Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Turning a negative into a positive

 Today my extra fitness training goal for 2020 (due to the coronavirus pandemic) was completed! My set deadline was December 31st. The target of 600km uphill/mountain running was achieved today. On top of my daily karate training, this extra fitness was particularly hard for me, but well worth the challenge.

 

The purpose of this extra training each day was to compensate for my lack of teaching. I self-train every day; however, I also train/demonstrate a lot when teaching (which is always separate from my own training), so this needed to be covered by extra work. I decided to do something different.

 

My aerobic fitness handled the extra running as my resting heart rate is 48 beats per minute. That being said, it killed my legs as after doing two-to-three hours of karate each day, running up inclines really shocked my quads, hams and calves in particular.

 

I am sharing this not to promote what I did but, rather, to emphasize how we have the choice ‘to turn negatives to positives’… And, likewise, vice-versa. Stay positive and achieve your goals. It is our choice! In this regard, the negatives of COVID-19 have given me something positive.

 

Best wishes for the final days of 2020.

André Bertel

  押忍の精神

December 29, 2020. After 600km... Time for a drive! Happy Holidays Everyone.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Sunday, 27 December 2020

黄牛の滝

 The footage in this video is from today (YouTube link at the bottom of this post). In it I'm training at 黄牛の滝 (AMEUSHI NO TAKI), a waterfall in Taketa City, about one hours drive from my home. Also, training at my dojo here in central Oita City.

My reason for training at this waterfall was to train on very slippery rocks and uneven surfaces... Ameushi no taki certainly fulfilled these criteria! This type of practice is something I have done ever since I first worked in the security industry (and continued since I left it), as I found that having the ability to be effective in any environment is very important.

In addition to the extremely slippery and rough surfaces to practice on, it was very cold. Not only from the chilly winter air but also from being constantly splashed by the freezing water. It was a challenge to move 'softly and smoothly'; hence, the videos title 'Be like water'.

Beyond this (and very obviously), the power of nature is always wonderful for teaching us our insignificance; furthermore, challenges us 'to expand our energy'. In sum, nature not only keeps things in perspective but, I believe, can also improve our karate skill: especially in regards to 'power generation from natural energy'.


Accordingly, even when the body condition and environment makes it difficult: "we should still always aim to 'move like water'. Osu!!


Lastly. I'd like to dedicate this video is dedicated to Anan Susumu San who recommended Ameushi no taki for my karate practice a few days ago. ありがとうございます阿南さん!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

騎馬立ち - Kiba-dachi (and Shiko-Dachi)

 騎馬立ち (Kiba-dachi – the ‘horse riding stance’) is a centralized stance with 50/50 weight distribution on both legs; furthermore, it works to maintain this centralization of weight in movement. It is most strong to the side and also functions as an exaggerated horizonal transition/step/movement in application. Often kiba-dachi gets compared to shiko-dachi. This is understandable due to them both being centralized; however, they are very different in functionality. Shiko-dachi is superior for making techniques downward. Whereas kiba-dachi is superior for making techniques and movements to the sides. Sure, this is perhaps an oversimplification, but it vividly elucidates their prime strengths in Budo/Bujutsu.

Kiba-dachi is less natural than shiko-dachi largely due to the direction of the feet in relation to the knees; furthermore, this effect on the posture of the pelvis. Nevertheless, the direction of the feet is very important. Whilst shiko-dachi is a stance/position for application just as kiba-dachi is, kiba-dachi is representative of something more: an attack with sokuto (the sword foot, which comprises of the outside edges of the feet. This application is obvious when we consider sokuto gedan yoko-kekomi/kansetsu-geri in the various kata and, even more obviously, fumikomi.

 

This is not to say kiba-dachi is a better stance than shiko-dachi, no stance is better than another (except in a given circumstance). This is why we have it in Shotokan, but not within the 'standard kata'.

Before I move on. Try dropping otoshi enpi-uchi onto an opponent or punching a ‘downed opponent’ after a sweep, takedown or throw. Which is better shiko-dachi or kiba-dachi? Certainly, in this case, us Shotokan practitioners tend to use fudo-dachi, but that is not the point here. Now try side stepping in jiyu-kumite, which of the two is better? The answer, for the first, is of course shiko-dachi; and, for the second, clearly kiba-dachi.

 

Lastly, I need to mention Naifanchi-dachi. Obviously in the case of our Tekki kata, which originally come from Naifanchi, one could say that kiba-dachi is not necessary. In many ways, I have no complaints towards this standpoint: if one is not a Shotokan practitioner (or does not train in a style that has Shotokan influences). That being said, by practicing kiba-dachi “…one’s naifanchi-dachi will be better, but, interestingly, not vice-versa”. Unfortunately, this does not completely apply to shiko-dachi, which requires distinctively different training.

 

To wrap up I’d like to provide seven brief comments on kiba-dachi, which I hope will be of use to you in your training…

 

FIRSTLY, pushing the knees outward. Yes, this is important, but if the knees go too far out one will: (a) distort the stance and make it unnatural for movement; (b) unless quite flexible ‘lose sokuto’; and (c) put the knees under unnecessary pressure—'potential injury in the long-term’.

 On the subject of ‘pushing out the knees’ we now know that this occurred during the spreading of karate outside Japan. What happened was that the Japanese instructors had extremely limited English and, when correcting the stances, emphasized not allowing them to collapse inwards. The result was that karateka around the world had their knees right out to both sides in kiba-dachi, front knee far out to the side in zenkutsu-dachi, and radically rearward in kokutsu-dachi. Some groups and practitioners still practice in this way, which I’ve never seen here in Japan.

 

SECONDLY, according to Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, kiba-dachi is the main stance of the ‘Big three’ in standard Shotokan-Ryu: which comprises of kiba itself, kokutsu-dachi and zenkutsu-dachi. Indeed, this also includes fudo-dachi, zenkutsu and hiza-kutsu also. This also highlights why Asai Sensei placed such high importance on nekoashi-dachi.

 

THIRDLY, heiko-dachi and uchi-hachihiji-dachi also have special relevance in the training of kiba-dachi and natural application.

 

FOURTHLY, shomen and hanmi must be properly applied in kiba-dachi just like other stances. This means maintaining the stance whilst using ground power and using the correct axis points based on the technique being applied.

 

FIFTHLY, when moving in kiba-dachi the coordination of the foot, ankle, hip and technique is optimal. For example, when advancing with the three teisho-waza in Jion the lead foot/ankle/hip must remain facing shomen until the very last moment. Likewise, when turning/spinning, for attack, the power is not only rotational but also ‘forward’. 

SIXTHLY, the ‘standard’ basic of kiba-dachi is to have the pelvis slightly tucked for the perfect alignment of the hips, back and head/neck. Nonetheless, one must also be able to fully apply—outside of the ‘standard form’ allowing the pelvis to be tilted rearward; thus, tilting the upper body forward. This position is quicker for maneuverability (footwork, ducking and slipping) and provides a bow like position when driving the hips forward into shomen. In this regard I would like to again reference Asai Sensei’s teaching here.

 

SEVENTHLY, like all other things in Budo/Bujutsu, don’t worry what you can or can’t do based on your physical limitations—WE ALL HAVE THEM! Also, changes with aging. Also injuries! With kiba-dachi and all other karate ‘waza’ GO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE GOT!!! This is ‘the best for you’ and just as good as anyone else. Always remember “…In Budo/Bujutsu Karate we train for effectiveness, and the beauty of karate is seen in this, rather than superficial form or modern trends”.

EIGHTHLY, and lastly, 鉄騎 (Tekki) and 騎馬拳 (Kibaken) help us to ‘specifically refine’ our kiba-dachi and, in doing so, perfect our balance and centralization. Only by coming to the center can one fully harness their power via the seika-tanden. To conclude, kiba-dachi is an unparalleled ‘kihonwaza’ in regard to this foundational aspect of Karate-Do (and, certainly, Karate-Jutsu as well).


To conclude, in Shotokan KIBA-DACHI is our main 'centralized stance'; that being said, we also use Shiko-dachi when appropriate. Neither is superior, rather, they just serve different purposes. The 'seika-tanden' kata of many other styles is Sanchin, so sanchin-dachi is central for them. For Shotokan, the seika-tanden kata is Tekki (and for IKS: Kihoken, Tekki and Kibaken); hence, kiba-dachi is imperative for us. I hope that this article finds you well and moving forward in your training. Greetings from Kyushu, Japan.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Plyometric Push Ups

 I was just asked about jumping push-ups, which were included in my latest video: https://youtu.be/07Ntsw6FZa0.

 My first comment is to say that this is not the ‘only way’. I use many different methods for myself and trainees to create high levels of speed.  Pushups, pull ups, dips are very important exercises for everyone.

 Beyond these, I’m a huge advocate of very heavy lifting for people in their 20s and most of their 30s—for serious karateka. More muscle, contrary to silly ‘long outdated beliefs’ doesn’t slow people down. When done 'functionally' they speed people up. 

 

I won’t say more, but the squat is the “KING exercise for karateka”. And it is also an art unto itself. However, age and injury constraints seriously need to be balanced between outcome and risk. We only have one body, so as an instructor my responsibility is to encourage good health; that is, optimization of karate skill with minimum risk of injury. This has been a great success of the IKS Renshusei Program here in Japan, as it has been uniquely tailored for each individual.

SAFETY is paramount and this means, besides the training itself, each person must ‘listen to their body’ (to guide the training).

The main thing is that we train smart, to maximize our individual development and mitigate the possibility of injury (as much as possible). Also, avoid aggravating existing injuries. Look after yourself and avoid anything that threatens your wellbeing. 

Plyometric push ups are not for everyone, and when not, there are other great ways to maximize where individuals are and, indeed, get exceptional results.

Osu, André

Post training December 17th, 2020. 45 next year... NO EXCUSES!!!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Monday, 14 December 2020

New OLLIWAA.COM Video

 I’ve alerted people to this channel in the past and I will do again today. This is the YouTube channel of Oliver Schomburg Sensei (3rd Dan). He recently released a new video. This latest footage outlines my ‘practice philosophy, which underpins all of my training. This has been 'my way' for over ten years now and it permits 'freedom of development'; furthermore, 'optimal excellence' as one can simply focus on getting better without 'emotional demotivation' nor the downs of 'over competitiveness'. If you truly follow the advice on this video, and access top level training with honest self-evaluation, you will go far in karate (actually anything, for that matter).

 

There are, of course, lots of other very high-quality videos on his channel. Here is a direct link to it. Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/user/olliwaa

 

As always, thank you very much Oliver, OSU!!!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Friday, 11 December 2020

LOW KICKS

Funakoshi Gichin Sensei demonstrating a 'high kick' in his later years.

Low kicks, generally speaking, are the best kicks. There are many reasons for this, but the obvious ones are as follows:


 

1. They are faster as they have less distance to travel.


2. They are harder for the opponent to see due to their angle of attack and less telegraphing.


3. It’s easier to 'hit harder' with them.


4. They are more balanced and less dangerous to lose balance or be caught.


5. It’s faster to follow up, from a more solid grounded position, as the recovery is quicker.


6. They can open up the opponents face/head for attack. Especially in full contact/actual fighting, a powerful low blow (at least momentarily) draws the mind downward/to the lower body.

 

One could certainly name more things but, rather make an exhaustive list, I’d like to focus on just one point: “the hips are close to the legs, just as the shoulders are close to the head”. Consider this, from another angle. Why are high kicks popular in movies? The answer to this question is primarily twofold: they look spectacular on film: as they are big dynamic actions, which is consistent with all other 'cinematic dramatizations'. Secondly, they are strange. What I mean by this is that, in real life;— that is, in real fighting, they are not the norm. This also appeals to the entertainment industry.

 

A fist, open hand, elbow, shoulder or strike with one’s forehead are all better options than 'kicking high' (generally speaking): in a ‘stand up’ scenario (that is, when those who are fighting are both/all on their feet).

 

Of course, for those with tremendous flexibility and leg strength, and/or a tremendous height advantage, a high kick may well be devastating. However, even when taking these variables into account—generally speaking—'the low kick is still the better choice'. Especially when it is "...immediately followed by attacks with weapons closer to the head" (i.e. – the aforementioned tsuki and uchiwaza).

 

I personally practice and teach high kicks, but the focus is—the depth of the kick: rather than the height. I emphasize ‘aiming through the target’. In this way, high kicking becomes a training tool for achieving this; nevertheless, it is still not 'totally necessary'. The main point is to develop effective low kicks.

 

I’m not sure if this is true, but I heard here in Japan that Funakoshi Gichin Sensei taught that the suigetsu (solar plexus) of the opponent was his definition of a ‘high kick’. This may well be because of his extremely small stature; however, looking at the karate of Okinawa and we can see that this is the norm.

 

The most obvious targets of low kicks include the opponents testicles, knees, shins, feet, ankles inner, and outer thighs… basically anywhere low… Thrust kicking, snap kicks, swinging kicks, turning kicks, jumping kicks, kicking from the ground/floor, kneeing, and stamping kicks can all be applied.

 

Certainly, a kick that is common in full contact competition is the gedan mawashi-geri, which utilizes ‘sune’—the shinbone to impact on the hamstrings and/or quadriceps of the opponent. This waza is great for all the previously mentioned reasons. That being said, one thing not mentioned is it’s capacity to function in an axing manner by rolling over the hip and putting one’s weight onto/over the striking leg. The fighter can use this technique whilst maintaining a solid guard.

 

In Shotokan, for the most part, this waza is not permitted in competition; hence unfortunately, it is very often neglected. This is a mistake that you will need to rectify if you try full contact jiyu kumite training or full contact competition in any form. Even if you do not wish to do full contact "...it is still absolutely imperative to regularly practice your techniques on the bag, impact mitts, shields, etcetera, with full power/full-contact”. Otherwise, it is literally impossible to develop reliable karate techniques.

 

Some people have injuries, want to avoid injuries, or lack the flexibility to do high kicks. That’s fine! They are actually 'the least necessary techniques in karate'! Unlike our younger cousin, Tae Kwon Do, you can still do the absolutely best karate in the world without possessing high kicks. However, if you can kick high (and more importantly, 'deeply') you will have a larger arsenal of kicking techniques; moreover, this will benefit your low kicks... But, indeed, only if you practice them also. Please understand, "Low kicks don't automatically develop. They are an art unto themselves!"

 

By seriously practicing low kicks you will be forced to also train ‘ashi ukewaza’ (reception techniques with your legs). These waza are very useful as they also allow one to keep their guard when defending and/or simultaneously attacking. If you have attended of my seminars, or come to train as a renshusei at my dojo here in Japan, you will know how much I emphasize 'leg defenses'.


Changing subject, it reminds me of a truth from jiyu-kumite. Some karateka rarely practice, say, for example ushiro-geri or mawashi-zuki. I find this when I can keep hitting them arbitrarily, in free sparring, with such techniques. This reminds me of a maxim stated by many of my seniors: “Practice all of the techniques, not so that you master ‘them all’ (which is impossible even for the best karateka); rather, practice them all 'so you understand them' fully”. In this way, you will be forced to develop effective defenses and not be blindsided by an unforeseen attack.

 

This highlights that if we don’t practice the full range of unarmed budo/bujutsu techniques, they will become weakness in our defense. Accordingly, practice all and master the few: which best suit you (for maximizing your capacity in the event of needing to protect yourself or others). Indeed, this general training and specialization applies to kata training as well!

 

Keeping these points in mind and returning to low kicks, it is important to state that ‘as far as leg techniques are concerned’—in budo/bujutsu karate—“…leg kicks, and low kicks in general, are very high on the agenda”. I hope that this article finds you and yours well. OSU!!!

Time to wrap up the article with another 'high kick'. :-)

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Updated Winter Training Regime

Tekki Nidan Kata.


 Here is my latest training regime. Greetings from Oita City, Japan. I hope this post finds you all well, Osu!

 

基本 (Kihon)

My prime focus: 猿臂 (ENPI-UCHI… Elbow Strikes, literally ‘monkey arm’) in both individual waza and as renzokuwaza with uke, tsuki, keri, and other uchiwaza (also nagewaza, katamewaza, shimewaza). I wont detail this in words but, rather, via a few photos taken while training in the dojo.

Ushiromawashi-geri in combination with kaiten enpi-uchi.


(Kata)

I’m currently practicing five kata per day (from the following pool). I train each of them four to eight times with various intensity and focal points (dependent on my daily condition).

1.     平安(Heian), 順路 (Junro) or 常行 (Joko).

2.     鉄騎 (Tekki) or 騎馬拳 (Kibaken).

3.     選定型 (Sentei-gata):  燕飛 (Enpi)

4.     松濤館流の得意型 (Shotokan-Ryu Tokui-gata):  二十四歩 (Nijushiho).

5.     浅井流の得意型 (Asai-ryu Tokui-gata): 雷光 (Raiko).




組手 (Kumite)

Application/Impact training with various elbow strikes. In particular, I am focusing on ‘sono ni’ of Asai Karate’s elbow combinations, which is particularly destructive as it focuses on many deceptive ‘angular strikes’ that cut through the opponents natural defences/covers. In saying that, it requires more shoulder flexibility than I’ve ever had, so I’m practicing hard… Actually, ‘as softly as possible’ to make more impact. I will leave it there for now. 押忍!!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Monday, 7 December 2020

When I teach I also train, however, that is not enough! Everyday I also self-train at least once (or attend another instructor’s classes). However, since the covid-19 situation, teaching has mostly stopped. Indeed, while I don’t classify ‘teaching sessions’ as my ‘main training’, it still accounts for a portion of my practice and conditioning.

 

In order to make up for this, I decided to add a ‘social distancing cardio session’; namely, a running program. I must say here that I’m naturally a sprinter, which coincides with my physique and the nature of karate training. However, I decided to take on something I haven’t done really intensively since my 20s: regular uphill and mountain running.

 

My target, since the start of the pandemic situation, was 500km of this training. Last month, I exceeded that and now (today, on December 6th) I’m at 560km… So, my renewed goal (sorry, not ‘goal’ but ‘self-obligation’) is 600km by December 31st. Remember what Yoda taught Luke: “Do or do not, there is no try”. This is not sci-fi folks, it is the reality if you want to achieve any goal. JUST DO IT…

 

For a long time, my wife has been telling me to throw out my running shoes, as the additional training in them had essentially destroyed them externally, but I have resisted as they are (actually ‘were’) still functional… Well, kind of…

 

It just so happens that today was ‘it’. Within a couple of kilometers of running up Akeno I could feel a nasty burn on the inside edge of my right foot. After karate earlier in the morning my legs were already ‘burned’ out so badly, but the burn on my foot was overriding the feeling of 'hot coals' in my quadriceps. But, of course, I kept going to get to a nice rounded ‘560’. Upon completion I could not complain about all the skin torn. Essentially, my running shoes had begun assaulting my feet, begging me to throw them into the garbage. Finally, I had to listen to the wisdom of Mizuho, my six-year-old daughter, and the metaphoric ‘voice of the shoes’ themselves…

 

HENCE, I POSTED THE VIDEO… (Featured below).

 

To conclude, away from my cheap and nasty running shoes, I thought it would be a chance to send some positivity in these times of Coronavirus. Stay positive, train hard and train smart. I am looking forward to seeing many of you here in Japan for training, also at the international seminars when they resume. All the very best from Oita City, Japan!

Osu, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Choku-zuki (Part Two... Five years later)

Just before completion. Shoulder/Lat's yet to fully engage and hiki-te on the way back.
HARMONY OF ACTION.

Today I thought Id write a generic article on, quite possibly, the first karate technique you ever learned (and/or that you potentially first teach your own students): 直突 (CHOKU-ZUKI). While this will not include all of the details and extensions of them, I hope it will help you see this waza in a refreshed light in relation to all of the other 基本技 (kihonwaza) in karate.

 

Let me begin with the base ‘karada no buki’ (weapon of the body): Make a correct ‘seiken’ and use it correctly. Seiken comprises of the fore-knuckles of the index and middle fingers. Furthermore, it requires that the thumb braces these fingers underneath; also, that the top of the punching fist is in line with forearm. There must be perfect alignment of the radius and ulna, wrist and fist to avoid injury upon impact; moreover, this changes based on the variance of targets, height/reach differences (between you and your opponents), and the respective maai (distance).

 

 

In the basic form, at the end of the ‘tsuki’ the forearm, wrist and fist are rolled over—corkscrewed—so that the back of the fist faces skyward. The opposite fist is pulled back to the opposite hip with the forearm also twisting so that the back of the fist faces the floor. The height of the ‘hiki-te’ position is determined by one’s arms-length. As a general method, this height is same as the individuals elbow crease. This is my methodology, however, I recommend each karateka test and find the best position for themselves. This point is not a rule in the IKS, it is simply the baseline. Please note the lower and higher hiki-te of various elite instructors as there are many variations. Think of Osaka Sensei, Yahara Sensei and so on. Be inspired, but we must still find what is best for ourselves—just as these legends, and all the other greats, have done.

 

 

Away from this variability, the best hiki-te is one which is pulled back as far as possible on the side of the body without going behind the back; moreover, that focuses on pulling and tucking the elbow as opposed to focusing on pulling the fist back. This should be done as ‘chudan ushiro enpi-uchi’. I need to add here that there are also shorter hiki-te, which are actually kamae but I will leave that there.

 

In correspondence with the hiki-te is the use of the hips. There are several methods, but I will only focus on the most basic here. This is ‘gyaku-kaiten’ in which the opposite hip subtly inverts (“the subtle horizontal action”). Consequently, this method locks the karateka into shomen as opposed to the hips rotating in the same direction as punch and, therefore, ‘opening up’. The purpose of this is ‘connectivity with the core’ for greater strength, also for balance. Most obviously, this point can be further mastered by training in the three Tekki via kagi-zuki. In other contexts, zenwan mizunagarae no kamae etc… I need to add here that there are also more shallow versions of hiki-te, at least in appearance. These variations are in fact ‘kamae’.

 

The trajectory of choku-zuki is as straight as possible: the shortest distance from the hiki-te position to the respective target. In solo training ‘jodan’ is aimed at one’s own jinchu height (which is centralized at the upper lip just below the nose). ‘Chudan’ is at one’s suigetsu height (which is centralized at one’s solar plexus). Chudan is the most important training as it centralized, has the most penetration and distance, and is technically easier. Jodan is the most important in application, but is more difficult as it requires greater control of the shoulder and wakibara—to not raise up. The idea is that the shoulder sinks to the center thus remains relaxed and connected: especially to the lats. It is worth noting that chudan is based on the ‘yari’ concept—that is, the ‘spear’. When fighting with a spear the best position is when the spear is pointing directly at an opponent. This position is longest and safest with this weapon. It is also its strongest ‘driving’ (spearing) position. Beyond these aspects, this is also less readable by one’s opponent. In sum think of your tsuki as a spear. This will allow you to know the best height and position of your waza. I’ve intentionally left out Gedan as the variations are wide and diverse.

 

Note, in extension of the arm “…it is pinky side of the fist that slides on the side of the body” and, “…with the hiki-te it is the thumb side that brushes the side.”

 

It is important to note that without bouncing, power is derived from the floor/ground. This is achieved by pushing from corresponding heel of the punching arm (“the subtle vertical action”). The image is that power comes from the supporting leg, which emulates the rear leg in oi-zuki. In this way, one can see a chain from the corresponding heel to the striking fist. Whether in hachiji-dachi, heiko-dachi or kiba-dachi the heels are flat and the power goes to the weakest part of the feet: the small toe sides. This optimizes full connectivity and best use of ‘ground power’. Often senior instructors here in Japan will say “walk on your sokuto”. Yes, it is sokuto—the knife edges of your feet, and kakato—the heel, where the concentration must be. This is because the big toe side of the foot is naturally stronger and, thus, requires minimal attention.

 

A key lesson in choku-zuki and the other sonoba kihon (stationary fundamentals) is the forming and maintenance of excellent shisei (posture); namely, that of the pelvis, back and head/neck. The correct feeling is that of the crown going upwards thus vertically elongating the spine. Related to this is the ‘fixing of the eyes’, which is based on the correct head position and, indeed, maximizing environment awareness.

 

The use of muscle power is “…not correct in the extension of the arm. The aim is to be relaxed and seek maximum velocity”. This is hard for many people because they feel that they want to hit hard by consciously using their muscles. This, in a fight, is often caused by emotional influences—especially the feelings of anger and/or fear. Indeed, in the heat of the moment, is counterintuitive when fighting to relax. Consequently, it is imperative to ‘engrave relaxation’ into everything one does: Kihon, Kata and Kumite. What I always tell my students is “let the muscles work by themselves by concentration on moving the joints”. The best example of this, as I have quoted many times before, is Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei’s example of the nunchaku. A relaxed whipping action, using ‘snap’ is far more devastating than a clumsy stiff punch. What’s more, the muscular ‘forced punch’ negatively interferes with one’s balance, significantly detaches the arm from your core, and literally clouds your mind by narrowing your wider attention/awareness. In sum, tension narrows mind by making one more ‘internally focused’ as opposed to being focused on ‘the external environment’ where the fight is.

 

It’s here that we find a paradox. Again, this mix of Yin and Yang… Greater awareness of self in the technical sense ‘is the training’. And, to be outside of oneself—autonomous and receptive to the opponent(s).

 

 

Contrastingly, the hiki-te should be consciously strong: actively used to speed up the punch—like pulling a rope strongly back. In application this essential to pull the opponent off balance, blindside them and keep them in position (line them up/set) to hit optimally.

 

While choku-zuki is trained for practical effect, it is still “…‘isolation training’ for exact positioning, trajectory, body mechanics, and use of power for all of the other linear tsuki-waza”. With this in mind, it is an important foundational technique and training exercise irrespective of grade and years of experience.

In saying that it is still imperative to not only practice punching choku-zuki into the air but also with a partner—applying hikite, doing impact training with it, and so on.

 

 

 

Needless to say, variations of practice are also necessary to reach higher levels of skill such as utilizing tenshin, sokumen-zuki, sonkyo, snapping out and back from a basic kamae, etc… Indeed, the list goes on! Nevertheless, irrespective of what one does, there should be ‘a clear target and means of evaluation to monitor improvements towards these goals’. Innovation for the sake of innovation is a major weakness in karate now.

 

In this way, we can see the importance of the most basic forms of technique to achieve the highest levels of skill. This skill is not merely a performance of ‘nice movement’ or the external display of sharp techniques; rather, it is being able to use one’s karate with devastating effect “…most importantly with both adaptability and reliability”. Last but not least, we can see how the most basic of techniques/exercises interrelate with everything else; hence, as alluded to earlier “…literally contributes to the biomechanical and psychological foundation of one’s overall karate skills.” Yes, choku-zuki is indeed a straight punch, nevertheless, its training objectives are multidimensional; hence, anything but linear in the wider context of budo/bujutsu.

 By the way, if you feel like reading part one, which I published in mid October, five years ago, here is the link: André Bertel's Karate-Do: Choku-zuki (Part One... Part Two in late 2020) (andrebertel.blogspot.com).

BEST WISHES FOR YOUR TRAINING! OSU!!!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

 

 

 

Thursday, 19 November 2020

竹田市 (TAKETA CITY)

Training in nature is an important aspect of 'extra practice' for me - outside of the standard work in the dojo. Initially in my youth it was simply to be in a nice environment and for the fresh air. Later, I started learning from practicing on different surfaces, rocks, sand, inclines, declines, etc... While these advantages of training outside still apply, I acquired much more important gains from this practice. That is, to see how small and insignificant I am in comparison to nature; furthermore, to attempt to expand my energy into the environment.

Indeed, power can be expressed much-much easier in a confined place, and the bigger the space gets, this becomes more of a challenge. This is why it is harder to express power in say, the Nippon Budokan, than it is in your dojo. In this regard, being in nature is the ultimate test as it far transcends any human-made gymnasium.

 

November 18th, 2020... 27 years after my first 'Japan park training experience'.

As I have stated in the past, I was shocked when I first came to Japan in the early 1990s. In New Zealand, if I trained outside, for the most part, I’d practice at the local park. And, indeed in summer, at the beach. Immediately when I attempted to do that in Japan (to train at a park or leisure space), I was surrounded by kids and parents. My practice ended up becoming like a demonstration. People were of course really nice, but it was difficult to train seriously and keep myself on target.

This was only my first attempt at training in a Japanese park. So, I thought it was probably just a one-off… But to my surprise, when I tried again, the same thing occurred. I decided to not give up! So, I went to another park, which was smaller and more hidden. Still the kids and parents seemed to come out of nowhere.

 

As it was my first time here in Japan, I was doing a lot of sightseeing. It suddenly occurred to me, many of the places I was exploring were empty… The traditional places such as the more obscure Jinja (Shrines) and Tera (Temples). At best I’d see just a handful of people, if there were no special events being held.

 While I have no belief, nor interest, in the religious activities of these places, I recognize the architectural beauty of the buildings—especially when set in lush nature. In particular, such traditional Japanese structures ‘based in thick forests and the mountains’ provide an excellent practice environment, which minimizes disturbances and most importantly: ‘challenges the expansion of one’s energy’. 


To conclude, I hope you enjoy the attached pictures from yesterdays training in beautiful Taketa City, Oita Ken.

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Thursday, 12 November 2020

THE MAIN WEAPONS


One thing many karateka fail to do is to focus on developing ‘really destructive’ punches, kicks and strikes, which are our ‘the main weapons’ in our art. Indeed, the sweeps, takedowns, and grappling techniques are absolutely imperative in Budo/Bujutsu Karate; however, the percussive blows are—as I said already—THE MAIN WEAPONS. 
Even if we finish with a shimewaza (choking technique) or likewise, with a nagewaza (throwing technique)—a percussive blow is what gets us there. Furthermore, in the case of a very serious situation, an impact (or series of impacts) may follow “…to ensure the opponent is not only down, but stays down.”

 

Put another way “PERCUSSIVE BLOWS are ALWAYS a part of the equation”; whereas, the other waza, when employed, are used in combination with them (as opposed to being used in isolation, like they are in Judo).

 

If you have trained with me here in Japan, or at a seminar, you will know that while, I don’t advocate going to the ground, I train a lot in Newaza (Ground Fighting) to supplement my karate. 20 years ago, in my mid-20s that wasn’t the case, but working in security I found that my standup locks, holds and chokes just weren’t enough. I felt that against a competent grappler it would be like someone who can’t swim well falling off a boat into the ocean.

However, a decade later, in my mid-30s, I felt just as competent grappling on the ground (as I did when fighting on my feet). Finally, I knew I could ‘swim’ well! In fact, in jiyu-kumite, I sometimes enjoy taking my opponents down as most karateka are not very skillful on the ground.

Still, punching and striking, and kicking have always been my main focus… Therefore, returning to the opening statement in this article, PERCUSSIVE ATTACKS MUST BE DESTRUCTIVE, which means: (a) Effective; and (b) reliable. From now, left me define both of these:

(a) EFFECTIVE: This is easy to understand… Yet, so many karateka don’t seek this enough. You have to seek effectiveness by directing adapting/evolving your training to achieve more and more explosive speed and power. Impact training must always be done—it is imperative ‘kihon’ training. In the case of strength and power, most people need to follow a strength training routine with ‘functional exercises’ like squatting, bench pressing etc… In the case of smaller built people and those with strength deficits, this must be done (if effective karate is to be achieved—please remember this, in the next point), as they will need to make up for their lack of mass or lack of fast twitch muscles. And indeed, any strength gain is also good, for those with a lot of mass: as this can only help them to use it better!


(b) RELIABLE: This is what I emphasize, as a coach, that is the really hard part… Why? Because it requires discipline. This is due to the need for lots of repetitions, and more specifically “…the constant repetition of effective techniques”. Many people have this one wrong! Really wrong!! Just to be able to do something really well ‘sometimes’, ‘half the time’ or even ‘three quarters of the time’ isn’t enough. Sorry, this doesn’t produce reliability. Reliability, is when you do something ‘really well’ 95—100% of the time.

 

But this too is not enough… We have to also be able to do this in a ‘freestyle context’. This is a key to Asai Sensei’s karate and, accordingly, the karate way I follow. Obviously, full contact sparring is not possible for everyone; however, freestyle effectiveness with attacks can still be achieved via adequate impact training. You need to regularly be hitting things with your best techniques and will full power, furthermore, the target (or targets) need to  be non-compliant in movement.

 

These points are on my high agenda as an instructor and, indeed, in my self-training. Now many instructors demonstrate nice techniques, but these are meaningless unless they can be reproduced at nearly 100% under maximum physical and mental pressure. Before I end this article I would like to apologize as it fails to neglect 'getting hurt' and still being able to function reliably. To expand on this point, I will give a personal experience. I once got into a street fight with much more technically talented karateka. However, once I hit him in the face it was over. He still managed to escape the full force of my blow, nonetheless, he had clearly never been hit before. He was terrorized, and after that I elbowed him just once and it was all over. Actually, lots of fights are like this. The first hit wipes out people's 'technique' and confidence; then they are in both shock and fear. The fact is that in karate, unless you train full contact, you will not be used to being hit. More importantly, in this case, you will not know how you respond in a violent altercation on the street. Thankfully, there are highly effective methodologies that you can assimilate, which overcome this issue without engaging in full contact kumite. 

I will leave it there today. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Light training

Here's some images from my training today, which was a light one (as I’ve pushed myself particularly hard this week). I only did kata and had breaks between each. Also, I only spent just over an hour and 45 minutes in the dojo. Usually my daily self-training sessions are two hours in duration.

Movement 22 of Unsu Kata.

The kata I practiced were especially 平安初段 (Heian Shodan) and 平安四段(Heian Yondan),but also briefly on Heian Nidan, Sandan and Godan, 壮鎮 (Sochin), 雲手 (Unsu), 五十四歩小 (Gojushiho Sho) and 雷光 (Raiko).

Movement 25 of Heian Yondan.

In the fundamental sense, my technical focus was the jiku-ashi, sasae-ashi and use of the hips optimally coordinates to generate power in my techniques. In addition to this, I concentrate on ‘moving my center’ via rotation, thrust, ascension descension and diagonally. A key aspect of this by being use and move your hips like a ball, which I outlined thoroughly in the past.

Overall, it was both a fun and technical session. I personally believe that it is imperative to intermittently train with less intensity as it allows one to focus on different areas of skill development; furthermore, allows the body to stretch, rest and recover. What’s more, it can a be psychologically motivating, which results in more doing those extra sessions in the week even though one is feeling tired.

Osu and greetings from central Oita City, Japan.

アンドレ

© Andre Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).