Friday 19 December 2014


On January 10th and 11th I’ll be coaching a weekend of Karate-Do seminars in Christchurch, New Zealand. This will be a one off event before I return to Japan. As most people are away (on holiday) at this time, and the sudden notification, it is expected that not so many karateka will attend; nevertheless, this will result in the attendees getting much more personal tuition than usual.

The venue has yet to be decided; however, the schedule will be as follows:

Session one: Saturday 1pm - 3pm

Session Two: Saturday 4pm- 6pm

Session Three: Sunday 9am - 11am

Session Four: Sunday 12pm – 2pm

If you wish reserve a place, please email me directly at: Already karateka from around New Zealand, and from Australia, have confirmed their attendance. For those attending, see you in New Zealand. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Thursday 18 December 2014

Trainee from Sydney, Australia: Leo Pintos

Leo at Kokuzou Jinja.
Leo Pintos, from Sydney Australia, came to Japan to train at my private dojo last week. Leo has attended several of my karate-do seminars (in New Zealand and Australia) so it was great to see him here in Kumamoto Prefecture. I will not specifically detail the training he received—as that is for him—and for whom he chooses to share this knowledge with; however, I will provide a brief outline, and a few photographs, from his training with me here in Japan.

Day one: After some sightseeing at Aso Jinja (Shrine) the first two hour session began. This covered the subtle points of traditional Japanese kihon that are most commonly misunderstood; in particular, "...the aspects that are essential for budo karate, which essentially work towards the objective of ichigeki-hissatsu (the ability to down an adversary with a single blow)". Again, without going into detail, this primarily focused on foot positioning, use of the legs and hips: essentially, the kahanshin. This training was then seamlessly applied to Enpi kata, Gohon kumite and Kihon ippon kumite. Overall, the proper connection of the '3 K's', which leads to karate being highly effective (for self-defence in the real world), was decisively practiced.
Traditional application of movement one of Enpi.

Traditional application of movement two of Enpi.
 Day two: I took Leo for sightseeing at Kumamoto-Jo (Kumamoto Castle) and Musashi Koen (the park that hosts the grave of Japan's legendary swordsman, Musashi Miyamoto). I have to say that I had a great time hanging out with Leo… Super bloke! Following this, we went for a few hours of training at the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Kumamoto Chuo Shibu under Nakamura Shihan and Akiyoshi Sensei. This session really reinforced the previous day's training as it covered Jiyu Kumite Kihon; Gohon Kumite, Jiyu Ippon Kumite, and several rounds of Jiyu Kumite; and Kata (free-choice). Leo and I performed Enpi based on the previous days practice. Unambiguously, he did really well and everyone at the dojo took a shine to him immediately.

Kime with haito uchi.
Day three: On day three the real meanings, and foci, of Gohon Kumite, Kihon Ippon, Jiyu Ippon Kumite were stressed. The session ended with a controlled Budo Jiyu Kumite drill (which must not be `sparring’ but, rather, “reinforce full commitment of the body every time one attacks”). After this training, which I should say was at the new Aso-Budojo (i.e. - not my `refrigerated dojo), a nomikai (drinking party) was well deserved!

Kime with jodan zuki to the throat.
Day four: Leo’s final day of training recapitulated everything on a deeper level. We also covered the oyo (applications) of Enpi, which come from the origins of Wanshu in Okinawa. This was done
via the first level of Oyo Kumite. Again, this is for  Leo, as he took the plunge and came to Japan with Budo Spirit; that is, he talked with his karate and put himself on the line.
To conclude, I really respect Leo as a karateka and also as a person. Mizuho and I are honoured to know him. Domo arigato gozaimashita Leo San, you are always welcome at my dojo here in Japan. Furthermore,  Nakamura Shihan, Akiyoshi Sensei, and all the members of JKA Kumamoto Chuo hope to see you again! You have made many friends in Japan. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).
Jodan mawashi-geri

Hidari seiken jodan-zuki to the throat.

Jodan mawashi-geri.
Leo: movement one of Kanku-Dai Kata.
Movement one of Enpi at Kokuzou Jinja (Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan). Even though you can't see it, it was lightly snowing.
Leo after training at the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Kumamoto Chuo Branch.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Correct elbow positions in ukewaza

Migi zenkutsu-dachi with migi chudan uchi uke.
The position of one’s elbows when utilizing ukewaza (reception techniques) must be fully understood, and correctly applied, whether using ukewaza for defence, attack or both simultaneously.

A good way to learn this is to learn this is from the top down: especially in a freestyle context such as jiyu-kumite or via self-defence scenario training. Have your partner attack you, and attack relentlessly (without concern of your counter offensive manoeuvre; that is, their safety); accordingly, restrict your actions to only ukewaza.

At first concentrate on (using) your hands: This is typical amongst beginners and is very difficult if the opponent is relatively strong, and aggressive. Secondly, concentrate on (using) your elbows to move your hands. This, in comparison, you will find is much more easy and, understatedly, far more effective. Of course this also equally applies to ashi-uke (leg blocks) i.e. - focusing on the knees instead of the feet. I'd like to elucidate here that I am not disregarding the imperative use of the hips, the criticality of body shifting/footwork, and so forth. Rather, this is an isolation exercise for better understanding the elbows (in the overall context of karate-do waza).

Returning to the "basic" ukewaza, which we train in a formalized context (kihon, kata and yakusoku-kumite), we quickly gain an appreciation of our elbows. From here, let's consider the five most 'standard ukewaza' of Shotokan-Ryu as established by Funakoshi Gichin Shuseki-Shihan, at  the foundation of the JKA (Japan Karate Association), namely jodan age uke, chudan soto uke, chudan uchi uke, gedan barai and chudan shuto uke.

  (1)  Jodan age uke: wrist one fist width from the forehead and forearm diagonal.

(2)  Chudan soto uke: elbow one fist width from the body and bent 90 degrees.

(3)   Chudan uchi uke: elbow one fist width from the body and bent 90 degrees.

(4)  Gedan barai: wrist one fist width above the knee and elbow one fist width from the body.
(5)  Chudan shuto uke: elbow one fist width from the body and bent 90 degrees.
Hidari kokutsu-dachi with migi shuto chudan uke.
In all cases, with the exception of shuto uke (where the sword hand is applied), the blocking surface is one's tekubi (wrist) and, 'fundamentally speaking', all of them target the opponents respective wrists and ankles; furthermore, the power of all ukewaza primarily derives from your centre; most notably, the hips. In particular, this comes from koshi no kaiten, which like all `technical categories' in karate-do can be applied via jun-kaiten, gyaku-kaiten, or a combination of the two (often referenced as 'hip vibration'). However, koshi no kaiten cannot be so easily summarised as "..there are also various degrees of rotation and appropriate usage, which differs `case-by-case'". Additionally, it involves using the seika tanden and numerous other parts of the body (and a vast array of aspects, which establish `mastery'). Needless to say, we could go on and on but, for the sake of this article, I'd like to return to the issue of one's elbows.

So where do the elbows, in the context of the `core ukewaza’, fit in relation to one's overall effectiveness? Well, besides the point mentioned above in the freestyle context (essentially controlling what the hands/wrists “do”), the distance of the elbows in relation to the torso determine leverage. In simple terms, as the blocking elbow gets further away from the body the basic ukewaza become weak. Ironically, if it comes closer to the body (than a fist width) they lose functionality/applicability.

If this point is fully expressed one can create a huge amount of power if the waist is fully applied, via the rear leg, and the shoulders relaxed (all the other aspects such as shime simply add to these points). In this way, the feeling is to attack with both your wrist and elbow as single unit. Suddenly age uke becomes a rising elbow strike; soto uke - a roundhouse elbow strike; uchi uke - a side elbow strike; and both gedan barai and shuto uke become downward elbow strikes. Again, this goes beyond various forms of enpi-uchi...

Another aspect I'd like to mention here is 'over blocking'; that is, executing ukewaza beyond the body or head. A "classic error" is chudan soto uke in, say, Gohon kumite (Five step sparring) where the defender superfluously moves. All of my students will laugh here, because you all know what I'm about to say and what I do when this happens... When someone over blocks, in Gohon kumite (or in any of the forms of Ippon kumite), I immediately punch jodan. For me, when this occurs, they have given me a huge gap of time that I can't resist capitalizing on and—much more importantly—it gives me the opportunity to give my students a `foundational lesson’... I then ask them, "…were you imagining you were also defending someone next to you?" To me this is the benefit of yakusoku-kumite because in any form of 'freestyle' "...superfluous `over-action’ is what will get one hurt in serious dojo kumite or in a match (or killed in the likes of a carjacking, home invasion and the like)".  If such key fundamental points are not second nature in one's technique, even in a basic pre-arranged context—in the somewhat `safety of the dojo’—they certainly won't be able to be applied in an unpredictable circumstance (of a serious match or in a real fight). In sum, it is obvious that "if one continues to practice in this way they are literally reinforcing very-very bad habits". But here's the good news, if you do your ukewaza correctly (adhering to proper kihon and kata) you will not over block; moreover, you will learn to use and adapt to combative variations subconsciously, which is the beauty of strictly practicing budo. I can say this with confidence from my experience in the security industry, on the door, private protection jobs, and in other occupational contexts of my former life.

Some of you reading this may be questioning the 'the elbow one fist from the body' rule mentioned in this article (in relation to chudan ukewaza); furthermore, you may be questioning the issue of techniques such as tate shuto chudan uke. To answer these questions: Firstly, yes it is true that around twenty years ago chudan uke were changed to 1.5 fist widths from the body by Sugiura Motokuni Shuseki-Shihan (i.e. – in the `Karate-Do Kata’ textbooks; however, this has recently been amended to one fist width. This is a minor difference, and 'application-wise' insignificant, but I believe is better, based on further simplification. Simplicity is what I learned to appreciate when I had to use my karate in the real world. Secondly, in the case of some ukewaza, such as tate shuto, the energy applied is different; for example, swinging the uke in an arc. This idea is consistent with muchiken-waza such as kesa shuto uchi, sotomawashi haito uchi and, indeed, various keriwaza.

Migi ashi mae hangetsu dachi with migi chudan uchi-uke.
 A critical error with basic chudan uke: one typical error that is seen by sports kata exponents is making their chudan uke too high. For example, numerous kata 'champions' perform their ryo keito chudan haneageuke (movement two of Unsu kata) incorrectly. Such 'changes' in the techniques of karate, merely for aesthetics or to make performance more easy, is clearly due to a total lack of understanding, faking power, or—in most cases—both. Essentially what they do is turn karate kata into an odd dance form. The same can be seen by their exchanging yoko keage for yoko kekomi, excessive pauses, and performing other superfluous actions. Worse than the athletes doing this are those who copy them around the world! And yes, there are legions of them. It’s what I guess can be termed ‘karate fads’ and unambiguously have no relationship with actual karate—the martial art. In saying that, this helps to identify genuine from the artificial karate.

A key indicator of correctness: "The top of the fist, or finger tips of shuto, when executing the core chudan ukewaza is in-line with the top of the shoulder (with VERY SLIGHT VARIATIONS depending on ones arm length etc.)". Keeping this in mind, with `the one fist width from the body rule', and the elbow bent at right angle: and the correct form becomes immediately apparent. This is the most effective and physiologically/biomechanically strongest position for the core chudan ukewaza... "If you have a look around you will see many sports kata `world champions' who do this incorrectly. Indeed, this is one of the numerous ways of easily separating budo karate (real martial arts karate) from fake karate, which is merely for show". While this may sound like I am repeating myself, I am, on purpose...

Last, but not least, by adhering to the correct form (and principles) of the core ukewaza one can maximize their ukewaza in un-prearranged context: whether the karateka wishes to block/cover/parry, strike, lock or apply a joint lock/dislocation. In traditional budo karate, irrespective of style, "kihon, kata and kumite are one; moreover, this is not merely an abstract idea". Hence, the techniques of real karate always reflect optimal functionality in a freestyle context. The key is to know the 'how's' and 'why's', which are often misunderstood in the greater karate world. Of course, this transcends the positions of one's elbows; nonetheless, "...such points collectively come together and literally establish authentic karate technique, which is grounded on the tradition of optimum functionality".
Kiba dachi with hidari sokumen gedan-uke.
All the very best from Kumamoto-ken, Japan. Osu, André
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Friday 14 November 2014

Italian trainee from Canada: Pietro Giordan

Pietro and I, at dinner, after his final private lesson earlier this evening. 
Pietro Giordan, an Italian 2nd Dan (who is a university professor based in Toronto, Canada), has been training at my private dojo for the last couple of days. He flew all the way here to Kumamoto for some ‘one-on-one training’.

Pietro at my dojo in Aso-shi.
The private lessons I have taught Pietro have focused on the ‘core kihon’ of Karate-Do and the aspects that underpin on-going high-level development; namely, correct koshi no kaiten (the rotation of the hips), tai no shinshuku (the contraction and expansion of the body), and junansei (softness). These three points added to “the correct position at the `pre-point’, `initiation’, `delivery’, and `completion’ (of techniques)” was covered.

Movement 14 of Enpi kata: SASHO HIDARI NANAME MAE UE (KIBA DACHI).
A particular aspect that was looked at in great depth was unsoku (leg movements) and correctly applying/”sliding” linear techniques along the chushin (centreline). From there it was possible to look at the more unorthodox techniques that I practice and teach; accordingly, this, in turn, clarified that “…in order to perform these techniques, kata, and applications (from outside of standard Shotokan) one must have solid Shotokan”. Ultimately, this culminated in the various forms of sparring ranging from Gohon kumite to Jiyu kumite (focusing their specific purposes from a `Karate in Japan’ perspective). Needless to say, special coverage of tenshin (rotational techniques) and snapping techniques (including muchiken-waza) were also addressed.It is worth mentioning that the private training included the rationale behind a number of the more common drills/exercises that I teach on international courses (and, indeed, when practice/teach in my private dojo on a daily basis). Those who have attended my classes (or seminars here in Japan and/or around the world) well know that ‘these rationales imperative to understand: so that the exercises/drills are not merely a novelty’. The key point here is that “…everything one does—in their physical training—should decisively work towards the development of effective martial arts karate”. Accordingly, it cannot be stressed enough that “in Traditional Japanese Karate-Do, the physical aim of techniques is always to achieve a single finishing blow (Ichigeki-hissatsu)”.

Lastly, a couple of formal exercises were covered, Enpi and a non-syllabus kata; however, these are for Pietro, so I won’t say anything further. I look forward to seeing his kihon, kata and kumite in the future.
Overall, I wish Pietro the very best and hope that the last couple of days of training here at my dojo will help his long-term karate development. As I say to everyone who comes to me for private training, “consume what you find useful and spit out the rest”. All I hope is that Pietro has at least gained one point that will help progress his Karate-Do and that he thoroughly enjoyed the classes. It was a pleasure to meet you Pietro! Please have a safe and enjoyable trip back to Canada. I look forward to hearing your report about training here in Japan. Osu, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Monday 20 October 2014

HAIEN: Down and out with severe pneumonia

A photo of my training in the early days of this website.
One of my policies, when I write articles on this blog, is “…when I don’t train I don’t write nor post”. My mentality (and not at all a criticism of others) is that “When I don’t train, I have no `right to write’ about karate”. Furthermore, I also believe doing so takes away the kokoro that comes out of this site, which has made it so popular around the world. Unambiguously, in many ways, I suppose this is utter nonsense; nevertheless, I do intrinsically and wholeheartedly believe that when it comes to Karate-Do, training takes precedence over every other aspect. Thinking and writing have their place, but can never replace the hard yards on the dojo floor. I’ve talked about this much before—in past posts—but here I am posting today; indeed and understatedly, without training for the first time in many years.

Anyway, today, I was diagnosed with serious pneumonia (39.6 Degree Celsius fever) and told that I must either be admitted to hospital, or go home and strictly stay inbed. I decided to come home, as I’m not contagious (safe for our new-born baby Mia, and Mizuho).

That being said, the doctor told me firmly “NO WORK, NO KARATE BERTEL SAN: FOR AT LEAST FIVE DAYS!” So, here I am, hypocritically breaking my own rules… Perhaps ironically, I have plenty to do here, study Japanese (desperately need to do more of that), read books, you name it,... Yet, it is really is strange not to teach nor train karate daily… And today is only my first day!!! Oh my…

You might think I’m implying I can’t relax, but that is not true either… Give me a cold beverage and good company; a walk in nature; or, especially at present, time with my wife and daughter, and I am more than relaxed.

So what am I writing about??? Basically, ROUTINES. I couldn’t work out my consistency with karate for so many years. I was really asking myself, and of course being asked by friends and family, “HOW DO YOU KEEP GOING?” I am not bragging when I say this—and you will see why—after I explain routines more specifically.

It is not my personal determination or mind-power that keeps me going. I can’t credit those attributes to myself, insofar as my daily karate training goes; instead, it is that karate training is in `my daily routine’—irrespective of how busy I get in life.

If there is not enough time for karate, I make the time. If that means getting up a lot earlier to self-train etc., that’s exactly what I have to do.

I never jeopardise other areas of my life for karate, especially family. Instead, like water, karate training flows into the gaps of my life and fills them idealistically. Perhaps there is some level of  determination involved; but, more importantly, I have a power which transcends my personal weaknesses (especially that inherent lazy streak, which we all have).

Ewwieeee, so André has a power…  Well, no! As mentioned above, it is primarily routine. Let’s compare daily karate training to the simple action of brushing our teeth.  We don’t stop brushing our teeth two-three times per day because of any factor (at least I hope that no one who reads this does…). Rather we brush on a daily basis to avoid cavities, look as nice as possible, and not `submit the world around us to extremely bad breathe’. What I am trying to say is that karate is simply a routine to me, more so than my effort: otherwise `lazy bones' would certainly win!

MY SECRET—KARATE IS CONTROLLED BY MY ROUTINE: If I am having a great day, and all is super, fine, and yes, even dandy—I still train. If I am feeling tired, glum, frustrated, or anything else—yes, I still train. What I’m trying to say here (and have indeed stated numerous times in the past) is that “Training is not controlled by my emotions: nor love or periodic dislike for karate—which has occurred consistently over the years; instead, it is a part of me. This makes keeping up training `NO EFFORT’ because it is simply what you do. It is primarily cerebral as opposed to emotionally driven. The bonus, not the main point, is what karate does for my body and mind (irrespective of my day). Needless to say, these points make us happy.
A special message for those who competed at the 13th Funakoshi Gichin Cup World Karate Championships. Firstly, congratulations!!! Secondly, the fire is burning hot now, but naturally it will cool. This is a wonderful window of opportunity to routinize your karate, so that your training moves forward consistently from now. The excitement may waver for a little while, but again, don't let this influence/lessen your training. A special thanks to Pinto Karate Dojo: for streaming the World Karate-Do Championships live. Also apologies to Lutie van den Berg Sensei and Naka Tatsuya Sensei for being unable to meet with you tomorrow night due to my illness. Of course, I am very disappointed about this.
I’ll wrap now… I hope this little article offers you something. At the very least, if you are a karateka, keep going to the dojo; and, make karate-do your routine: irrespective of how many days a week you can get to the dojo (and especially irrespective of your emotions, which are all too often hindrances to peoples life achievements and, overall, their joy).  If you do this, you will gain the most from your training and will routinely continue; moreover, should you choose to do so, you may well continue benefiting Karate-Do until your old age.

Kindest regards from my Japanese futon, André
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Updated training regime: a return to the sentei-gata

Warming up: my private dynamic stretching routine.
At present I am reviewing the sentei-gata: Bassai Dai, Kanku-Dai, Enpi and Jion. Needless to say, this is a big step from the five Heian and Tekki Shodan, however, I am now tackling `the big four’ in light of them. In addition to these kata I am working on Gohon kumite (Five step sparring); Kihon ippon kumite (Fundamental one-step sparring); and once again going through the JKA syllabus kihon. In my own training this is currently focused on the 9th, 8th and 7th Kyu exams.

Balancing this, at the Kumamoto Chuo Dojo one of my seniors (Mr. Katayama who is in his 70s) is going for his JKA Sandan soon; consequently, kihon practice with Nakamura Shihan has naturally been focused on the Sandan curriculum.  For those of you who don’t know this includes: (1) Kizami-zuki+ sanbon ren-zuki; (2) Jodan age-uke + same arm chudan soto-uke + gyaku-zuki; (3) Chudan uchi-uke in kokutsu-dachi + kizami-zuki + gyaku-zuki; (4) Shuto-uke + kizami mae-geri + nukite; (5) Stepping back with jodan age-uke + advancing with mawashi-geri + uraken yoko-uchi + chudan jun-zuki; (6) Mae-geri + yoko-kekomi + mawashi-geri + gyaku-zuki; and (7) Mae-geri + yoko-kekomi + ushiro-geri kicking frontward, sideward and rearward: before returning the kicking foot to the floor (with both right and left legs). Perhaps a little off topic, but it really impresses me how we can find several of these renzokuwaza (combination techniques) in the 1960s JKA textbook, `Dynamic Karate’. Other groups do this as well, but the JKA have some very special points which pertain to the origins of these waza.
Kanku-dai kata.

That being said, it is very interesting how everything comes back to the core fundamentals—the core foundational principles, irrespective of complex renzokuwaza, kata, kumite, self-defence or impact work. When this is a physical reality—all aspects of training unite—and shingitai can be optimally worked towards. Contrasting my previous months kata training, of the six shitei-gata, with the more advanced sentei-gata; furthermore, my current `basic’ kihon work (in my self-training) with the `advanced training’ (under Nakamura Shihan and Akiyoshi Sensei); and the aforementioned point can be vividly seen.
Presently I'm focusing on deai in jiyu-kumite as depicted here in Germany.
It is from this reference point that the lines between basic and advanced become blurred and often undertake a sort of ‘polar reverse’ if you will. In my case, this has constantly occurred over the last three decades in karate-do and will certainly continue to do so. Such learnings are what make karate so challenging and, at the same time, so enjoyable. Osu, André.

© André Bertel, Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014). 

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Hirota's Latest Karate Uniform: The `TAKUMI'

A while back I bought the `Takumi’ (Craftsman), which is the latest dogi (karate uniform) from Hirota. I can honestly say that it is the best dogi I have ever worn in my karate career—actually the best by far! Until now, their `Pinak kata’ was, in my opinion, the best karate suit on the market.

Probably the most accurate way to explain the Takumi is that it’s half-way between the `Pinak Kata’ and ‘Pinak Kumite’. It has paper thin material which moves with the body yet it is firm. This means it gets the best of both types of Pinak… Not to mention, it dries rapidly.

Comfort and how a dogi hangs/”sits” on the body are probably the most important points when it comes to karate uniforms, and the Takumi is unparalleled in both of these aspects. Accordingly, I rate this new suit 11/10… `11’ because I can’t see Hirota, or any other companies, ever outdoing it. Of course, I’d like to see them prove me wrong, but I really can’t see this happening. Essentially, this dogi is certain to become “the standard” for all experts (and world level competitors alike).

With all these points in mind, make sure you get the perfect size for you!!! And, as always, I strongly recommend going through Kuroobiya to ensure this: because they are the best in Japan at achieving an optimally fitting dogi. Hamid and his team at Kuroobiya will ensure you get the right size (which is critical, as the Takumi is a fully tailored uniform and thus requires real specifics to get it right).
Hirota's measurement chart... Looks easy, but requires a thorough knowledge of the product: in relation to your own
specific wants and needs.
Here is a link to the Kuroobiya homepage—it is a one of the few karate websites I have bookmarked:
 Taken as a whole, I can’t overemphasise the excellence of Hirota’s Takumi: this new dogi has lifted the bar to an unprecedented height.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Thursday 25 September 2014

Body imbalance

Body balance is an area that is particularly challenging for me. Not keeping my balance but, rather, vertical and horizontal equilibrium—in relation to techniques. My problem is not my technique; rather, it is my body. In particular, from the accumulation of injuries (from karate and real altercations in the security industry) over the years and, of course, imbalances between strength and flexibility: between the left and right `hemispheres’ of the body. As many of you know, when I was very young, I suffered a very serious spinal injury, which I’ve had to work around for over 25 years.
Why am I writing about this today? Well, certainly not to complain, but rather elucidate that I am taking more action in my own training to mitigate these imbalances; moreover, to help those who read this (you) to self-check for such problems. Obviously, this has little value for those of you working as body guards and as bouncers whilst on the job; however, it will still be useful in your `scenario drill-work’.   

THE PROBLEM OF BODILY IMBALANCES: The problem with such imbalances is that often `we don’t want to recognise them’ in favour of our `better sides’. For example, “more flexibility with one leg that allows for `superiority with particular techniques’ with that leg”; likewise, “…significantly more power on one side that leads to an internalised bias”.

In this regard, I primarily recommend utilising the five Heian kata for study. Then Tekki Shodan. There is so much to be gained from the shitei-gata, actually too much. Worldwide I believe that if everyone properly understood (performed) the Heian kata—on a truly deep level—very few would perform kata beyond the sentei-gata (Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi and Jion). If we are honest, the advanced nature of the `big four’ “…are well beyond most people in the world who are doing the more advanced kata”. You may now be thinking “How can a guy who does so many `additional kata’ say this?” Well, additional kata are simply for specialisation, i.e. – more options in a martial arts/applicative context… For instructors, this is an advantage to best assist students (as one can coach people in accordance to their specific needs).

Secondarily, I recommend kihon ippon kumite for balance. Not just for techniques but the internalisation of movements and principles. This is deep stuff if fully understood…
Conclusion: Returning to the foundation of karate-do—KIHON—we have a complete system, which perfectly connects kata, kumite and real world self-defence. Nonetheless, body balance must be consciously addressed and this requires a significant level of physical (and mental) discipline. I’d like to wrap up by saying that this is extremely worth pondering and testing in one’s training. Besides being good for every karate practitioners techniques (to optimise effectiveness), it is also essential to heighten one’s musculoskeletal health and physical longevity.
Osu, André Bertel.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2014).

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Talking and thinking too much: Western Karate Drivel

"Learn by doing" - André Bertel (Kumamoto, Japan).
Simplification of practice with deep meaning/study/understanding is exactly what happens, here in Japan, amongst the very top dojo (plural). In conjunction and directly pertaining to this is high level tuition, which is bolstered by a `learn by doing’ as opposed to `the overly thinking’/discussing approach (an approach which is predominant in Western nations).

Recently I was shown some videos of an American instructor who `moves OK'; however, no depth -- no real power, from a Japanese karate-do perspective. That is, lots of technical variations, lots of talk, and theories… Not to mention `sound effects' when the guy punches: yet clearly no real danger with his waza. Here in Japan, irrespective of ideas and lots of technical variations, what counts is that `one can you use their karate in a freestyle context’. In the context, of the aforementioned American, the answer is clearly “not the case”. My Japanese colleagues were laughing as we went through the videos: the comments were "what is this?". If such a person comes to Japan and enters serious training here, “that feeling” he is always talking about (which always coincides with his sound effects "hummmm") will be replaced by a trip to the dentist.

This appeal in Western countries for a lot of `karate drivel’ is very interesting, and is at the heart of why Western karate is no closer—to traditional Japanese karate—than it was 20+ years ago. There are, of course, some exceptions: but very-very few.

Using the example of Japanese technicians… Think about the likes of Naka Tatsuya Sensei. He teaches numerous variations; however, his technique is perfectly functional in a freestyle context. It transfers from the dojo to street practicality. He has very dangerous karateka. Another such karate expert is Keith Geyer Sensei. Two words, `phenomenal' and `devastating' come to mind. In actuality, all of the top Japanese JKA instructors have this quality. Why not the majority of Western instructors like Keith Sensei? Needless to say, if I lived in Australia, I would be in Melbourne to access training under Keith Sensei. Such non-Japanese true masters of karate-do are soooooooooooo rare!!!!!!!!!

Perhaps some people will not like this post, but it is literally a case of `the truth hurts’. There are, as said above, `exceptions’; nevertheless, I believe this needs to eventually be the norm-- not merely exceptions -- if Western karate is to truly advance. Unfortunately, based on what Western `karate consumers’ want, and how the majority practice karate, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
True karate is effective in the real world, not talk and theory: this is `budo karate'. This is Karate!
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Sunday 31 August 2014

Progressing in Karate-Do forward requires the full circle

Movement four of Enpi kata: hidari chudan kagi-zuki (kiba-dachi).
While I am still strictly adhering to the training programme I started in August the prime emphasis has been on “referencing everything to Heian Shodan Kata”. In this way, whether doing kihon, other kata, kumite or oyo (applications) my training is `H1-centric’.

This training is highly technical pushing me to my limits; nonetheless, it is acutely renewing my understanding. It goes without saying, Heian Shodan always does this to experienced karateka; that is, it presents the ultimate challenge in karatedo: technically, psychologically and, of course, on deeper levels.

I’ll always be a beginner of karate-do in my heart and mind, and also in my training. In saying that and encouragingly, I am far beyond where I was, since returning to Japan in August of last year, “…yet I’m back at the very beginning”. My point here is that “Karate-Do is such a wonderful art”: it pushes us to become whole via a constant cycle. As the title of this post states "Progressing in karate-do literally requires the full circle". In this regard and in this way, I only hope that one day I can truly be a `good karateka’. Despite achieving this target, or not, I’ll continue pushing toward this goal.
Kindest regards from the first day of Japan’s autumn.
Osu, André Bertel  
Movement three of Heian Shodan kata: migi gedan-barai (zenkutsu-dachi hanmi).

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).