wish you the best on your karate journey.








Pictured here is Asai Sensei's 10th Dan Certificate. Asai Sensei truly was a karate genius, and this can no better be illustrated, than by the kata he left us.




© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Asai Sensei's First New Zealand Interview







Here is the second interview I conducted with Asai Sensei in 2003. The first interview that year was in the United States, and the second, during his first visit to New Zealand. The Aotearoa one, featured here, was published in SKM (Shotokan Karate Magazine).








Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai Interview
By Andre Bertel - 5th Dan
(JKS New Zealand Founder & Chief Instructor)
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Anyone who studies under Shuseki Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai learns rapidly why he is widely regarded as one of the greatest living masters of Shotokan karate. In the eyes of his followers - no one in the world can imitate his unbelievable technical skills. In addition to his seemingly endless knowledge, Asai Shihan's wonderful personality is loved all over the world - he is a master in the truest sense. In 2000 Asai Shihan founded the NPO (Non-profit-organisation) Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) to take karate into the new millennium. Here, in this compelling interview, conducted in Christchurch, New Zealand, Shuseki Shihan Asai gives great insight into his unparalleled karate excellence.
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– Sensei what are your main objectives in teaching Karate?
Asai Sensei: In the past not everybody could do karate in the standard way, particularly after the war, there was a closed off mentality, a physical hardness in karate, aiming primarily to build spirit, rather than effective martial arts technique. Many people in Shotokan had, and still have, closed minds thinking this is the only way to do karate, and this permeates throughout all the aspects of their training. Karate has five aspects, firstly martial arts karate - effective in reality, secondly health karate, thirdly exercise karate, fourthly tournament karate, and lastly, karate to make a strong spirit... All these aspects are included in karate, and depending on the person, karate differs. My karate includes all of the above, not only karate for making a strong spirit. Effective karate is balanced, not just hard, this hardness which came after the war, was a way to make people push themselves to their physical, mental, and spiritual limits. This style of training is very basic and limited for martial arts/self-defense. It was also limited, participation-wise. My main objective is to return karate to its original martial arts origins, karate has no limitations. If karate can only be used by strong people, it is highly limited.

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– Sensei, you intensely study over 150 different kata. Many karateka can't comprehend this?
Asai Sensei: Yes, as you know we have many kata, for example if someone's punch is no good, practice this kata, if their hip rotation is no good, do this kata, kicks no good, train this kata... From practicing in this way we can improve martial arts technique. Before, karate was only movement (Asai Sensei demonstrates a few lightning fast strikes in rapid succession from his chair) with not so much meaning. Now there's more meaning, not only basic techniques but the revival of marital arts karate from the distant past. The standard Shotokan kata has emphasis on basic techniques like gedan-barai, mae-geri keage, oi-zuki and so on. These kata are mostly for development of power and speed. They also tire the muscles and breathing. They are good for making spirit and for conditioning the body, this is good in one's youth. However, as one gets older, step-by-step they must change so they can keep improving in karate. More natural movement is essential, in fact the sooner people start this the better, as it results in increased efficiency. The advanced kata I developed are martial arts kata, taking the karateka to the next level; Andre, you are one of my few students who know many of the advanced kata such as Hachimon, Kakuyoku shodan, Kakuyoku nidan and Kakuyoku sandan, Meikyo nidan, Meikyo sandan, Sensho, Shotei, Kashu, Suishu, Roshu, Hushu, Senka, Seiryu and others. As a result you are now executing high level martial arts karate. Others should follow your example. Some are fixated on merely studying the 26 standard Shotokan kata.





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– You have said that competition rules should be more martial arts orientated in the Kumite?
Asai Sensei: Absolutely, we must change from the sports kumite kind which is again very limited! Only straight punching, kicking and takedowns, not good for martial arts, creating bad habits. We must also include circular punches, strikes, and other karate techniques. If the distance is close, why not use a controlled empi-uchi or mawashi-zuki to win? This is martial arts karate, far more diverse than just sports.


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– Sensei, what is your advice for people who want to improve their karate-do?
Asai Sensei: For people reading this, don't be confused, exercise is technique. As you know there are five sections of the body, sometimes everything is coordinated together (as in standard basic Shotokan techniques). Sometimes the joints are used in smaller groups, or individually. When doing karate we must aim to randomly alternate between these applications of our body. This creates unpredictability. The technique must come from anywhere, and from any angle. This takes control. Karateka must aim to control every part of their body as a unit and separately. Relaxed, strong and flexible muscles are the key. This goes beyond style brand-names such as Shotokan, Shito-ryu, Goju-ryu, and even beyond karate. All five parts of the body must be trained in isolation and trained together as a unit. Training snap is very important. If people exercise their bodies in this way, they can follow my karate. Effective technique is effective technique regardless of style. The main point technically in karate is training the human body to move in the most efficient ways, one must remember that the human body, generally speaking, regardless of culture, is limited in possible movement. There are exceptions, for example double jointed people, but for the most part, human movement has certain limitations.

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– When people see your karate they are always amazed. Every year you seem to get better and better?
Asai Sensei: My thinking is wide, many techniques, development of martial arts karate. If the body is tight, one cannot be fast. One must kime properly, go through the target, not stop, this is martial arts. Control is also important, but has its place. 1 have trained this way since the beginning, effective karate. In regards to my karate, everybody doesn't understand that as you get older you can improve by harnessing natural energy. You must learn to use your body like a whip, or nunchaku, utilizing the power of your joints rather than just your muscles, this way you keep improving. People should always think of the string that joins the two bits of stick together to form the nunchaku. In saying that, many older people may wish to train slowly, and this is O.K. too. Only karate in one's youth is no good, karate can and should be lifetime budo.

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– Many people wonder about the relationship between Chinese systems and your karate, I know you always get asked this question around the world?
Asai Sensei: Good point Andre, as you know, it's not Chinese styles, and this should be made known to everyone in the world who reads this interview. I am a Japanese karate teacher and I teach traditional Japanese karate-do. I understand Chinese styles, but my karate is not Chinese. As I said earlier, the human body is the same, it has the same limitations. All martial arts are restricted by human motion. I study and watch the different marital arts, and use the best of all movements and kata. From my experience and daily training I engineer techniques. Karate and the martial arts in general have developed over the years through training, experimentation in combat, and then through further training. It is a cycle and is consistent with history.
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– Even though your training is centered on traditional budo karate, the JKS is producing many champions for example Mr. Tsuchiya, Mr. Inada and Mr. Matsuzake. Can you explain this?
Asai Sensei: Yes, these karateka do martial arts not sports karate as that is their focus. For example, many judges in the JKF (Japan Karate Federation) have said to me, Mr. Tsuchiya is doing martial arts in his kata and they are very happy. For 3 years straight Mr. Tsuchiya has won the JKF National Championships in kata with his Sochin kata, also the Asia Championships and the JKS World Championship. His karate is martial arts karate, not sports karate, just like the other JKS instructors around the world, you included. As you know, sports karate is very easy. If people study karate as an effective martial art, it is easy to do anything. Sports karate, this is only a small part of karate, those who follow my way truly understand this. There are no short cuts in traditional karate. Those who train just for sports have a limited life in karate, and will never possess truly effective combat techniques.


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– Sensei, everyday when I sit with you at breakfast, before various seminars around the world, I know you have already done your two-hours of morning training. Can you give us an insight into your highly rigorous and disciplined routine?
Asai Sensei: Myself I am always thinking, I am a karate student... Every morning I practice; training, training, and more training. I am always thinking and developing my skills. This has continued day after day, everyday of my life. 1 study karate, this is one point, but on a bigger scale I am thinking and training martial arts, some people cannot comprehend this type of thinking. My life is not just karate. Some people are thinking only karate, they say I am a karateka or I do Shotokan, this is easy! It is O.K. but you must think and train as a martial artist, and constantly learn as a student. That is my motivation for my morning training. Training every morning is very hard as it pushes me mentally, physically and spiritually, particularly when feeling tired, but I keep training. Never give up!
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– Sensei, what is your advice for all karateka who really desire to improve themselves and reach high standards in the martial arts?
Asai Sensei: For everyone who reads this I have serious advice, you must have a target in your training! For example self-defense, health, make a strong spirit and so forth. Make a target and make a sincere effort to follow the Dojo Kun in your daily life, in and outside of the dojo. This is important, firstly to have a defined goal or goals, and secondly to make a sincere effort to foster a good heart. If people do this, they are true followers of karate-do and the martial arts.
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– What is the meaning of the Japan Karate Shotokai 'Mon' (the crest/badge) you created?
Asai Sensei: The gold circle represents the sun. Obviously without the sun everything in nature dies. The green wreaths around the outside of the sun represent the international community in much the same way the Olympic wreaths do. The logo is representative of the JKS as an international traditional karate-do organisation which fosters worldwide peace, collaboration and development of martial arts karate.
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– Lastly Sensei, what is the future direction for Budo Karate?
Asai Sensei: For people to be able to do karate throughout their lives and keep improving. Everyone can practice karate-do. In regards to groups around the world, division in karate is not good. It is always because of ego, because everyone wants the top position in national federations and so on. I think if people want the top position in karate they have to train more than the others (laughs). For example if doing a seminar with me the top people should train seven to ten hours per day then perhaps they don't want the top position, they just want to quietly train and improve. This is because they are too busy wanting to be called the chief instructor or something. This is very stupid! Too many people want to be the boss more than they want to train and improve their own karate. My organisation is a martial arts organisation and I am a karate-man not a politician.

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– Thank you so much Sensei for doing this interview! We can't wait to get you back to New Zealand for more Technical Seminars and great times, OSU!
Asai: Sensei: My pleasure Andre, OSU!
© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Odaiba sidetrack


I'm not always training...

Mizuho and I always visit Venus Fort in Odaiba when in Tokyo in March, however it was our first chance to go together! So just to side track a bit, here are some pictures of us chilling out!




Venus Fort, is a Venice-themed shopping mall containing many exclusive fashion boutiques. A major feature of the complex is the curved 'sky painted' ceiling, with the special lights creating a sunset, every thirty minutes or so. There are marble fountains along all the shop fronts, mimicking the classical buildings of Venice. Bottom line, the place is cool! And of course, Odaiba has heaps of other attractions, which I always enjoy in Tokyo. So here are some directions if you ever land in Tokyo! The most common way to reach Odaiba is by taking the Yurikamome Line from Shinbashi, which is just a few stops from Tokyo Station, on the Yamanote Line. But, now you can get there with transferring directly from Shinjuku by taking the newer Rinkai Line. For those with cars, there is the Rainbow Bridge which connects to the main part of Tokyo.
OK,OK I am getting the karate jitters, it must be time to get back into the dojo!
© André Bertel, Japan 2007

2003 Junro kata article


Here is another article I originally wrote in 2003. This article was later (in 2005) slightly altered, and featured, in both English and Russian, on the internet. This was not long after Asai Sensei standardised the Junro kata (because between 1997 and 2003, he typically changed shodan and nidan perhaps half a dozen times!) The standardisation occured at the beginning of 2002 and manuals (written in Japanese with foot position diagrams) were produced.

I hope it motivates you to 'at least' study the first Junro kata, as I believe is it particularly valuable. And please remember, this value can only be found if we perform the kata with Asai style, as opposed to turning them into standard Shotokan. Happy training!
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The Importance of the Junro Kata
By Andre Bertel (5th Dan IJKA/JKS)

According to my teacher and World Chief Instructor of the Japan Karate Shoto-renmei, Tetsuhiko Asai, "Junro" literally translates as "Step by step". This certainly is appropriate, as you probably well know; it is one of Asai Sensei's favourite sayings in English. Asai Sensei developed the Junro kata as a base for the Koten (ancient/ classical) kata, and to introduce neko-ashi dachi (cat leg stance) and 360 kaiten (turning/ spinning) at an early stage. It is my hope that this basic article will help karateka in the JKS understand the importance of the Junro kata.
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The early introduction of neko-ashi dachi & sanbyaku-rokuju do kaiten
Asai Sensei emphasises that the neko-ashi dachi is an absolutely essential kihon-tachikata (basic stance) and must be practised by karateka no later than the middle kyu ranks. His reasoning is the need to create a powerful "spring" for explosiveness in combat. Elaborating on this, Asai Sensei explains that, when performed correctly, neko-ashi dachi is best classical stance for development of this power. Likewise he advocates that sanbyakurokuju-do kaiten (360 spinning) and gyaku-kaiten (reverse spinning) must be trained as a part of regular kihon-keiko for all ranks. If introduced early on, in ones karate career, the development of balance can be extraordinary, not to mention the increased precision of stances (rapidly landing in correct positions); exact posture (keeping the spine straight for pendulum-like usage); and the nurturing of natural tai-sabaki skills (training more circular strategies, as opposed to linear fighting). Another technique, not mentioned above, featured extensively in the Junro series is the kizami mae geri (lead leg "cutting" front kick) from neko-ashi dachi. This technique is very useful as a defensive measure, is hard for a highly aggressive opponent to read, and further develops kicking snap. Asai Sensei stresses that the kick may be aimed at the throat, chin, nose, solar plexus, testicles or shin of the your opponent, as either a kime-waza (decisive technique) or as a shikake-waza (set up technique).

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The Junro kata are IJKA and JKS shitei kata
In addition to the obvious martial benefits of practising the Junro series it is important to also understand that they are shitei (mandatory) kata for kyu and dan examinations, and also in IJKA/JKS shiai (competitions). From now on, if competing at world level, if a draw occurs in the first round of eliminations, a random Junro kata will be requested by the head judge. This was implemented nationally at this years 2003 All-Japan Championships in Tokyo. Therefore, anyone wishing to compete must now prepare 15-shitei kata (all five Heian, Tekki-shodan, all five Junro, Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Empi and Jion) plus their tokui (favourite/specialised) kata for the final.



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Likewise when attempting kyu shinsa with IJKA and JKS, the following system has been established by Asai Sensei: Gokyu (5th kyu) Junro-shodan; Yonkyu (4th kyu) Junro-nidan; Sankyu (3rd kyu) Junro-sandan; Nikyu (2nd kyu) Junro-yondan; and Ikkyu (1st kyu) Junro-godan. For dan-shinsa (IJKA/JKS 1st, 2nd and 3rd dan exams) Junro kata are requested by the senior examiner.

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The purpose of each Junro kata
Lastly, I will briefly describe Asai Sensei's specific objectives for each of the Junro kata:

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Junro-shodan: Junro-shodan trains hikioshi (push and pull). Essentially this is the fluctuation of ma'ai (distance) via hip and leg control. Control of the support leg is the nucleus of this kata. Gyaku zuki is the core punch as opposed to oi zuki in Heian-shodan.

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Junro-nidan: This kata develops various morote-waza (two-handed techniques). When using both arms for a simultaneous block and punch, two-hand attack or two-handed block, one must maintain perfect posture via correct pelvic alignment.

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Junro-sandan: Sandan trains various basic uchiwaza (striking techniques). Asai Sensei developed this kata to address the neglect of striking techniques by many karateka. Vertical, horizontal, inside, outside, linear, spinning, and reverse spinning strikes are trained, using various fundamental weapons of the body.

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Junro-yondan: Junro-yondan has a large amount of spins forcing the development of refined koshi-kaiten (hip rotation). Only through keeping the hips level can the karateka develop maximum power and speed, whilst maintaining perfect balance.

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Junro-godan: The final Junro kata trains basic unsoku (leg movements) namely the following: Aiyumibashi (bridge step); Kosa-aiyumibashi (cross bridge step); Yori-ashi (slide step); Okuribashi (sending step); and tsugi-ashi (flower cut step).

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Conclusion
Besides the fact that the Junro kata are compulsory for both International Japan Karate Asai-ryuha (IJKA) and JKS exams/competition, I believe they give karateka of the new millennium an edge. From my personal practise of these kata, and teaching them to my kyu and dan grade students, I have found that they greatly increase peoples overall karate ability. As their name suggests, the Junro series is a "step-by-step" introduction to Asai Sensei's karate. They help karateka to isolate specific weaknesses in their technique and remedy them. Asai Sensei's innovative contributions to the art of karate, like the Junro kata, are further refining Shotokan as an effective bujutsu (martial art).

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Flash back to my 2004 Interview with Asai Sensei


Here is one of the many interviews I did with Asai Sensei. Over time I plan to re-publish all of them on here, as I believe they offer so many insights into Sensei's karate-way. I thought I would start with the 2004 Interview, in my home town, Christchurch, New Zealand. Please note, to avoid any confusion, I resigned from JKS in 2006. I started the JKS organisation in New Zealand, and was still national chief instructor at the time of this interview.





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Asai Shuseki-Shihan New Zealand Interview 2004
By André Bertel (JKS New Zealand Founder and Chief Instructor)



Sensei for the record, what are your views on sports karate kata, such as those performed by the WKF competitors. For example using jodan yoko kekomi instead of the traditional yoko keage and so forth?

Many people no longer do kata for martial arts, that is, for effective combat training of technique. People that do sports karate perform kata as a dance or gymnastics, with emphasis on being impressive as opposed to effectiveness. Often they change or alter movements in the kata to make them more aesthetic, like in your yoko kekomi example. Mostly they do their movements so fast they are in completed lacking any real impact. Also they tend to over-kime their techniques. All of these things are counter-productive and if trained, reinforce bad habits when you really need your karate. Sadly, this type of kata is being scored very well in sports karate tournaments, but this is because the judges don't know any better. They only understand Hollywood karate. I look at your kata, and many of the other senior JKS members around the world, and I see martial arts kata. This is real karate.



Thank you very much Sensei, I am greatly honored by your complement. So how do you think what we are doing fares against those who do these "jazzed up" kata?

As I said before I can see that you are doing fighting karate. But sadly, these impression-making routines will always win when you are judged in the sports karate arena as the judges don't understand martial arts karate. Karate can never compete against Olympic gymnastics for its showmanship, nor can any other martial art for that matter, so it is very sad when they water down karate to make it more impressionable, and loose its martial arts aspect. As I have said before, sports karate is not real karate. Perhaps now you can see the ever-growing rift between sports karate and traditional Bushido.




Below: Asai Sensei & Andre Sensei (the interviewer) after morning training. Asai Sensei trains for an two hours each morning staring at 4:30am.





So Sensei do you think that the majority of the karate world has moved away from effective martial arts training?

Absolutely! Look at most Shotokan training, and Goju Ryu, Shito Ryu, Wado Ryu, Kyokushinkai etc. The focus in general practice is more and more on winning competitions their respective organisations attend, as opposed to martial arts practice. Too much time is spent on only training what has become the standard techniques for tournaments, such as seiken gyaku zuki, mae geri keage with josokutei, gedan barai and so forth. That is why the majority of good competitors can't fight in reality, there karate has been very watered down and limited by what is now considered to be "standard".

Sensei, on this topic, can you give an explanation about your extensive use of nakadaka-ippon ken in your kamae and throughout your karate? It is my habit (Laughs). We were talking about this the other night at your house, do you think people really want to know (Laughs)?


Yes Sensei, I would love to see this made public if that is ok?

Ok, advanced karate is not Seiken, although it is essential to train ones seiken throughout ones karate life. It is like training the Heian, Tekki or Junro kata, or practicing gohon and kihon ippon kumite. Everyone knows we have many karada no buki (weapons of the body) which make karate very unique. In fact karate is unsurpassed in their number. Sadly, these are more than often neglected. The sharper weapons of karate, such as nakadaka-ippon ken and tsumasaki are the essence of physical karate technique. They are purely for martial arts karate, the only way of karate that I personally advocate. To me karate is using the more lethal weapons of the body with pin-point accuracy to vital points of the human anatomy. For example shihon nukite delivered to the opponent eye or hiraken to their throat. This is pure karate, not boxing with seiken. I am not a big person and not young anymore, but if I hit anyone on the temple with my nakadaka-ippon ken it will permanently finish them off. Karate is very lethal when trained focusing on such weapons and their real application. This is real karate. Back to your original question, nakadaka-ippon ken is my standard fist formation because it is completely unforgiving. Karate is not a game to me and it isn't if you have to use it in reality. How you train is what you will do under pressure in a serious altercation. If you want martial arts karate technique, you must spend time training the sharp tools, not only the blunt ones.


Sensei, every year you have introduced kata. You have introduced many since my last interview with you. What additional kata are you teaching now?

Actually I can't remember what I said last year so I will tell you all the kata I am teaching at present and want to see preserved, most of which you know. I am teaching kihon-kata including Jo no kata, Gyaku zuki no kata, Kihoken-issei, Kihoken-nisei and Kihoken-sansei (Interviewers note: Kihoken is in fact one kata, however Asai Sensei teaches it in three sections), Shinken, Junro-shodan, Junro-nidan, Junro-sandan, Junro-yondan, Junro-godan, Joko-issei, Joko-nisei, Joko-sansei, Joko-yonsei, Joko-gosei, Kyakusen-shodan, Kyakusen-nidan, Kyakusen-yondan, Kyakusen-godan, Kyakusen-rokudan, Kyakusen-nanadan and Rantai. Wheel chair kata include Shorin-dai, Shorin-sho, Nirin-dai, Nirin-sho, Sanrin-dai, Sanrin-sho, Yonrin-dai, Yonrin-sho, Gorin-dai and Gorin-sho. I have only introduced half of the wheelchair kata so far. Advanced kata include Meikyo-nidan, Meikyo-sandan, Hachimon, Senka, Rakuyo, Sensho, Shotei-dai, Shotei-sho, Kakyoku-shodan, Kakuyoku-nidan, Kakuyoku-sandan, Seiryu, Roshu, Kashu, Suishu, Hushu, Raiko. There are many others also, I think around 150 in total. I have never counted the kata as the number is insignificant. Your kata is Kaminari-arashi, Shotei-dai & the three Kakuyoku, very nice, you have made them your own through hard training and study. Before only Unsu and standard 27 Shotokan kata (laughs).


Sensei, you mention 27th standard Shotokan kata, is the 27th kata Hyakuhachiho or Taikyoku shodan?

The 27th kata of Shotokan-ryu is Hyakuhappo, which is also known as Hyakuhachiho in the various Shotokan groups or Superinpei in Okinawan karate-do. The three Taikyoku kata were created by Mr. Funakoshi's son, Funakoshi Gigo and are unnecessary training. Perhaps they were useful in the public introduction of basic kata? I am not sure, but they are not needed and only serve as basic physical education training. Doing kata for the sake of doing kata is time wasted. Each kata must help ones fighting skills to improve. The Heian kata are enough without the Taikyoku kata. The other basic kata we have, all have special points, developing various aspects of your martial arts arsenal. Taikyoku are merely simplified versions of Heian, therefore they are covered by the Heian kata and not needed.


Sensei what is the most important point you stress in kumite training?
Kumite training must involve no friendship. There is no friendship in fighting someone, so if you want to learn karate as true bujutsu (martial arts) you must train with a serious spirit, right from the onset of your training. For example, when doing yakusoku-kumite, the attacker must aim to hit the defender. They must attack from the correct ma’ai, not too far away, and not too close. This is the most basic point in kumite training, if people do not follow this precisely, they will be completely wasting their practise time. Obviously one must use commonsense when training with someone much less experienced, or physically weaker, but at a high-level, there is no excuse if you cannot handle someone stronger. When defending and counterattacking you must not be afraid, you must foster a spirit of `no fear’. Enter into range without pre-conceived thought, this was my way when I used to compete. I didn’t care, I just reacted. This is essential and needs to be fostered in all karateka. This why I am always teaching that running away is more dangerous, go inside. Everything is step-by-step, but for instructors, there is a responsibility to be strong both physically and mentally. Fortunately most are strong, but some are using age, or high rank, as an excuse, and this is not acceptable. Higher level karateka must rely on superior technique, regardless of age, to overcome strength, size and youthfulness. This is karate, and this is the purpose of all technical skill. Instructors must self-train everyday!


Sensei, can you further explain the origin of your Muchiken (Whip Fist)?
Muchiken came from my study of various martial arts weapons, namely the Chinese seven jointed whip, the three sectional staff, the nunchaku, and others. Basically I discovered, even though I am getting older, that I could increase my speed and power if I utilised a whipping action in my waza. This was something I was doing for many years before, but later on, I began to innovate more effective training methods. This allowed me to further improve my speed and power, whilst the others, even younger instructors at JKA, began to slow down considerably. Mr. Nakayama was very pleased with my innovations, and was the only one who really knew what I was doing. I think everyone else thought I was crazy like you André (laughs). By training in muchiken you can apply all the weapons of the body freely and with great effectiveness. Many karateka neglect such weapons as seiryuto, kakuto, kumade, keito, washide, and so forth. These weapons, and many others, are all standard karate and must be developed.


You always refer to `softness’ when you discuss your technique, can you expand on softness for the benefit the readers?




Left: Asai Shihan & André Sensei during a class warm up. Incredibly Asai Shihan easily performs the full-splits at 69 years of age - without any warm up! The exercise shown here involves switching sides, while in the splits, by rapidly swinging the legs around. One of Asai Shihan’s favourites.

Natural and relaxed karate is the key to lifelong karate. I always tell everyone to be natural-natural-natural, but most people do not listen! Or they listen, but do not change their way. So then I return to take another seminar a year or two later, and I say, be natural-natural-natural again. If people are natural, then they can become soft, and then they can transfer their power smoothly. This will result in more effective karate. In regards to becoming soft, I recommend stretching everyday of your life, not just your upper legs and hips, but your ankles, arms, shoulders, and neck. Everything! Also train exercises and kata to address your weaknesses. For example, your ashiwaza is no good, and you want to develop leg snap, train Rantai or Kyakusen. If you want shoulder and elbow snap, train Shinken and Seiryu. For overall softness and kokyu (breathing) train all three parts of Kihoken daily. Once you feel you have peaked, and want to become softer, practise holding your breath when training softness exercises. When your breath is held, your muscles will naturally become more tense, so if you can train to be soft when your breath is held, you will increase your softness when breathing normally. This is a basic method I have personally used for years, and it is extremely effective for becoming soft.

Sensei, in contrary to your soft body, and use of your joints for power, the weapons of your body are like steel. This seems like a contradiction for most people who don’t know your way of karate.
Makiwara is the base conditioning practise in karate. Imagine a sharp piece of steel attached to a rope. This is my karate. The body is soft, the weapon is hard. (At this point Asai Sensei whacks his shin bone solidly with his knuckles and it sounds like wood. He then thumps his shihon nukite into the lobby table with force that would most certainly severely break my fingers). André, as you know I train on the makiwara every morning. When I am here in New Zealand, and in other countries, I bring my pocket makiwara. Very convenient!

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Interviewers note: After this interview at dinner, Asai Shihan told me his standard daily makiwara routine. 300 gyaku zuki, 100 uraken yokomawashi uchi, 100 shuto sotomawashi uchi, 100 shuto uchimawashi uchi, 100 teisho yokomawashi uchi, 100 haito sotomawashi uchi and 100 ganken uchi. He also said he often, but not every day uses a very heavy sand bag for the following: The conditioning of his elbows (hiji), the forearms (naiwan, haiwan & gaiwan), the shins (sune), the knees (hiza), the shoulders (he refers to as `kataken’) and the various weapons on the feet. Asai Shihan kindly gave me permission, to add this into this interview, so people can follow his example in their own daily training routine. It is also worth noting that Asai Shihan does not take his time when he hits the makiwara, he hits it fast and continuously.
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Sensei what’s your opinion of kyusho-jutsu (pressure point techniques)? I know you practise them, but where do they stand in relation to basic Shotokan karate?
I have many old documents and study kyusho-jutsu very closely, this is high class karate. However, it is much more important to develop techniques, which can finish your opponent, regardless of hitting a vital point or not. Kyusho-jutsu is secondary to this, and simply gives the edge. If you miss the point, your blow must still be devastating, if you hit, it is better still. Kyusho-jutsu also greatly depends on the human bio-rhythm. Depending on the time, the more dangerous blows, if executed lightly, can be fatal, or merely lead to unconsciousness. Sometimes people die mysteriously from striking vital points at the wrong time. It is important to remember that too much focus on kyusho is pointless if you have not developed strong, fast, and spontaneous kihon.








Left: Asai Shihan superbly demonstrates the kata Joko-nisei for the interviewer during the infamous morning training. According to Asai Shihan, the five Joko kata build up from Junro series and develop greater precision (and junansei/softness) in ones karate.

For those who have not attended the advanced seminars can you explain kiho-yuragiso for the readers?
Kiho-yuragiso (way of breathing and vibration of the body) is like seaweed floating in the ocean. The purpose of this exercise is to soften the body combined with breathing of the upper, middle and lower lungs. I often practise this in my office. This is a very good method for developing the flexibility of your body, which is also related to breathing, as I said before. I don’t think this exercise is so interesting for younger karateka, however it can greatly benefit their snapping techniques. Practise of kiho-yuragiso combined with all three parts of Kihoken kata will offer complete kokyu (breathing) training for karateka. So far, most people only know of Kihoken-issei, however, I hope more will request to learn Kihoken-nisei and Kihoken-sansei. Young people can do these with snap and low tachikata. Older people can perform them more like Taikyoku-ken and in a higher stance. Kihoken actually has very effective applications for fighting, and it trains the correct state of muscles when under stress, for optimum speed and power. In regards to explaining kiho-yuragiso on here precisely, it is rather difficult! André, I am really pleased that you are seriously practising everything I teach you.



Thank you very much Sensei, and thank you for another fantastic interview. I look forward to being back in Japan in 2005 for training.

Excellent André, make sure you attend another technical seminar, and if you can, enter the JKS All-Japan Championships as I am sure you can do very well. I look forward to coming back to New Zealand again next year! Keep training hard, you are an excellent technical example for all of the JKS members in New Zealand. A focus on doing karate rather than talking karate is what makes me very pleased.
© André Bertel, Japan 2007

I'm a wazari down!




Mizuho and I have been living back here in Japan since March the 26th! It is so hard to believe that in under a week, we have been back here for three whole months! Therefore it is crunch time... Finally the blog was born yesterday (yes I know, rather dramatic commentary, but just imagine the pain!) It was 'creatively' named, Andre Bertel's Karate-DO because that sounds original to me. I am very sorry if you just spat out your coffee, or other tasty beveridge all over your expensive computer screen. I'm definitely a wazari down in regards to being so late in starting, but I've been consistenly writing into my training journal. My aim now is to transfer some of my more interesting training notes onto this site, in an attempt to 'catch up', and score that decisive ippon. This will most certainly have to start with my training under Yoshimi Abe Sensei at his Kokukan Dojo - JKF Shotokan Karate (pictured above).
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2007 Training with Abe Sensei
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I initially met and trained with Abe Sensei last year after literally stumbling across his dojo in lovely Oita-Shi. What a great find it was! Yoshimi Abe Sensei, unlike most instructors now in Japan, is nothing less than an expert on the subject of kata bunkai-jutsu (the technical analysis of kata), and is completely non-political. He has balanced view of the sporting aspect of karate, also being a top class JKF (Japan Karatedo Federation) shimpan/referee. His full-time dojo, the Kokukan, was left open for me in the day, so I could self-train for as long as I wanted. On three days I trained for several hours on my kata utilising the matts and mirrors. While I was self-training, Abe Sensei kindly dropped in several times to coach me (as his office is attached to the dojo). I also participated in two general classes. On this visit (early April), I could only train once, but after class I was once again given ample oyo-jutsu techniques. This time the focus was on the JKF shitei versions of 'Kankudai' and 'Enpi'. Of particular note was the take down in Kankudai, which resembles an escape and uraken tatemawashi uchi (vertical roundhouse strike with the back fist). After the typical Japanese endurance session of ido-kihon (30-50 repetitions of all the everything, including all keriwaza at chudan, gedan and jodan), followed by all of the Heian kata, Tekki-shodan, Jion, Kankudai Kankusho and Enpi, Abe sensei had me further refine my accuracy in making sure both thumbs are in the middle of the opponents back hand. He also emphasized getting 'ones back to face their opponents back' for 'leverage power'. These two points combined ensure a devasting technique, regardless of the enemies size, and strength. This kata application was repeated multiple times (and not easy as everyone was dripping with sweat and hard to grab). I will not mention the 'kata garuma' application of Enpi, but rather the JKF's latest update (minor variation) on this section for "mandatory performance". Essentially the gedan barai is now executed with the back leg thusting you forward for yori-ashi. The front foot moves in a straight line and you form hidari kokutsu-dachi. You repeat this foot work again for the double grab, but this time with the front foot moving out into migi ashi mae fudo-dachi. Well, I guess you are now saying to yourself ''So what? We do it pretty much that way already! So why change?'' My answer is that we should be flexible in our physical training, just like Asai Sensei, that is, have as many technical variations as possible, then choose what best suits us. All too many times I have sworn by a fundamental principle then years later found a 'better way'. Change for changes sake is not productive, but alternatives and 'improved models' can only help to better our karate performance, and application. We must always remember that bujutsu (martial arts) must optimize the individuals skills, combatively speaking. Arigato gozaimasu Abe Sensei for your kindness, karate wisdom and excellent tuition.
© André Bertel, Japan 2007