Monday 25 June 2012


It is undeniable that what establishes the skill level of a persons karate is the level of their kihon (fundamentals). While kata is ruled by oyo, as I have discussed in past articles, the quality of ones kihon still determines "effectiveness". This is precisely why there are so many excellent instructors in Japan in comparison to the rest of the world. In the hard-core traditional karate clubs of Japan the priority is correct kihon: intensely repeated over and over again. Unsurprisingly, many karateka outside of Japan have exaggerated beliefs about about how good their karate kihon actually is. Hard training and precision training must be harmonious... Many old time Shotokan karateka in the West have trained hard for many years, yet unlike their Japanese counterparts have a low technical standard. The answer is not culturally based or because the Japanese are physiologically different... The answer is a lower quality of kihon-geiko.

My wife Mizuho has practiced classical piano since she was four years old. After 32 years of experience she still emphasises that ‘kihon’ is what determines everything. One can play any complicated piece of music and apply the greatest feeling, but without high-level kihon they will be amateur players: in particular, to those who deeply understand the art of piano playing.

Returning to karate, and the point of ryuha: kata and kumite are also kihon. Therefore, if our kihon does not remain “Shotokan”—when applied in kumite—we are no longer doing the Shotokan system. Correspondingly, our kata must also strongly reflect the kihon of our respective ryuha or kaiha. Obviously it is still important to study shimewaza, ude-gatame, nagewaza and other waza hidden in the kata, but these are FAR SECONDARY to mastering the surface level kihon (oi-zuki, gyaku-zuki, mae-geri, yoko shuto uchi etc). I would like to see any bunkai expert in the world try to `apply their karate' on the likes of Masahiko Tanaka Sensei, Mikio Yahara Sensei, Hitoshi Kasuya Sensei et al.

To conclude, beware of Shotokan Karate instructors (with high grades and long experience) who emphasise kata applications and innovative karate drills; but NEVER DEMONSTRATE A FULL KATA in front of you (which is undeniably of a high-level). This is “the definitive sign” that they are fakes (alternatively, kata experts who cannot perform their kihon effectively in kumite). Unarguably, kihon was, is, and always will be the benchmark of people’s karate skill.

© André Bertel. Christchurch, New Zealand 2012.

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