Friday 19 October 2018

常行一勢〜五勢 (Joko Issei ~ Gosei)

Many around the world will know that this article was originally published in 2006; however, it has been republished (and updated accordingly with many additional notes). The original article only discussed the meaning of the five Joko. This article expands on this and also explains the largely incorrect practice and spreading of these kata.
常行一勢〜五勢 (Joko Issei ~ Gosei)
André Bertel (6th Dan)
TOKYO, JAPAN. April 3rd, 2006

This brief article will look at the five Joko Kata, which can be an extremely effective training tool for senior karateka who wish to `re-tackle their kihon`. However, more than any other kata—they have been taught incorrectly and, accordingly, have become ‘just another kata’ (or group of kata in this case). To sum this up as best as I possibly can, “…99.9% of the way that the five Joko are taught and practised is ‘just movement’ and poor movement at that”. That is why I said above, ‘Joko can be extremely effective’; however, for the most part, they are either 'training time wasted'… or, the worst-case scenario, 'counterproductive' for one’s karate.

On one hand there is a strand of Joko which is guided strongly by ‘standard Shotokan-Ryu’—for consistency—in order not to confuse/disturb JKF standardization of Shotokan-ryu. And, on the other hand there are those who have learned online and/or through manuals, which are incorrect as they have missed the majority of underlying key points; that is, the precise objectives (as targeted by Asai Sensei in his design) of Issei, Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei. In both of these cases, as I stated before, the each Joko will not advance one’s skill; but, instead, "...just be another kata". 

To put it bluntly, Joko, when done correctly is hardcore fundamental training. There is so very much to be gained, but it is not a ‘fun’ path. It’s a road which is narrow and is covered in thorns. Unlike the koten-gata.

The following descriptions provide a generic overview of the key points of Joko Issei, Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei. These descriptions come mostly from Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, however, I have also added some notes to help you, the reader, in regards to understanding each of these kata; furthermore, understanding the misrepresentation of them due to merely 'doing movements'. As you read through, it will become obvious why I have done this.


Joko Issei combines one arm and two arm actions in coordination with transitions/body shifts; furthermore, the mix of circular and linear techniques or ‘circle and point’. All of the hand/arm techniques in this kata are with closed fists with the exception of one hidari tateshuto-uke prior to the first kiai. A feature of this kata, which is found in the entire Joko series, is the need to be relaxed in order to execute the transitions correctly. It is worth noting that Asai Sensei intentionally designed these kata via their long lengths and transitions to compel natural and smooth movements.


The second Joko combines circular and linear techniques, however, this time a mix of open hand defences and attacks are stressed’ alongside ‘open and closed hand tsuki and uchi’. The combinations of the defensive kizami mae geri and attacking mae-geri is a standout point; also, the use of mawashi-geri. Probably the most outstanding point is the combined use of various weapons of the body: namely, teisho, shuto, haishu, seiryuto, tateshuto, kakuto (koken), keito, seiken and josokutei. This kata is the base of Shotei Dai (Shotei) and Shotei Sho (Sensho) but, ironically more difficult than both of these due to the intentionally difficult kihon transitions.


Joko Sansei literally functions to perfect gyaku-hanmi (the reverse half-facing position). This use of extreme and maximum torque for rotation is employed in the three core stances—kiba dachi, zenkutsu dachi and kokutsu dachi—however, shomen hanmi and the shizen positions are also seamlessly interwoven to optimize training. Overall, this kata mixes robust large scale and close distance techniques in harmony with the aforementioned hip work and body shifts/transitions. I personally love this kata and find it really lifts me up when I need to improve my hip work for application.


The forth Joko picks up from the previous kata with a high emphasis on mixing different ranged techniques; in particular, its large number of enpi-uchi/hiji-uchi (attacks/counterattacks with elbow strikes) and constant use of tenshin (rotation). Through various degrees of turns, and spins, different angles of attack and defence can be achieved which, if mastered (within context of the foundational movements), result in the reactive application of unpredictable henka-waza (changing techniques). Junro Yondan can be revisited via this kata and one can further perfect centralization with compression in turns; thereby, mastering that turns are not only rotation but driving towards the respective target.


The standout point of Joko Gosei is its featuring of close-to-ground jumping turns, stance switches and spins. Such techniques include rapidly switching legs on the spot to change the position to effectively attack; jumping and spinning around to deliver techniques; turning and balancing on one leg to defend then immediately counterattacking with mae-geri (the reverse action of Unsu kata); and so forth. In sum, this kata requires a significant level of precision and body control; thus, technically speaking, appropriately wraps up the Joko series. I would like to conclude this by saying that I teach a version slightly different (from Kato Sensei and what is widely taugth here in Japan post-2006 standardization). In this regard, I'd like to thank a senior Japanese instructor and a non-Japanese instructor for confirming this. Both of whom I will not name, but sincerely appreciate. While I deeply respect these versions of Joko Gosei, I will keep teaching the version and applications Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei personally taught me, whilst respecting the changes made by others. 

In sum, as already said, the five Joko are 'level-up Junro' fundamental training kata. They are 'free-choice kata' for those wishing to boost fine points in their kihon; in particular, for Dan graded practitioners. Sadly, on the Internet, Joko have been represented extremely poorly by those with very low level kihon. Obviously, this defeats the purpose of practising them... Unless one just wants to learn 'yet another kata'. To these people, I advise, `learn proper kihon!`

To conclude, the name 常行 Joko (Joukou) means to 'always do', which relates to precise kihon practice and ongoing rehearsal of precise execution; furthermore, the labels of
勢〜五勢 (Issei ~ Gosei) means first to fifth 'energy/force/vigor/authority/influence/ impetus'. A final point in this regard is to understand that 勢 (SEI) is like the power in physics... As a lover of science and theology, again, I will leave that there for you to think about.

It is important to note that "...Issei ~ Gosei, with different kanji can be understood as 'First Generation ~ Fifth Generation'". Asai Sensei just told me that this also has relevance, based on each kata 'choronologically ordered' technique-wise. He said to me that "while this is not the meaning", this was how he pieced each kata together. What a genius he is even in post-operation mode!!! 

Added document from my personal notes: To emphasize the genius of Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, there is more...He told me that ["the meaning of Joko and its overall objective is basically ‘always to do’. However, historically there is more behind the name.... The kanji can also be read ‘Jougyou’, which has Buddhist connotations. It means to keep training strictly without becoming lazy in one’s practice!"] 

Based on these understandings and, obviously, when taught correctly, Joko is extremely useful for those wishing to refine their kihon for greater effectiveness and to practice strictly; moreover, seriously: this is the meaning and purpose of 常行. Osu, ァンドレ.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2006/updated 2018).

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Technical variations matter for universal/generic application

From Heian Nidan, and onwards, we practice two handed ukewaza. Movement one of Nidan is ‘Hidari haiwan hidari sokumen jodan yoko uke doji ni zenwan hitai mae yoko kamae’ which is executed dropping into migi kokutsu dachi.

The ‘oyo’ (application) of these techniques in actual self-defence—as opposed to the ‘bunkai’ (analysis) when initially learning a kata—is always highly practical requiring very limited fine motor skills. In this way, the two handed ukewaza are particularly effective.

Keeping these points in mind, one must be aware of technical variations: because they actually matter. In application, it is generic, but in form, “…mastering the precise variation make the generic technique universally applicable in any given situation". An obvious example of this can be illustrated via the aforementioned first movement of Heian Nidan and its similarities to the first movement of Junro Sandan. Many people incorrectly make these movements very similar in regard to the lead arms position. This is wrong for the above mentioned reasons. Likewise, another similar movement appears in the kata Roshu / Nami no te, Kaminari arashi and Raiko.

Lets compare these techniques which occur on the opposite side in both Heian Nidan (movement four) and Junro Sandan (movement four)... A little hint... By the way, that is no coincidence that is the same count.
Movement 4 Heian Nidan

Movement 4 Junro Sandan

In sum, karate as budo and as bujutsu (in the physical sense) is all about developing optimal self-defense skills. Not merely to pass grades, qualifications or win medals. Of course, grades and tournaments are great if they motivate ones training. Nonetheless, keeping to the heart of karate (again, in the physical sense) is focusing on the trinity of 'kihon - kata - kumite': for life saving self-defence.

Overall, just movement is no good. Martial Arts Karate requires a balance of  'HOW' and also 'WHY'; furthermore, both must harmoniously relate just like kihon, kata and kumite must.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Monday 1 October 2018


It’s been over a year since I experienced a big breakthrough in my in my karate; however, over the weekend I achieved a MASSIVE BREAKTHROUGH!!!


In March 2006, right after I achieved Rokudan (and few months before marking 25 years of Karate training),—I specifically envisaged how I wanted my  karate to be. Finally, I actually physically achieved this!!!


Needless to say, attaining this ‘12 year-ago-target’ is very-very exciting for me. Especially because. in actuality, I never thought I would reach it.

Of course, this technical goal pre-dates this blog and, accordingly, has has been the driving force—in the technical sense—behind all of my posts from the very first: on June 19th, 2007. 

So now, by far, I am at the highest technical level in my 37 years of Karate-Do… So what’s next? I will lift the bar, yet again, to another presently impossible level—then strive daily in an attempt to reach it. Such impossibilities are not attainable in days, or months,  they literally require years, and (if big enough) are 'uncertainly attainable'. The key point here is to avoid mediocracy by thinking small. I really thought big, and finally in September, things started to really come together.

This achievement of transcending that 2006 goal has re-taught me that impossibilities are possible. Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled about this, and have already began the process of setting a new ‘impossible’ and ‘ridiculously unattainable’ long-term target.

To see some of the process 'to get here' I have pasted links to all previous years of this blog, which were all underpinned by the 2006 goal that I finally achieved over the weekend. OSU, Andre.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).