Wednesday 22 April 2020

My Self-Training Today

GREETINGS FROM OITA CITY, JAPAN. I hope you and your family are well. Here is an outline (and photos) of/from my training earlier today. A big OSU to all my students around Japan and around the world.

基本 (KIHON):  My self-practice today was a combination with choku-zuki switching from shinzentai to hiza-uke (balanced on one leg); sonoba mae-geri keage (heisoku-dachi); chudan teisho-uke/uchi (zenkutsu-dachi) – ref. Joko Nisei Kata.

(KATA): Today aspects of Kanku Sho and Ransetsu (Rantai) were my focus.

組手 (KUMITE): Due to the current pandemic, I did solo practice of Idori from seiza. This killed me... HARD WORK... But enjoying that it's over! So often karate is like that isn't it! Tough at the time, but when over you feel really great.

The notion that ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ is very true. So rather than go into written details, of my self-training today, so here are some more images. POWER ON!!!!!!!!!

Positive energy and best wishes. 押忍!!

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

Monday 20 April 2020

My theory on the development of the 古典型 (KOTEN-GATA)

As you will know Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei introduced many additional kata to supplement/expand the Shotokan system. The vast majority of these were kata which he later dubbed the 古典型 (KOTEN-GATA). Koten-gata basically means ‘classical or old forms’, however; I have personal views about this labeling, which I will outline today.
Firstly, I want to say that the opinions I will share today, are just that: my opinions/theories. Nevertheless, they are literally founded on what Asai Sensei said (and did not say) directly to me personally. In other words, firsthand accounts. Secondly, my view is based on my practice and study of karate—and its origins—here in Japan. To put this in perspective, since 1993 I have lived and trained daily for around 15 years here in Japan (in total); furthermore, I’ve conscientiously sought out much training, and personal time, with Japan’s very best Shotokan-Ryu instructors. Taken as a whole, including personal training under the guidance of Asai Sensei himself, underpins the basis of my overarching theory (about the origin/development of the koten-gata). So, with that background information, let's begin...

POINT ONE – ASAI SENSEI ENGINEERED ‘NEW’ KATA: To begin with, it is important to note that Asai Sensei did admit to creating many new kata. Nonetheless, he also claimed to introduce many old kata; hence, the term koten-gata. A key point here is that the various kata, which Asai Sensei admitted that ‘he personally constructed’, were all for the expansion/improvement of the standard Shotokan 基本 (Kihon). These kata include: Jo no kata, Gyaku zuki no kata, Kihoken, Shinken, the five Junro, and the five Joko. Yes, there were others, but that will suffice, to clarify this aspect.

POINT TWO – THE KOTEN-GATA: Kata which Asai Sensei labeled as 'Classical/Ancient Kata' included Meikyo Nidan, Kashu, Suishu, Roshu, Hushu, Hachimon, Senka, Rakuyo, Shote (Dai and Sho), Sensho, Seiryu, Kibaken, and so on. These are all advanced kata, natural, superb, and heavy in an abundance of highly effective oyo (applications).

POINT THREE – A FIGURATIVE TWIST AND A SIGN: Now here’s a twist… Furthermore, indicative of the origin of the koten-gata… Some of the kata Asai Sensei put into the ‘koten-gata category’ were also designed by him; moreover, they are kihon training forms/exercises—which are technically consistent with the aforementioned group of ‘non koten-gata’. Two examples of this are Ransetsu (more commonly known as Rantai), and Kyakusen (Ashi barai no kata). To expand on this, the JKS (Japan Karate Shoto-Federation) also categorizes the Joko series as ‘koten-gata’. Certainly, I am not criticizing them for this point, as Asai Sensei also said to me that the five Joko are jiyu-gata (free-choice kata); hence, the mix up.

Clearly, this point (the mixing of ‘what is’ and ‘isn’t’ a koten-gata), on its own, makes a strong statement that Asai Sensei developed the koten-gata himself. However, there is a dark horse (Meikyo Nidan), which I have facts about (from what Asai Sensei personally explained to me). Nevertheless, for greatly clarity in my writing, I will leave that until later…

POINT FOUR – SO IF THE KOTEN GATA ARE NOT CLASSICAL FORMS, WHY ARE THEY LABELED AS SUCH? The first thought might be deception; however, I’d like to emphasize, that is not what I am implying here. SO HERE WE ARE....THIS IS MY CENTRAL THEORY…


I believe that koten-gata were constructed by Asai Sensei with KOTEN BUJUTSU-WAZA. He formulated these techniques, which were largely missing from Shotokan—or technically inferior—into kata. That is, he simply did what the masters of the past did (to preserve their best tried and tested fighting techniques).

My evidence for this is the appearance of many techniques from Okinawa, which are absent from Shotokan; and likewise, many techniques from the Chinese arts—in particular, Hakutsuruken (White Crane Fist). 

In addition to this, there is another layer, and that is the combative format of the koten-gata… They are directly applicable as goshin-jutsu (self-defense). In particular, the extensive emphasis on ‘infighting’ was something that Asai Sensei consistently focused on when teaching me.

POINT FIVE – MEIKYO NIDAN – “THE BRIDGE”: If you learned from Asai Sensei in Japan, in the early 1990s, you will know that he excited many karateka—including myself—when he suddenly began teaching Meikyo Nidan. I was well versed in ALL 26 of the standard Shotokan Kata and, like everyone else, was shocked to suddenly learn something from outside of this ‘traditional group’.

Now, this aspect is not my theory, but what Asai Sensei personally said to me many years later. “Meikyo Nidan was my way to open up the minds of the kyokai instructors to other koten-kata. The origin of this kata is Matsumura Rohai. This kata was the bridge I used to teach the other koten-gata, and this is the most important point of Meikyo Nidan”. As I have written before, Asai Sensei also often used to say “… the teaching of unknown kata gives me a blank slate for my teaching”. What he meant was that he wanted Shotokan karateka to move more naturally, be relaxed (for optimum effectiveness) and be more broad minded about karate as budo/bujutsu.

To conclude, MY CENTRAL THEORY (about the development of the koten gata) is just that—a theory. Nonetheless, from my personal experiences with Asai Sensei and my own near 40 year journey on the karate path—after thinking long and hard—I can’t think of any other logical explanations. But who knows, perhaps a hidden style may one day show up with all these wonderful kata? The last thing I’d like to elucidate in this brief article is THE EXTREME VALUE of the koten-gata: irrespective of their origin. They have greatly enhanced Shotokan as budo/bujutsu karate and have allowed higher levels of technical skills to be reached. 

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

Wednesday 15 April 2020


While 基本 (KIHON)—the training of the fundamentals—certainly “…is based on stationary and ido-kihon”, it must not end there if one wants to develop highly effective techniques.

This is the mistake of many so-called ‘traditionalists’ who limit their kihon practice to the classical techniques, extracted from the kata. This is, incomplete fundamental training as there are several other aspects that MUST BE TRAINED. So what specifically are these?

1.     自由組手の基本     (The fundamentals of jiyu kumite)

2.     インパクトトレーニング     (Impact training)

Let me explain both of these, as just practicing jiyu kumite techniques randomly in any way and arbitrarily ‘thumping things’ is not sufficient… 

1. 自由組手の基本     (The fundamentals of Jiyu kumite):

(a) The fundamentals of jiyu kumite, in the case of those who practice karate as bujutsu, are not techniques to win competitions (although they can be, if full contact competition or 'old school JKA shiai' is the aim). These kihonwaza are the techniques of ‘classical kihon’; nevertheless, they are executed in how you will use them in a real fight, so they are more natural in form. However, they fully express the biomechanical principles, tactical templates—such as tight and wide trajectories, and power of the classical movements. In fact, only by a strong and well-maintained base (in the ‘classical kihon’) can one execute effective jiyu kumite no kihon (which retains karate’s innate character of ichigekk-hisatsu: via the achievement of kime in each action).

(b) These fundamentals must be practiced not only in 自由一本組手 (Jiyu Ippon Kumite) and 自由組手 (Jiyu Kumite)—and their many variations, but also as 打ち込み (Uchikomi). 

Uchikomi in its most basic form is controlled impacts with maximum speed on a training partner. It looks dangerous, because it potentially is. However, even though the maai is exact (which, if not controlled, would severely hurt the training partner), and the speed/power is maximum: the waza connects but does not damage them. This is the epitome of 寸止め (Sundome). Just to confirm—THIS IS NOT SPORTS KARATE. The point of sundome is not at full extension, or penetration of the weapon. Therefore, if sundome is not adhered to, the percussive impact on the opponent will be at its maximum. Clearly, this is impossible, even for professional fighters: as this would result in an abundance on injurieswhich would be nothing more than nonsensical.

Accordingly, Uchikomi, while controlled, is rehearsal for hitting with maximum power, with the correct maai/distancing and so forth… Clearly though, all of this practice is also not enough. Full power impact must be made to create reliable weapons and to provide real feedback for advancement of effectiveness.

2. インパクトトレーニング  (Impact training):

In addition to the above methods, we must train our waza to be explosive and penetrating; that is, to be ‘reliable’. This requires hitting with the concerted intent to transmit destructive impact to the respective target. There are many aspects to this. Firstly, the type of technique and the optimal distancing for it. Secondly, the target and optimal weapon(s) to cause maximum damage. Thirdly, developing explosive speed and use of natural energy: body weight, gravity, ground power, forward momentum/propulsion and so on. In sum, one cannot only ‘hit the air’ , we must impact with our fighting techniques (on both static and moving targets with maximum concentration of power). Irrespective of one’s form, without this aspect, karate as a form of self-defense is unambiguously unreasonable. I have written about 'Air Karate' in the past, yet very few have changed their approach. This is an underpinning principle of the International Karate Shotokan. However, it is my hope that more groups around the world independently take up this mantle.

To conclude, impact training completes the full circle of kihon. While 'jiyu kumite no kihon' and 'impact training' intelligibly cannot exist independently, these practical aspects of fundamental training are utterly essential. Otherwise, KIHON IS NOT COMPLETED. Osu, André

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

Tuesday 7 April 2020

What is most important? Kihon, Kata or Kumite?

Many people spout about ‘the trinity’ of Karate training; namely, 基本 (Kihon—the fundamentals), (Kata—the ‘formal exercises’) and 組手 (Kumite—the various forms of combative engagement). Today, I’d like to explain what is the most important of the three, if one wishes to practice karate as an effective form of budo/bujutsu.

Most, who practice Karate-Do, claim that kihon is the most important aspect of karate as it underpins everything. The idea is that kihon is foundation of a building. You can put in gold doors, the best oak furniture, and whatever else; nevertheless—irrespective of aesthetic beauty, grandness, and/or the quality of its interior fillings—“…without a strong foundation, the building will eventually collapse”.
Mae-geri keage is the most important kick, irrespective of style. When exhausted, our true kihon is revealed.

Likewise, other claim kata is the most important form of karate, as it essentially functions as a time capsule, which transmits knowledge from the past and, indeed, allows instructors to ‘pass this on’ to the next generation(s) of karateka. 

While I agree with the above two statements; my personal belief is that kumite is the soul of karate—it is the epicenter of everything else; that is, kihon and kata are for kumite. To be more specific: JISSEN KUMITE (Real Kumite/Self-Defense). 
Jiyu Kumite is essential. Many instructors now only demonstrate to look good. They only have movement. This not real karate.
Only from this vantage point, from my experience, can one truly practice karate in an effective manner: karate as budo/bujutsu. This is because, when function is the focus, clear targets/goals can be set and, consequently, the building and strengthening of one’s foundational techniques through kihon practice, and ‘the time capsules’ can be maximized.

In Shotokan our biggest advantage is actually our kihon. It is the most developed of all Karate Ryuha/Kaiha. The level of detail is literally unsurpassed, and this is often stated by the top instructors here in Japan. Over the years I have heard this from leaders of Wado, Shito, Goju and numerous other styles also. Nonetheless, this is also the biggest weakness of Shotokan-Ryu. Many instructors/practitioners get so bogged down (into small insignificant and stylistic details) that they get taken away from karate as kumite; that is, “karate as effective unarmed self-defense”. This is a very important reason why I believe it is imperative to always think: “KIHON IS FOR KUMITE, KATA IS FOR KUMITE”.
Only, in this WAY can kihon, kata and kumite truly be one.

I wish you all the very best and hope that this brief article has offered some insight and, if nothing else, some food for thought. My greetings from beautiful sakura covered Kyushu. 

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


Sunday 5 April 2020

A couple of Bassai Dai Tips

There is nothing outstanding in this video, nor is Osaka Sensei showing his unparalleled technical precision it is just a general training; however, there are some excellent educational points from Bassai Dai Kata. I really hope that they help you with your Bassai Dai. Osu and greetings from Japan.  André

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

Thursday 2 April 2020

転身 (Tenshin)

My training yesterday was focused on endurance, leg strength and variations of 転身 (tenshin /rotation). I won’t go into the endurance and leg strengthening today as it was simply a five kilometer run and squat-work; however, today, I’d like to talk a little about the tenshin.

In particular, I utilized one of our fundamental kata, 常行四勢 (Joko Yonsei) which is, in fact, a technical extension of the more basic 順路四段 (Junro Yondan).

Rather, than delving into kata, let me explain a little bit about the underlying kihon of tenshin—as taught to me directly from Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei.

1. Rotation is never just simply turning. It is—when moving forwards: (a) advancing and attacking, defending, evading, or doing a combination of these simultaneously. Likewise, when moving back: (b) it is retreating and attacking, defending, evading, or doing a combination of these simultaneously. In any case, just like in one’s waza, it requires kime (decisiveness) in all of its bio-mechanical elements.

2. A major difference between—forward rotation and rearward rotation—‘(a) and (b)’ (in the aforementioned point) is the part of the foot on which one rotates. Shotokan-Ryu, generally uses kakato (the heel) when spinning forward and josokutei (the ball of the foot) when spinning rearward/away. Kakato chushin is a  foundational training method, unique to Shotokan. This practice masters the correct use of one’s kinetic chain in order to generate maximum power. Please note here, do not get confused when it comes to certain turns in kata. A good example is the numerous 270 turns in the Heian kata and all other kata. These use kakato chushin to maximize ground power.

3. There are of course exceptions to this rule,  however, ‘generally’ this is optimal in kihon  for mastering forward driving of power for attack; also, increasing distance between one and their opponent when evading.

4. Added to this point is the changing position of the sasae-ashi (pilar leg) and, indeed, changing which leg is the sasae-ashi. On top of this there are obviously various degrees of rotation and, accordingly, a vast amount of variations is possible. In this regard, we can see the advantage of practicing the additional kihon-gata such as Junro and Joko; furthermore, the numerous advanced koten-gata.

5. Just to avoid any possibility of confusion, I’ll briefly state the obvious here: “… don’t be confused by moving forward with a circular technique such as chudan teisho uke in Jion or mawashi-geri. These actions are not tenshin and, thus, one moves by pivoting on the ball of the foot of the sasae-ashi”. Of course, these are just a couple of examples.

Let’s now consider the actual action in tenshin and how power is produced. Consider the actions of a forward moving 360 degree spin followed by reverse spin. For example, kaiten shinagara yoko enpi uchi (kiba dachi) kara mawari nagara sagatte gedan barai (zenkutsu dachi). It’s not simply spinning, it is moving your center forward then back with the seichusen changing accordingly to use the optimal point of rotation. There is also the pushing forward of the knee of the sasae ashi to employ juryoku (gravity) in the action. As Asai Sensei always told me "use natural energy". Yes, a simple statement, but physically requires constant correction from an excellent coach and, indeed, self correction in one's own self practice time to deeply ingrain in the subconscious mind.

Orthodox waza with tenshin: usually spinning and swinging around is not the general methodology in tenshin. Yes, it can be, but that is the exception: not the norm. The main/usual method is centralizing the legs in the rotation—“becoming like a spinning top”—then driving forward into a tachikata: essentially ‘circle and point’. In sum, it is the combination of rotation and propulsion. A good image is that of an Olympic shot put or hammer thrower. Basically,  “…a build of off momentum by rotating to gain centrifugal force— whilst  moving into a contracted position—then seamlessly driving straight towards the proposed target”.

To consider, the defensive actions of tenshin please allow me to use a very simple and obvious example. Let’s consider movements three and four of Junro Nidan kata. This is a 360 degree attack with migi sokumen kentsui uchimawashi uchi (moving into kiba dachi) followed reverse spinning 360 degrees with hidari gedan barai (into hidari zenkutsu dachi). This unambiguously illustrates the point above: about using the heel when spinning to attack—to go forward, and the ball of the foot to defend—to escape. While I won’t delve into this here, such an escaping action (as in movement four of Junro Nidan) it also functions extremely well to apply katame-waza (locking techniques) as they help to extend the opponents limbs. Needless to say, the combination of the an opponents arm being stretched out long, and a gedan barai, leaves little to the imagination: not to mention the power generated in the centrifugal momentum of the reverse rotation and relaxed dropping of ones center with the descension of the 'blocking' arm.

Conclusive remarks: Some people question about the practicality of tenshin, in particular, the folly of turning your back to one’s opponent. I agree that usually this is the case, however, once you have control of one your opponents limbs, rotation can be extremely effective. This is certainly the case for people when they have a strength disadvantage. 

Also, what is often overlooked, is that the tenshin waza are most commonly applied against attacks coming from your side or rear. Spinning attacks forward are more of a training tool than a self defense technique.

Lastly, and certainly not least, the training of tenshin greatly increases balance, increases the physical understanding of how to make power, demands relaxation which progressively improves one’s use of their joints and muscles, and—simultaneously (amazingly) enhances our trusty core linear foundational techniques

My advice... Please study tenshin with diligence and properly! Needless to say, this aspect is important for me to share with the karate world from Asai Sensei.

I wish everyone the very best in this difficult time. My hope is that everyone remains healthy and positive. Greetings and a big “Osu” from sakura covered Oita City, Japan.


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