Saturday 28 November 2015

Kumamoto Training

With Nakamura Shihan after keiko: outside the Shototakuhiro Dojo
I had the pleasure of travelling back to Kumamoto City and coaching at Nakamura Shihan's dojo: the Shototakuhirokan. It was really great to catch up with Nakamura Masamitsu Shihan, Nakamura Akiyoshi Sensei, the Nakamura Family, Ogasawara Senpai, and a selected group of club members.

Shihan asked me to check and critique the students' kata; namely, their shitei-gata and their respective tokui-gata. My focus was to: (1) refine the students shisei and alignment in relation to their junanasei; (2) improve their kakato chushin; (3) introduce a handful of 'level up' aspects for several kihon-waza (found in the aforementioned formal exercises); and (4) to be able to accurately self-monitor skill development, stagnation, or decline in skill and 'application capacity'. Overall, I saw some significant improvements and, with practice, these will become subconsciously ingrained; and accordingly, will result in large scale improvements that can be easily self-monitored.

I was very lucky, as outside of the training, Nakamura Shihan also gave me some great technical advice from his treasure trove of JKA/Shotokan knowledge, which I deeply appreciate. Taken as a whole, and as I have said before, I highly recommend anyone who lives in (or visits) Kumamoto City to seek Nakamura Shihan's training. Osu, Andre
(c) André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Friday 13 November 2015

Andre Bertel Europe Karate-Do Seminar: July/August 2016

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Thursday 12 November 2015

Trainees from Paris, France

Yann and Phinh Robert recently came to my dojo as renshusei. They are karateka from Paris, France, whom are both Nidan (2nd Dan): although they both voluntarily wore white belts for all of the trainings.

Over three days they completed six hours of training with me, which covered critical aspects of Karate-Do (specific for their technical development and their personal requests). It was great to see them both practice diligently and, as a result, immensely improve their efficiency of movement. 

Without going into details, here the techniques we `primarily' focused on: (1) choku-zuki; (2) zenkutsu-dachi; (3) gyaku-zuki; (4) oi-zuki; (5) uraken-uchi (yoko mawashi uchi); (6) enpi-uchi (shihou-enpi); (7) shuto sotomawashi uchi; (8) mae-geri keage; and last, but not least `kihon-wise, (9) key `unsoku' and the (transfer of weight in body shifts - in coordination with junansei). Finally, what was worked on in kihon was applied in kihon kumite and also kata: namely, one shitei-gata (Heian Shodan); one sentei-gata (Bassai Dai), and one non-syllabus kata.

Overall, it was a pleasure having Yann and Phinh in Oita. I am sure they have plenty of karate homework for some time to come! We wish them both the very best! Osu, André.
© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Sunday 8 November 2015

Budo Karate (True) or Non-Budo Karate (False)… How to know?

Here is a simple ‘formula’ that establishes if something is Budo (Martial Arts) Karate or not. Please note, I have used the  physical aspect primarily as it provides a far more ‘clean cut’ way for people to establish what is `Non-Budo Karate' and what is 'Budo Karate'. I believe this is important as there are now so many people wearing black belts who obviously don’t know (and many whom don’t want others to know: due to vested interests and personal friendships). These individuals and groups aside—as already mentioned at the start of this article—there is a simple formula that establishes if something is Budo (Martial Arts) Karate or not. Primarily this post is for all the people seeking true Karate-Do; and more importantly, regardless of  group/organization, instructors background (i.e. – trained in  Japan or not), affiliations (past or present), qualifications (dan, shidoin…), etc.., this will help anyone to see if the training they're observing or receiving is the real deal.

The Formula: Budo Karate OR Non-Budo Karate… How to know?

Firstly, a very easy method to clarify ‘Non-Budo Karate’


1.0 Training/Teaching of movements/techniques that do not connect to/result in effective free-style
fighting (jiyu kumite).

1.1 Can be easily be identified with `over creativity' and a superfluously expanded array of drills and techniques (these, in turn, do not lead the karate toward effectiveness against non-compliant opponents: they are just for ‘show’). This type of training is increasing at a rapid pace outside of Japan. It is what I refer to as ‘the wide path’ based on Biblical analogy.  
This does not happen in the traditional Japanese dojo (please examine the training in JKA Japan i.e. - the Sononbu and others) where ‘the narrow path’ is followed relentlessly. In this way, you can see that `non-budo karate' is trapped lamely inside of movements and ideas: all thought, talk and theory, but does not help—even when it comes to facing up to a mediocre opponent—in a non-prearranged context. 
Put another way, if karate is only useful in a pre-arranged context, it is just movement that perhaps resembles a martial art but has unreliable `combative substance'. This is all too common-place now: especially outside of Japan where ‘learning tricks’ and ‘feeling’s seems more important than developing truly reliable techniques.

1.3 Another way to identify non-budo karate is too much waffling. Many instructors are demonstrating so many different types of movements and techniques now, and are talking their heads off in the class. The class is all about them, and what they ‘know’… Of course, this knowledge is merely self-created and copied on a surface-level. Yet, people are sucking it up, because they want to kiss, hug and ‘get real deep’ about karate… “Oh, man, I can feel it! Thank you Sensei for teaching me ‘that feeling’ and giving me the knowledge. Wow! You’re as good, maybe even better, than  all those Japanese guys because they don’t know about the ‘feelings’. Hey, we even got a work out!”

1.4 Not coincidentally, the standards of students who are instructed by groups and instructors teaching `non-budo karate are not high. And those who are talented who do go, clearly do not understand what budo karate is… If they did, they would realize they were wasting their time if seriously seeking karate is their aim... Nevertheless, from the entirety of this article, it will be clear. 
Last but not least, while this is not a ‘definition’, it is a very easy way to recognize non-budo karate: compare everything to top level Japanese classes. One can nowadays easily do this on the internet. If the training looks different (obviously not in level, but in style of practice and teaching), there should be some alarm bells going off in your head.

I’d like to wrap up that some may claim that ‘non-budo karate’ is still karate; however, I won’t argue that, as it is not the point of this article. My objective is to concisely point out ‘what Budo Karate’ actually is and isn’t, in accordance with the technical understanding (and training/ practice methodology that follows this ‘understanding’) here in Japan. Of course, in my case, I LITERALLY KNOW FIRSTHAND that anything that is ‘non-budo karate’ is not true karate; moreover, I believe “…people and groups teaching ‘non-budo karate’ are spreading an art, which insults the martial art”.   

OK, so lets move on to what Budo Karate actually is... Again, here is very easy way to ‘clarify’

BUDO KARATE                                         

1.1 Budo karate is defined by all techniques leading towards effectiveness in a real conflict. The techniques and drills all direct one towards this technical aim. 

1.2 Accordingly, kihon, kata and kumite are one: the heart of all actions being ichigeki-hissatsu (to finish with one blow). Budo karate therefore naturally steers towards the technique and power the top Japanese exponents, as this is the only way to follow to achieve this outcome. There are no tricks or gimmicks, no short cuts and no way to avoid getting hit. Training is repetitious and tough, with priority on the most `simple' kihon practiced in the most direct manners with brutal criticism, and relentlessness (the only real way to hone reliable weapons for a real fight).
Many Westerners are attracted to 'non-budo karate' as it involves less hard work and less danger. They would prefer to play karate rather than learn the real thing: theorize, think and play with a hybrid movements/combinations/drills. What's more, and profoundly incorrect, is that they convince themselves that 'what they are doing' (or what they are being taught) is budo/traditional. As soon as this gets pointed out, they start panicking, as they deep down know that they aren't practicing the true karate. This is fine, I personally don't care what they do, but it is clearly wrong that they claim that what they are doing is 'traditional' or 'budo karate'. Why? Because it unambiguously isn't and is, hence, deception.

If what these people are doing is budo (as some may groundlessly argue), then why are the authentic karate dojo of Japan not teaching and practicing karate this way? Is it because these groups and instructors are better than the likes of the JKA Sohonbu??? If someone thinks this way, they seriously deluded and, yes, some are. Needless to say, the revolving door of talent in the traditional Karate-Do clubs of Japan speaks, undeniably well, for itself.

I'd like to wrap up by saying that while my home is in Japan, I am proud New Zealander; however, irrespective of being a `kiwi', karate-do must follow the Japanese way: BECAUSE KARATE IS A FORM OF TRADITIONAL JAPANESE BUDO. Likewise, if one does the Haka, it must be done the Maori way, this is no different from Karate-Do. Anything labelled as budo karate which does not result in effective technique in a freestyle context, and doesn't follow the Japanese way (as explained in my summary of 'non-budo karate') is, quite simply, not budo. It doesn't matter if fancy moves are taught, the instructor is nice, the dojo has Funakoshi Sensei's portrait, on wall etc...

In sum, this is not about affiliations (organization), nationality (you certainly don’t need to be Japanese), nor country (you don’t need to live here in Japan) but, rather, the points made above pertain to actual technique and training methodologies that define true Karate-Do. As I have stated above, those individuals (and groups) who are pretending to teach/practice Budo Karate will be annoyed by this post, as will their students. However, I would prefer to provide a transparent lens for wider society to see through this rubbish—should they wish to—and seek instructors and clubs who follow the Japanese way: as unequivocally outlined above. I for one will always follow Budo Karate as any other way is literally fake, and will get myself and my students in serious trouble ‘should karate be needed’ outside the dojo. My many years in the security industry taught me that all too well. As a result, I personally take Karate-Do very seriously to defend myself and my family (and also have full responsibility for those whom I instruct). So people playing around with it just to be creative or to make themselves look cool; get more students; make money; or otherwise—irrespective of how friendly and articulate they may be—regardless of 'feelings' are nothing more than tricksters.
Let's spread the word about what Budo (Real) Karate is! Osu. André Bertel.

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).