Wednesday 30 April 2008

Golden Week

Yesterday marked the beginning of this years 'Golden Week' for us (you can see I have a 'holiday smile'!). Golden Week, also known as Ogata renkyū and Ogon shūkan,) is a major annual public holiday in Japan. The week contains ‘Showa Day’ on April 29th, ‘Constitution Memorial Day’ on May 3rd, ‘Greenery Day’ on May 4th, and ‘Children’s Day’ (also customarily known as ‘Boy's Day’) on May 5th.

It is the longest public holiday of the year for many Japanese companies, alongside Obon in August and Oshogatsu in January. Golden Week is an extremely popular time for Japanese people to travel. Flights, trains, and hotels are often fully booked despite the significantly higher rates at this time.

I started my Golden Week with a mountain run and karate training at a beautiful shrine. The sunny weather was perfect for outdoor practice. I shared the mountain with several paragliders, and after my self-training spent some relaxing time with Mizuho watching them leap from their departure point. As I watched them fly off the cliff edge, I thought to myself "this is the smoothness us karateka must aim to achieve in our techniques". This 'style' of movement is truly seen in the kata Hushu or Kaze no te (Wind Hands), Suishu or Mizu no te (Water Hands), Nijushiho (24 Steps) and others.

I've planned to do some extra practices in the coming week still intensively focusing on Unsu (see my previous post), Gojushihodai and Enpi. I'm also reviewing the Junro series.
My kihon training is presently focused on making kime with keriwaza; and further study of muchiken (in relation to karada no buki or 'weapons of the body'). Essentially all of my training is still circulating around the techniques and principles I'm working on in Unsu kata.

I really look forward to revealing my technical advancements in the coming month and also some of my current training methods. My target remains twofold; firstly to develop the best karate I can. And secondly to preserve the karate of my late teacher, Asai Tetsuhiho Sensei. I'll constantly aim to achieve these targets by pushing myself to my physical and spiritual limits. Where ever you are in the world, lets train with this spirit together.

Happy holidays to everyone. OSU!

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Friday 18 April 2008


For nearly two decades Unsu was my tokui (favourite) kata. I used Unsu to pass the JKA (Japan Karate Association) examinations for nidan, sandan and yondan.When Asai Sensei invited me to test for godan in Switzerland, he demanded that I select "anything but Unsu".
Fortunately I already had more than enough of it and happily obliged him. So I ended up selecting my other tokui kata, Gojushihodai. Ironically, I failed this test! But passed on my second attempt a year later.

All in all, Unsu has been highly influential on my karate, so much so, that I stopped enjoying it. As a result, I withdrew from seriously training it for several years... Finally this changed at the start of this month... For some reason 'in the clouds' my passion for Unsu has been rekindled.

Probably this post has no relevance to anyone else except my longtime New Zealand students, friends, and family, who I imagine will be surprised to hear I've returned to Unsu. Some of you may ask “why” I believe this phenomena has occurred. And my answer is rather simple. Enough time has passed since I retired from competition, so I can do Unsu 'my own way' without conforming to competitive trends. I'm not sure if Unsu will ever be my tokui kata again, but I'll certainly update you on my developments in the coming months. My target with Unsu is to execute it in a manner which exhibits its functional applications (relevant/catered to my personal style and physique), whilst conforming to the classical JKA fundamentals.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Karate-Do for Social Education

I still believe that Karate-Do keiko (training) fosters many positive attributes in young people, which are seriously lacking nowadays. Qualities such as humility, determination, etiquette, physical and mental awareness, focus/concentration, and even empathy. Of course this is only possible if training is conducted in a very serious manner.

When I say ‘serious’ I do not necessarily mean ‘brutal’ sessions, although I admittedly like this type of practice in my self-training, but rather keiko where concentration (mental discipline) is rigorously maintained for progressively longer periods of time. Naturally, in addition to these points, the traditional rules of etiquette must also be made clear, and enforced at all times. This type of karate club ‘brings out’ karate-do in its members, and clearly nothing else will suffice in regards to group training. In addition to the comments I’ve made thus far, it’s important to note that the instructor must be a model of these qualities without exception. They must also train more regimentally than the pupils in their respective dojo, and this must be seen each and every time he or she teaches. This modelling is not just ‘another way’, it is ‘the only way’... Karate-do keiko is physical in nature and must always be so, however, the mind/’spirit’ must be first priority.

The major problem with this is when ‘spirit overtakes technique’, when in actuality it must continually produce higher level technique within the karateka. The heart of this ‘spirit’ is having no lapses in concentration/awareness, thus allowing the karateka to discover and eradicate any errors or weak points. Any such lapse is indicative of the mind going into autopilot, which makes training no more 'mentally productive' than a couch potato staring at a TV. Naturally no one gets this 100% right every moment, but we must seek to progressively improve this ‘spiritual’ aspect of karate every time we practice. This discipline most certainly results in higher mental power and increased self-esteem. It literally is an understatement to say that this 'driving force' is lacking in modern society, especially amongst the youth.

What I am trying to say is that technique is a means of improving mental power/inner strength, and commonsense establishes that this strength transcends physical power. If more young people harnessed this power (which they all have) I believe we would see a colossal decrease in youth suicide, crime, and children failing at school. Much of these things occur because of children having no self-esteem, and this comes from not having a strong spirit (determination to keep going regardless of hardship and/or opposition). Let's face it, First World countries are producing 'quiters'.

Does modern education achieve address these needs? Well obviously not! I’m not implying that this is the fault of educators, but rather modern sociological issues, namely a decrease in fundamental discipline (due to bureaucratic wimps), increased acceptance of immorality, and modern life in general. Sadly, the majority of karate clubs are no better as they are conforming to modern social trends in order to recruit more students, and to retain existing ones. Such clubs are disgraceful, and in many cases have paid affiliations to Japanese organizations pretending to be traditional karate-do. I sadly saw this happen in my home country.

Karate if taught correctly can be a means of character development as mentioned above, but razor edged technique is the means by which this is achieved. Of course technique can be developed independently from mental/spiritual training; however this is not Karate-Do. If the mind is trained diligently, through vigorous practice (physical and mental concentration/awareness), technique will also develop. As Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei said when talking about this topic "this can only happen in a constantly pressurized environment of dire seriousness". Karate clubs that follow this way will always be small in numbers, but will produce students who are highly productive members of society. This is Karate-Do, and this is how Karate-Do can be an effective means of social education.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Sunday 6 April 2008


Hanami (花見, flower viewing) is the traditional Japanese custom of 'enjoying the beauty of flowers', namely sakura or cherry blossoms. Usually around April, when the flowers are in full bloom, people have picnics, drinking ample amounts of alcoholic beveridges, under the beautiful sakura trees.

Having experienced this wonderful custom many times here in Japan, I thought I'd share some pictures with you from our Hanami and Yozakura (night sakura) parties.

To all my students, friends, family and supporters of this website all around the world, again, thank you all very much! Stay tuned as more karate-do articles are on the way!

Kindest regards and a big 'KAMPAI' from Kyushu, Japan.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008