Monday 25 May 2015

Ryu Goto: World famous violinist and superb Budo Karateka

Ryu Goto is at the very top of the world as a violinist and as a musician in general. His skill level is nothing less than utterly phenomenal—in the greatest sense of the word: literally, the terms
 `perfection’ and `mind-blowing' immediately come to mind. However, Goto Ryu not only possesses extreme talent as a classical musician… He is also an awesome traditional budo karateka with two decades of rigorous JKA (Japan Karate Association) training under his belt.
 Training in Kumamoto: The practice was around three hours long and I focused on the base of my late teacher’s karate. Essentially, `the maintenance, breaking and recovery of shisei (neck, back and pelvic posture)’; correct self-defence application of muchiken-waza (whip-fist techniques); the coordination of ‘koshi no kaiten’ (rotation of the hips—horizontal power); and ,‘tai no shinshuku’ (the contraction and expansion of the body—vertical power).

Goto Ryu, superb form at speed. A superb budo karateka
 In addition to kihon-waza, small sequences from kata such a Bassai Dai and Enpi were used, also a ‘non-syllabus kata’ to recapitulate the foundational aspects that we covered; furthermore, Sochin was used a means to warm up (and prepare the body for key exercises).  Overall, no time was wasted. The training only focused on critical points to maximise the development of techniques/exercises leading to ichigeki-hissatsu.
`Recovery' practice

 Ryu San's high level of karate skill and ability absorbed everything with rapid speed. To be frank
I was pretty astonished. Moreover, his karate spirit, humility, and great personality deeply impressed me. On the whole, it was reflective of the long correspondence we have had—I sensed a very good soul. Ryu, irrespective of what you do in the future, you are always welcome at my dojo and my home. We really look forward to seeing you again soon. Osu, your friend, André.  
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2015).

Saturday 9 May 2015

The core unsoku of Karate-Do

Sochin kata: very difficult unsoku requiring extremely flexible loins.
Please note, for the simplicity of this article, the context is a `left leg forward’ fighting stance (hidari jiyu-dachi), which will outline the core unsoku (leg movements) of Karate-Do. Of course, it is essential to practice `both sides’; moreover, when either opponent changes stances, it goes without saying, the situation can change immensely. Indeed, this problem further diversifies when there is more than one opponent, a weapon (or weapons), etcetera. With these points in mind, all of the kata consistently teach us “…to have both sides and `a variation’—by ‘the commonplace utilization of three steps’”. As discussed much recently on here, “one can have the best techniques in the world, but without being able to use them—in freestyle/non-prearranged circumstances (with effective distancing and timing, coupled with sufficient impact power): they are motions of uselessness”. In all cases, this point is the technical priority of Budo Karate; that is, effective application in the real world. Osu, André Bertel.

The core unsoku of Karate-Do:
1.      MOVING DIRECTLY FORWARD (ON THE VERTICAL LINE): Thrust forward from the rear leg or bring up (or ‘step through’)—the distance is dependent on the footwork, or combinations of footwork, applied. For example, tobi konde with kizami-zuki, fumidashi/aiyumibashi with jun-zuki, okuri-bashi or tsugi-ashi with gyaku-zuki etc... Essentially, this footwork is the base of SEN NO SEN.

The final movement of Bassai-sho kata.
2.      MOVING DIRECTLY REARWARD (ON THE VERTICAL LINE): This is exactly the opposite of `Moving Directly Forward’; however, it is worth mentioning one variation. A common tactic to counterattack is to keep the lead foot in place, to ‘keep the distance’ and simply move the rear foot. From this position one can immediately counterattack.

3.      MOVING DIRECTLY TO THE LEFT SIDE (ON THE HORIZONTAL LINE): The front (left) foot moves leftward and the rear (right) foot follows. This is used to deal with techniques coming from your opponents left side (coming from your right side). I.e. – hidari mawashi-geri or a left hook. Also, linear attacks such as migi chudan ushiro geri. 

4.      MOVING DIRECTLY TO THE RIGHT SIDE (ON THE HORIZONTAL LINE):  The rear (right) foot moves rightward and the front (left) follows. This footwork is used to deal with techniques coming from you opponents right side (coming from your left side). I.e. migi ushiromawashi-geri, a right haymaker punch/swing etc…

  • Please note: for `3’ and `4’, the optimal situation is to also `go in’ and employ a deai-waza; however, these methods are important when utilising a defence to avoid absorbing impact on your arm or guard. For example, allowing the mawashi-geri to lose momentum and destabilize, and then covering with haiwan uke. In sum, these methods provide the most simplistic illustration of using GO NO SEN.

5.      MOVING FORWARD LEFTWARD (OFF THE LINE): Usually this is to apply a ‘deai-waza’. Advance with left leg, for example diagonally—or more tightly for higher level exponents, then use the left foot as a pivot to re-establish a solid position (again, this is determined ‘case-by-case’). A basic example is when your opponent launches a hidari jodan zuki attack and you simultaneously attack with your own hidari jodan kizami-zuki utilising this footwork.

6.      MOVING FORWARD RIGHTWARD (OFF THE LINE): In a same side stance (with one’s opponent) this is less common, but is still used. This body shift is done by stepping through, off the angle with the rear (right) leg—again, the tighter the better, —then pivoting on the right leg into a stable/optimal position. An example is to use this footwork against a right jodan gyaku-zuki attack, haito-uchi, or right hook. Simultaneously cover with nagashi-uke and punch with your left hand. This technique is referred to as ‘nagashi-zuki’ as it is mix of both oi-zuki (jun-zuki) and kizami-zuki.

7.      MOVING REARWARD LEFTWARD (OFF THE LINE): While one can push with the lead (left) foot to move leftward to the rear—when in a left jiyu-dachi—the more common, and effective method, is the step rearward with the lead leg. Like all other forms of footwork, the length of step and angle will be determined ‘case by case’; however, the correct technique is to move just enough to render your opponent(s) attack useless and, ideally, execute your own technique, i.e. – migi mae ashi-barai or perhaps migi kizami mawashi-geri: to their head, torso or a gedan target. This movement is particularly useful against a renzokuwaza (flurry of attacks/combination).
An example of kizami mawashi-geri
8.      MOVING REARWARD RIGHTWARD (OFF THE LINE): The common method used for this body shift is to thrust with the lead (left) foot and move the right leg on an angle to the right rear side; subsequently, the left foot follows. Again, this method is useful against an aggressive charge of one’s opponent. Avoid by breaking the line, and compress; then, apply your own attack. I.e. – tai sabaki kara (tai no shinshuku) gyaku-zuki. It is once again noting here that the maai will determine the counter i.e. – close range might determine an enpi-uchi/hiji-ate is utilised; alternatively, a long distance may call for a chudan mae-geri. In any case, what a matters is an immediate response with an `ippon-waza’.

Beyond the EIGHT GENERAL DIRECTIONS OF MOVEMENT... Beyond the eight `generic directions’ of movement/footwork there are the following: (A) Ducking and dropping to the ground/floor on the various angles i.e. – the two mawashi-geri from the ground in Unsu kata; (B) Jumping up directly or in various directions i.e. – tobi yoko-geri (kesa-geri); (C) Spinning/Rotation and reverse rotation (i.e. – movement 9 of Heian Sandan); and (D), a combination of them all—using all available movement and space—in automatic response to the opponent(s) attack.
An example of kaiten uraken in a kumite match.
In sum, UNSOKU/ashi-hakobi (leg movements/footwork) and HOKOTENKAN (changes in direction)—in relation to distancing and time (timing)—along with effective impact power, literally defines “technical excellence” in karate-do. Insofar as body movements go, these must be usable in the unpredictable; that is, a non-prearranged context. You will probably notice my emphasis on `freestyle’ lately in my articles. The reason being is that the non-prearranged context establishes the `martial’ in the art. Without this understanding and technical capacity, karate is nothing more than `art for art’s sake’. Karate is first and fore-most a martial art of self-defence and, indeed, this is why it came into existence. Karate is not a dance or performance art, both of which have no meaning beyond the realms of the karate dojo. Best wishes and good training, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Friday 1 May 2015


Stationary practice of Tekki (Shodan - Sandan). Focus on the `three axis's' for rotational power.
Shime means to squeeze or choke. In contrast to the criticality of relaxing, the idea of shime—in the technical sense/technique-wise—seems to create a paradoxical situation. In actuality, this technical paradox elucidates the need for shutting down ‘in one part (or parts of the body)’ through the application of power, whilst dynamically utilising another part (or parts of the body).

Off the top of my head, let’s consider some very basic examples (the most blatant are when leg techniques are applied whilst various kamae (postures), uke (receptions/blocks), tsuki (thrusts/punches) or uchi (strikes) are held motionless. For example, basic mae-geri-keage and yoko-geri-keage practice in heisoku-dachi and with gedan-kakiwake; movements 17 and 20 of Heian Nidan—mae geri keage with chudan uchi uke fixed in place; the three fumikomi in Heian Sandan; movements 14-16 of Heian Godan (especially during `sasho ni migi mikazuki-geri’ where `hidari tekubi hidari sokumen chudan kake uke’ must not move); and throughout the nami-gaeshi in Tekki Shodan when executing the sokumen-uke. Of course, “…shime also occurs without the involvement of leg techniques”; however, pedagogically speaking, the combination of tensing the wakibara whilst delivering ashi-waza is `typically’ the initial stage of learning this fundamental aspect of karate-waza. In doubt, it is probably worth examining (or more likely, for most Shotokan people, re-examining) the works of the late Shuseki-Shihan (Chief Instructor), Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei.
The axis in gyaku zuki is aligned with the lead shoulder; thereby, not moving the body rearward and making the tsuki weak.
Obviously, without shime in the wakibara, when snapping out kicks, the arms inevitably will flail around or move superfluously (most commonly `pulled down’, `pulled back’ or worse still, both!). And, needless to say, such superfluous action has numerous negative effects. For example: (1.0) telegraphing leg techniques and, consequently, leaving one `more open to being attacked’ whilst kicking; (1.1) creating the inability to immediately attack again `directly’ (that is, make an ‘optimal renzokuwaza/combination attack’); and, (1.2) generally speaking, a lack of self-awareness/self-control. Of course, this list of negatives could go on and on…

It is clear that shime is an important skill not only to make clean kihon and kata, but it is also imperative in kumite and, indeed, valuable in self-defence. To give one reason `why this is the case’: “…if one develops the capacity to autonomously use shime appropriately, in any situation and especially under extreme pressure, their techniques will be direct and their defence will be far more efficient.
The opening of Kanku Dai. Shin kokyu practice.
 As an analogy, imagine `energy flowing through your body like electricity powering an electrical appliance’. Shime would be where you could `shut off the electricity in certain areas, and channel it/express it elsewhere’. That being said, shime inherently goes far beyond this; for example, limiting power or `distributing the power’ differently. One simple illustration of this is the completion of `movement 21’ of Heian Godan (Migi sokumen jodan uchi uke doji ni hidari sokumen gedan barai), which is, of course, mirrored in `movement 23’. In the case of the sokumen gedan barai 70% of power is applied and, thus, only 30% to the sokumen jodan uchi uke). How about the slow and coordinated action of forming migi kokutsu dachi with `hidari haiwan hidari sokumen jodan yoko uke doji ni migi zenwan hitai mae yoko kamae’ (‘movement one’ of Heian Yondan). In this case, shime must be applied to correctly achieve `te-ashi onaji’. In this case, shime is fully applied to the right leg (through tai no shinshuku), whilst the un-weighted left leg glides—ever so slightly above the ground/floor—to its proper position. Some may argue that this is not shime, but here in Japan, such movements are well recognised as being so by senior instructors. Accordingly, this further elucidates the “constant seeking of technical simplification and, thus, ever-greater technical depth”, which leads to ‘autonomously functional budo-karate-technique’. 

A simple application to test in jiyu-kumite: Lastly, consider trying this in jiyu kumite. When you attack with gyaku-zuki, apply shime to the wakibara of your lead arm and delay the withdrawal of your kamae (as you punch with your opposite hand: to prolong and maintain a firm cover). If you do this with the correct maai, and place your lead foot as close to your opponents lead foot as possible, “your defence and offence at the moment of attack will be optimal”. Still, as always, it will then come down to your capacity to authentically produce kime. Looking at this exercise, from a different angle, and you will also see that it will also give you `an honest evaluation of the efficacy of your fundamental techniques and kata’. Again, it can never be emphasised enough that, in traditional Budo Karate: kihon, kata and kumite are one.

Taken as a whole, I’d like to offer a word of warning… The main point of shime, like all other aspects of budo karate, is functionality. With this in mind, it transcends `the look’ of techniques. A simple test and understanding, which we always emphasise, is that “…kihon, kata and yakusoku kumite always relate, and lead, to effective jiyu kumite and goshin-jutsu”.  Indeed, when this fails to be the case, the movements of karate cease to be a true martial: irrespective of how strong or impressive they appear.
Unambiguously, this only scratches the surface level of shime and fails to address the other essential aspects of shime, such as the constant yet varying energy in the seika tanden, how this relates to ones kokyu (breathing), and so on. That being said, I hope that this short article helps you to address—or readdress—your understanding of shime in Karate-Do; moreover, in the greater context of Budo (Traditional Japanese Martial Arts) in general.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).