Sunday 24 February 2008

Nito oumono wa itto omo ezu

"If you run after two hares, you will catch neither".

Presently I'm paying close attention to the Sentei kata (assigned forms) and their respective applications. And as always, what a collossal task this is! My technical focus has been once again to maintain 'standard' kihon technique (outward form), whilst utilizing Asai Sensei's principles in my movement (use of power/internal form - 'the edge'). Of course on top of this, there is also 'Andre style Shotokan', or my indivdual flavour, as Sensei always encouraged.

How many hares am I chasing?
In addition to the four sentei kata (Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Enpi and Jion), I'm also working on Tekki-shodan. You may be saying to yourself now "hey, that's five hares", however, I am merely doing one kata per day, then blasting them all out on Sunday. So really speaking, I'm trying to catch one rabbit each day... With Sunday being the day I try to catch all five at once! [An assessment, and/or 'review' of the weeks study, if you like.]

So what has been the result of my training? Well, as always it has been yet another really humbling experience. I KNOW NOTHING... I'm really just a beginner in karate, and need to keep seeking higher level technique. In saying that, this certainly spurs me on! The glitches I've found have given me my targets for 'at least' the next five days of practice (I have Tuesday off so that takes me back to Sunday).

Some personal advice: Whatever you are doing in karate, try not to divide your attention in training sessions. Catch one hare at a time! Chasing two never works, and even if it does, it results in mediocracy. This may take some self-discipline, but will reap great rewards (if your training reinforces exact JKA style kihon).

"... if you can't do a great Bassai, Kanku, Enpi and Jion, throw your black belt in the rubbish". - Asai Tetsuhiko (when Technical Director at the Japan Karate Association).

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Sunday 17 February 2008


As a direct student of Tetsuhiko Asai I have been asked many times about the karate textbooks he produced in the late 1970's. These books are quite rare in the West, dare I say 'collectors items'? Of course to me, this has no relevance, as I see these publications as very important landmarks, in my late mentors karate development. They are therefore technically important to me, as they show the evolution of Asai Sensei's karate.

The books titled Jitsugi Karatedo were published in 1978, when Asai Sensei was still a 7th Dan, with the unified JKA (Japan Karate Association). They were definitely Sensei’s biggest written contribution ‘mass released’ for Japanese JKA Shotokan practitioners and karate world in general. Originally meaning to be a series of five books, only two were published.

These two books are very useful in helping one to understand the bridge between JKA and Asai-karate and actually reveal kenkyu/happyo (research presentation) required by the JKA at that time. It is said that these books were also a counterattack against the split of Kanazawa Sensei, who just formed SKI (Shotokan Karate International). In the 1970’s Asai Sensei and Mr. Kanazawa were viewed as the two most revered ‘senior’ JKA exponents, so it was rumoured that ‘Jitsugi Karate-Do’ was a means to upstage Mr. Kanazawa’s publications. I never asked Asai Sensei if this rumour was true, however, I doubt it was, as only Masatomo Takagi, who at the time was merely the JKA's Fuku-Rijicho (Vice Chairman) wrote the foreword. It is also worth adding that Asai Sensei and Mr. Kanazawa were friends.

THE CONTENTS OF ‘JITSUGI KARATE-DO’ (Volumes one and two):
Rather than fully explaining the content of both publications, I’ll firstly give a general overview of their contents, then give commentary on their more important points. These special points were explained to me by Asai Sensei, and also come from my ongoing training/research.

VOLUME ONE: Kihon kata

Jo (Prologue)
Mokuji (Contents)

Issho (Chapter One): Tenshin (Body rotation)
About Tenshin.
2. Kiso renshu ichi – koshi no kiri (the sharp action of the hips; literally 'cutting hip').
3. Kiso renshu ni – koshi no kaiten (hip rotation).
4. Kiso renshu san – koshi no kisen (the 'movement line' of hips).
5. Kiso renshu yon – kata; shiho ten (four directional rotation).

Nisho (Chapter Two): Kata
Kokoro gamae (heart/mind set).
Shintoku jiko (points to keep in mind).
Shinsa ni okeru shitei kata (compulsory kata for examination).
2. Heian-shodan
3. Unsoku zu (footwork map)
4. Heian-nidan
5. Unsoku zu
6. Heian-sandan
7. Unsoku zu
8. Heian-yondan
9. Unsoku zu
10. Heian-godan
11. Unsoku zu
12. Tekki-shodan
13. Unsoku zu

Enbusha shokai (Introduction of demonstration assistants)
Tetsuo Furumoto (3rd Dan)

VOLUME TWO: Sentei Kata

Jo (Prologue)
Mokuji (Contents)

Enbusha shokai (Introduction of demonstration assistants)
Osamu Shimizu (3rd Dan)
Yukio Okamura (2nd Dan) ~ ISS


(a) The only 'kihon' in the book is Asai Sensei's 8th Dan Kenkyu/Happyo (Research/Presentation) subject, which was 'Tenshin'. Sensei classified this, not as kihon, but 'KISO'. Kiso implies a base to sustain something, and it actually has a much deeper meaning than kihon in Japanese. The first four of Asai Sensei's Tenshin drills are included, the last of which is the infamous shihoten (the base of many Asai-ryuha bujutsu kata).

(b) Kata: What is included in the kata section is perhaps fascinating for many JKA Shotokan people. It is stated in the book that for the Shodan-shinsa (1st degree test), the examinee must demonstrate Heian-yondan, Heian-godan and/or Tekki-shodan (Asai Sensei emphasized 'and' to me). Asai Sensei also expected examinees to do a Sentei kata. Now this is very interesting... At the time the Sentei kata were Bassai (dai), Jion, Kanku (dai), and both Tekki-nidan and Tekki-sandan! No Empi... As I got my shodan in the mid 80's I'm unsure if the above points were standard JKA requirements prior to the registration of my first black belt. When asking Asai Sensei this question, he said "it was standard JKA practice." However, I got the feeling he was meaning 'what he expected' as he 'was' JKA! Back to the sentei kata themselves, it goes without saying that Asai Sensei highly regarded the Tekki series, and expected shodan's and above to be proficient at all three.

(c) The number of kata: Sensei stated in Jitsugi Karate-Do that there are only around 50 kata in existence, and that they were developed by very senior experts. This statement confirms that Asai Sensei had not yet formally developed his 'own' kata, and also verifies that 'the majority' of his (approximately) 150 kata were his own creations. Going by various conversations, it seems the majority of these 'new kata' were developed in the last 15 years of his life, when he himself was a 'very senior expert'. Sensei did Shotokanize some Okinawan kata such as Matsumura rohai, Heiku and others, but the majority of Asai Sensei's kata were a result of his genius. The information in Jitsugi Karate-Do puts this issue to rest.

(d) The bunkai featured in the books: The kata analysis/applications featured in Jitsugi Karate-Do, for the most part, is not much more practical than what is featured in the 'Best Karate' series of books. However, I can honestly say, from one-on-one tuition with Asai Sensei, that he NEVER trained/taught such impractical kata applications. So for me, this is a huge defence for what Nakayama Sensei had in his books and videos. Clearly, these 'applications' were merely to 'better teach the kata', and introduce 'basic set sparring' with the kata, for beginners. Naturally this must lead on to street practical techniques and fighting principles, and Asai Sensei most certainly focused on these. His karate was certainly not about winning tournaments, and not for the feint hearted insofar as inflicting serious damage is concerned. One should never forget Asai Sensei's orthodox fist formation, which was not seiken, but rather nakadaka-ippon ken.

(e) The main assistant in the books was Mikio Yahara Sensei. I will not say much more here, but Yahara Sensei's technical approach, bujutsu mentality, and sheer longterm direct connection to Asai Sensei, makes him a very important figure in the development of Asai-style karate. And his closeness to Asai Sensei goes beyond these books and similar fighting style. It goes right to the point of Asai Sensei making him his second in charge (Asai JKA). Asking Asai Sensei why Yahara Sensei left him, he said to me "Because Yahara-kun cannot accept the karate of JKF, and the majority of my younger students love sports karate". He then recommended I study under the direction of Yahara Sensei, if I wanted to learn his way! Jitsugi Karate-Do undeniably shows that Yahara Sensei was Asai Sensei's number one (during Asai Sensei's prime)! Note in volume two, a member of Yahara Sensei's ISS (International Security Service) is used as a demonstration assistant (as Yahara sensei himself was unavailable due to 'business').

(f) The final point of interest I'd like to mention here is the foreword by Mr. Takagi which roughly states "Asai is a good boy (note he was only 43 when the books were published) and was JKA born and bred." Those who follow Asai Sensei's karate should never forget that he was a product of the Japan Karate Association, and also an exponent that they used to advertise themselves! The rest is all history!

To conclude, I'd like to say that within my karate book collection, my most prized possession is volume one of this series, as I have the original hardcover copy with the box. What's more it was personally stamped by Sensei, ‘inkan’ Japanese style (see the scan above). It goes without saying, the second volume is my second most important karate book. In all honesty, if you are studying Asai Sensei’s karate, both of these rare books are a ‘must have’. OSU! Andre.


© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Thursday 14 February 2008

Snow way!

Waking up we found the car and tanbo behind us covered in snow... I know this is nothing compared to many people who visit this website, but please remember we live in Kyushu, located in Southern Japan.

I took this photo of my wife Mizuho from our apartment window. You can't see the mountain range in the background!

I've had a nasty cold for the last few days and have resorted to light kata to speed up my recovery. It is hard not to push myself, however I admittedly feel much stronger already. Perhaps the sudden cold spell has aided this also? The morning this photo was taken I didn't venture outside for my early morning practice (too cold & unwell). I stayed indoors and went through Bassai-dai, and Bassai-sho several times, playing with some variations, recently taught to me by some senior buddies in the JKA.

I feel like I'm back to square one with these kata (hence I asked to see my friends renditions), and haven't practised dai and sho kata together for 'many years'. If we train seriously, karate regularly tells us "we know nothing and that we must train more". Clearly if that is not the case, it is time to move on and use our precious time for other things.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008

Monday 4 February 2008

Link to last years articles

I've had some emails asking for the '07 posts on this site (there were 56 in total last year). Here is the link to the majority of these:

If you are searching for last years posts, you can simply click '2007' on the menu (located on the right side of the page).

Currently I have several new technical articles in the works, so I'm looking forward to releasing at least one of these in February. With my teaching and intensive karate training schedule (6 days a week), it is often impossible for me to find enough time to write something, even semi-coherently! Presently I'm doing a second training on Wednesdays, which has been really tough on my schedule, however, as my 'training' is the driving force behind this website, it is my naturally my priority.

Yours in karate-do!

OSU, Andre Bertel

© André Bertel, Japan 2008