Saturday 24 May 2008


If there is one area of my karate that I really need to work on, it’s my flexibility. In every other aspect of training I really push myself, but I admit to being lazy when it comes to stretching (relying on my 'training since youth').
Unfortunately I suffered a serious training injury in my pre-teens. The reality is that I cannot stretch my back, however, I can still stretch my hips and leg muscles to the max, and of course my upper limbs. By incorporating back stretches I can put myself out of training for several weeks! I'd like to emphasize here that THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR MY LAZINESS! The reality is that I need to stretch more (and can do so, whilst avoiding the stretches that flare up my old injury).

Fortunately, the injury has never hindered my karate ‘technique-wise’. The only thing is that I look silly, in a group warm up, when I can’t do some of the ‘traditional stretches’. Anyway, two days ago I decided to incorporate more stretching into my training regime to see what results I can achieve. Please wish me luck!
© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Sunday 18 May 2008

Visitors of this blog

According to my visitor statistics, people from the following countries have visited this blog!

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Grenada, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Nepal, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal. Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, The Bahamas, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

With people from over 100 countries visiting this site, I think it is fair to say it is now pretty international. The huge amount of emails I regularly receive from karateka here in Japan, and from around the world, consistently include such compliments as: "your blog is the best Shotokan karate website on the internet"; "online information backed by obvious technical excellence and years of correct training"; "the only real public insight into Asai-ryuha", and "a wonderful dedication to Asai Sensei".

Answering emails...
In addition to these kind compliments, technical questions on traditional Japanese Shotokan and Asai karate, I am constantly being asked to recommend karate products such as dogi, obi and makiwara; supplementary fitness routines; about living/training here in Japan; and information about organisations. I actually receive so many emails that I'm literally unable to answer everyone (sincerest appologies). I'll therefore continue to attempt answering the majority of your questions within my articles here on the site.


André Bertel

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Friday 9 May 2008

JUNRO - Mastering the Jiku Ashi

As stated in my last post, I’ve been focusing on Empi kata to address my jiku-ashi (pivot foot). Two days ago I switched this focus to the Junro kata, which I'm also wrestling with at present. I have moved Enpi into the same status as Gojushiho Dai, and have peered Unsu with Junro-shodan, Junro-nidan, Junro-sandan, Junro-yondan and Junro-godan (I finally moved onto Junro-godan this morning).

The special jiku-ashi method Asai Sensei taught me (one of three major 'underlying themes' of the Junro series) is something I didn't teach to the JKS New Zealand people who joined me after I started the organisation, as I couldn’t get past the general kihon themes outlined in my 2003 article (click here for to read the article: http://andrebertel.blogspot/.com/2007/06/here-is-another-article-i-originally.html or here; for one translated into Russian by the Japan Karate Shotorenmei Ukraine: Back to JKS New Zealand… I could not teach the people there any deeper than the ‘general themes’ due to ‘the instructors’ terrible kihon (and complete lack of technical understanding – no one learned from Asai Sensei before the end of 2003, and only ever experienced two or three ‘open seminars’ at most – and no private training!). Sadly these same people are now teaching the Junro kata and proclaiming to be students of Asai Sensei! It is no wonder the New Zealand standards are so low.

Unlike the older kata (where there is little or no clarity about their creators original purpose), us, those from around the world who were personal students of Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, practice these 'underlying themes' of the ASAI KARATE KATA as Sensei taught during one-on-one training, and other private times. This makes the Junro series and the other kata he devised extremely unique to his students. It also reveals that many people who teach them never got past simply learning 'the motions' or 'general themes'. Naturally these people can never teach others correctly, and thus produce students lacking the subtle skills which typify authentic Shotokan, and Asai-Ryu (Please refer to my 'Narrow River' article here:

Anyone who experienced Asai Sensei’s training, even just in the group seminar environment, knows that Sensei often mixed up the moves of various kata. However, HE NEVER CONFUSED THE PRINCIPLES HE WAS TRYING TO REINFORCE. Sensei once said to me in an interview "all that matters is the foundational ideas of my kata. Knowing many kata means nothing." General themes in the kata such as spinning, kicking with the front foot etc.., (as described in my 2003 article) are fine for the 'relatively inexperienced with such techniques', but are just as well, if not, better learned through kihon. What is “really important” as Asai Sensei stated is to fully understand the underlying principles (and in the case of kata 'fluid transfers' and the practical possibilities that come from these). In the case of the Junro’s, Asai Sensei’s special jikuashi technique was a major influence in their creation.

There are plenty of clowns teaching karate in the world, but the worst of these "karateka" are those people who proclaim knowledge, which in reality, they really do not possess. These are the people who merely ‘do the moves’ and hide behind paid affiliations via political maneuvers, but do not exhibit (nor comprehend) the underlying principles of karate. This really establishes if such people were, in actuality, students of Asai Sensei. Subtle points, such as his special jiku-ashi technique literally reveal everything. As a student of Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, without formal organizational connections, I will continue to train daily with vigor as Sensei instructed me to do so.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Saturday 3 May 2008

Unsu, Gojushihodai, Empi & Junro

For your interest here is my updated training regime. As made clear from the title of this post, kata is the seed for this month's practice. However, emphasis always remains on the "The Trinity of Karate". The inseparable cohesion of kihonwaza (foundational techniques), kata and kumite (fighting) to achieve 'Ichigeki Hisatsu'.


I am hardly doing standard kihon-keiko at present, hence the title of this post, but when I do (twice a week), I'm following the very simple routine described below. My typical repetitions remain the same as in previous months (50-100 for stationary techniques and 20-30 for ido-kihon techniques). I see no need to increase this as I'd prefer to increase snap whilst maintaining precise form. My current kihon training is still being dominated by individual techniques and sequences from Unsu kata.

Standard bi-weekly kihon-keiko: (1) Chudan choku zuki {heiko dachi}; (2) Chudan mae geri {heisoku dachi}; (3) Chudan gyaku zuki; (4) Chudan mae geri; (5) Sanbon ren zuki; (6) Mae geri kara chudan oi zuki; (7) Chudan mawashi geri; (8) Chudan ushiro geri; (9) Yoko keage {kiba dachi}; (10) Yoko kekomi {kiba dachi}; (11) Gedan barai kara chudan gyaku zuki; (12) Jodan age uke kara chudan gyaku zuki; (13) Chudan soto uke kara chudan gyaku zuki; (14) Chudan uchi uke kara chudan gyaku zuki; (15) Chudan shuto uke {kokutsu dachi} kara tate shihon nukite.

KATA: Unsu, Gojushihodai, Empi and Junro
(a) Shotokan-ryu kata: As stated before I've been focusing my attention on Unsu, Gojushihodai and Empi. Since returning to Unsu I've been remodeling it for my own fighting style. The way I'm performing Unsu now would probably not do very well in a tournament with world class competitors (but who knows, maybe people would find it refreshing?), however it is very functional and enjoyable for me to execute. Empi has been a study on kankyu (rhythm) and also basic foot/ankle training (continuing on with my refinement of 'technique and jiku-ashi co-ordination'). According to some very senior Japanese friends, presently Gojushihodai is my best kata on a good day, however I'm trying to gain more refined motor-control over some techniques. Gojushiho-dai is the kata I'm least working on this month, and when I do perform it, I just 'blast it out'. (b) Asai-ryu kata: I'm also reviewing each of the Junro kata (currently Junro-sandan). The main point is exact 'foundational techniques' and using no forced power ('classical JKA Shotokan form' enhanced by Asai Sensei's natural energy and fluidity). For me this is a never-ending task, so to be honest, my Junro training is currently 100% kihon-centric.

Kumite for me right now is concentrated on the bunkai/oyo (application) of Unsu kata. Essentially the cohesion of the Unsu kihon, kata practice and kumite application. As common/mundane as this may sound, this method has been an advanced means for me to 'physically study' "The Trinity of Karate" (as mentioned in my opening comments). From past experiences I've found this orthodox training method is the optimal means for me to refine my karate as bujutsu.

I sincerely wish you the very best in your karate keiko no matter where you are on Planet Earth. Stating the obvious, "karate begins and ends with training"; therefore the quality, intensity and frequency of ones training determines everything.




© André Bertel, Japan 2008