Wednesday 30 September 2020


蹲踞 (SONKYO) is a methodology of basic sitting in which the body is curled up and crouched—in Japanese; in other words, the knees are folded and the hips are lowered.

In Sumo and Kendo, it is posture of courtesy made prior to the engagement in a match. In the case of Sumo, it is the state where “… the hips are placed on the heels whilst standing on josokutei (the balls of the feet). The hips are lowered, the knees are splayed open, and the johanshin (upper body) is raised. Kendo follows a similar process.


In karate, especially the form I was taught we have many 蹲踞技

(SONKYO-WAZA). In particular, 蹲踞 突き (sonkyo-zuki); but also, uke, keri, ashi-barai, and uchi from this position. All of which are extremely useful exercises for Budo/Bujutsu development.


This is because these waza, and renzokuwaza, force one to move with the correct form; moreover, in a relaxed manner because the Sonkyo position is comparitively destabilized and, hence, demands relaxation, control of balance, and certainly 'mindfulness'.


We have official Sonkyo exercises—in the IKS (International Karate Shotokan)—which are are not for ‘looking nice’ but, rather, to immensely lift the level of people’s karate. These range from stationary drills, ido-kihon, tenshin (rotation/spinning without superfluous actions), use of jumping and  combinations of all these elements.


Lastly, I will reiterate… Sonkyo-waza are not a means to ‘feel good’ or ‘look nice’. Instead, they are training exercises to find weaknesses then provide an avenue to refine one’s skills, balance, core strength and later power, and the relaxation of the right muscles at the right times (especially pertaining to the limbs).

Sonkyo training masters kiba-dachi and centralization.

Best wishes from Japan's Autumn/Fall. Osu, André

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

Friday 25 September 2020


Today I thought to write a base article on 三本連突き (SANBON REN-ZUKI). This is from the perspective of my seniors in Japan, past and present, and the INTERNATIONAL KARATE SHOTOKAN.

Sanbon ren-zuki is the combination of a ‘drive in’ with jodan oi-zuki followed by two consecutive chudan punches (chudan gyaku-zuki and chudan maete-zuki). The weapon applied, in all three of these linear tsukiwaza, is seiken which comprises of the knuckles of the index and middle fingers. The targets for jodan is the jinchu  and, for chudan, the suigetsu; furthermore, the aim is through the target. A saying here in Japan is that ‘one should punch in a way in which you could break a couple of hard boards’.

 Generally speaking, the power of the initial oi-zuki is derived from the ‘large scale transfer of weight’ and ‘drive of pilar leg’; the ‘moving of the center’; the ‘driving of the hips into shomen’; and “…the harmonious connectivity between the lower and upper body, quick hand speed through snap/relaxation, and a strong and full hikite”.


The gyaku-zuki in this position utilized a very slight unlocking of the hip then, to execute the third tsuki, a reverse rotation back into shomen. These two tsuki are naturally not as strong as the first, as they are stationary; therefore, one must maximize ‘ground power’ and the correct rotational axis for both of them. The gyaku-zuki rotates on the lead hip/shoulder axis and the drive of the rear hip; whereas, the maete-zuki rotates on the rear hip/shoulder axis. The oi-zuki and gyaku-zuki both utilize the rear heel. Contrastingly, the maete-zuki uses the front heel.


All three punches when training solo have the inside edge of the extended fist on the seichusen; moreover, to reach this position each time, the trajectory of each tsuki must be as direct as possible. Think of three thrusts with a yari (spear). This has two dimensions of understanding. The first is safety; that is maximizing reach/distance in relation to your opponent(s). The second, and more important, in actual fighting (for efficacy), is ‘target penetration; thus, the extension of the technique is not primarily to reach but 'penetrate the target' for optimum percussive effect.


To achieve this directness—in basic karate training—one should slide/graze the wrists, elbows and forearms against the sides of the body; furthermore, instead of focusing on twisting the wrist on the completion of each waza, the focus should be on twisting the forearms as solid units.


When pulling back the arm for each hikite the fist should be facing upward for as long as possible. Conversely, when extending the arm to hit, keep the back of the fist facing downward for as long as possible. In this sense, the pulling back of the fist is concentrated on the stronger part of the hand (the thumb side, whereas the punching hand concentrates on the weaker—small finger—side. There is a grappling variation to this, but I will talk about that in another post.


Insofar as the legs go, the main power comes from the sasae-ashi (pillar leg) which is initially the lead bent leg in zenkutsu-dachi but becomes the rear leg; that is, ‘in kihon’ one shouldn’t drive with the initial rear leg and that leads to punching in two actions: including the breaking of posture. I always explain this via ‘using zenkutsu-dachi correctly’, as opposed to the arm actions. The point here is that you want to attack your opponent with your stance. The aim is to use the contracted bent front knee, to the maximum, by initially pulling with it then expanding it (straightening) to drive the hips forward. When this is done correctly with the support foot set and, without a change in height, tai no shinshuku can be properly applied to produce a swift and powerful tsuki. Essentially, Osaka Sensei explains that the rear heel, through the torso, to the fist become " leg arm".


The reverse rotation into shomen combined with kakato-chushin (centering on the heel and sokuto of the rear foot) helps to give oi-zuki a significant increase in impact power.


Another important aspect of sanbon-zuki is timing. The basic timing is just the 'waza no kankyu' (rhythm of technique). This is one; two—three.  However, many get lost when it comes to the second and third punches. In particular, the gyaku-zuki is not fully committed. This is wrong. All three punches must have kime (decisiveness) and seek ‘ippon’. No, not a point but to finish off one’s hypothetical opponent. Of course, in actuality, ichigeki-hissatsu is to maximize your potential as opposed to merely seek mediocrity. This meaning should be understood and put into practice each time one trains, if one is serious about their karate. When karate technique is practiced as a form of 'jutsu', ichigakki-hissatsu is always the ultimate aim of technique. 


The second aspect of timing is more advanced. Let me take a step back for a moment from sanbon-zuki. As I have already stated, I teach zenkutsu-dachi as an attack, which came from my senior here in Japan. Let's think about it, of course, zenkutsu-dachi is certainly not a normal fighting position but, rather, the extended point of a technique. However, that is generally speaking. There are in fact, three main forms of timing. The first is the basic one we use in Shotokan. Te-ashi onaji (the hands and feet finish together). The second is that we move/transition, then fire the technique, which is common in Okinawa. The third, is that hands precede completion of the stance… This third version is the more advanced and superior version; nevertheless, it requires training in the first methodology and, is better applied, with understanding of the second (in application). The first method is a basic training technique, a guide if you will. The second, again generally speaking, is for short movements i.e. – yoriashi (also to cause the opponent to mistime their defenses or interfere with their attacking rhythm). And the third method, combines maximum hand speed (velocity) and the maximum amount of your weight behind the technique (mass).


Obviously the two middle level punches do not utilize this third methodology but, rather by default, utilize the second method as they are stationary waza (furthermore, close range and smaller scale, which is further verifies my comments in regard to this methodology).


That brings me to breathing in sanbon ren-zuki… I was taught by Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei to breath naturally. In this way, due to lack of real clarity, it is better for me to say ‘how not to breath’. Firstly and most obviously, do not hold your breath. Inhale through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Secondly, do not exhale all of your breath out. Unless recovering from exhaustion or from being ‘winded’ from a body blow or fall, always keep about 10 percent of oxygen in your tanden. Thirdly, when exhaling for techniques, it is ok to make a sound; that being said, superior skill is to not be audible. While I have repeated this story many times, I will say it again... Once when sitting next to Asai Sensei during a grading he stood up and stated (to one of the Sandan candidates) “You are Darth Vadar!” This hilarious comment occurred after the guy performed Hangetsu with Sanchin style breathing. In sum, use your exhalations to move more explosively and recover quicker, but breath naturally!


Don’t forget, when practicing sanbon ren-zuki to also do it 'stationary in various stances', 'moving in different stances' and, most importantly, ‘hitting things with it’ and using it in jiyu-kumite. When doing this try to apply the aforementioned points to increase your impact power, speed, timing, accuracy and awareness. Like with all other techniques and renzokuwaza, only then will the movements and fine details have meaning. Train to be functional. Our group IKS (International Karate Shotokan) is highly technical, however, "...the main point of technique is always for optimal application".


I could go on about Sanbon ren-zuki, but I will leave it there for today. I think this brief article reasonably outlines why we assess this combination for all three brown belt grades (Sankyu, Nikyu and Ikkyu); also, both of the IKS Dan Examinations which feature kihon independent from the other testing elements. Overall, to conclude “…Sanbon ren-zuki is a representative technique combining linear tsukiwaza and utilizing the core/foundational methodologies of power. From this perspective it provides valuable on-going training, and, equally important, a valuable tool for self-evaluation and external evaluations (in the assessment of others)”.


I hope there was something useful in this basic article. Greetings from beautiful Oita City, Kyushu.

Osu, André

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

Wednesday 16 September 2020


カキエ (Kakie) is an important practice method for developing sensitivity to one’s opponent. Commonly referred to as ‘Pushing hands’ or ‘Sticky hands’ it is predominantly found in the Chinese arts, such as Tai Chi and the various forms of White Crane Fist; accordingly, it naturally entered into the Tode/Karate of Okinawa. It is well known that Kakie became integral part of the classical Okinawan wrestling: 手組 (TEGUMI) / 無刀 (MUTO).

 It is actually said that, the refined punching, kicking and striking techniques entered karate later; nevertheless, based on humans fighting throughout history, percussive blows were certainly there: but possibly not so refined. Irrespective, of what came first, and what degree of sophistication everything evolved, one thing is clear: punches, striking and kicking were always mixed with grappling and, indeed, vice-versa. Kata irrefutably verifies this fact.


I need to clarify here that I’m not referring to the ‘bunkai’ (‘analysis’) that was largely put together after the Second World War but, rather, the pre-WW2/pre-competition bunkai: the OYO (which were/are practical ‘applications’)


What makes this basic understanding so important, is that it allows one to really understand and practice karate as a complete defensive art. That is, real fighting/self-defense has never been compartmentalized. Compartmentalization, by nature, has come from having rules; thus namely, from adaptations for ‘sports competition’. The purpose of this being: (a) to make the respective matches more entertaining for spectators; (b) safety; and (c) a combination of both of these.


Of course, on Okinawa, many styles still practice kakie and tegumi. Ironically, the Okinawan styles also benefit from the dynamic elements of ‘mainland Japanese karate’ when the emphasis is on budo/bujutsu (that is, to achieve ichigeki-hissatsu). These dynamic refinements—when not watered down into sports karate—demonstrate a positive evolution of the art. In sum, in regards to this: neither the karate of Okinawa nor that of mainland Japan are superior—that being said, “…there are, certainly superior ways to practice if the aim is to develop reliable karate for self-defense”.


For those in Shotokan wishing to decompartmentalize their karate and return it to the complete form, Kakie is certainly a good starting point; furthermore, a useful element of training irrespective of skill level and experience. Much like ‘Jiyu Ippon Kumite bridges to Jiyu Kumite’, Kakie connects us to the grappling techniques (and links this to striking). Osu, André

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

Sunday 6 September 2020

後の先 (GO NO SEN)

 後の先 (GO NO SEN) is a ‘strategy/technique; also, a state of mind’ in karate, and budo in general: it is best described as ‘the post initiative attack’. This is where the budoka acts after the opponent has launched their respective offensive maneuver; however, it is not simply hangeki (counterattacking). Rather, it is controlling the attacker even before they begin to move. For exampling physically and, more often than not, mentally pressuring or manipulating the opponent to attack. Irrespective, ‘go no sen’ utilizes the energy and momentum of the attacker. While this all might sound airy-fairy, it works! 

In actuality, when fighting ‘go no sen’ is my tokui: my specialty. Furthermore, away from success in dojo jiyu-kumite and competitions, I consistently used it in real fights during my years in the security industry.


As I have already explained, Go no sen is not simply defense, it is 'before'—it is a concentrated activity with a strategic goal, and in harmonization with the opponents attack. So, it appears merely like a defense or counterattack.

A downside to Go no sen is that it is harder to perfect than Sen no sen and Sen sen no sen, as it requires much greater sense and consequently more physical training. However, in the case of smaller people like myself (175cm and 74kg), it is a superior methodology—especially in a real confrontation. To develop Go no sen requires years and years of quality repetitions under a highly skilled mentor (or mentors). Looking back now, I know that coming here to Japan in 1993 really was the beginning of that process for me.


Aside from the combative aspect of Go no sen we can also see the philosophy of 空手に先手なし (Karate ni sente nashi)—there is no first attack in karate... Nonetheless, this does not necessarily include the preemptive attack—which is often essential in the real world, nor mental provocation, which is also an imperative skill.


As a karateka, I am still developing my skill in GO NO SEN. I am very thankful to all of my seniors who have personally guided me in this regard; in particular, the following Sensei: Asai Tetsuhiko, Tanaka Masahiko, Osaka Yoshiharu and Nakamura Masamitsu.

 Osu, André 

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

Friday 4 September 2020

Going 'outside the comfort zone' and DELIBERATE PRACTICE

Since September 1st (the beginning of Fall/Autumn here in Japan) I have been really pushing myself, especially in regards to 'going outside my comfort zone'. This type of training along with the unmerciful 'Deliberate Practice' always gets results. In fact, it shows what talent actually  is... It is literally an overrated trait.

With these points in mind I thought I'd leave some stills from training. This was probably my hardest self-training this year, and it exposed many of my weaknesses when I was fatigued; hence, I've provided stills from the completion of full speed movements after many repetitions. It is true, that eventually OUR FORM BREAKS when we are exhausted. However, that is when OUR REAL KARATE SHOWS. This is the karate we use when we are under real pressure/threat/fear. 

Accordingly, training to breaking point is periodically necessary for the serious budo practitioner.

 I wish you the very best in your progression and development through karate training. 

Osu, AB

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