Tuesday 28 October 2008


Often, at the Saturday class, Tachibana Shihan tells us to each select a kata we individually wish to work on. Last Saturday, after jiyu-kumite, I decided to do a kata which I’ve been neglecting for a fair while. The three Shotokan-ryu kata which initially came to mind were Jiin, Chinte and Wankan, I randomly chose to do Chinte, and certainly do not regret this decision! The tips, and corrections I received, turned out to be priceless.

Techniques polished by Shihan included the tate shuto uke in fudo-dachi hanmi followed by tate zuki in zenkutsu-dachi shomen; teisho soto uke moving into fudo dachi hanmi followed by teisho hasami uchi into zenkutsu dachi shomen; ryo sho sokumen gedan barai; seiken hasami zuki; and the three infamous hops, which conclude the kata. Each of these techniques were analysed from an oyo-jutsu (technique application) viewpoint, and this was perfectly related to the standard JKA-Shotokan form. I have to say that this bunkai, and co-adherence to the classical form, was a "real treat" for me... Phenomenal! It was by far the very best tuition I’ve ever received on Chinte kata.
The tuition I received during this training session made me re-evaluate my view of Chinte, and more importantly, further open my mind to other kata, which I've been neglecting. Such experiences for me really establish why 'I'm living in Japan'. It is insufficient to simply come here to train for a couple of weeks (like so many do and brag about it). In reality you need to be in Japan, training daily, for at least a month, merely to get 'a feeling' of traditional Japanese karate-do, and ideally train here for many years, under an 8th or 9th Dan Shihan.

OSU, André.
© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Friday 17 October 2008

Good Refereeing

I was really pleased to be given the responsibility of Shimpan-Cho (Chief Referee) at last week’s JKS (Japan Karate Shotorenmei) regional kata championships. Whilst the tournament was only for youth competitors, it was still a great honor to have the top job.

Initially I was a bit rusty, as I have not judged/refereed for nearly two years, however everything was back up-to-speed after ten minutes. The entire time, in between rounds, I received constructive feedback from Tachibana Shihan (8th Dan JKS) who sat behind me as the arbitrator. It was really great to learn some new skills/"tricks" from such a highly experienced JKA/JKS Japan/International referee. Such tips can only lead to greater professionalism as a competition official.

Another personal highlight for me was the use of Asai Shuseki-Shihan’s kata in the competition. It was great to see the 10th kyu competitors having to use Jo no kata, and the higher grades also needing to pass through a round of Junro (relevant to their kyu or dan rank). For all of the rounds we used the JKA/JKS flag system; that is, with both competitors doing the same 'randomly called kata' simultaneously. The finals for the black belt division were from the sentei kata (Bassai, Kanku, Enpi and Jion).

I was really pleased that all the spectators, especially the parents of the children, seemed pleased with my refereeing. As a fairly seasoned competitor, coach and Japan qualified referee, I fully understand the value of referees, who are unbiased in karate tournaments. It is really satisfying, when as an official, you sense that the crowd can detect your impartiality. Tournaments must first and fore mostly be for the competitors, and the development of their karate. A referee who maximizes this opportunity, within the rules, truly is a good referee. _________
As an off-beat comment I have to say that it is 'always special' when asked to referee in Japan, and especially so, when entrusted with the position of 'Shimpan-Cho ('Chief Referee'). I'm sure those who regularly train in Japan, and have the honor of being asked to judge at competitions, fully understand my sentiments.

Overall I had a great time, and are thankful to Tachibana Shihan, and the Japan Karate Shoto-renmei Oita-Prefecture Headquarters for making me the shimpan-cho at this tournament. Regardless of winning or losing, I hope the boy’s and girl’s who competed in this event, view it as merely another benchmark, along their respective karate path's.


© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Monday 6 October 2008

Post 100 on Andre Bertel's Karate-Do

This is the 100th post here on André Bertel’s Karate-Do, which I kind of think is a milestone, so I thought I’d try something different. As I receive so many emails from people asking various questions (which I rarely have the time to answer), I thought I’d offer to reply to these publicly, as a post on my blog.

If you are keen to participate, just send some questions with your name and location attached. If you wish to remain anonymous, please clearly state that. However, I’ll publish what country/city/region you are from. Questions can be on anything ‘karate related’. Technical aspects, training methods, karate here in Japan, you name it! Brain twisters and simple ones... If you have some controversial questions, or wish to critique my karate, fire away. If it's interesting enough, it will go online. I’m open-minded to constructive criticism (one must be, if they want to progress in karate). I'll be the first person to admit that I'm still a beginner and hungry to keep improving. As stated from the onset, this website is all about training! It is about the now and the future.

Obviously if there are too many questions, I’ll select the ones, which I deem the most interesting and useful, for the site. If there are not enough questions I’ll simply can the idea.

To be decisive, the ‘close-off date’ for questions will be one week from tomorrow (Tuesday, October 14th, 2008). Please email your question (or list of questions) to www.andrebertel@hotmail.com

Kindest regards and a big "Arigato gozaimasu" to everyone who has supported my first 100 posts.

OSU, André
© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Sunday 5 October 2008

Kokutai Karate Championships

Today I accidently bumped into a very tanned looking Yamaguchi Takashi Sensei (JKS Tokyo Sohonbu Dojo) who gave me a friendly “Osu”. He was attending this year’s Kokutai (National Athletics Meeting) currently being held in Oita Prefecture. The Karate Championship has been hosted by Nakatsu City at the purpose built Daihatsu Kyushu Arena.

Even though I admit not being into competitions, I thought I drop in to watch the senior kata divisions, and a couple of rounds of the kumite. During the shitei rounds it was pleasing to see one excellent Jion, two faultless Kanku-dai, and one amazing Empi. In the free kata rounds I saw three tremendous Unsu, and one near perfect Gojushiho-sho. I won’t comment on the Goju-ryu and Shito-ryu kata I saw, as I’m far from qualified to do so (I'm still trying to sort out my Shotokan...). But I will say that ‘they looked impressive to me’ and took out the titles. Furukawa (Goju-ryu) won the men’s kata with his Suparinpei; and that Shito-ryu girl (featured on Kagawa Sensei’s second book/dvd) who I always forget the name of, won the women’s kata with her Chatanyara-kushanku.

Sports kumite: Breaking the Trinity
The JKF / WKF style kumite, without being disrespectful, really isn’t my thing. I appreciate the athleticism and hard training of all serious karate competitors. However, I cannot relate 'game kumite' to the fundamentals and kata. As a result, this type of kumite clearly breaks the trinity of karate. The outcome is that it's not based on finishing the opponent with a single blow (ichigeki-hisho), which to me, is the heart of authentic karate technique, whether it's kihon, kata or kumite.

Needless to say, this type of 'fighting' doesn’t capture my interest. Therefore, I naturally did not stay to watch the kumite finals. Just as a quick note: I'm very sorry if you are an avid sports kumite fan, my intention is certainly not to make anyones blood boil (if annoyed please look at the Oita Kokutai's mascot 'Mejiron' to calm down). My reason for making this commentary is to merely express how I was taught, and how I practice Karate-Do. Perhaps this is worth an article in the future...
To conclude I'd like to say that the overall standard of the kokutai was extremely high, as expected of a national tournament here in Japan. The kata was particularly inspirational and really demonstrated that Japan still produces the very best kata performers in the world. I'm sure that if many Western karateka saw the level of kata today, they'd be too embarassed to don their karate do-gi ever again!

Time for me to rush to the dojo… Take care and all the best!

Osu, André


© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Friday 3 October 2008

Latest Training Routine

Please excuse my lack of posts recently. I only managed to make three last month as I was being a 'slow writer' (I always endeavor to churn out four articles/posts per month). My average time writing each post is between five minutes and quarter of an hour. Once I get past 15 minutes, I cannot justify the time. Anyway… Several of my former students have emailed me, requesting I post my latest self-training routine. So here you are! I wish you all the very best in your training. – Osu! André.

This month I have returned to the theme of ‘simple is best’. That is, I’m working on the ‘core fundamentals’ of Shotokan-Ryu. In particular I’m focusing on koshi no kaiten with the five basic blocks (jodan age-uke, chudan soto-uke, chudan uchi-uke, gedan-barai and chudan shuto-uke) followed by the respective reverse hand counters. Emphasis is on a tight hanmi followed by a sharp rotation/forward thrust into an exact shomen. As simple as this seems, I am challenging myself to increase the sharpness of my torso action, whilst maintaining smoothness/precision. I’m also putting much effort into oi zuki and oi-geri (mae-geri, yoko-keage, mawashi-geri and yoko-kekomi). My concentration is on the drive of the rear/supporting leg. How simple can you get? Well at least for me, this training is simple, but far from easy... Lastly I’m practicing gyaku-zuki from a ‘compressed to the extreme’ jiyu-dachi concentrating on maximum tai no shinshuku and koshi no kaiten. Emphasis is once again on an extreme contraction of the stance (maintaining perfect pelvic alignment) and sharp spring/rotation/thrust into zenkutsu-dachi. Techniques include gyaku zuki with seiken, teisho, shihon nukite and yokomawashi empi uchi.


At present the kata I’m training include a random Tekki (Tekki-Shodan, Tekki-Nidan or Tekki-Sandan), Empi, Jion, Unsu and Gojushiho-Dai. In addition to these, last month at dojo training, Tachibana Shihan (8th Dan) microscopically dissected my Gankaku making nine alterations. So, I’ve also been allocating some time to this kata to reinforce what he taught me. Gankaku is not a kata I’m overly fond of, however the alterations Tachibana Shihan taught me were all very practical. He demonstrated why these corrections would help my Gankaku with some lethal bunkai/oyo-jutsu. This was probably the best tuition I’ve ever received on this kata. I really have to say here that I'm very grateful for Tachibana Shihan’s weekly tuition! What’s more, Tachibana Shihan was also a student of Asai Shuseki-Shihan.

Jiyu ippon kumite
I'm seeking maximum use of tai no shinshuku and koshi no kaiten in each of my counters. Essentially extreme contraction of the stance for defense, then explosive expansion/stretch for offence. The entire body, mind and spirit decisively committed in one moment of time... For the attacking techniques I'm concentrating on correct ma'ai for optimal target penetration to potentially finish my opponent.


I'd like to add some comments to wrap up this post about kumite and karate training in general. This is something I’ve really wanted to say for a while... Too many people practice karate knowing that if they got into a violent altercation, against a really strong attacker, that their karate would probably not work (as trained in their respective dojo). Clearly, if one has such doubts their dojo is not ‘physically focused’ on real karate (ichigeki hisho - the single finishing blow) when they practice. It goes without saying, such dojo are spreading fake karate. Karate without aiming to achieve ichigeki-hisho, at all times, will literally make you less capable of handling yourself in real fight. If you are playing karate, you are ‘playing’. If you are doing karate seriously as a martial art, you are doing ‘karate’. In either case, the physical training itself is what establishes what you are actually doing. And proper physical training can only be achieved in a high stress (dangerous) environment. If you don't block properly, your face will most certainly be covered in blood, perhaps a trip to the hospital or dentist. I'm not saying I like this to happen, but without this factor, one cannot improve self-protection skills. The reality is that so many karate clubs are nothing more than 'play grounds' labeled as ‘karate dojo’.

Perhaps my mentality is now viewed as extreme, but in reality, my self-practice simply illustrates how soft so many karateka, dojo and organisations have become (playing ‘karate’). I'm not special or talented, I am simply doing, what up until the mid to late 1980's, was considered as 'orthodox karate'. My current training routine continues to follow this karate way, that is, karate as an effective martial art.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008