Saturday 26 February 2011

Form & Application Together: MARTIAL ARTS KARATE

One thing I advocate is 'teaching form and application together' from total beginners right through to the most advanced karateka. In these photos I'm conducting a private lesson with Alex, one of the students of the Christchurch IJKA Shotokan Karate Club (introducing him to Heian-nidan kata). Just to clarify, what I mean by `application' is pragmatic partner drills and impact
training (maintaining form and hitting things with full-power and correct distancing) as opposed to merely learning 'air karate'.
Teaching exact `traditional form' and application takes longer, but is inseparable if karate is to be effective. Some believe that form should be learned first, however, if form and application are learned together, form is better appreciated and fully optimized. My ethos is to teach self-defense to my students from the very first day they walk into the dojo, so this is "THE ONLY WAY".

If one takes longer to perfect the form due to this, it simply means they need to practice more! Kihon, kata and kumite are one, not separate, however at most clubs, this is not reflected in actual training. This was one aspect of practice Shuseki-Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai (10th Dan) stressed for his private `bujutsu' society, the I.J.K.A, and is an aspect I will continue to stress. FORM & APPLICATION TOGETHER IS LITERALLY `THE FOUNDATION OF MARTIAL ARTS KARATE'.
This article is dedicated to Alex, who returned to his home-country this week (after the devastating earthquake & numerous aftershocks here in Christchurch). We wish you the very best Alex and hope that you continue to practice Karate-Do. OSU!
© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Friday 25 February 2011


Tuesday the 22nd of February began like any other day in my life, with my karate self-practice. After training, I had brunch with my wife Mizuho, then later we ventured into the central city just after 12:30pm. Our objectives were to travel to the Cathedral Square branch of the ANZ bank and attend a meeting on Salisbury Street just a short distance north of `The Square'. Nothing normal or out of the ordinary...

To get to the CBD I drove up St. Asaph Street (a two laned one way road) passing the former Southwark Street Dojo. As we neared Christchurch's main road Colombo Street, I became impatient with a slow moving commuter bus in the right lane, so I shot forward and changed lanes overtaking it, and not thinking terribly much... This meant that we turned right into Colombo Street first and made the lights. As it turned out, the bus, still moving slowly, also made the lights, and eventually caught up with us at the next set of red lights (at the Tuam Street intersection). Little would we imagine what would occur at this moment and the resulting devastation.

Waiting for the lights to change, we were greeted by a thunderous roar from the ground and a violent jolt, an earthquake which could be nothing less than destructive. In that moment large stone masonry collapsed from two buildings down towards our car, most devastatingly from the left rear angle (passengers side where Mizuho sat). Reactively I accelerated the car forward to avoid my wife from being crushed, then braked in the middle of the intersection telling Mizuho to `cover her head'. By this time a dust wave had already engulfed our car making us vision-less. As the dust cleared we were confronted by a man with critical head injuries, a woman with a snapped elbow, a woman whose face or head was bleeding and a totally crushed bus directly behind us, with no signs of life. We miraculously escaped with only minor damage, some scars to our vehicle on both sides, where the bricks had toppled.

I will not go on from there, except to say that my home town, the city of Christchurch has suffered a catastrophic earthquake which has taken the lives of many people, crippled many for life, and broken the hearts of many more. The iconic buildings, such as the Christchurch Cathedral, the most symbolic building of Canterbury collapsed and in doing so, also killed a number of people. The television company - CTV, who interviewed me on a visit here from Japan last year (whom many of you have watched online on YouTube), lost most of its staff, as their modern building was outright destroyed. I have yet to hear if the Annabel and Ben who came to complete the interview are still alive. Many young boys and girls from abroad were also in this building as there was an reputed English school there. Ironically until just recently, Mizuho also visited this school on occasion to look after Japanese English language students.

Mizuho and I survived firstly by luck, and secondly by reaction and calmness. I am thankful that someone was looking after us, and that my 30 years of karate training honed the reactions needed to maximise such a small margin for escape. We only wish we could have helped others to also escape unharmed.


Andre & Mizuho Bertel-Ono

Saturday 19 February 2011

Andre Bertel Asai Karate Seminars in Australia (PART V)

Here's some more photographs from the Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu Karatedo Seminars in Western Australia. Video footage will be posted at a later date. Until then, here's a link to Part I:

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Andre Bertel Asai Karate Seminars in Australia (PART IV)

Newspaper article from the Toodyay Herarld (Volume 288, February 2011). To read you can click on it.

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011

Friday 18 February 2011

Andre Bertel Asai Karate Seminars in Australia (PART III)

Here is the poster from the Western Australia Seminars. There were two made by the Avon Valley Shotokan Karate Club. One which they gave to me as a gift & the other, pictured here, which I was asked to sign for the club. I'll certainly treasure this poster as it was the first time I've taught in Australia, and the first time Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu Karate has been taught there.
© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Andre Bertel Asai Karate Seminars in Australia (PART II)

Mizuho and I enjoyed a lovely post seminar party at the homestead of Wayne and Meg Smart. At this event the Shire of Toodyay presented me with a wonderful gift, an original painting from a local Aborigine artist. I'm a big fan of art, so I was pleased to receive this. At this event Wayne, the current president of the Avon Valley Shotokan Karate Club also took us for a brief tour of his spectacular farm to watch a breath-taking sunset (pictured below). This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Again, a big thanks to all of the instructors, Wayne & Meg Smart, members and visitors for my seminars, supporters of the club, the Shire of Toodyay and the local community.

Osu, André

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Andre Bertel Asai Karate Seminars in Australia (PART I)

Over 70 karateka attended my four two hour technical seminars in Toodyay, Western Australia, keen to learn the unique Shotokan of my late karate teacher Shuseki-Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai (10th Dan). I was told that the largest clinic had 62 practicing. The seminars were hosted by Helen and Ken Bainbridge Sensei of Avon Valley Shotokan Karate-Do. Here is a photographic review of the weekend (and as always, you can click on the pictures if you wish to enlarge them).

INTRODUCING ASAI SHOTOKAN TO AUSTRALIA: This was the first introduction of Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu Karate in Australia, therefore so much of what I taught was completely new and very challenging for the participants, nevertheless, as I explained, demonstrated, and taught drills/applications, I could see the lights go on! The first point I emphasised was `THE MISSING LINK'. Essentially that "Traditional karate is not only a label but rather indicates that the karate being practiced is for actual self-defence, as opposed to being sports". In saying that I also stressed that "even if one doesn't compete, unless they train their kihon, kata and kumite, to be devastatingly effective in self-defence, they are still 'playing' sports karate".
THE THREE ENGINES OF ASAI-HA SHOTOKAN-RYU: As always my seminars covered the three core mechanisms of Asai Shotokan which if trained properly result in authentic traditional karate technique/application: (a) Proper KOSHI NO KAITEN (The rotation of the hips); (b) Proper TAI NO SHINSHUKU (the contraction and expansion of the body); and (c) JUNANSEI (Softness - to achieve snap and full-technique as opposed to using muscle power). Kata cover in the seminars included KASHU or HI NO TE (Fire hands) and KIBAKEN-SHODAN. In the host instructors class (which was attended by Ken, Helen and Mark) we worked on SHOTEI and also some corresponding points in the 26 standard Shotokan kata.

SEMINAR VIDEO FOOTAGE ON YOUTUBE: Upon receiving the video footage of the seminars from Avon Valley Shotokan I'll upload some of the techniques/ applications which I taught over the weekend. I'll also post some information about the club at a later date.


In addition to the instructors, members and families of the Avon Valley Shotokan Karate I'd also like to especially thank Davide Calneggia Sensei (who travelled up from Margaret River, WA) who assisted me on Day Two of the seminars; and also Leo San, who flew in from Sydney, and assisted me on both days. OSU, André.

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Andre Bertel Online Interview in Portuguese

The interview below was conducted by Rene Assano of Brazil who recently contacted me, to see it published online in Portuguese, please follow this link:

Q1. In your opinion, what is Karate-do? What we should look for in this martial art? (ANDRE BERTEL) Karate in the past was purely a martial art which physically aimed to achieve ichigeki-hissatsu (to kill with a single blow). Modern Japanese karate-do has incorporated the holistic development of the body, mind and spirit, and also the aspect of competition karate. Old and modern karate are both fine, but physically we must still aim to achieve ichigeki-hissatsu with all of our techniques, otherwise traditional karate, real karate, is lost.

Q2. How did you choose the Shotokan style? (ANDRE BERTEL) I didn’t choose Shotokan-ryu, actually my mother forced me to start at five years of age. Initially I hated karate but after finally passing my shodan as a junior in the mid-1980’s I decided to continue on my own accord. As I aged I realized how lucky I was studying JKA style Shotokan and soon began planning how I could get to Japan, even though I came from a family with very little money.

Q3. What are your feelings about the karate-do that is taught around the globe? Do you believe that the true martial art spirit of karate-do was lost in the past? What could be done to change this matter? (ANDRE BERTEL) Essentially karate is dead due to the overemphasis on competition, and karate politicians with insufficient skill, who have transmogrified it into a sub-martial art. Funnily enough the truth is that sports karateka are often stronger than those who claim to be traditional… this is because nowadays the majority of people labelling themselves traditional are practicing a lame version of sports karate. Traditional karateka as I’ve said before spends 100% of their training time trying to achieve ichigeki-hissatsu, this is what is needed to change and revive true karate. Anything less is sports karate regardless of its label.

Q4. What do you think about all the efforts about bringing karate tournaments to the olympic games? How do you see the transformation of karate into a sport?
(ANDRE BERTEL) Funakoshi Gichin Sensei was against any form of competition, nevertheless the JKA developed a sound set of rules which promoted traditional karate technique in kumite and kata. These rules facilitate the development of traditional karate technique in kata and ippon-waza, with control, in kumite. As far as entering into the Olympics is concerned, unless the rules adopted were JKA ippon shobu kumite, I adamantly hope it never gets in. In regards to kata, medal winners in present day competition are usually sickening due to their theatrics and techniques lacking any real impact power. Compare these “performances” with the likes of Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei’s Sochin or Yahara Mikio Sensei’s Unsu. Huge impact with every technique is their focus – traditional karate! Their kata is spectacular because it is pure martial arts not merely trying to look impressive.

Q5. What were your steps into being an Asai's disciple? Who are the other karate-do masters that have inspired you? (ANDRE BERTEL) I didn’t meet and train with Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei until 1993. He took an interest in my karate and after that he invested a lot of effort into my development, something that I didn’t ask for, so I was very privileged to become his personal student. Insofar as other senior Japanese karate masters are concerned, probably all of the JKA instructors have inspired me in some way or another.

Q6. You are known as the person who really absorbed the fantastic style from Asai. There are some posts on your blog with a quite aggressive position about people in JKS, which was the organization created by Asai himself. What are the main reasons for those conflicts? (ANDRE BERTEL) The answer to that question is on my website. So rather than rewrite it please follow this link:

Q7. Asai had a very fluid form in his movements, and through his demonstrations, we could see an efficient usage of the joints during Muchiken techniques. How to ally the "soft" of Muchiken with the"hard" of kime? (ANDRE BERTEL) You don’t just keep soft, in Nihongo `kime’ comes from `kimeru’ or ‘decision’. Kime is not about powerfully tensing for a brief moment, but rather where you decide to stop your technique. Other Shotokan masters have different views, but this is what Asai Sensei taught me, and this is what I follow. The fact is, this is more powerful, smooth, fast and easier on the body.

Q8. Could you write about the origin and main concepts about the Hachimon kata? (ANDRE BERTEL) I originally learned Hachimon from Asai Sensei’s in the 1990’s. Its name literally translates as `Eight Gates’ in reference to happo (the eight directions) covered on the embusen. It is the first of three kata in a series; the other two are Senka and Rakuyo. I’m not sure of Hachimon’s origin, however Asai Sensei did say it is a koten-gata (ancient/classical kata). The main concepts are typical of Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu karatedo, namely softness, snap, and natural movement. Hachimon has particular emphasis on postural alignment in one’s fundamental techniques, and both rotation, and reverse rotation. A particular point which Sensei really stressed in all three of the kata in that series was ankle control when turning, so for me personally, this is the major concept.

Q9. What is your opinion about using protection equipment (bogu)instead of the sundome? (ANDRE BERTEL) Let me combine two of my answers above, as this must happen because kihon, kata and kumite form an inseparable trinity. They must perfectly harmonize together, and if most people are honest, they don’t. OK, back to your question, firstly what makes karate traditional is the forging of all techniques to kill in kumite, whether executing kihon or kata. And the paramount issue, when seeking to master this ability, is to near-perfectly control one’s body. Now, secondly, as I have mentioned, kime is deciding where one’s techniques go, how deep, the weapon of the body and the target. Body armour replacing sun-dome would lose this control, whereas the use of sun-dome promotes it. In saying that, sun-dome is not regular practice; it is only applied in non-life threatening competition in the dojo or in a competitive environment. Still all of the power must be there, but arrested not to kill or seriously maim one’s opponent. Use the heavy bag and makiwara for full-contact training and there is nothing wrong with body armour in practice to go all out, but the sun-dome rule should not be replaced in kumite matches.

Q10. Some karate-do styles have a huge focus on creating resistance on receiving attacks, creating tolerance to pain, which is not often, see non Shotokan techniques. Do you think that those training methods are needed? How to ally them to the training sessions? (ANDRE BERTEL) Working in private security for many years I had more than a few street fights, and this taught me a lot about fear, going into shock, and absorbing blows, especially heavy hits to my face and head. In saying that I don’t believe excessive conditioning is necessary, especially for those training merely for civilian self-defence. Nevertheless able to take heavy hits to the abdomen is critical, but again I don’t recommend intentionally practicing absorbing blows to the head. If one is in a serious dojo, they will get smacked hard in the face from time to time, and that’s more than enough. If the instructor is decent they’ll never call yame immediately if a person gets hurt, this is so that students get into the habit of maintaining their defence regardless of their condition. If someone drops their defence before yame is called, when hurt, they have not been trained properly. The only obvious exception is a complete knockout, but this is also indicative of improper training, which brings us full-circle back to sun-dome.

Q11. What do you think about Brazil? Do you have any plans on visiting us? Kind Regards, Rene Assano. (ANDRE BERTEL) Thanks Rene. I enjoy teaching Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu karatedo everywhere, but I have no plans to visit Brazil at present. This year so far I’m teaching karate seminars here in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and USA. The big problem is my schedule; otherwise I’d go everywhere to properly spread Asai Sensei’s karate. Hopefully I will have a chance to teach over there in the future. Osu, André Bertel.

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Sunday 6 February 2011


Here is an Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu Koten-gata video compiled in 2003 (featuring some clips of me training from 2000-2003). The quality is not so good, but thankfully with continued and intensive training, our karate evolves! One great point is that these clips are of me doing my regular self-training as opposed to performing a demonstration, attempting a dan or qualifications exam, or competing in a tournament.

Please note (to avoid confusion): In this video I was New Zealand National Chief instructor of both IJKA & JKS, however I resigned from JKS New Zealand in 2006. I am no longer associated with JKS New Zealand or its members in any way whatsoever, nor do I endorse their technical standards.

Osu, Andre Bertel (6th Dan).

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Friday 4 February 2011


Studying under Asai Tetsuhiko Shuseki-Shihan, besides being technically rewarding beyond measure, in the karate sense, was physically very demanding for me. What's more, it actually became political due to the jealousy of others.

The Beginning in 1993: Whilst our club switched to JKA (Matsuno group) in 1991, my first meeting and training under Asai Shihan was not until 1993. Asai Shihan took an interest in my karate and after that time, our relationship evolved into a sensei-deshi one. Not so friendly like you might think, but rather he began pushing me very hard.

Special Treatment: Asai Shihan literally `told me' that I was grading above yondan, and from then on I never had to pay registration fees (for dan & qualifications). Sensei even paid me to travel to seminars and to Japan by reimbursing me in cash with amounts up to 300,000 yen on a few occasions. He sometimes even bought me clothing, once a nice coat that didn't fit me, but I was too scared to say anything.

Jealousy from some instructors: Besides the training which Asai Shihan put me through, such personal care I will never forget. Sadly the envy fueled by Sensei's kindness still causes a handful of instructors to seemingly despise me. I think that they should respect that Asai Sensei wanted to do these things. It is not like I could tell Asai Sensei what to do! Furthermore, what makes things worse, intensifying their jealousy, is that my karate technique and knowledge is a physical testament of the in depth training I received.
Ed Fujiwara Sensei & the Tetsubukan: Ed Fujiwara Sensei was one karate instructor who has always been supportive of me (Asai Sensei hooked me up with him on my way back from Japan in 1993). Anyway, this began another friendship with possibly Asai Shihan's most loyal student. Not coincidentally, the name of my dojo `Tetsubukan' came from Fujiwara Sensei, who's also ran an organization with the same name, under the Matsuno JKA. 'Tetsu' as in Tetsuhiko Asai, `Bu' (Martial Arts) and 'Kan' meaning (House).
An embarrassing and stressful event: Ten years later (in 2003) Fujiwara Sensei, on the recommendation of Asai Sensei, had me teach several koten-kata in Hawaii to him, and a handful of I.J.K.A students (including his son-in-law Rob Green, husband of Sensei Kim Fujiwara). Ed Fujiwara Sensei was so humble when I taught the class that he wore a white belt! When I asked him before the class "Sensei, why are you wearing a white belt? He softly said "Because you are Asai Sensei's uchideshi, and are passing on special technique to me from Asai Sensei." Needless to say I felt extremely uncomfortable due to Fujiwara Sensei's massive seniority to me in Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu, and his extremely close and longtime relationship with Shuseki-Shihan.
Being let off the hook by Fujiwara Sensei: Little did I know that Fujiwara Sensei knew from Asai Shuseki-Shihan directly how intensely I was being trained (he knew what Asai Sensei had been doing with me over the last 10 years and was regularly keeping up to date). So when Asai Shihan told him "Andre-kun will be assisting me in Hawaii", and then told him to `host me for a kata class', Fujiwara Sensei arranged it without delay. Later on when I found all of this out, staying at the Fujiwara house, I felt very relieved!
Besides hard training, other challenges have certainly come in my karate career. These are all learning experiences and the reality of human interactions and human nature. One thing I have learned over the years is that jealousy is the biggest source of trouble in the karate world. Regardless of all that, I just keep training, following in the footsteps of Shuseki Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai.
© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Thursday 3 February 2011


Training this month has been amped up! Last month as my regular readers will know, I got extremely unwell and had to take it easy. During that time I received a staggering 5000+ get well messages from all over the world… I’m still shocked by that! From every corner of the planet and from every Shotokan karate organisation you could think of. DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASHITA!

This month will be busy and will include a week in Australia where I will be teaching seminars in Toodyay (close to Perth). My schedule here in Canterbury is also busy with the Tetsubukan Dojo, attending the two weeknight classes at the Honbu Dojo, the instructors’ classes, private lessons for members, and my daily self-training.

Kihon: My kihon training this month is again very simple, essentially the same as practiced in Lyall Sensei’s class. In brief: oi-zuki or sanbon-zuki, the four standard closed hand blocks and jodan-barai followed by gyaku-zuki, and the five basic Shotokan-ryu keriwaza.
Kata: Hangetsu (Slowly to warm-up with muscular tension excluding the `Darth Vadar breathing' & in the regular manner), Jion, Asai-ha Unsu, Tekki-shodan, and Kibaken 1-5.
Kumite: I am focusing on two aspects of kumite which Asai Sensei explained as being inseparable. These are explosive basic techniques and the practical application of kata for actual self-defence. Sorry to repeat this, but so many people nowadays are `bunkai experts’ but lack the explosive power of the core fundamental techniques, which generally speaking Japanese karateka have. Contrary to many beer-bellied bunkai theorists, there are no short cuts in regards to this aspect of karate training. On the flip side of the coin, for karate to be a complete martial art, daily practice of street effective application from our database (the kata) is also critical. Therefore, this month my kumite training combines Kihon-ippon kumite for fundamental practice, and oyo (application) kumite.
Bunkai-centric verses Kihon-centric: I’d like to add one more comment in regards to kihon (fundamentals) and kata application. More than 95% of the top Japanese karate experts do not teach practical self-defence applications of the kata, nevertheless most have explosive and effective kihon. My point is that it is possible to have great and effective karate without realistic applications… This is an undeniable fact. Conversely, having all sorts of dangerous applications without highly trained fundamentals is useless (and again, as stated previously, typical of many Western karate `experts’ who have all sports of innovative tricks... Lots of thinking and not enough training...). Such a person will never have a chance against a karate exponent with thousands upon thousands of precise kihonwaza repetitions. In saying that, if Westerners wish to surpass the most elite Japanese karateka, it is possible by training kihon as intensely (and exactly) as the Japanese do, and also practicing the kata for effective self-defence.

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Instructor Profile on the Christchurch Shotokan Karate Club Homepage

 The Christchurch Shotokan Karate Club recently did a brief profile of me on their website. I train and support the dojo as it is only Shotokan club in Canterbury which teaches authentic traditional Japanese Shotokan Karate-Do (without compromising technical standards or training methods).

I'd like to thank Christchurch Shotokan Chief Instructor, Lyall Stone Sensei, and all of the members of the club who I sweat alongside each week. 2011 will be a very big year for Christchurch Shotokan! To see the profile follow this link:

© André Bertel, New Zealand 2011.