Thursday, 28 November 2013

Ueki Shuseki Shihan Seminar & Dan Grading

 On Saturday the 16th of November I attended a phenomenal seminar by the chief instructor of the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Ueki Masaaki Shihan (9th Dan). Then, on Sunday (the 17th) there was a dan-shinsa; and tests for JKA shidoin (instructor), and shimpan (judge) qualifications. This event was held in Nogata-shi, Fukuoka-ken.  
Ueki Shuseki Shihan Technical Seminar (An overview): Ueki Shihan’s seminar was very `exam focused’ but, at the same time, targeted critical points of fundamental techniques strongly linking kihon, kumite, and kata. I really loved the training and learned so much! His demonstration of sections from the kata Jutte, Kanku-dai, Bassai-dai, Enpi, and others, was utterly superb; also his amazing use of deai-waza in kumite was wonderful to see first-hand. Many foreign karateka will know Ueki Shuseki-Shihan from Master Nakayama’s classic `Best Karate’ books. In one of the kumite volumes he was profiled along with his tokui-waza; in volume eight he demonstrates Gankaku kata; and in volume 11 he demonstrates Gojushiho-sho kata. When he demonstrated sections of Gojushiho-sho, everyone was in awe: it really was poetry in motion.
Kihon: 1. Ayumibashi (speedily forward then rearward alternately in zenkutsu-dachi). Emphasis was on maintaining perfect shomen, and an erect spine, irrespective of the speed of the two steps; 2. Repeat on the opposite side; 3. As previous, but stepping back with gedan-barai then advancing with jun-zuki; 4. Repeat on the opposite side; 5. Exactly the same again but stepping back with jiyu-kamae then jun-zuki; and  6. Repeat on the opposite side.
Kumite no kihon (Uchikomi): 1/2. Attacking with chudan gyaku-zuki (right then left side); 3/4. Attacking with jodan kizami-zuki (left then right side); 5/6. Against kizami-zuki step back diagonally with jodan age-uke and counter with gyaku-zuki (left side then right side); 7/8 Against chudan gyaku-zuki move diagonally with gedan-barai and counter with chudan gyaku-zuki (left side then right side); 9/10. Deai-waza: Against chudan gyaku-zuki advance diagonally with gyaku gedan-barai and attack with jodan kizami-zuki (left side then right side). Note – it was emphasised that jodan age-uke must have the blocking wrist in line with the middle of the forehead (as opposed to aligning the blocking elbow with the side of the body).
Jiyu-Kumite: We then put into practice our tai sabaki by engaging in two rounds of jiyu-kumite with random partners.
Kata: During the training Ueki Shihan had us perform Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai and Jion over and over, giving technical points, and emphasising the correct counts, which should correspond with the waza no kankyu (rhythm of the techniques). I.e. – making long counts for slow movements and rapid counts for speedy movements; nevertheless, not making the rhythm of the kata too fast (or too `drawn out' as often seen now in sports karate). After numerous executions of the above three sentei-gata, we then had us perform our tokui-gata for the respective exams we were taking the next day. I worked on Nijushiho with a small group of four or five. Others groups and individuals around the room were practicing Bassai-dai, Jion, Kanku-dai, Hangetsu, and Gojushiho-sho. Ultimately, this was concluded by each individual (or group) going out in front of everyone and performing their respective kata, followed by personal tips from Ueki Shihan. What was perhaps more amazing was that Ueki Shihan gave every examinee tips. His generosity in helping everyone grading was really outstanding. I really benefitted from his corrections.
Conclusion of the Technical Seminar: To conclude the seminar, an explanation was given, followed by the aforementioned demonstration, which was invaluable and awe-inspiring. On the whole, it was clearly shown how JKA kihon, kata and kumite are truly one, and inseparable. This was a great wind down of the three hour seminar—and supportive/methodological “lead-in” to the exams.
It goes without saying that Sunday was completely dedicated to testing. Two courts, tatami areas, were used: the left side was for those taking yondan and godan; and the right side was for those taking licences. JKA karateka from all over Kyushu had come to attend the seminar under Ueki Shuseki-Shihan, and grading, so it was clear that it was going to be a long day.
The JKA Godan examination, which I attempted, involved: (1) Idomokuhyo with both migi and hidari chudan gyaku-zuki, which I only had to perform around five times with each hand; (2) Jiyu-gata.., as already mentioned, I used Nijushiho—a first for me—in a dan exam; (3) `Question and Answer’ session. In my case, this involved explaining the bunkai/oyo (analysis/application) of movements 18-20 from Nijushiho; (4) A shitei-gata randomly called by the examination panel (any Heian or Tekki Shodan). In my case I was asked to perform Heian Yondan; and finally (5) I had to engage in two rounds of continuous jiyu-kumite against other Godan examinees.
To conclude: I’d like to express my deep appreciation of Nakamura Shihan for his fantastic training sessions, which have helped me, and continue to help me, immensely. Domo arigato gozaimashita, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2013).

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).