Tuesday 20 January 2009

Shotokan karate subtleties

I’ve made many discoveries in recent weeks, which have forced me to change my self-practice routine. I stumbled across several ‘invisible weaknesses’, which I felt extremely compelled to address immediately. Such subtleties are deeply humbling, and are what make Shotokan karate such a wonderful art. To still be a beginner is not a statement of humility, but rather one of neccessity, to stimulate serious ongoing training. This point can never be overemphasized.

Several things have come to my attention via corrections in the dojo, and my self-practice. Rather than delve into my ‘technical issues’ on here, I’ll avoid boring you to tears, and give you my overall training routine. Whether facing the winter here in the North or enjoying the summer of the Southern Hemisphere, I wish you all the very best in your karate practice. Regardless of where you are, the weather is no excuse not to train! I say this boldly as I type sitting in a warm kotatsu. - André


1. Yoko-keage in isolation and yoko keage with simultaneous uraken yokomawashi uchi: (a) From kosa aiyumibashi in kiba dachi [ido-kihon style]. (b) From zenkutsu dachi [syllabus style]. (c) Specific yoko keage/uraken yokomawashi uchi from Heian-nidan kata. (c) Specific two yoko keage with uraken yokomawashi uchi from Heian-yondan kata. (d) Specific four yoko keage/uraken yokomawashi uchi from Kanku-Dai kata. (e) Specific four yokokeage/uraken yokomawashi uchi from Gankaku kata. (f) Specific yoko keage with haito uchimawashi uchi from Bassai-Sho kata. (g) Specific two yoko keage with uraken yokomawashi uchi from Kanku-Sho kata. (h) Specific two yoko keage/uraken yokomawashi uchi from Sochin kata.

(2) Gyaku-zuki: Stationary zenkutsu-dachi – ‘grass roots style’ with concentration on refined use of energy (Asai style through and through).

General practice: (3) Mae geri in isolation; (4) Oi-zuki in isolation. And (5) Chudan shuto-uke in isolation. [With all three of these techniques I am reassessing my ‘chambering’ and further ‘personalising’ them. I'm also training pelvic hip alignment at a higher level to intensify power on varying angles to my opponent].


For fundamental training, Junro-shodan is my focus. The genius of Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei is so evident in this masterpiece. My advanced training includes Tekki-nidan, Empi, Unsu and Sochin. I've been using Sochin to spice up my routine and to fore mostly address points in my kihon. The depth of Unsu and Sochin, at a high level, is like Freud's Iceberg , so my kata training at present is extremely technical (actually too technical). Such practice cannot be continued for too long by anyone (if they are serious about their development) as it becomes information overload. For the time being, I'll enjoy this for what it is. But I will soon strip back my kata.

Not much to say except Kihon-ippon kumite [syllabus style]: Jodan oi-zuki, chudan oi-zuki, chudan mae-geri, chudan yoko-kekomi and jodan mawashi-geri. Focus primarily is on fundamental position in defence prior to counterattack. My attention is on the following points. I won't use any technical terms here: (1) Front foot; (2) Back foot; (3) Front knee and thy; (4) Back knee and thy; (5) Pelvis, hips and backside; (6) Abdomen; (7) Back and chest; (8) Neck/head; (9) Eye focus; (10) Reception shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand; (11) Withdrawal hand shoulder, elbow, wrist and fist; and (12) Breathing.
I'll wrap up this post by saying that Shotokan karate is all about subtlety, that is, depth of knowledge. The subtle skills of the art are what establish each karateka’s technical level and ability to apply it. What’s more, understanding these skills is not enough… The body must be trained via tens of thousands, if not, hundreds of thousands of ‘correct repetitions’. Why? Because we must always remember that Shotokan is a narrow river (please my article on this topic here: http://andrebertel.blogspot.com/2008/03/shotokan-karate-do-narrow-river.htmllogspot.com/2008/03/shotokan-karate-do-narrow-river.html). Quality (effective) not quantity karate, is the key, and this is determined by mastering the subtleties.
© André Bertel, Japan 2009

Friday 9 January 2009

Blog Reviewed on TSW

I failed to mention that this blog was reviewed on TSW (The Shotokan Way) at the end of last year. I didn't know it was being reviewed, so it was a pleasant surprise.

© André Bertel, Japan 2009

Monday 5 January 2009

Nakatsu City

Mizuho and I recently ventured into Nakatsu’s tera machi (temple town). We went at the ideal time (an unusually cold and grey skied day) to avoid large groups of tourists. The two highlights of this relaxing wintery stroll were visiting the former residence of Fukuzawa Yukichi, and going to Goganji, a relatively famous temple here in Oita Prefecture. I thought I'd post something about these two historical places in Nakatsu City.

This exquisite building is also known as Akakabe dera (which literally translates as 'the red wall temple’). Many years ago, when the Daimyo, Kuroda Yoshitaka had several influential people murdered. The vassals at Goganji were also assassinated and their blood splattered on the temple walls. After several unsuccessful attempts to paint over the blood stains, it was decided to paint the walls red.
The former residence of Fukuzawa Yukichi

The largest note/bill in Japan is ichiman (10,000 yen) and the man featured on it is Yukichi Fukuzawa. Fukuzawa resided in Nakatsu City during his teens, and his home has been well maintained as a national treasure. His influence on the modernization of Japan is nothing less than colossal. For some general information about Fukuzawa Yukichi click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukuzawa_Yukichi One point of interest, for Shotokan karateka, is that Fukuzawa founded Keio Gijuku (which later became Keio University), one of the ‘Big Three’ educational institutions in Japan. Needless to say, Keio University was an important venue for Gichin Funakoshi’s promotion of karate-do. And therefore, the Keio University Karate Club was a pillar in establishment of Shotokan-ryu.

I thoroughly recommend anyone visiting Kyushu to go to Nakatsu City, and explore its historical tera machi. As cold as we appear in these pictures, we still had a fantastic time.

© André Bertel, Japan 2009

Saturday 3 January 2009

Kangeiko 2009

I’m presently doing my annual Kangeiko (Special Winter Training) which will be completed tomorrow. You can click here to check out my 2008 post: http://andrebertel.blogspot.com/2008/01/kangeiko-2008.html. For those of you who don’t know, Kangeiko is typically a week of intensive karate training, where we have to endure the coldness, whilst pushing ourselves to the limit. Traditionally this practice is done outside, in the early morning facing the elements.

My best wishes to everyone else who is partaking in Kangeiko this year, especially those here in Japan.

© André Bertel, Japan 2009

Thursday 1 January 2009

New Years Resolution

On January 1st (this day last year), I stated “My karate has no past, no nothing. I BEGIN KARATE FROM TODAY. My New Year’s resolution is to keep on this straight and narrow path.” (http://andrebertel.blogspot.com/2008/01/new-years-day-2008.html)

My 2009 New Year’s resolution remains exactly the same, because 2008 was literally my most technically productive year ever. My focus is simple, to keep concentrating on ‘physical karate training’, which is the kokoro (heart) of this blog.

The only other concern I have, is practicing karate primarily as a traditional martial art, as opposed to a performance sport. Whilst there is nothing wrong with karate tournaments, the way the major events are being conducted now is in no way related to the ‘martial art of karate’. It is therefore my hope that this blog might be a source of information, for those seeking bujutsu karate, as opposed to the watered down version of the art. This is the essence of Asai Sensei's karate, and has steered me in the direction I'm now travelleing. Others who also follow this karate 'way' have my deepest respect.

“My karate is bujutsu. Only bujutsu karate is real karate.”Asai Tetsuhiko.

All the best for your training in 2008.


André Bertel

© André Bertel, Japan 2009