Tuesday 22 January 2013

South African Newspaper Articles

I will soon be flown to South Africa to teach Shotokan Karatedo technical seminars.

If you wish to attend please contact the seminar organiser, Gary Grapentin Sensei, by emailing him at: garyg@geenet.co.za.

I am very much looking forward to teaching karate, training and meeting Shotokan karateka in South Africa. To those who are participating, see you soon!

OSU, Andre

 © André Bertel. Christchurch, New Zealand (2013).

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Kakiwake-uke: Spreading the `wedge block’

Kakiwake-uke is a technique found right across karate-do, from Heian to Unsu, kihon to yakusoku-kumite, and oyo-kumite/self-defence.

Tounge twister and lost in translation: I find that Westerners seem to have a real problem pronouncing this technique correctly so I thought I’d offer how to pronounce it correctly here: Quite simply “KA-KEY-WA-KAY – EW-KAY”’. The noun `kakiwake’ derives from the verb `kakiwakeru’ which roughly means to `divide apart’. While the `noun’ uke means ‘reception’ (which comes from the verb `ukeru’). Of course, in English we refer to it as the `wedge block’, which is a functional term, but perhaps a tad misleading when it comes to its application.

Before I go on, like most techniques kakiwake-uke is executed at chudan (middle level), jodan (upper level) and gedan (lower level) and with different `karada no buki’ (weapons of the body); moreover, in different directions: but primarily frontward i.e. – movement 14 & 18 of Heian-Yondan; and sokumen-uke `to the sides’: most commonly gedan kakiwake-uke (AKA - kakiwake gedan-barai). Needless to say, gedan-kakiwake no kamae is the basic posture for practicing keriwaza (kicking techniques).

Oyo (Application): Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei taught that kakiwake-uke must be applied in a `flinch-reaction’-like manner. That is, the first part of the action (the squeezing or compression) immediately deals with the assailants hold from the outside going inward. His rationale was that: (i) we should never put both arms inside of an opponent’s arms because it leaves us completely vulnerable to attack (from either hand and/or others if dealing with multiple attackers); (ii) generating power by spreading the opponents arms from the inside outward is weak (whereas huge power can be applied from the outside and/or downwards); and (iii) from this action, the opening/spreading of the arms can be used as strikes or ude-gatame (arm locks) as the first action conveniently sets this up.

The tachikata (stance) and unsoku (leg movements/footwork) also change how the various forms of kakiwake-uke can be applied; however, all karate must be primarily instinctive as opposed to being trained as variations. Effectiveness cannot come from knowing many different techniques, but rather doing “the right waza—at the right time—in the right way”; thus, whether talking about kakiwake-uke or any technique, the key point is that one can “instinctively and optimally react” through extensive and well-guided training. 

© André Bertel. Christchurch, New Zealand (2013).

Sunday 13 January 2013


I get so many emails asking about karate dogi (uniforms) and obi (belts); in particular, wanting to know what are the best brands and how to get “a perfect fit”. In this post, I will answer this once and for all with the best advice you will find on the net.
      1.0  THE BEST KARTEDO-GI: If you have been reading my site for a few years or gone   
      through it, you will find one brand that keeps appearing: HIROTA. Moreover, that my personal  
      favourite karate uniform is the `Kata Pinack’. I believe this is the best karatedo-gi in the world
      at present. Click here: http://www.kuroobiya.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=4_7&products_id=99

1.1 THE BEST KARATEDO-OBI: Again, HIROTA also has the very best belts. And their very best in my opinion is the `303’ (Special Black Cotton Yohachi). Click here: http://www.kuroobiya.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5_10&products_id=30

1.3 TO ENSURE YOU GET THE PERFECT FIT: Use “the experts”! KUROBIYA is the best and Hamid Abbassalty will guarantee that you get what you want! This is because, besides knowing more about karatedo-gi and obi than any other person on the planet, he is a guru of listening to his customers, and getting them the best. Furthermore, his prices are excellent and service is highly efficient. I personally wouldn’t dream of not going through Hamid (as risk taking is foolish when it comes to purchasing your uniforms and belts). You can go to the the Kuroobiya website by clicking here: http://www.kuroobiya.com/shop

For now on, for those who send me emails about karatedo-gi and obi I will not answer extensively but rather send a link to this article. In conclusion, and to recapitulate, my recommendation is the `Pinack Kata’ and to order through the experts ‘Kuroobiya’; overall, this is because irrespective of the quality (of dogi and obi you buy), it will not be satisfactory if the fit isn’t “perfect for you”. Kindest regards and all the best, André.

© André Bertel. Christchurch, New Zealand (2013).

Sunday 6 January 2013

Christchurch Shotokan Karate Club - Hatsugeiko 2013: Christchurch, New Zealand

Prior to the commencement of training at 6am I enjoyed practicing Kanku-Dai kata on the beach as the sun rose.
While most members were away on holiday, nine karateka from the Christchurch Shotokan Karate Club engaged in a special Hatsugeiko (New Year’s Training) at North New Brighton Beach. Starting at 6am, and continuing for approximately two hours we went through kihon (fundamentals), kihon ippon kumite (basic one-step sparring), Heian Yondan Kata and various calisthenics.

Christchurh's New Brighton Pier and the Port Hills in the distance.
Kihon: The session began with the traditional long period of mokuso and a beach run. This was immediately followed by many repetitions of some of the `core kihon-waza’ including: (1) Seiken choku-zuki in hachinoji-dachi; (2) Mae-geri from heisoku-dachi; (3) Yoko-keage from heisoku-dachi; (4) Gyaku-zuki from hidari zekutsu-dachi; (5) Kizami-zuki kara gyaku-zuki from migi zenkutsu-dachi; (6) Mae-geri from hidari and migi zenkutsu-dachi; (7) Oi-zuki; (8) Sanbon-zuki; (9) Jodan age-uke; (10) Chudan soto-uke; (11) Chudan uchi-uke; and (12) Gedan-barai.
The most simple Shotokan-Ryu kihon waza were practiced over and over again with everyone taking turns at counting.
Kihon Ippon Kumite: Two techniques were practiced against jodan oi-zuki: (a) the standard jodan age-uke followed by gyaku-zuki; and (b) tate shuto-uke moving diagonally into kokutsu-dachi then countering with yoko shuto-uchi. Next, three techniques were practiced against chudan oi-zuki: (a) the typical chudan soto-uke kara gyaku-zuki; (b) chudan uchi-uke kara jodan kizami-zuki soshite chudan gyaku-zuki; (c) stepping diagonally into kokutsu-dachi utilising chudan shuto-uke kara maeashi mae-geri soshite nukite (matawa gyaku-zuki). Lastly, against chudan mae-geri: (a) gedan juji-uke followed immediately by a yori-ashi forward with jodan juji-zuki to the throat.
IJKA (International Japan Karate Association) - Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu `Heian Yondan Kata'.

Kata: Heian Yondan was practiced several times slowly with the command count, at normal speed with the command count and mugourei (without the count). Technical emphasis was placed on the use of junansei (softness), to generate natural energy, and the optimal transfer of power.
The session concluded with numerous repetitions of oi-zuki into the waves, the traditional sumo matches, 100 seiken-zuki with maximum speed, followed by kusshin sokumen jodan mae-geri (squat front snap kicks to the side) and seiken-tate (fore-fist push ups). Overall, a wonderful Hatsugeiko in Christchurch, New Zealand
Osu, André

© André Bertel. Christchurch, New Zealand 2013).


"Karate-Do - Simple Life"

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Tips for Kata Training (Part One)

Of course after 31 years of Karate-Do, practice anyone  could write a diverse range of tips on how to train kata, however, today I decided to focus on “kata training in relation to grade” (with an accompanying `Japanese style’ rationale, which directly relates to Karate as 'Budo' or 'Bujutsu'). Rather than write on and on, I have attempted to do this systematically, via five tips. If you follow this approach your karate will improve immensely. In saying that, this post is not infallible as it doesn’t take into account people who have held, for example, a "quality" shodan rank for many years; nevertheless, because there are numerous issues like this, logic shows that it is impossible to address such a vast array of possibilities in a short article. Therefore, this post aims to address kata training in relation to one's level, in the most common scenario of `standard progression' through kyu and dan. 

(1)     Don’t rush ahead to learn lots of kata. From the beginning of your training simply stick to Heian kata practice, and preferably put your energy into the kata for your next kyu exam. The Shotokan syllabus is in place for a reason! If you are a brown belt simply focus on the six kihon-gata and just one of the sentei-gata. Really aim to master these! Also seriously practice one of the Junro kata (naturally, Junro Shodan is recommended).

(2)     After acquiring the rank of Shodan (first degree black belt) continue to intensely practice the six fundamental kata; however,  now also work hard to master all four sentei-gata (Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Empi and Jion). Furthermore, select one of the five Junro kata (Shodan – Godan) and aim to perfect it. You may choose to just focus on the Junro kata you worked on previously or you might decide to “specialise” in another.
(3)     The sixteen jiyu-gata are also available for practice after attaining one’s Shodan, however I recommend focusing on the aforementioned ten mandatory kata, and the Junro you like the most. If you decide to practice a jiyu-gata focus on one (and only do this once you are very confident with the “Big Four”). In this case, choose a jiyu-gata that really suits you in kumite. If you have great keriwaza you might choose Gankaku or Kanku Sho, or if you are well built and strong, perhaps Jiin, Jitte or Sochin. Nevertheless, it is well worth mentioning that it is highly respectable for a person taking the Nidan test to select a sentei-gata, and ironically, the best karateka tend to. Again, quality is what counts.

(4)     There is nothing worse than seeing kyu graded karate students doing Unsu, Sochin, Gojushiho Sho or some other advanced kata. Yes, perhaps they can athletically emulate the movements, but the technical maturity needed to execute these kata is impossible for karateka without extensive training (usually holding Nidan at “the very earliest”). Using the example of competition in the traditional sense a great Bassai Dai will always beat a “so-so” Chinte. Likewise, a great Bassai Dai will pass the Nidan examination but the mediocre Chinte may not. In the case of kyu examination anything above the syllabus prerequisites will be failed. For example and likewise, if a person taking a traditional Shodan test, performs Nijushiho, they will fail the kata section of their exam. Overall, I think you get the idea…

(5)     Until passing Shodan the point with kata mastery is demonstrating strong and precise kihon. After Shodan this continues but the karateka must also know and be able to demonstrate the oyo-jutsu (practical applications) of their tokui-gata (favourite/specialised kata). This requires: (1) continuous training the kata as solo forms; (2) practice of the techniques/themes/principles in yakusoku-kumite; (3) self-defence practice—with partner compliancy—utilising oyo-kumite; and finally (4) oyo-kumite with partner non-compliancy (literally as a form of “street style” jiyu-kumite). None of this can be achieved with optimum form (for optimum effect in self-defence) without a very strong technical foundation in the shitei-gata (mandatory/compulsory kata). I.e. - knowing all of the `bunkai' is not going to help without having the physical prowess to apply it! And this is all too common in the West with numerous people producing DVDs and books on `kata applications', yet being unable to execute razor sharp fundamentals and kata... Really speaking, this is a lame form of jujutsu or judo in order to overshadow poor karate skills.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope this article was helpful for you whether you are a beginner in Shotokan, hold a kyu or dan rank, and/or instruct. It is critical for karateka to not rush ahead in kata (and make their karate superficial), but rather study kata deeply in accordance with their respective level.
Lastly, I'd personally like to wish you a very happy & healthy 2013. OSU!

- André Bertel
© André Bertel. Christchurch, New Zealand (2013).