Wednesday 26 March 2008


How many people can come here and train karate pretty much every day for a year? Not to mention come to Japan consistently through their teens, 20’s and 30’s, to learn traditional Shotokan properly? I’m certainly not boasting this experience, but rather trying to express how fortunate I’ve been in my life, and still am.

If there is one thing I can be proud of as a kiwi, it is not accepting the crap which is called Shotokan back in New Zealand, and always coming to the source to learn the art correctly (


I truly cannot believe that a year has already passed since arriving back in Japan... But looking at how far my karate technique has come, it more than confirms that time. My only personal goal is that I continue to develop my skills at the same pace over the next 12 months. This depends on my ability to maintain shoshin wasuru bekarazu (, which has been another driving force bringing me to Japan for so many years.

Thanks to my family, friends, students and supporters of this blog from around the world. Domo arigato gozaimasu!
© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Friday 21 March 2008

Shotokan Karate-Do: The narrow river

Shotokan is too narrow of a river to have major technical errors within its kihon. There are no excuses for such mistakes, only incompetent instructors, and the commercialization of Japanese Shotokan karate organizations (at the expense of maintaining the most ‘minimal standards'). When the fundamental 'engines' of Shotokan karate are not included, or seriously flawed, one merely has a thin shell. Sadly this thin shell, in exchange for cash, is now given affiliations and Dan ranks from Japan. Clearly this situation is a result of Japanese karate organizations competing for foreign money.


A technical example of incorrect tuition/execution of the ‘core basics’:
In an attempt to supposedly 'look impressive' many Shotokan students make their stances too long disabling their hips to work fully (properly), and also at the expense of their rear leg/foot. This is a very quick way to see if the practitioner has been taught properly and/or physically understands even 'green belt level karate'. This is not a technical point which varies (a stylistic variation) between individuals/clubs/organizations... It is either RIGHT OR WRONG! In many cases people having shodan, nidan, sandan, yondan, and even higher black belt grades teach and do these 'essentials' incorrectly!


Without going into other areas such as weight distribution, posture and so forth, I can sadly say that "too many Shotokan instructors, and those with high dan in the West (certainly back in New Zealand), cannot teach/execute Shotokan to save themselves". Bottom line, they don't know what the hell they are doing and are teaching rubbish. The funniest thing to see is ‘authorized posed photos' in magazines and on the internet of senior instructors with hips/legs not even in a proper shomen position. Or, the incorrect positioning of their feet, knees, thighs etc... How is this possible when Shotokan is such a narrow field of study? Well, that is easy to answer, there are too many people running clubs who don't really understand Shotokan as they never learned the fundamentals correctly... They just want to run a club (be the boss, and 'karate master') in their local community and call themselves the 'chief instructor'. Such clubs in New Zealand would access my tuition (I was flown across the country to teach courses) and completely misquote me in their local newspapers for self-promotion. Everything based on brand labels and image (attaching themselves to real karateka, the name 'Shotokan', and paying organizations), with no technical depth (or desire to learn & perfect real karate/'technical depth') whatsoever.

Shotokan karate is such narrow and deep river, so without depth, it really has nothing. It reminds me of a saying I’ve heard several times here in Japan; “there is no worse karate than bad Shotokan”. Clearly this is because of Shotokan’s simplicity, and therefore, requirement of extreme technical exactness.

The amount of people advertising ‘Shotokan’ and Japanese organizational brand labels no longer guarantees proper training anymore, let alone ‘quality’ training. This issue has increased massively as in recent years 'anyone' can just pay a Japanese Shotokan organisation, and call themselves 'traditional'. The best way is to visit and watch the chief instructor of a particular dojo teach, and watch the way 'they move'. Better still, ask them to demonstrate some basic techniques and a kata. If they are keen to do this, and blow you away with their skill (and obvious ability to utilize their skills effectively in a real situation; The 'I'd hate to meet you a dark alley' impression), you pretty much know you have the 'real deal'.

Always remember: 'Shotokan Karate-Do is a narrow and DEEP RIVER'. Without its depth, it has nothing.

OSU, André
© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Saturday 8 March 2008

Asai Sensei and Yahara Sensei

Like Asai Sensei, Yahara Sensei’s karate is ‘pure’ bujutsu (martial art), and clearly this is a dying breed in the karate world. It goes without saying, only karate taught and practiced/trained in this way, is REAL KARATE!

Yahara Sensei was Asai Sensei’s right hand man for many years (and even became second in charge/‘Assistant Chief Instructor’ of the Japan Karate Association). Not to mention, both men were born and grew up in Ehime, Shikoku.

Although Yahara Sensei has evolved and developed his own unique karate (as all elite experts do), you can really see the influence of Asai Sensei in his technique, in particular, his spinning and reverse rotational techniques; aggressive ‘leaping attacks’, and techniques from the ground. Both have a style of unpredictability with techniques potentially coming from anywhere. All in all, an extremely aggressive style of karate focused on ‘attack and finish’. I also believe that Yahara Sensei improved upon the hip action that the JKA advocated, and also radically enhanced 'contraction/expansion'.
Based on this 'style', 'bujutsu philosophy' and their extensive 'personal history' (Yahara Sensei by far has the longest history alongside Asai Sensei), there is no denying that Yahara Sensei is a crucial figure in the development of Asai style karate.

The photos on this post (of Asai Sensei and Yahara sensei doing kumite) are from the 1978 publication ‘Jitsugi Karatedo’ (for more info on these books; click here:

OSU, André

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Thursday 6 March 2008

The 'Pinak Kata' Dogi

I just received my new custom made do-gi and silk kuro-obi.
I was recommended to try Hirota’s very latest karate uniform, the 'Pinak Kata'. I certainly do not regret trying this dogi, as it is the most comfortable I’ve ever worn.

I changed my measurements this time (longer arms and legs) and more space for freer movement. All in all, I never buy dogi for ‘snap’ or special effects, like many kata competitors do. I primarily buy for comfort and how the uniform sits on my body (i.e. – does not distort my stances and techniques). Essentially I want a karate uniform which shows my exact body form, both mistakes and areas of excellence (if there are any). Obviously hiding mistakes and/or good points does not assist in my technical growth, so the 'right' dogi is a must!
Based on my requirements the Pinak Kata easily gets five stars from me.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Saturday 1 March 2008

Japan - The Land of the Rising Sun

Welcome to my blog, if it is your first time here. Also a warm welcome to the many frequent visitors.

On March 26th we will have been back in Japan for one year, so we decided to start the month by visiting Matama (Bungo Takada) where it is proclaimed 'has the best view of the sun in Japan'. As everyone knows, Nippon/Nihon/日本 literally translates as 'the origin of the sun' (more commonly referred to as 'the Land of the Rising Sun'). Anyway, I hope you enjoy a few of the sunset photos I took today.

This new month, and particularly on the March 26th, marks another year of intensive karate training in Japan for me. This training has been essential, over the years, for my Shotokan. Namely to maximise my own potential, and to offer the very best (correct) technical tuition to my students. From this, my long-time senior students have particularly benefitted, and now have found their own 'way' in karate. This gives me great satisfaction as a karate teacher. That is, some of my senior students are now actually my 'karate collegues'.

Each day the sun sets, we end another day of our lives and our karate training. And at sun rise, we have the opportunity to begin again (with a 'Beginners Mind' or 'Shoshin'), aiming to further refine our waza. If serious about karate-do, we must maximise this opportunity or 'chance', while we still have it.

Yours in Karate-Do, OSU!
André Bertel

© André Bertel, Japan 2008