Saturday 26 September 2009

Kougemachi Training

Today marks two and half years since we arrived back in Japan, and for me as a karateka, this can only be defined by my daily teaching and training.

My local practice today in Kougemachi, Fukuoka-ken, was nothing out of the ordinary, however I thought I'd cover it here, and offer you some of my thoughts, as I rest my body.

Kihon: Today kihon was firstly focused on maximum hanmi for ukewaza or blocking/reception techniques (Depicted in the photo above - please note my bad rear foot position, slippery but no excuses). Secondly, (and very closely related to ukewaza and ude-gatame) I worked on hiji-ate, namely tate empi uchi, ushiro empi uchi, mae empi uchi, yoko empi uchi, yokomawashi empi uchi and otoshi empi uchi, but also on the other more obscure Asai-ryuha variations.

Kumite: Practical application of haito in various forms was the first aspect we addressed. Secondly, was inter-reversible blocks & counters with various forms of kakuto and teisho combined. In both cases, the over riding theme was kyusho-jutsu (best explained in English as pressure point techniques). Finally we worked on the application of the various forms of elbow strikes (this complimented the pin-point precision required for the kyusho techniques). These 'battering ram' strikes were applied against much more general targets such as the temple, jaw, chin, eye socket, solar plexus, and rib cage.

Kata: Three kata were practiced today, namely Kakuyoku-Nidan, Asai-ha Sochin, and Asai-ha Unsu. The over riding theme was 'large scale' techniques based on a full understanding of junansei (softness/relaxation); The other theme was the avoidance of excessive stance length to enable maximum/optimal expression of the hips. Translated: 'No good for winning tournaments but all good for practical application'.
© André Bertel, Japan (2009).

Thursday 24 September 2009

Makiwara Training

My doctor cheekily asked “How many times have you broken your knuckles? Either that or you are a karate man!” When I told him I have trained in karate for well over 20 years, many of which I’ve been a full-time instructor, he was surprised that I never told him before (He’s been my doctor since I returned to Japan in March of 2007). He thought from my physique that I was doing “gymnastics or something”.

He then went on to ask the typical questions (boringly typical here in Japan) if someone finds out that you do karate “Do you play in K1?” and “Do you break bricks with your hands?” Both to which I of course answered “No, I do dentotekina karate-Do”. He then asked “so how did the index and middle finger knuckles of your hand develop like that? (Pictured below)". So I explained to him that it’s probably from my use of the makiwara since youth. I then went on to explain that “to me the makiwara is not a tool for hand conditioning as much as it is for harmoniously using the body, particularly the legs, waist and back, to muster and channel maximum energy into a target”.

Clearly uninterested in my comments he suddenly slapped his hand on my seiken (fore fist), which was still closed, and was shocked “Ouch! Your hand is killing weapon!” Of course I couldn’t help but smile. He then went on to ask “Are you suffering any pain from complications such as arthritis?” And I responded by saying “Thanks to God not yet, and hopefully never!”

The last thing he said to me was “As a karateka do you make your students do such training?” And my answer was “No! I don’t expect anyone to risk their body for karate and educate my students on the dangers of all practice methods, teaching/promoting only what is safe. That is my responsibility as an instructor.” As a Japanese, he was surprised by my response, as here in Japan, people who teach budo/martial arts are often very stubborn, still promoting outdated practices which are very harmful for the body (their justification being ‘tradition’).

My view on the makiwara as a 'conditioning tool' for myself: Obviously conditioned karada no buki (weapons of the body) are less likely to sustain damage when impacting on various parts of the human body. Also sharp and hardened weapons ARE MORE EFFECTIVE. However, with any form of training, there is a price to pay, and a level of risk. Probably the most dangerous practice of all is makiwara training... In saying that, I admit that I value the conditioning aspects of hitting the makiwara 'for myself'.

Many people question the safety and effectiveness of makiwara training, and rightfully so. As a total believer in the makiwara, I am not afraid to say this, and are also keen to talk openly about the dangers and benefits of this traditional training tool.

My best wishes for your training & good health!

© André Bertel, Japan (2009).

Friday 18 September 2009

Andre Bertel's Karate-Do Video Links

For your convenience here are the links to my all of present videos uploaded on Youtube. Please feel free to watch and rate them. And if you have a spare moment please make a comment! I promise that more videos are on the way thanks to all of the positive feedback I've received. Please note that the commentary presented below (prior to the links) have been cut and pasted from the clips on Youtube. Also worth mentioning is that the order of the videos goes from the latest to the oldest. Please enjoy! All the best, from Nakatsu-shi, Oita, Japan.

André Bertel
Shotei-dai kata performed slowly: Here I am 'walking through' the Asai-ryuha kata 'Shotei-dai' at my dojo here in Oita, Japan. I've uploaded it without speed and power so people can learn the version which my late teacher, Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei taught. It also displays the 'natural energy' he taught me, which is essence of Asai Karate.

Asai-ryuha kata – Kaminari Arashi: Kaminari-arashi means thunderous storm, which was my late teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko's nickname. However the technical meaning of the name comes from its emphasis on sharp tewaza weapons, primarily ippon-ken, nakadaka ippon-ken, and the various forms of nukite, including kumade. Also from unpredictability, like thunder. The transformation of this kata or 'sho' (minor) version is known as Raiko. Assisting me in the bunkai/oyo-jutsu sections of these clips is Tony Petronelli Sensei (3rd Dan) of Canterbury, New Zealand.

One-on-one tuition from Asai Sensei (#2): Here is some more footage of Asai Sensei giving me one-on-one tuition, this time from 2003.

Teaching Charles Lee and JKS members in Hawaii: This video footage was taken in early 2003 in Honolulu, Hawaii. After a seminar with Asai Shuseki-Shihan, Charles Lee Sensei (Chief Instructor of JKS Hawaii, & now Technical Director of JKS Americas, requested that I teach him and his students some new Asai-ryuha kata. Firstly I privately taught Charles Lee Sensei; then a small group of black belts at Fujiwara Sensei's dojo; then taught a few sessions to Lee Sensei and his senior JKS Hawaii students (as seen in this footage). The new kata I taught them were Shotei-dai and Rakuyo, and also reviewed the Junro series, which Asai Sensei had just standardized and re-taught on the course. I also corrected their Senka, which they had incorrectly learned off Asai Sensei's video tapes. Asai Sensei later congratulated me, on the telephone, telling me that I was the first instructor to introduce these kata to the United States. But then said in jest "if wrong, big trouble!" In this clip I was mostly walking the JKS Hawaii students and Sensei Lee (pictured next to me on the 'video thumbnail') through Shotei-dai and Rakuyo.

Asai Sensei’s fundamental open hand blocks: Here Asai Sensei demonstrates the fundamental use of open hands, to deflect linear attacks. The focus was on karada no buki. Namely shuto, tate-shuto and seiryuto, but also teisho and kakuto.

One-on-one tuition from Asai Sensei (#1): This is my first upload of private tuition with Asai Sensei. I have many hours of footage from one-one-one training under Sensei that I will upload as I recieve more tapes from New Zealand. This video whilst not showing Asai Sensei's prowess, was how he 'coached', so it's like you are a fly on the wall watching the lesson. Direct training with Asai Sensei was, and always will be the biggest highlight of my karate career.

Mawashi geri kara jodan zuki:
Here I use a comprehensive right jodan mawashi geri followed by right jodan punch. The roundhouse kick made the gap for an immediate straight punch to land on my opponents face. When attacking in competition I always thought ahead. Once launching an attack, I'd forget about it, and focus on my opponents potential response. I never bothered much with feints... A combination to me was hitting with each technique, not just the intial, middle or final attack. It goes without saying that 'committed attacks' always draw the opponents defence more than feinting. Although not such an impressive clip, I hope this establishes that "the best way to create gaps is not by feinting, but rather, by firing real attacks every time". If you can do this with your thought on your opponents reaction, you'll create a 'win-win situation' for yourself. Never think 'wazari', only think 'ippon'!

Tai sabaki:
Taking the initiative later or Go no sen is not just countering the opponent. It is pressuring them to attack, then responding with a kime waza. The basic tai sabaki technique I use in this footage won Asai Sensei many matches in the early 1960's, and as a result became a standard technique within the Japan Karate Association. Sensei told me that back in those days this technique was very uncommon as competition matches were more like 'unsophisticated brawls'. Therefore Shotokan people were mostly 'line fighters'. Asai Sensei changed this when he won the 1961 JKA All Japan Championships using a variety of ducking, dodging and rotational techniques.

Chudan gyaku zuki:
Here I cover my opponents lead arm and snatch a decisive point with chudan gyaku zuki. The timing and penetration of the punch resulted in my opponent being floored. Even though he quickly returned to his feet after this blow, he lost his ability to fight as he was seriously winded.

Jodan mawashi geri kara ashi barai soshite otoshi zuki (2):
Here is the same renzokuwaza (combination technique) as posted in the clip titled 'Shotokan Karate Ashi Barai 1', which I uploaded last year.

Chudan mawashi geri:
Because of the distance and poor quality of this video footage this chudan mawashi geri (middle level roundhouse kick) may not look so fast, but I'll let you decide. It is a pretty good example of 'sen no sen' (taking the initiative earlier) utilizing sheer speed.

Ashi barai kara gyaku zuki:
Here I used an ashi barai to off-balance my opponent, then a second ashi barai to pull him into a decisive gyaku zuki.

Ippon-waza: In this video I am fighting, my friend Philip Wilson, who recently got to the top 16 at the JKS World Championships in Okinawa (eliminated by Takuya Makita, the 2006 JKS All Japan Kumite Champion). Here again in this clip, I feint, then simultaneously slip the attempted punch, and go for an ashi-barai (which is unsuccessful). In the process, Phil snatches my dogi, and I respond with an immediate jodan punch. This technique is clearly a finisher in a real fight, and therefore an 'Ippon'. If I had not 'tensed' to 'put the breaks on', serious damage would have been done. Although not the best example, it certainly demonstrates 'what a real ippon' is. There is no second chance.

Jodan mawashi geri kara ashi barai soshite otoshi zuki (1):
Sadly this "Ippon" example, is not that good, as I only have limited digital footage of when I was competing. This clip features one of my tokui-renzokuwaza, and may be useful (fun) for shobu-ippon newbies. In this case, you can clearly see, as I move in, I merely slip the opponents punches as they have no potential, due to insufficient fundamental application/skill. The feint mawashi geri brings the COG high, and then the sweep cuts low, utilizing the power of the hips (scissors action coordinating upper body & legs). The important point, in this particular ashi-barai, is slipping around the 'outside' of the opponents punch. This basic angle allows the sweep to take out both legs. As with all techniques it is all about your shikake (set up) and timing. This 'mock' tactic is one I reserved, for fighting kyu grades, or dan karateka with poor basics. I would not recommend 'openly' entering distance, like in this footage (with no kamae) against a opponent, with average to high level skill.

Assisting Asai Sensei:
I was kindly given this short clip. Here I am assisting my late Sensei, Asai Tetsuhiko, at a seminar back in Aotearoa. Also a photo-shoot for the Christchurch Press Newspaper. This was on the third a final day on the open seminars, and I think it really demonstrates Asai Sensei's awesome physical stamina, and use of 'muchiken power', as opposed to muscular strength. I was completely worn out from the seminars, and in particular the vigorous morning trainings, I had to do with Sensei. But because of Sensei's use of natural energy, he was still 'ready to have a go'.

Asai Sensei’s TVNZ Interview:
As a logical follow up, to my first upload of footage, here is the nationally aired interview, courtesy of Television New Zealand. I've pre-loaded this clip for the one year memorial of Sensei's passing. The footage will therefore be made public on August 15th in rememberance. I feel it is a fitting tribute to a wonderful person and world class budoka.

Kumite Enbu with Asai Sensei:
My teacher, Tetsuhiko Asai's demonstration, with me assisting him for New Zealand TV, in December of 2004. I have loads of footage from various private morning trainings, over the years, that I will upload in the future.
© André Bertel, Japan (2009).

Friday 11 September 2009

Shotei Dai Kata (Performed Slowly)

I've uploaded a slow performance of the Asai-ryuha kata 'Shotei-dai'

Even though I'm performing Shotei-dai slowly, please note my use of 'natural energy'/junansei, which is the essence of Asai-karate. This karate-way literally allows one to continue Shotokan training throughout their life whilst continuing to increase impact power (without unnaturally moving, and inevitably damaging the joints).

Here is the link to the kata on Youtube:

© André Bertel, Japan (2009).

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Updated training regime based on junansei

My current training regime covers a wide variety of kata to re-address my junansei (softness). As I have written before, this is a constant in my karate-do keiko. This is probably because of Asai Sensei's constant ad vocation of junansei, something which I still can learn from (and always will), due to his 'near super-human level' of technical depth; in his own words, "my skill is primarily due to my 'bujutsu specific' softness."

Kihon for junansei - Superior use of power: In addition to the wide array of kata in my current practice I'm giving particular attention to chanelling energy via gyaku zuki, gedan-barai, mae geri, yoko keage, mawashi geri and yoko kekomi. I could have chosen other techniques, however, these are very 'standard' and also provide an enjoyable fulcrum to fully exercise snap (naturally, all kihonwaza do, but I selected these for my regime due to their fundamental obviousness, and sheer preference, via my personal needs at present).

Kumite: My kumite is all about putting the energy-use of my kihon and kata into practice.

Thus far I'm challenged to the maximum, but with continued practice I aim to break through another level of karate strata. There is certainly no room for arrogance in karate if one is honest with themselves... It literally is a never ending challenge!


© André Bertel, Japan (2009).