Wednesday, 29 January 2014

We can always adapt karate-do training according to our condition

Last week I was diagnosed with influenza.

Anyway, to keep my body moving (and practicing a little) whilst unwell and resting at home, I used the chance to go through small sections of kata. For example, movements 1-3 of Bassai Dai; various sections of Kanku Dai—especially the last quarter; gedan barai kara age-zuki in Empi; and the gedan-barai doji ni jodan uchi-uke (followed by both kagi-zuki and sokumen jodan morote-uke) in Jion.

Clearly, nothing can replace actual training sessions; nevertheless, this still gave me some aspects to work on whilst sick. My point is that, if we are determined enough, we can always adapt karate-do for our condition.

Finally, I’m back to the norm this week. However, in light of the aforementioned comment, I will be taking it easy: to allow my body ‘the chance’ to fully heal and, more importantly, to avoid a relapse. Kindest regards, from Kumamoto-ken, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2014).

Sunday, 12 January 2014


Maai (meeting distance), in traditional Karate-Do, is where you get yourself into a position where you can optimally impact on your opponent with the respective technique you’re employing; but also, (with this point in mind “as your priority”) a position which enables you to do this whilst making it “…most difficult for your opponent to attack you”.

Maai: from long to close range: At first, and throughout one’s training, the base of this practice is the long-range oi-waza; however, (with this as an ‘optimal position’ and ‘point of reference’) “…one must move on to also practice delivering effective close range blows”. I am not so much talking about close range techniques (i.e. empi-uchi, atama-uchi, hiza-geri etcetera); but rather, I am referring to any technique from a tight distance.

Maai for hangeki-waza: In countering one must automatically respond with the right technique instantly, depending on the maai. Kihon ippon kumite (Fundamental one-step sparring) and Jiyu ippon kumite (Free one-step sparring) form the base of this practice. For example, in close, immediately counter with mawashi-zuki, mae empi-uchi, ura-zuki. Middle distance, launch the seiken gyaku-zuki, teisho or nukite; further back, plant a kick. Of course, there are numerous methods of ashi-hakobi/unsoku which can allow one to deliver a great range of ‘first-seemingly inappropriate techniques’ (i.e. – switching legs in midrange to land a kizami-geri, keri-nuke or tobi konde empi-uchi); however, irrespective of this, for the most part—keep things simple and razor sharp. This is the beauty of traditional Shotokan-ryu.

The potential to achieve ichigeki-hissatsu: Every technique one throws in training must be effective, not just a visually fast and sharp move. Techniques must maximize the chances (that if you did not control your blow) it would seriously maim your training partner. For this reason, achieving ichigeki-hissatsu must be foremost in one’s mind—whilst adhering to the principles that underpin sun-dome.

Conclusion: Always remember that karate is not about practicing non-contact techniques: “…karate-waza are full contact techniques (with the maai distance to cause serious damage), which are controlled when practiced against a partner”. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2014).

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Hip Alignment

Irrespective of the label on the photo, this was actually taken in Shonai, my father-in-law's hometown,  in 2006.
Alignment of the hips is very important as it allows your body to maximize movements; that is, optimal speed, power and mobility can be achieved. This is because, just like walking, `being aligned' is natural. Correspondingly, alignment also influences the optimization of one’s kokyu (breathing), but I will not address this aspect today.
Kaminari-arashi (circa 2003).

Intro: Many of the techniques of karate-do, especially the extended positions, really test our hip alignment. In every country, a major problem amongst karateka is that…"people change their posture and contor
t their bodies unnaturally when lowering/extending into stances”. Unsurprisingly, besides the lessening of technical prowess, being unnaturally twisted is unhealthy and, in the long term, has the potential to damage one’s body (especially under the forces that are exerted in martial arts training).

 Tips on checking your hip alignment: Of course, you can SELF-CHECK AND CORRECT the alignment of your hips easily using any karate-waza; nevertheless, to save you some time, here are the initial techniques I personally recommend using:
(A) By executing and self-checking 1. seiken choku-zuki in hachinoji-dachi; 2. the Tekki kata (kiba-dachi posing some interesting challenges with lateral techniques); and 3. kicking mae-geri in heisoku-dachi. In all three cases, keep "simple, square and perfectly balanced".  Think of your hips as identical twins!

Nijushiho in Nakatsu (2007). At the time, Nijushiho was `out of the question'...
(B) Following all of any of these three do the same in zenkutsu-dachi (keeping the previous points in mind). I recommend using the following three techniques for rapid progression: 1. stationary chudan gyaku-zuki (or kizami-zuki kara gyaku-zuki); 2. stationary mae-geri; and lastly 3. advancing with jun-zuki (oi-zuki) or sambon ren-zuki. The techniques from zenkutsu-dachi pose much more difficult challenges, especially the stationary mae-geri; however, this also leads to the removal of superfluous actions—thereby, also mitigating telegraphed actions in one's waza.  

Conclusion: Shotokan-ryu karate-do brings everything back to the most basic/natural/simple position. It is from this position where `the rules can be broken’… I think a major problem is that many Westerners approach karate without getting the simplest things 100% correct, such as hip alignment, and therefore fail to maximize their overall development. This in turn leads to ingrained habits which are difficult to rectify. I hope this post helps you to check and, if need be, correct your hip alignment.

I'd like to end by simple saying I have emphasised over the years: "Hanmi and gyaku-hanmi exist for zenmi/shomen." All the very best in your training! Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).