Tuesday 30 March 2010


As promised here are some hanami pictures. The sakura this year were typically breath taking! Here Mizuho and I are wearing traditional Japanese kimono at Nakatsu-jo.

After my yudansha-geiko at the Renshinkan dojo we went to the castle, for photos with the sakura, and the 'usual customs'. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time.

Best wishes from Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture, Japan.
© André Bertel, Japan 2010.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Sakura covered Nippon

This week has been very busy with karate. Training and teaching daily as usual, nothing extra, but also karate nomikai (drinking parties), which is typical at this time of the year in Japan.

My practice is going well (translated into English, “still trucking”), but I’m currently sporting two minor injuries which have been somewhat annoying, and the occasional sake induced hangover. A special session on just mae-geri and yoko-keage was excellent a few days back. It was all stationary work from heisoku dachi and zenkutsu-dachi. I lost count in somewhere close to 1000 kicks…The only word which comes to mind is ‘grueling’! Yet another practice was dedicated to continuous repetitions of Heian-nidan, Heian-yondan, and Heian-godan. These sessions were particularly beneficial for me, as they took me away from my current routine, and "gave my body a shock". Without trying to sound impressive, I have to say the Heian kata are “by far the hardest kata in Shotokan-ryu”. Every kata is difficult for me, but in all honesty, and as mentioned in the past, I’ve always found them to be the most technically difficult, and more importantly, the most revealing. If you think you have good karate, just do the Heian series! If you still do, you are either perfect or…

As a point of reference, if you want to see great Heian kata (or any 'proper' Shotokan kata for that matter) check out Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei. To me, he still sets the ‘standard’! Effective form equating to beautiful kata, as opposed to merely polished movements for aesthetics. Here’s a quick link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWTspBwfKwk

Finally the sakura (cherry blossom) trees are in full bloom and many people here are enjoying hanami with their family, friends and work colleagues. I have been lucky to have been in Japan for the last five years during hanami, also many times during the 1990’s. For me, nothing beats sakura alongside the traditional architecture of Japan... So by now you are probably asking yourself "where the heck are the sakura pics?" Well, I promise to post some in the next few days, perhaps with a kimono or two thrown in...

OK, to conclude, I’d like to update our email information. In the next few days our OCN email account will be closed. Therefore if you wish to contact me, please send your email to this address: andre.mizuho@hotmail.co.jp Likewise if our old 'bertelono' email is still in your address book, to avoid any miscommunication, please delete it and update! My best wishes to you from sakura covered Nippon.
© André Bertel, Japan 2010.

Friday 26 March 2010

Three years in Japan

Three years ago today we arrived back in Japan. As my wife Mizuho is Japanese, returning to Japan is coming home for her. But in so many ways, Japan has been home for me too, even since my teens. So much of my life, prior to the last three years, was spent coming to Japan, to study karatedo at the source. The most memorable times were certainly with the Matsuno J.K.A. (Japan Karate Association).

Memories of my personal teacher Asai Tetsuhiko (Chief instructor), Yahara Mikio (Assistant Chief instructor), Yamaguchi Toru (Senior advisor), Abe Keigo (Technical director) and others firmly come to mind. Phenomenal training, onsen, karaoke, and lots of kampai ring bells (very loud bells) in my head. Asai Sensei singing "Just walking in the rain" and "Don't worry be happy" is unforgettable... I'm smiling as I write this. Yahara Sensei punching a fish dead was another memory... Not to mention his explosive energy which filled every corner of the dojo! And another about Abe Sensei, which out of respect, I can not say publicly. All history, and all taught me about the Shotokan karate world, its excellence, and in some cases, its negativity's.

What really counts is that I was taught amazing karate from these masters in this great nation, especially from Asai Sensei, who kindly took me on as his deshi. This privilege alone literally changed my entire life. More than this, it really balanced my perspective of karate, as a professional, and allowed me to put it in the right place (in my life). Belief, values and family first, profession and maintaining values in it, second... Then everything else follows naturally.

The last three years in Japan has allowed me to physically translate my last 20+ years of karate training and technically refine many subtle skills. When people ask me "How can you follow karate like this? That is my dream life!" I tell them, "We must maximize our lives as human beings, suffer, and take multiple risks to do so. If we are fortunate, we either create chances, or cower. If we are unfortunate, we have no choices. If one has a chance, a dream, and 'decides not to chase it', the only certainty is regrets.

Today marks three years in Japan, following my karate dream, and now is a time for celebration. My best wishes to you all from Nakatsu-shi, Oita-ken, Japan.


© André Bertel, Japan 2010.

Monday 22 March 2010

Special training for Bryan Dukas and Paul Kallender in Kyushu

Some of you may have read my June 2009 post on Mike Dukas Shihan (please click on the following link to access it: http://andrebertel.blogspot.com/2009/06/great-interview-with-mike-dukas-shihan.html). Well, on Monday the 8th of March, Bryan Dukas Sensei (Yondan) and Paul Kallender (Shodan) travelled all the way from Tokyo to Nakatsu to meet up, and study Asai style Shotokan Karate at my dojo.

Upon arrival at Kitakyushu airport straight away I spotted my good friend Paul, and then Bryan (whom I've never met before). From the moment of meeting Bryan I knew that we’d get along very well, my first impression was very positive, truly a very modest and knowledgeable karateka. Great guy! After the fairly long drive back to Nakatsu, we immediately travelled to the Renshinkan Dojo for training.

Bryan and Paul wanted to study Tetsuhiko 'Asai Style' Shotokan Karate, so I ran them through several of Sensei's introductory kihon exercises, and methods of power generation, which somewhat differ from that of the KWF/Yahara Karate. We also covered Kakuyoku-shodan and nidan kata several times (also Kakuyoku-sandan a little). During our warm up we briefly ran through Unsu (Bryan's tokui kata), Bassai-dai (Paul's tokui kata), Suishu (Mizu no te) requested by Bryan as he learned it from Asai Sensei in the 90's, Roshu (Nami no te) and Kaminari-arashi kata.

Kata applications for jissen-kumite: Another thing I quickly injected into the lessons were some of Asai Sensei's bunkai/oyo-jutsu of several so-called "redundant Shotokan kata movements". With limited time I only gave examples from the last movement (repeated twice) of Jion, Manji uke (featured in Heian-godan, Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Jion etc), and ura zuki in the three Tekki. Bryan and Paul were clearly impressed by these applications, just as I was, when Asai Sensei first taught them to me. These, according to Sensei, were the original meanings, so I hope this small taste of Asai-ryuha Shotokan bunkai was enlightening. I only wish we had more time to cover all of the applications and to train them via oyo-kumite.

The 'Gammy Leg' & relaxed movement: I was very pleased that Paul, even though he is still suffering with his ‘gammy leg’ still got into his dogi and trained. With more relaxed movement I was greatly impressed by his flow of power. So I'm sure, with practice on this and strict attention to shisei (posture), his karate will readily get to nidan standard.

South African or Nihonjin? Bryan’s karate is literally world class, definitely the best non-Japanese karateka I’ve seen for several years. He is a world level competitor and numerous times South African National Champion (JKA, KWF and WKF All-styles), but better than this, is the fact his karate is 100% traditional (pure budo/martial arts karate). So I was very pleased to teach him some Asai-ryuha, and hope that he introduces, what we covered, to South Africa. He is the first South African karateka to properly study Asai Sensei's technique in a session 'technically similar' to socho-geiko (special 'morning training'). I was thrilled to pass on some of Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei's karate to him, as his karate put a smile on my face.

My advice to anyone in South Africa, is to go and study karate from Bryan Dukas Sensei, he has much to offer anyone, who is serious about learning traditional Shotokan. Unlike most gaikokujin karateka, Bryan truly does karate the Japanese way, and at a level rarely seen outside of the very best clubs, here in Japan.

Thanks Paul and Bryan for coming down, it was a pleasure to host you here in Oita Prefecture, and an honor to be friends with you both through Karate-Do. Mizuho and I hope you had a great time, and that you benefitted from the karate keiko here.

© André Bertel, Japan (2010).

Australian instructors visit

Australian Shotokan karate instructors Ken and Helen Bainbridge visited Nakatsu on Sunday morning (March 21st). It was nice meeting and doing some training with them. Also taking them for some sightseeing around Nakatsu and Usa.

With limted time I took them through some fundamental aspects of Asai style Shotokan karate (in both kihon and kata application). The kihon I introduced included correct chushin for choku-zuki, and testing of this, which can then be applied to all other techniques. Also dentouteki koshi no kaiten (traditional hip rotation) for gyaku-zuki; oi-zuki timing; and Asai-ryuha kihon tachikata.
Oyo-jutsu (practical application) of kata included the final movement of Jion and some others. I hope all of this kihon, and the applications, will be of great benefit, for their students back in Western Australia.
Mizuho and I really enjoyed meeting Helen and Ken. It is always a pleasure to make new friends through the art of Karate-Do. We wish them both the utmost best, for their remaining time here in Nippon.
© André Bertel, Japan (2010).

Thursday 18 March 2010

My kanji

Some people have curiously asked me "Which kanji have been used for your name?" (on my dogi and obi) so I thought I'd quickly answer that in this post. Nothing serious all good fun here!
OK, the three kanji which form my name are 'On' (which means favor, obligation and/or kindness); this character is the same used for the kata Jion. 'Do' is the same as karatedo (literally path, road or way). And 'Rei' is translated as bow, thanks or gratitude; this is the same as reigi or politeness/courtesy.
Kindest regards and respect from Nippon,

© André Bertel, Japan 2010.

Sunday 14 March 2010


I've never really seriously trained for/practiced sports karate, however when doing embu (demonstrations) I alter my techniques for safety. Likewise I did this in competition, for obvious reasons.

Following this train of thought, in this post, I'd briefly like to talk about mawashi geri or 'the roundhouse kick'. Mawashi geri is a very interesting technique, because in actuality, it is not a traditional karatedo waza. In saying that, it was 'made traditional' by Funakoshi Sensei's most talented son. By traditional I mean, it was engineered into a 'single finishing blow', which epitomises real karate. Sadly, due to competition, this pure martial arts technique is rarely seen nowadays, and even if it is, it is only considered as the 'abstract version'. Based on what Asai Sensei taught me, the "traditional mawashi geri is THE ONLY MAWASHI-GERI!" Karate in recent years has been watered down to a point of embarrassment. It is my hope, as well as many other traditional karateka around the world, that real karate is not completely lost.

I only practice the traditional mawashi-geri in my training. This keriwaza axes the ball of the foot, or the shin, downwards by fully rolling the hip over. Likewise all of the body weight follows it, via the drive of the support leg. It is truly a destructive technique. This is the true mawashi-geri.
© André Bertel, Japan (2010).

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Kihon defines one's karate

Here is my current training routine. It is very simple this month with a high degree of focus on the most fundamental techniques. Kihon, kihon and more kihon! I've added some additional commentary, hopefully some food for thought.

I hope this post finds you well. All the very best in your karate-do training.

André Bertel

Stationary kihon:

(1) Chudan choku zuki (with both seiken and nakadaka ippon ken); (2) Hidari jodan kizami zuki kara migi chudan gyaku zuki; (3) Migi jodan kizami zuki kara hidari chudan gyaku zuki; (4) Hidari chudan mae ashi mae geri kara jodan mae geri; and (5) Migi chudan mae ashi mae geri kara hidari jodan mae geri.

Sanbon zuki; (2) Jodan age uke kara chudan gyaku zuki; (3) Chudan soto uke kara chudan gyaku zuki; (4) Chudan uchi uke kara chudan gyaku zuki; (5) Tenshin gyaku zuki ; (6) Chudan shuto uke (kokutsu dachi) kara nukite; (7) Chudan mae geri; (8) Mawashi geri; (9) Yoko keage (kiba dachi); (10) Yoko kekomi (kiba dachi); (11) Ushiro geri; and (12) Jodan shuto yokomawashi uchi kara jodan shuto uchimawashi uchi.

On the first three days of March I ran through all 26 of the standard Shotokan Kata, something that I haven’t done for a while. On Monday (March 1st): I did Heian-shodan, Heian-nidan, Heian-sandan, Heian-yondan, Heian-godan, Tekki-shodan, Tekki-nidan and Tekki-sandan. On Tuesday (March 2nd): Bassai-dai, Bassai-sho, Kanku-dai, Kanku-sho, Jion, Jitte Jiin, Empi and Gankaku. And on Wednesday (March 3rd): Hangetsu, Chinte, Sochin, Unsu, Nijushiho, Gojushiho-sho, Gojushiho-dai, Wankan and Meikyo. And over the last few days I've focused on numerous Asai karate kata.

As my routine is primarily focused on kihon this month, I will do any kata, standard Shotokan or Asai-ryu, based on my daily physical requirements/condition.

Oyo kumite is the focus this month. Oyo kumite is the most important form of kumite in Asai Karate as it is directly applicable in the real world. It is not for winning competitions or only for the dojo kumite (against other karateka). But again, like all forms of kumite, it is useless without effective kihon. That brings to mind all of the 'bunkai masters' out there... OK, whoops, I'm side tracked... Enough said! ;-)

I'd like to conclude by saying, kihon is karate. If you want to see a persons karate level regardless of dan rank, check their oi-zuki, gyaku-zuki, shuto-uke, kokutsu-dachi, yori-ashi or their mae-geri. These and other kihonwaza define a person's technical level. Looking at such things as these make us humble, and realise that we should never feel too proud about our karate.

© André Bertel, Japan (2010).