Friday 19 June 2015

8th Anniversary of `André Bertel’s Karate-Do’

Today marks eight years since I started this blog and made my first post (click here to access it: 

The remainder of this year promises to be very busy karate-wise. I have renshusei (trainees) from across Japan, Europe and Oceania coming, and constant requests for international seminars. Not to mention competing in tournaments here in Japan, attending seminars, and special trainings

Just like in my very first post, all that matters is training itself, training and spirit. This is my on-going goal, to keep training in traditional Japanese `Budo Karate' and to continue developing, physically mentally and spiritually. Osu, André Bertel.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Shizentai: Hachiji-dachi

Speed work: Sanbon renzuki in shizentai - hachiji dachi.
This article will briefly outline why I believe that the Shizentai (natural position), in particular Hachiji dachi, is the most important stance in Karate-Do.
Please excuse the `name dropping’ but I’d like begin by quoting the founder of the Japan Karate Association, Funakoshi Gichin Sensei, whom emphasized that “…the various forms of shizentai are for the advanced practitioner”; moreover, that “natural tachikata (stances) are most basic and most advanced positions in karate-do”. There are two key aspects underpinning this reasoning: firstly, that self-defence will inevitably be from a natural position; and secondly, ‘generating maximum power from a natural position is more difficult’—as it is more internalised (than, say, from a zenkutsu-dachi, kiba-dachi, fudo-dachi and the like).
Hachiji-dachi from the rear (please note my right foot before looking at the next two photos)
Based on this rationale, “…irrespective of what tachikata you make or utilize, you must replicate what is done and achieved in hachiji-dachi (and, indeed, other forms of shizentai i.e. - heisoku-dachi, heiko-dachi, renoji-dachi, etcetera)”. In particular, this relates to maintaining one’s shisei (posture); and awareness and smooth/level application koshi no kaiten (rotation of the hips), tai no shinshuku (contraction and expansion/stretching of the body)—again, this strongly relates back to sustaining one’s shisei; and the use of the seika tanden. Needless to say, this foundational point can be applied to all other aspects of kihon; furthermore, kata and kumite. In other words, the relationship between the actions in the most natural position(s) and the unique tachikata, featured in karatedo, highlights a universal concept
Note the right foot from the previous photo.
in budo (martial arts).
To expand on this, let’s consider the most common ‘kamae’ in Shotokan style karate-do (which un-coincidentally is performed in hachiji dachi). It is the `ryoken daitai mae’ position. Ryoken daitai mae is performed before and after completing kihon, kata, and before and after the various forms of kumite. However, this kamae is not simply performed in hachiji-dachi; rather, it moves from musubi-dachi through heiko-dachi (interestingly, passing through its Okinawan roots) and finally into hachiji-dachi “…with the fists moving into their final position in perfect coordination with the feet pivoting outward”. Within this rudimentary action includes the critical aspects of `te-ashi onaji’ (same timing of the hands and feet) and `kakato-chushin’ (heel centreline), both of which the traditional karateka will need to address throughout their karate journey.
Before I wrap up I’d like to also reference hachiji-dachi in relation to the initial movements of the Heian kata and Kanku-Dai (where the karateka must move leftward for the first ukewaza). Consequently, this provides a fundamental means for fostering kakato-chushin. This is because in order to form one’s tachikata correctly the right foot of hachiji-dachi needs to be turned to the correct angle to form a proper stance. The most blatantly obvious example is when one makes kokutsu-dachi (i.e. – movement one of Heian Nidan, Sandan, Yondan and Godan; and movement three of Kanku Dai), as the rear foot ideally points 90 degrees; hence, the front and rear leg form a perfect right angle. Needless to say, if the right foot remains in the hachiji-dachi position, it will be incorrectly pointing rearward, and “…a weak/unstable and distorted, `shiko-dachi-like’ stance will be formed”. So again, we can see how hachiji-dachi teaches the karateka to move their feet correctly.
Movement 1 of Heian Shodan requires a larger action.
Lastly, I can’t help but mention that Hachiji-dachi gets its name from the positions of the feet, which perfectly form the kanji for `hachi’ (eight). Of course, the number eight is very important in Budo as, amongst other things, it relates to happo (the `eight directions’) used in combat. While this is symbolic, it still has meaning, especially when we think back to the aspects of self-defence mentioned earlier; that is, “…in response to an assault, moving in any of the eight directions in a natural state”.
In sum, hachiji-dachi is extremely important as it tells us a lot about our positioning, coordination and centring, amongst other things. Likewise, ryoken daitai mae expands on this by forcing us to address basic timing/hand-foot coordination. Next time you hear the command `yoi’ in your practice; are training choku-zuki; or doing anything else in hachiji-dachi, just remember that you are ‘simultaneously training both the beginning and end of Karate-Do technique.
Osu, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Monday 15 June 2015

Trainees from Australia's Sunshine Coast: Noel and Heidi Moralde

Over the weekend I had two members of JKA Australia come for private training. Noel Moralde (who runs a JKA club on the Sunshine Coast) and his wife Heidi. They had several private karate lessons with me here in Kumamoto including one at the Kumamoto Budokan, two at my dojo in Uchinomaki, one at Kokuzou Jinja, and one at my dojo in Ichinomiya.

In sum, the theme of the weekend was ‘how the trinity of kihon, kata, and kumite collectively—and harmoniously—must lead us towards the capacity of ichigekki hissatsu’. To do this I taught several critical points: (1) Shisei (posture) of the pelvis, back and neck; (2) Tachikata (Stance)—“into the opponent via 'connection' and correct distribution/application of one's body weight”; (3) Junansei (Softness) for speed and transfer of energy; (4) Koshi no kaiten (Hip rotation—horizontal power); (5) Tai no shinshuku (the contraction and expansion of the body)—vertical power used 'for momentum' when transferring/driving one’s vertical axis’ forward; (6) Ma—for ‘kime’ with every technique/action;  (7) Kakato chushin—“one movement” and maximum drive from terra firma; (8) Te-ashi onaji—perfect coordination of the hands and feet; and (9) Correct maai: no wasted movement, only techniques with the right distance to down the opponent in a real fight: namely " always make/set the ‘correct attack position’ (and when attacking, essentially "...the distance and placement of the feet")".

While I won’t go into the specifics of the above nine points, as these are for Noel and (and whom he chooses to share them with), the overall theme was “…everything in budo karate leads to effective jiyu-kumite and self-defence”. More importantly, anything that doesn’t achieve this is literally counterproductive in a self-defence situation. Fortunately, this is why Noel came to my dojo, so we could maximise the training time. 
To wrap up, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed meeting Noel and Heidi. I wish them both the very best in their on-going budo karate development; moreover, I really hope that they at least learned one thing that will help them to advance their existing karate skills. Over the weekend I saw several major improvements, which I am sure will snowball in the coming weeks and months to come. Noel and Heidi, you are always welcome at my dojo. We adamantly hope that you both enjoy your remaining time here in Nippon. Osu, André.

Noel and Heidi outside my dojo in Ichinomiya (Aso-shi, Kumamoto).
© André Bertel. Aso-shi. Kumamoto, Japan (2015).

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Training in Fukuoka with Ryu Goto

Sasho uken shita ago mae (Heisoku dachi) - Jion kata.

Last week I was kindly invited by my friend Goto Ryu to train in Fukuoka. Of course I went, because it meant I could catch up and train with him again. If you haven’t read my last post about Ryu, who is not only at the very top of the violin world—but also a superb Shotokan karateka, please click here: I should also say here, that irrespective of everything, he is a really great guy whom I really like.
Movement 13 of Bassai Dai (Hidari chudan uchi uke -- Migi hiza kutsu).

A private lesson: As it turned out, the karate training was actually a private lesson for Ryu under the guidance of Hashiguchi Yuji Sensei (7th Dan JKA) who is a former JKA World Champion (in men’s individual and team kata). Furthermore, Hashiguchi Shinobu Shihan (8th Dan JKA) was also present and provided both instruction and feedback.    

Movement 5 of KANKU DAI kata -- Hidari tate shuto chudan uke (Hachiji dachi).
To be honest I was exhausted before the training began but, surely, not anywhere near as tired as Ryu must have been (as he was coming to the end of his 2015 Japan violin recital tour)… What’s more, he had no time to rest before the practice: as he constantly had to sign autographs for the junior black belts of the dojo. Needless to say, I was again really impressed by his Karate-Do Seishin.  He clearly has budo in his DNA from his grandfather, who was an 8th Dan in Goju Ryu.
Hashiguchi Sensei explaining movements 23-24 of Bassai Dai

What was covered in the training—“The JKA Sentei gata”: While the practice was not a long one, it covered the four sentei-gata. Up first was Kanku Dai; followed by Bassai Dai; then Enpi; and finally Jion. Ryu and I had to do each kata twice, in front of Hashiguchi Yuji Sensei and Hashiguchi Shihan (to the count and then mugore). Between each kata corrections were taught, which were certainly very helpful.  
After training Hashiguchi Shinobu Shihan and Hashiguchi Yuji Sensei took us for a nomikai. It was a fun time with much karate discussion and laughs.

Overall, I’d especially like to thank Ryu very much for inviting me and hanging out; Shimizu Sari San for her assistance in getting me there (and for the great photos featured in this article); and both Hashiguchi Shinobu Shihan, and Hashiguchi Yuji Shihan, for their kind hospitality. I’d like to end by saying that "if you attend one of Goto Ryu’s violin recitals, you will be absolutely blown away"; however, know this, behind this extreme talent is that of a very high level budo karateka, and a really wonderful human being.
Ryu Goto demonstrating a great migi kokutsu dachi/hidari shuto chudan uke (Bassai Dai Kata) in front of Hashiguchi Sensei
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).