Sunday, 28 February 2016

HANGETSU KATA

Today I thought I’d offer some advice on Hangetsu kata. To initiate this process, I will firstly (1) give brief overview of Hangetsu; secondly (2), I’ll list the techniques in the kata—a technical overview  (following the official command count); and thirdly (3), I will provide some selective tips, via bunkai (analysis)—surface level points; namely, common errors/aspects of caution. I will not cover oyo-jutsu (applications) today but, instead, focus on the correct form of Hangetsu.

(1) A brief overview of Hangetsu: The original name of Hangetsu was Seishan. Funakoshi Gichin Sensei renamed the kata, like many others, to provide a name with more relevance in mainland Japan. 半月 (Hangetsu) literally translates as ‘Half moon’, which Funakoshi Sensei chose based on all of the crescent like steps and actions in the kata; furthermore, the half moon shape formed by the feet ‘inside of the stance’. 

Hangetsu consists of 41 movements with the kiai applied on the 11th and 40th techniques. It takes approximately one-and-a-half minutes to complete. Elucidating its technical significance Hangetsu is amongst the 15 kata that Funakoshi Sensei specifically selected for his system. It is worth noting that some instructors such Oshima Tsutomu Sensei, who was a direct student of Master Funakoshi, insist in only practicing these 15 formal exercises.  

A key point of Hangetsu is the coordination of waza (technique), unsoku/ashi-hakobi (footwork/leg movements)— te-ashi onaji—and kokyu (breathing). It is important to note here, insofar as breathing is concerned, that Hangetsu does not encompass ‘ibuki’ style breathing that is audible; like, for instance, Sanchin kata. Nevertheless, some instructors have incorporated this element into Shotokan-ryu (often via Hangetsu). That being said, it is claimed that “...the original version  of this kata, in Okinawa, did not feature audible breathing” but, rather, the breathing was done in a stealthy manner. This method is what is maintained by the JKA.

Lastly, like the aforementioned ‘three coordinated aspects’, “…the sequences in this kata come in threes”; which, application-wise, means ‘both sides (left and right) and an alternative’; however, today (as I've mentioned in the opening of this article)—rather than addressing applications—I will primarily focus on correct technique. OK, so let's move on to the technical overview…
 
Note the positions of the legs and feet.
(2) A technical overview of Hangetsu:

Rei (Musubi-dachi).
Yoi, Ryo ken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).

1. Hidari chudan uchi-uke (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
2. Migi chudan gyaku-zuki (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
3. Migi chudan uchi-uke (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
4. Hidari chudan gyaku-zuki (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
5. Hidari chudan uchi-uke (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
6. Migi chudan gyaku-zuki (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
7. Ryo jishi ippon ken ryo chichi shita (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
8. Ryo jishi ippon ken chudan morote-zuki (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
9. Kaisho yama gamae (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
10. Ryo te ryo gawa gedan kakiwake (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
11. Migi chudan uchi-uke doji ni hidari gedan-uke (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi). – KIAI.
12. Usho tsukami (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
13. Hidari chudan uchi-uke doji ni migi gedan-uke (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
14. Sasho tsukami (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
15. Migi chudan uchi-uke doji ni hidari gedan-uke (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi). 
16. Usho tsukami (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
17. Migi chudan uchi-uke (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
18. Hidari chudan gyaku-zuki (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
19. Uken chudan-zuki/Saken hidari koshi (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
20. Hidari chudan uchi-uke (Yori ashi—Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
21. Migi chudan gyaku-zuki (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
22. Saken chudan-zuki/Uken hidari koshi (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
23. Migi chudan uchi-uke (Yori ashi—Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
24. Hidari chudan gyaku-zuki (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
25. Uken chudan-zuki/Saken hidari koshi (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
26. Hidari uraken tatemawashi-uchi/Uken migi koshi (Migi kokutsu-dachi).
27. Migi ashi mae kosa.
28. Hidari chudan mae-geri keage/Saken migi kata.
29. Saken gedan zuki (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
30. Migi chudan gyaku-zuki (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
31. Hidari jodan age-uke (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
32. Migi uraken tatemawashi-uchi/Saken hidari koshi (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).
33. Hidari ashi mae kosa.
34. Migi chudan mae-geri keage/Uken hidari kata.
35. Uken gedan zuki (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
36. Hidari chudan gyaku-zuki (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
37. Migi jodan age-uke (Migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi).
38. Hidari uraken tatemawashi-uchi/Uken migi koshi (Migi kokutsu-dachi).
39. Migi chudan mikazuki-geri/Sasho-ate (Hidari ashi-dachi).
40. Uken chudan-zuki/Saken hidari koshi (Hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi). – KIAI.
41. Ryo teisho gedan awase-uke (Yori ashi—Hidari ashi mae neko-ashi dachi).

Naore, Ryo ken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).
Rei (Musubi-dachi).
Zenkutsu-dachi is not featured in Hangetsu Kata.


(3) Selective bunkai (analysis/break down) of Hangetsu:

I have selectively outlined eight errors that are commonplace in the execution of Hangetsu kata. Whilst these are surface level points, they all relate directly to its oyo (applications) and overall technical efficiency. Needless to say, "you need the correct form to optimally apply the movements and sequences of the kata".

(1.0) The first major error I'd like to point out is the Hangetsu-dachi itself. Some teach/train this as a ‘long Sanchin-dachi’: this is wrong. Hangetsu-dachi should be thought as being half-way between Sanchin and Zenkutsu-dachi; furthermore, it is slightly narrower than Zenkutsu-dachi and the rear foot should foot/toes should attempt to point directly forward. The inversion of the legs should be natural, summoning centralized power, whilst the connection of the sokuto (outside edges, literally ‘sword feet’) must be consciously and somewhat unnaturally connected to the ground/floor.

(1.1) The second major error is the incorrect use of the legs; that is, when the hips rotate the legs should remain motionless. This characteristic is most obviously shared with Sochin. Consequently, this means that power is generated from the centre, in isolation, as opposed to primarily being initiated from the drive of the rear leg. (Please note however: - kakato chushin is still applied). In this way, the tanden is more utilized when transitioning between hanmi and shomen.

(1.2) The third mistake that stands out is superfluous actions, especially on slow movements i.e. – movements 1-10. The tendency is for people to ‘add fluff’ to their kata, which is the norm in `sports karate kata'. In actuality, simple movement is not only the most effective, but by far the most difficult to do. Moving directly and without waste is an imperative skill for those seeking the true way of karate. In this regard, rather than give specific examples, I suggest to simply check one’s own actions with brutal honesty—then do some pruning.

(1.3) My forth point might sound a little pedantic, nonetheless, I can’t resist making it. Be careful on movements seven and eight: make sure that ‘ryo jishi ippon ken ryo chichi shita’ and ‘ryo jishi ippon ken chudan morote-zuki’ have solidly formed ippon-ken; that is, the index finger is pressed from the side by the thumb. In this way, the index fingers are clamped between the thumb and middle finger to make strong fist. 
Migi chudan mikazuki-geri/Sasho-ate (Hidari ashi-dachi).


(1.4) The fifth issue I'd like to address is movement 11, where the first kiai is applied: ‘chudan uchi-uke doji ni gedan-uke’. This technique brings to light a number of technicalities, however, the combination of the following two aspects are often incorrect. Firstly, the pivot point is the axis of the front leg—not the seichusen—and the head remains set. Secondly, the winding up/chambering of the uke is tight and slightly precedes the movement; thereby, becoming  more ‘reactive’ as opposed to being passive to stimuli. It is worth mentioning here that this principle is imperative and fundamental in all Karate-do techniques; hence, this tip.

(1.5) Point six is another seemingly simple aspect, yet, often more cerebrally understood than physically applied. Keep the wakibara (the armpits) tight. In particular, return to point ‘1.2’ above and focus on your centre… Hangetsu-dachi and Hangetsu kata, as a whole, should take you on a journey to your seika tanden: usho tsukami and sasho tsukami (movements 12, 14 and 16 respectively) are particularly useful for evaluating (and then ‘further refining’) these foundational aspects.

(1.6) My Seventh correction is a pet hate. It is ‘the alternative’ of three actions, as eluded to above. Please note when making movement 17 (Migi chudan uchi-uke), when transitioning to the right side into migi ashi mae hangetsu-dachi, do not utilize yori-ashi but, rather, ‘direct step’. I guess I could go on and on, so here is one final point to wrap up…

(1.7) The final advice I'd like to give is about the gedan-barai following chudan mae-geri keage with the simultaneous fist raise to the shoulder (movements 28/29, and 34/35). These are not gedan-ukewaza but, rather gedan-zuki. Lastly, the final punch (movement 41) is uken chudan-zuki in hidari ashi mae hangetsu-dachi. It is not gedan-zuki in zenkutsu-dachi. It's important to note that zenkutsu-dachi does not feature in Hangetsu.

Ryo teisho gedan awase-uke (Yori ashi—Hidari ashi mae neko-ashi dachi).

To conclude, while I have not covered the oyo (applications), nor aspects such as waza no  kankyu (rhythm of techniques) and chikara no kyojaku (use of power in techniques), this article has generically outlined Hangetsu. Sometimes I believe it is better just to focus on 'form and corrections/refinements', other times 'applications in isolation', and yet other times 'form and applications together'. Aspects such as tempo/rhythm, use of power, and so forth, should also be the main focus in training sessions periodically. Doing this gives one differing vantage points for understanding and utilizing kata. I hope that this article has offered you something of use. Best wishes from Oita-Shi, Japan. - André.

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2016).

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Political Correctness in Karate-Do

It is not revolutionary to say that “…Political correctness, in so many ways—including within the karate world—is causing a large amount of  damage”. This is because ‘being overly PC’ disallows one to state that something is wrong, incorrect or fake: even when it is. The result is that, experts in any given field, are largely silenced: in fear of being labelled as being nasty individuals, jealous, vindictive, arrogant, and the like. Needless to say, such comments inevitably come from those who strongly have these traits themselves.

Over the years, in regards to karate, I have been straight down the line. In sum, ‘being PC when it comes to karate’ is something I’ve never done. This is because, with my  strong interest in social justice (in the case of ‘the spread of authentic traditional Japanese karate’), I’ve been compelled to be as straight as a good tsukiwaza. Moreover, if we can't be open and factual, even within the microcosm of the karate world, karate will be further weakened into mere art form, with little or no connection to its tradition (of being an effective ‘martial art’ of self-defense).

One highly negative outcome—of all the political correctness—in karate is that nowadays ‘everything goes’… People simply mix and match what they like. This sounds OK, in that karate is a martial art and people should do it in the best way for themselves. However, in reality, it isn't OK, as it opens a can of worms, so to speak. What actually is right becomes totally blurred, and yes, some things are unchangeable. That is why many karateka are now seeking clarity of technical correctness. Essentially, this is due to all of the information publicly available (much of which is utterly incorrect) and, indeed, all of the conflicting information. Karateka now have a feeling of ‘not being sure’; furthermore, the majority—when being completely honest with themselves—know that something is missing. Of course, this never should be the case; however, it is the direct consequence of political correctness in karate. False karate teachers and groups are running rampant, and ‘the focus on creativity’ has resulted in the rise of instructors who are doing martial dance classes (which they claim to be traditional karate). Again, as I have said in past articles, why does this type of instruction not exist in the traditional dojo (plural) here in Japan?
Whilst there are variations in karate, Kihon, Kata and Kumite are always one: “…Furthermore,, “…the three ‘K’s’ mean nothing if they don’t collectively result in highly effective freestyle ability”; that is, in the two different overarching fields of non-prearranged context (Jiyu-Kumite and Self-Defense). Sadly, many instructors—especially in Shotokan—merely teach movement, and are overly cerebral. In fact, many instructors are now being considered as ‘experts’ even though their movements are disconnected from freestyle.  They merely provide showmanship and a lot theoretical waffle to those whom they teach: to falsely convey that they are experts. In Japan this is called being a ‘Kuchi Bushi’ (Mouth Warrior). It is well known in traditional Japanese dojo that ‘Kuchi Bushi perform a karate show with their techniques, but have nothing more than show (with cooperative training partners)’. They never want to stand in front of someone who is really trying to hit them, who is skilled, who is very strong, and who is not willing to cooperate with their creativity. This, in itself, immediately nullifies their ‘karate shows’. Intrinsically what they are doing has become a form of safe ‘entertainment’, which is falsely labelled as a martial art. Accepting such folly to be politically correct is literally a wrongdoing. 
Here’s a quick analogy. Imagine if someone was teaching you to prepare for a university entrance exam for a Masters or Ph.D; then later, you found that the content they were teaching you was irrelevant (to the learning objective ‘of  passing the test’). What’s more, you discovered that the content was just to make your tutor ‘look smart’. And now for the big whammy, you learn that the teacher themselves, could never pass the test they were tutoring you for! This type of teacher is common in karate, yet it's politically incorrect to point them out: especially if they are deemed as being ‘nice people’.



Considering the issue of ‘political correctness in karate’ from a global perspective... I have heard numerous people claim that Japanese karate-do ‘is too tournament focused’; furthermore, and more hilariously, that more traditional karate (and higher quality) is taught outside of Japan!!! As a guy with a few decades under my belt, being in Japan off and on for 23 years, and literally seeing (training and teaching karate) all around the world. This is absolute nonsense and irrefutably incorrect.

Yes, there are 100% sports focused karate individuals/groups in Japan: like everywhere else on the planet. And yes, not everyone/every dojo (organization, club, instructor and practitioner) is world class. Despite these points, the average level of skill is far higher in Japan than anywhere else. Because of this high average (largely as a result of having ‘authentic’ high level instructors—very often—even in the smallest townships) more top level budo karateka are naturally produced… And, of course, this snowballs, as “more elite karateka results in more elite training partners”; moreover, the production of more Sensei who ‘have truly walked the path before’. If one thinks that the Kuchi Bushi and their ‘Karate shows’ are better than the Traditional Karate of Japan, they are blinded. I guess I should add here that this type of blindness is probably wanted, to avoid the vigor of the true Karate Way: which still exists today, here in Japan—The Source.

Back to the point of political correctness because, as usual, some will take this as me worshipping Japanese karate or the nation of Japan in general. Well, neither of these scenarios are true. I am simply stating the facts: the reality of the Karate World. Yes, I love Japan, and I love living here. But, I would be the first to say it ‘if the standard of karate in Japan was indeed lower (than other countries)’ because I am not afraid to state the reality. Taken as a whole, “…being politically correct to turn a blind eye to weakness—or what's incorrect—will always be a disservice to true Karate-Do”.

In conclusion, I would like to say that political correctness in karate is not only damaging to the art but also the practitioners: in their capacity to actually apply their karate in an unpredictable situation. Even, if they are naturally strong or talented—it will massively mitigate their martial arts potential.  As stated above, because karate is traditional Japanese Budo (Martial Arts), it’s prime physical purpose is “...effectiveness in either form of freestyle context (Jiyu Kumite or Self-Defense)”; and in the psychological context—“to be spiritually strong”. Within having a strong spirit are the qualities of justice, understanding and upholding the truth. With this in mind, it quickly becomes clear that the contemporary concept of ‘being overly PC’ and the virtues of Karate-Do are like oil and water.

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2016).

Saturday, 6 February 2016

ANDRE BERTEL: GERMANY SEMINAR 2016

Below is the official poster for my seminars in Ahrensburg, Germany: July 23rd and 24th, 2016. For details, please click on the poster. This year I will be doing a very different seminar (that will still link to previous years, but give much greater technical detail that will be very-very useful for immediate and long-term technical development). I'll be introducing points which are not taught outside of the best dojo (plural) here in Japan and, accordingly, those who attend will gain some huge insights into Traditional Japanese Budo Karate. Overall, this will not just be another seminar, but a massive lift of Karate skill: for all of those who attend.
 
As in previous years, I highly recommend that people who wish to attend to get their tickets quickly. This is because, every time I leave Japan to give a karate seminar, many people miss out. For those who are coming, see you in July! Osu, André Bertel.
 
 
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2016).

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Shisei: Posture

Essentially the shisei (posture) comprises of three main points: 1. koshi (the hips); 2. senaka (the backbone); and 3. atama/kubi (the head/neck). When these are perfectly vertical from the ground, good posture has been achieved. The challenge, however, is maintain this shisei when lowering the center of gravity—via bending at the knees—and when moving into different tachikata (stances). In actuality, good shisei transcends vertical alignment as it also
encompasses horizontal alignment; that is, keeping the hips level. Hence irrespective of being in (or transferring into) shomen/zenmi (hips fully forward/square to the front), hanmi (hips in the half-facing position) or gyaku-hanmi (hips in the reverse half-facing position), it is as if the upper body is resting on a perfectly flat platform.

When doing high reps of keriwaza, it is hard to keep good posture.
Overall, when shisei is correct one can move optimally from their centre and carry the heaviest part of the body, the head, most efficiently. What's more, from an exact shisei, one can `break the rules' (i.e. - break their posture) when appropriate. For example, for certain waza, like 'the slight forward lean with yama-zuki'; when contracting the body/forward folding i.e. - the jump in Unsu kata; ducking techniques; special free-fighting postures, and so on...

I could go on promoting good posture but will rather just give two more `pros', which I have not covered... Proper shisei helps one to breath well and is good for the human body. As far as kokyu (breathing) goes, "slumping the body tends to cause one's breathing to be shallow" and, thus, is less efficient and unhealthy. If one thinks of the body as a machine, you can simply imagine that bad shisei is like setting up and/or using the machine incorrectly: the output/productivity will certainly be less. Insofar as health goes, good shisei eradicates the danger of 'uneven distribution of weight on the spine' and, indeed, and other joints. Everyone knows that bad posture is one of the prime culprits behind back pain and back/neck injuries as a whole, so I will leave that there.

More than physical gains, shisei also assists one psychologically. Standing tall from the waist up makes one feel `genki' (positive/energetic) and also conveys jisshin (self-confidence) to others. Conversely, while a 'bad shisei' won't necessarily mean that one is lacking confidence or is sad; or that they are tired; however, it certainly won't help a person feel otherwise. The bottom line is that bad posture, when one is not totally exhausted or facing illness, can be summarized as either laziness and/or lack of self-awareness: both of which, needless to say, are not in one’s best interest.

Taken as a whole, good shisei will result in far better karate, better physical capacity in general, and better health. Common sense, yes! But implementation 'in reality' is often harder than one might think. I really recommend regular self-analysis of people's posture, as it can quickly become bad, and not be noticed! All the very best from Oita, Japan. STAND TALL!!!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2016).