Monday, 25 November 2013

New self-training regime

I have finally updated my self-training regime, post JKA (Japan Karate Association) dan shinsa, to address my newfound weaknesses—and move forward. In brief, here is a blueprint of my schedule. I hope that it finds you well.

Kata: I am currently  training the following kata: (a) The six shitei-gata (Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan, Heian Godan and Tekki Shodan); (b) The four sentei-gata (Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Empi and Jion); and (c) Two jiyu-gata—Nijushiho and one other randomly self-selected kata each day (based on my intentions/feeling/goals).

Kihon: Essentially my kihon is based on my current kata regime; hence, I outlined my kata training first. For example, the timing of the hands/arms with body shifting, the reservation of the pivot foot etcetera. Presently, this is the bulk of my kihon training; however, I have been topping this off by going through the Japan Karate Association kihon exams… A sort of mock test to push myself to the limit.

Kumite: (i) The bunkai (analysis) of Nijushiho kata, especially pertaining oyo (applications); and (ii)  Uchikomi/Jiyu Kumite training.

Overall, I have some major targets in 2014, which I am now aiming for. Regardless of whether they materialise or not, my aim is to use them to continue pushing forward. All the very best,  André Bertel.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2013).

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Trainee from Spain: Sergio Rivas

Sergio Rivas recently came to Japan to train under me. Sergio is from the Basque Country in Spain, and besides being a very serious karateka—he is a great guy. A really great guy! He even got injured here in training - and pushed himself to keep going...OSU. It was precisely one year ago since he attended my seminars in England, so I was very happy to catch up with him here in Kumamoto; moreover, that he was so keen to train with me again. Despite the long journey from Northern Spain to Aso-shi, we straight away began training. Here is a brief outline of some of the practice he experienced whilst he was here in Japan (please note, this is far from complete—as he also made an trip to Miyazaki):
Sergio outside of my private dojo where I self-train in Aso-shi.

1.      ENBU (Demonstration) and LESSON at Namino Junior High School: I firstly had Sergio assist me for a demo at Namino Chugakko followed by a basic lesson for the students. This included a history section of traditional Japanese karate-do, which was conducted by Ono Sensei, the schools taiku no sensei (Physical Education teacher). In the demonstration we engaged in yakusoku-kumite, and performed kata. Sergio performed Heian Shodan and Heian Yondan, and I executed Tekki Shodan, and Nijushiho. Following Heian Yondan we demonstrated beginner level bunkai (analysis) of the movements. Essentially, this was accentuate that kata are not just patterns of movements but are intrinsically linked to kihon, kumite and goshin-jutsu (self-defence) in general.
After the demonstration and practice at Namino. The children loved the lesson and meeting a budoka from Spain.  
The LESSON at Namino Junior High School… (a) Karate-Do etiquette and formalities were practiced: I primarily taught the students how to do seiza and do rei correctly. Special emphasis was on posture, attitude and having pride their culture (this was a point stressed by the school—and very pleasing to emphasise via the lesson); (b) Karate-Do techniques we taught: 1. Shizentai (Hachinoji-dachi); 2. How to make a fist (seiken); 3. heiko-zuki (for hiki-te practice); and 4. Karate taiso needed for developing the base strength and flexibility required to properly/effectively execute karate-do waza; and (c) The philosophy emphasised for the students: Funakoshi Gichin Shihan’s “Karate-do ni sente nashi”; that is, “There is no first attack in karate-do”… Overall, the demonstration and lesson was a great success.

2.      KATA while in Kumamoto: I re-taught Sergio Gojushiho-sho and simultaneously the complete oyo (applications) for all of the movements in the kata. At the Takahiro Dojo, under Nakamura Shihan, we also went over all five Heian and Tekki Shodan numerous times along with a number of sentei-gata, and jiyu-gata. Sergio worked on Bassai-dai, Empi, Jion and Jitte; while I did Nijushiho and Bassai Sho.

3.      KUMITE: The prime emphasis was on the application of kata techniques and principles in self-defence; namely, oyo-jutsu and oyo-kumite. This included an analysis of karada no buki (the weapons of the body) and generic atemi (vital points), which, needless to say, optimise ones capacity in the messy reality of a violent/unexpected attack.  At the Takuhiro Dojo we also practiced Gohon Kumite (Five step sparring); Kihon ippon kumite (Basic one-step sparring); and Jiyu ippon Kumite (Free one-step sparring). Sergio really enjoyed the wonderful training under Nakamura Shihan.
 Sightseeing and relaxing in Kumamoto: Out and about, we also visited the grave of the legendary Musashi Miyamoto--which is not far away from our home, Kumamoto-jo (Kumamoto Castle), Aso Jinja (Shrine), and numerous other places. Sergio also enjoyed the volcanic nature of Aso-shi, onsen (hot springs) and a vast array of delicious Japanese cuisine. Still, this didn’t stop us from practice when chilling out...i.e. – the occasional kata outside the backpackers, kata applications, kihon and so forth.
Sergio at the park where the legendary Musashi Miyamoto rests.
On the whole, we had a wonderful time with Sergio and greatly enjoyed his company both in and out of the dojo. Accordingly, I would like to use this opportunity to wish him all the best in his karate-do endeavours. Moreover, We really look forward to seeing you again Sergio! Keep talking with your karate. Osu, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2013).

Saturday, 2 November 2013


Contrastingly over the years, I have seen numerous people leave karate because they couldn’t win at competition level, or were champions who were finally defeated and their spirit was broken; likewise, I have seen many people quit because they couldn’t pass a particular kyu or dan test. These people, in my opinion, missed the point of karate-do: the battle with them-selves was lost—as their focus was on “end points” rather than the journey—which I believe defines Karate-Do. My question is “How can one focus on destinations when practicing karate when, in reality, destinations/achievements are just moments in the wider scheme of time? Especially when considering the blatantly obvious point that time keeps moving”… Also, without being pessimistic, what is success/achievement? Notwithstanding, this can’t help one to think of the words of the Greek philosophers… Parmenides immediately comes to mind... In sum, the underlying principle of `DO’ in budo, and other traditional Japanese art forms, is that of “a journey: as opposed to a destination”.
Grading examinations and tournaments: So what about entering competitions, taking kyu and dan exams, qualification tests etcetera? Perhaps one should just train? …There is nothing wrong with tournaments, examinations and the like… Of course, they are wonderful goals! It is great to train towards a gold medal in a competition, or the next rank. In my opinion it is essential to experience these things. Not experiencing competition, and attempting examinations, is nearly as bad as quitting altogether… Why? Because the same things that make people quit karate are the same things that stop them from participating in such events.

EGO & FEAR: Not trying to enter tournaments, or trying for the next rank is often connected with ego and/or fear of failure. Again, this elucidates too much internalised focus on the destination as opposed to the bigger picture. People think “how I will look if so and so beats me in the kumite?” or they are too scared to walk out in front of examiners—to have their technique scrutinised. Being free from our ego turns us into LIBERATED HUMAN BEINGS; moreover, it strengthens us by pushing us “to face and overcome our inherent fears”. This is where competition and kyu/dan examinations really benefit us. But like all things these points should not be taken to the extreme: ideological balance is pivotal.
My personal kotowaza is to “LOSE MAGNIFICENTLY”. Don’t merely seek to win or pass, seek to improve your execution of karate and personal development in general. Seek to perform the best you can, because your best is your best... Don’t worry about `the best of others’, simply appreciate them and focus on what you have to do to improve. My aim in kumite is to always seek an ippon, I always fully commit with my attack and try to express my kihon. When this results in my defeat, so be it. My only loss is when I don’t commit, irrespective of winning or losing a match. By never seeking a wazari one can do their very best, then, if the wazari is achieved, it still has meaning. This is merely an example of losing magnificently, and of course it transcends the realms of shobu ippon.
In conclusion, always focus on the here and now in your karate-do training, and plan for the future. When you are successful in your endeavours, great… Well done… But don’t immerse yourself in glory. It’s time to move on… If you fail, ascertain why, and train hard to correct these flaws. Even if you never reach the goals you have set yourself, I assure you that, by following this way, you WILL maximise yourself. More than this, your karate training will then also function as a tangible resource to strengthen your spirit, self-confidence, courage, determination and self-efficacy. Remember, “The journey is what matters, not the destinations (plural)”. Overall, the destinations along the path are merely tools that contribute towards the greater whole: this, to me, is Karate-Do.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).