Sunday 26 August 2007

Five months today!

Oh yes... And I was just reminded by Mizuho that we've been back in Japan for five months today! Doesn't time fly! A quick hello, big "osu", and thumbs up to all my karate students and friends in New Zealand (and around the world). I hope you are all enjoying the blog ;-)

Just remember, there are now 38 posts/articles on here, so be sure to have a look through them all! I sincerely hope that this little site helps you, on your karate journey.

Happy training everyone!

P.S - I've taken the weekend off training, to soak up some Kyushu sun, and get some long awaited R'n'R. In saying that I will certainly do some stretching to loosen up. My self-training schedule will be changing this Saturday (September 1st), so when time permits, I will update you with my new 'core regime', in the coming week.

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Memorial Training Report

On August the 15th, like so many karateka around the world, I completed 'special training' in memory of Asai Tetsuhiko. Many people have asked me what I did as one of his direct pupils, so here is a brief report and some photos. For me, the memorial trainings were a great opportunity to reflect on what Asai Sensei personally taught me. Also, to remember 'What Karate Is'! In Asai Sensei's own words, just prior to his passing in 2006, he stated. "Karate is defined by how much a man physically trains himself." I believe we should all endeavour to follow Sensei's disciplined example, and if we do not, how can we claim to be karateka? The answer is simple, we cannot! OSU, Andre.

AUGUST 15, 2007

Session One
In the tradition of Asai Sensei, I completed my first memorial training in the very early morning. This began with 20 minutes of mokuso, followed by Asai Sensei’s typical junansei-renshu. Included in this softness training were the kihoyuragiso drills, and the complete Kihoken kata (issei, nisei and sansei combined), focusing on the harmony of correct breathing, and soft movement. I then worked on Asai Sensei’s tokui-waza, muchiken (whip fist), namely snapping techniques with shuto, haito, haishu, teisho and ganken. I progressed on to keri-waza from standing, and seated positions (applying the principles of muchiken to all of the leg techniques). To conclude there was another period of meditation, in remembrance of Sensei.

Session Two
Beginning with a simple bow, the second session addressed snapping all of my kihon, utilising ‘natural energy’ by ‘training until failure’. This included Asai Sensei’s unique approach, in the training of the core foundational techniques. That is, kihon-waza with pivots, spins, reverse spins, jumping, and the diverse combinations of these. This period of my training was undoubtedly ‘the most intense’ planned for the day, but ended up being highly enlightening, revealing some unnecessary muscle power, hidden within some of my techniques (especially when fatigue set in). The formal exercise portion of the session was dedicated to Asai Sensei’s three favourite ‘Shotokan-ryu’ kata; Tekki-nidan, Enpi and Nijushiho; and his three favourite ‘Asai-ryuha’ kata; Kakuyoku (Kakuyoku-nidan), Rakuyo, and Hushu (Kaze no te). Each kata was repeated three times. To wrap up this training, I ended with a vigorous blast of the foundational techniques, no doubt ‘physically influenced’ by earlier kihon of the session (which seemingly took all of my energy); 1000 gyaku zuki (500 with each hand), and 1000 mae geri (500 each leg). Again the focus was on snapping the techniques, as opposed to using muscular power. Even though I was completely worn out, particularly from the final burst of front snap kicks, I decided to end, by pushing my spirit, with an "extra".., Sensei’s ‘machine gun’ choku zuki from kiba dachi, until total failure. Asai Sensei always reserved this, for the end of his open seminar sessions, to ‘burn out’ your muscles, so you had to punch with snap/joint power. My body shut down, after just over a minute of 'zapping out' punches, where I ended with ten single ‘perfect’ choku zuki. When I say perfect, I'm really meaning ‘the feeling of perfection’, as I could not use any of my muscle power. The session ended with a simple bow, and then a road trip, which I will briefly explain from now...

Trip to Jumonjibaru Observatory
We travelled to Kyushu’s famous onsen city Beppu, to visit the Jumonjibaru Observatory. It is here that you can see Ehime on Shikoku island, where Asai Sensei was born. The weather was fantastic, and the view was just as great. My legs during the drive were so cramped from training, that I could barely stand when we finally got to the lookout, so a relaxing onsen was certainly tempting! But of course it was impossible, as I needed to complete my final session! In saying that, the breathtaking view was worth the trip. It was highly appropriate to see Shikoku from 'our' island, on the first anniversary of Sensei's passing.

Session Three
In the final session I completed all 89 kata, in a continuous relaxed fashion, with my mind on sensei’s coaching. This was really a warm down session, and a time for me to reflect on Asai Sensei’s karate advice, and other more personal memories. Upon the completion of all of the kata, I recited the dojo-kun in seiza, and had a period of ten minutes silence, in memory of Sensei.

This concluded my memorial for Asai Sensei. It certainly brought back many wonderful memories, and some ' very intense training memories' as well. Ironically, for those of you who don’t know, the day Sensei died was 61st Anniversary, of Japan surrendering in WWII. The first anniversary of Asai Sensei's passing, therefore marked 62 years, since World War 2 ended.

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Wednesday 15 August 2007


On this very day, August 15th, last year, we lost Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei.

As my karate teacher and friend, I miss Tetsuhiko Asai dearly. Today, like many people across the world, I'll complete a special memorial training. I’m still deeply saddened by Asai Sensei’s passing, not just today, but everytime I sit in seiza. Seiza and mokuso, since this day, last year, really have taken a new meaning for me. Sensei had such a deep, and positive influence on my life. Words truly cannot express my gratitude to him, for taking me under his wing as a personal student, and giving me great care. I feel extremely blessed to have crossed paths with Tetsuhiko Asai, through this art we call karate-do. I will always keep Asai Sensei’s memory in my heart, and I'll continue to practice what he taught me, throughout my life.

Here is a miniature gallery, of some of my personal pictures with Sensei. Besides being my karate teacher, Asai Sensei really became like a father figure to me, in my personal life.

More that that, he always talked about his most precious person, his daughter Hoshimi to me. I have a deep feeling of sadness for the Asai family at this time and I wish God's blessing upon them on this first anniversary

Click the following link to see Asai Sensei's Television New Zealand Interview:

Asai Sensei is survived by his daughter Hoshimi and wife Keiko in Tokyo. My thoughts and prayers go especially to them on this day.


© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Monday 13 August 2007

Asai Sensei - The Professional Artist???

In the lead up to Tetsuhiko Asai Memorial Day, I thought I'd share a little of Sensei's humour with you.


Over the years, Asai Sensei did many protraits of me on napkins, paper and plastic bags, you name it! So, I thought I'd share, my three favourites with you (the better looking ones...). This was one of his trademark gags, alongside "Do you like to gamble?", dodgy fortune telling, teleportation, rapid scissor jabbing (between your fingers spread on a table), and "look over there it's Count Dracula!".

One jestful claim Asai Sensei made was "You name it, I am a professional!". Apparently his professions included: surfing; swimming (please refer to his Takusoku swimming story:; singing his favourite English songs 'Just Walking In The Rain' and 'Don't Worry Be Happy'; skate boarding and anything balancing on wheels; snooker; driving (he was 'very proud' of having his gold Japanese drivers license, for no traffic offenses. However he wasn't driving for years); skiing (he regularly claimed to be better than Nakayama Sensei); hot air ballooning, and of course art! In particular doing 'life like' potraits... (the proof of this is below).

Everytime Sensei made these claims, with that little smirk on his face, I would say "Sensei, how do you make the time for all these endeavors, run your companies, and do so much karate? He claimed "Very easy! Teleportation made it possible!"

Sensei had such a wonderful sense of humour! I hope you get a laugh from these potraits, as he would want you to! And if he was still here, and detected your amusement, he'd most certainly draw you next!

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Sunday 12 August 2007

Tetsuhiko Asai - Legendary Karate Master

Just added to YouTube, is the complilation video, made for the Asai Sensei's Public Funeral. It has been uploaded in three parts. The links for each part, are below.

It features extensive footage from the 1970's JKA 8mm series (Legend), and Asai Sensei's two 'Karate-Do' tapes. In addition to these clips, there is various amateur footage from seminars, demonstrations, and the like.
I was really buzzed that Hoshimi Asai used six clips, from my TVNZ enbu with Sensei, in the production. That was a obviously great honour for me! They are featured within the opening medley of footage (in PART ONE).

All in all, this is a fantastic tribute to Asai Sensei. So be sure to check them out.

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Friday 10 August 2007

Some kyogi kumite clips of me on YouTube

If you haven't seen these on YouTube, here are two clips of me competing. Although not the best, they are certainly better than nothing! Hopefully, as time goes by, my karate students, can help me to transfer all of my competition videos, over to DVD. In doing so, I'll most certainly upload more footage.

The first clip is seven seconds of footage titled, 'Shotokan Karate 101: Basic Ashi Barai'. This clip features one of my tokui-renzokuwaza, and may be useful (fun) for shobu-ippon newbies. In this case, you can clearly see, as I move in, I merely slip the opponents punches, as they have no potential. Prior to this, my mawashi geri feint draws the opponents COG high. The important point, in this particular ashi-barai, is slipping around the 'outside' of the opponents punch. This basic angle 'off the line', allows the sweep to take out both legs, via the 'scissors action', of the upper and lower body. This 'mock' tactic is one I reserved, for fighting kyu grades, or dan karateka with poor basics. I do not recommend 'openly' entering ma'ai, like in this footage (with no kamae), against any opponent, with average skill or better.

In the second video clip (titled 'Ippon-waza'), I am fighting my friend Phil Wilson, who recently got to the top 16, at the JKS World Cup in Okinawa. Here again, in this clip, I feint, then simultaneously slip my opponents attempted punch, and go for ashi-barai. In the process, Philip snatches my dogi with his punching hand. I capitalized on Phil's natural response, by turning, and immediately launching a jodan punch. This technique is clearly a finisher in a real fight, and therefore an 'Ippon'. If I had not 'tensed' to 'put the breaks on', serious damage would have been done. Although not the best example, it certainly demonstrates 'what a real ippon' is. There is no second chance.


Am I anti sports karate?
I decided to upload this post, to give a positive reflection in my blog, for those interested in competition kumite. What I am trying to make clear, to all visitors to this blog, is that "I'm not 'completely anti' sports karate". As I've publicly stated numerous occassions, tournaments can be beneficial, if used as motivational tool for increased training (frequency and intensity). It certainly worked well for me, throughout my teens and 20's.


Taking a dive, or staying down to win: A credit to Philip Willson
Sadly, when I was competing, the tactics of karateka 'taking a dive' and 'staying down', became commonplace, in the tournament arena. I cannot count the number of matches I "lost" by hansoku (disqualification), due to my 'shameful' opponents pretending to be unconscious. I'd like to give credit to Phil Willson, in the 'Ippon-waza' clip, as he didn't resort to a 'Hollywood' tactic to win by hansoku. Instead, he demonstrated the true karate spirit of 'never giving up'. He may have missed the Academy Award for Best Actor, but certainly gets the 'People's Choice' award!


Even though kyogi-karate is no longer on my training agenda, I appreciate the lessons it taught me (and the motivation it ignited). More than that, I enjoyed the cameradarie of such events, especially at national level, where it was a chance to catch up with friends. One thing I learned was that 'competitions and competition results, do not determine a better karateka', only the level of ones kihon does.

I hope everyone enjoys the clips! Regards, Andre
© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Thursday 9 August 2007

Jiyu kumite must be 'specific'

In my karate there are three categories of jiyu-kumite (free-fighting).

{Please note here: I'm not insinuating in any respect, that I have 'the best approach' to jiyu-kumite, nor am I attacking 'sports focused' karate. This is merely 'my way'. In regards to fighting, I believe we must constantly evolve according to the world around us. And for me personally, I am not confident that sports karate is productive in this regard}.

The first is real fighting, and the other two are specific training methods; one for practical self-defense; and the other, for competition. {It may be of some interest, that I don't bother teaching competition style kumite, to my students, if they are not interested in entering tournaments. I seriously believe, it is not only 'wasted training time', but counterproductive for ones personal protection skills}.

OK, so now you have a basic idea of where I'm coming from, I'll briefly decribe, all three types of jiyu kumite, according to the syllabus I advocate:

(1) Jissen kumite (Real fighting). That is, anything goes. Martial arts and styles are irrelevant. Your pretty rice paper certificates from Japan, plastic cups and medals, suddenly meaning nothing. It's simply a case of survival, whether it’s a jujutsu guy trying to tackle you for a mounted pummelling on the ground, a boxer out to change the shape of your mandible, or a group of PCP pumped street thugs, attacking you for your wallet. This to me, is ‘authentic kumite’, close distance, in-your-face stuff.., pure bujutsu. Unless this is the main combative target, of our daily karate training, we are merely living in dream land, "martial arts-wise". Logically, we cannot 'perfectly' replicate this type of kumite in the dojo.


(b) Kyogi kumite (Competition fighting). Typically for “traditional Shotokan” people, this is Shobu-ippon kumite. However, there are other rules, including full-contact tournaments such as K1, Pride and many others. If it has rules, it is ‘competition fighting’ regardless of the contact level. This type of fighting requires much greater levels of athleticism, and is best suited to the ‘physically elite’. That is, those with great talent, and/or those who are physically advantaged. For example, you don’t see too many ‘pencil neck geeks’ choking out the gorilla-like athletes, in the UFC. Likewise, the aging Japanese masters aren’t dominating the kumite at the JKA Shotocup. Competition fighting is for the young (in their prime), and preferable for those who are gifted athletes. I'd like to add here, that more contact, and less rules, makes competition more realistic, however, it is less effective than 'Unlimited free-fighting', where you can hone directly applicable techniques and tactics.


(3) Unlimited free fighting. Although not a real street fight, nor a regulated match, where a ‘winner’ is determined, this type of jiyu-kumite, trains liberated-responses to all types of attacks, with the focus being on goshin-jutsu/‘self-defence’. In this training, I place particular emphasis on practical kata application, against an uncooperative opponent (or group of opponents). My reasoning, is that the kata contain everything (all techniques, tactics, and combative principles), that one needs for self-protection. I refer to this freestyle kumite, utilising karate kata, as ‘Oyo-jiyu kumite’ or ‘Application free sparring’ ('Unlimited Free Sparring' for the sake of this article). Pre-arranged variations of this, can be practised as 'repetition drills', for the most common attacks; i.e. - various swinging punches, headlocks, clinches, and the like. This transforms the training into a 'practical form' of jiyu-ippon kumite. Counterattacks with street effective 'karada no buki' (weapons of the body), and 'hyoteki' (targets), can be refined specifically for self-defense, in this practice.


Now where does that leave the so-called 'rough and tough' dojo kumite, that the majority of Shotokan karateka regularly engage in? Well, I personally do not include this in my syllabus, as I see it as pointless! If it is jiyu kumite, it must be clearly defined in practice, as either (a) goshin-jutsu (self-defence) training, practical for the street; Or (b) kyogi-kumite (competition sparring) specifically based on the rules of the tournament, that my students are entering. This specificity of training is my 'own way', not based on Asai Sensei's guidance. It is my own approach to jiyu kumite via my experiences as a full-time karateka, and coach. I believe this is the way of the future, for karateka who wish to maximise their training time.

I'd thank my student, David Steven's (2nd Dan), current New Zealand Kata Champion (photographed doing kumite, with me in this article). David is currently a full-time Law student, at the University of Canterbury.

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Wednesday 8 August 2007

More video footage of Asai Sensei...

I've just uploaded some more footage on YouTube, of Asai Sensei, as it is Sensei's first memorial, exactly this time next week. The official, nationally televised, TV New Zealand Interview, will still be made public next week, on the 15th (the International Asai Tetsuhiko Memorial Day). This is therefore, hopefully a 'treat', for all of you who have been supporting my endeavours, on this website.

Click on the following link to see the clip:

I am sure it is completely clear that one of the main targets of this blog, is to keep 'authentic' Asai style karate alive, so I truly hope to continue offering written, photographic, and video contributions, which assist in this task.

Bigger than any individual in karate, including my late teacher, is the fact that each person finds their 'own way' in the martial arts. This was the example, that Asai Sensei left for us, and we should most certainly follow, to the best of our abilities.

OSU! Andre Bertel

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

How to become a Swiss Army Knife!

Karada No Buki

‘The Weapons of the Body’

Karate is a martial art of self-defense which, if practiced properly, transforms the entire body into a weapon. Obviously, this can only eventuate, if karateka consciously focus on this target, and train each part of the body earnestly. "Traditional karate" as defined by my teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko, included the daily, and systematic training, of all of the 'karada no buki'. So much so that, without being dramatic, his hands were literally like rocks. I've never seen, nor 'felt', someone with more 'conditioned' knuckles. Asai Sensei used to joke by saying things like, "Andre, I just remembered, that my callouses have fingers attached to them". A question Sensei often posed to his students was, ''Why are karateka so limited in their training of various bodily weapons?'' His self answer would be ''Too much sports karate! Limited technique and thinking! Don’t confine yourself to the tournament dojo.'' There is no doubt that karada no buki was a high-priority for Asai Sensei, and for anyone seriously practicing karate as a bujutsu (martial art).


Practice all of the karada no buki, experimenting on different targets such as the makiwara, heavy bag, impact shields, focus mitts, washing hanging from your clothes-line etc. Be careful not to injure yourself, so take your time to 'safely discover' how each weapon is best trained and applied. In many cases, the objects you practice hitting will initially need more padding, however, over time you will be able to change to harder surfaces (if required), and hit with greater levels of of speed and/or power.

Also practice the ‘controlled’ hitting of various targets for accuracy (both stationary and moving opponents). Depending on the weapon and the target hit, you can apply different levels of force (please note I am only addressing percussive blows in this article). This includes (i) depth of target penetration (surface or deep); (ii) Impact style, that is either a driving, whipping, cutting, jabbing, or jolting action; And (iii) Ma’ai/distancing.

Training tips related to the various karada no buki

(1) Train all the major weapons of the body (see the list below): In particular, condition and sharpen them all, as required. Each tool the karateka uses, must be reliable. Good tools ‘do the job well’, and don’t break if used correctly, and ‘carefully maintained’. Don’t let those tools get ‘blunt and rusty’ in the back shed. In my view, they are karate's biggest advantage! Just as a "hint", a sample training regime may be as follows: Monday and Wednesday, focus on the fists and arms; Tuesday and Thursday, focus on open hands; And on Friday's and Saturday's, focus on feet, legs and the other weapons of the body. Make all of your tools autonomous, so you can instinctively respond with any of them. "Bang", nakadaka ippon ken to the temple, or hiraken to the the bridge of the nose. Trained daily in this way, your karate will become 100% more effective than the majority of 'styles' practiced in the world today. Why, because the sportification of karate only gives lip service, to the more dangerous weapons of the body. Of course, without relentless training, no techniques can be trusted as being reliable. This is especially the case, when facing the extreme psychological pressure of an unexpected street attack.

(2) Discover what hyoteki (target) each weapon is for: That is, as mentioned above, what target, or targets, each weapon is optimal for hitting. A special focus here includes the various kyusho or ‘pressure points’ (I'll cover these in a future article). Via training, get verified answers, to such questions as, ''Is it effective for me to use Washide against someones temple?'' etc... Essentially establish what targets are optimal for YOU, in a real fight. Obviously this also takes into account your size, strength, opponent or opponents, the environment, and how you are attacked. Regardless, you must know 'where to hit' and 'what to hit with'.

(3) The best techniques (trajectory, body mechanics, and positioning) to ‘successfully’ impact with the weapon: Success to me means reaching the target, and hitting with the appropriate force, to momentarily stun, or completely take out the opponent, in one shot. Again, as mentioned above, sometimes ‘driving through’ the opponent is best, yet other times a ‘jolting blow’, or another type of percussion, is far more effective. Body positioning, and movement, of you and your opponent, the environment, and so forth, all contributes to your split second decision. All technical variations must therefore be autonmous, and deeply grooved into the subconscious mind. There is no time to think, just react.


The 'main' karada no buki in Shotokan karate are as follows:

(a) Fist formations: Seiken; Uraken; Kentsui/tetsui; Tate-ken; Ippon-ken/hitosashiyubi ippon-ken; Nakadaka ippon-ken; Hiraken; Ganken.

(b) Open hand formations: Shuto; Teisho/shotei; Haito; Haishu; Ippon-nukite; Nihon-nukite, Shihon-nukite; Keito; Seiyuto; Kakuto; Koko; Kumade; Washide.

(c) Foot formations: Josokutei; Sokuto; Kakato; Sokutei; Haisoku; Tsumasaki/nuki-ashi.

(d) Other weapons of the body: Atama; Kata-ken; Empi/hiji; Sune; Hizagashira; Haiwan; Gaiwan; Naiwan; Shuwan.

I would like to wrap up by encouraging people, who are serious about karate for goshin-jutsu/self-defense, to follow Asai Sensei's example. I truly hope that instructors around the world, who read this article, will start incorporating more 'karada no buki', and 'effective hyoteki' into their regular dojo practice. From here, karate students can develop their own personal training regime, which is effective for self-protection, as opposed to being largely confined to the rules of 'karate kumite'. It is each instructors 'responsibility' to equip their students, with the knowledge, to develop effective self-defense skills. Otherwise, they should make it clear that 'self-defense is not a priority in their club' from the onset of training. Of course there is nothing wrong with this, if students are happy, merely doing karate for fitness, recreation and sport.

It is of my opinion that karate, and in particular, JKA Shotokan's "biggest advantage" over all the other martial arts, is its diverse range of effective tools, for varying situations. At all costs we should avoid being pompus, by clinging to what is now 'claimed' as "tradtional Shotokan" (thus limiting our fighting arsenal), and remember that karate is foremostly a martial art. Try to turn yourself into a Swiss Army Knife so you can respond to any situation with the right tools!

Kindest regards and happy training to everyone!

Below are some pictures of Asai Sensei demonstrating various applications against me, with seiryuto (ox-jaw hand), and kakuto (bent wrist). How often does the typical Shotokan dojo work on these, and other weapons of the body?

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Monday 6 August 2007

Matsuri in Japan

Currently Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival's) are happening all over Japan. I was again reminded that Japanese hanabi (fireworks) are nothing less than spectacular, and in my opinion, unsurpassed. I thought I'd add some photos, for those of you who have not experienced Japanese festivals, and in particular, Japanese hanabi.

One of the reasons I always find myself back in Japan, besides being the best country in the world for karate-keiko, is that the Japanese sure know how to throw a great party! I hope everyone is having a great week and training hard.
OSU, Andre.
© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Friday 3 August 2007

TVNZ footage to be uploaded (on Asai Memorial Day)

More Youtube footage to be released on


I've uploaded the nationally broadcasted footage, of Sensei's TV interview, courtesy of Television New Zealand. This clip will be made public on Youtube, on August 15th (Japan time), for the one year memorial of Asai Sensei's passing. As you will see by Sensei's last comment, he achieved what he said would, and left the world as a hard training karateka. I believe this footage is a fitting tribute, to a wonderful person and world class budoka.

Now that I have access to the software, I'll be able to contribute more more footage, as promised, and requested by so many people, from around the world.

I truly hope this video clip is source of enjoyment and inspiration for everyone.

Osu, Andre Bertel

As a preview, here are some stills from the footage:

© André Bertel, Japan 2007