Tuesday 27 October 2020



Basic Definition of 先生 (Sensei):

“Sensei is a honorific term that is translated as “person born before another” or “one who comes before”. Generally speaking, it is used in its propre form, after a person’s name and means ‘teacher’. The word is also used a title to address other professionals or persons of authority”.


I’m often asked, “what should I call you?” My answer is that this is up to each individual person. In my daily life I’m usually called by my first name ‘André’, and this is also fine in the dojo as well. However, if someone seriously wishes to learn from me, ‘André Sensei’ or just ‘Sensei’ is correct. This is because wishing to learn from someone and merely calling them by their name (in Budo) is actually condescending, uneducated or both. While I personally do not take it offensively, if someone is learning from me and simply calls me ‘André, there is naturally going to be barrier between me and the respective trainee(s). This is a natural etiquette-based outcome that transcends Budo and Japanese culture. It is commonsense. The exception to this rule is for those who teach children… Needless to say, it must be demanded that children call their karate teacher ‘Sensei’; that being said, this article is about adult practitioners of Karate-Do. 

My SENSEI: Asai Tetsuhiko.

So, it is important to know that no one can never refer to themselves as ‘Sensei’. That is for others to decide to call them if they wish to learn from the person in question. This is because ‘Sensei’ is not an automatic title (a right) but, rather, an honorific title which we use to respect someone and their knowledge; furthermore, the title of ‘Sensei’ functions as a catalyst to open the door to accessing deeper levels of knowledge—based on the will of respective teacher.


On the other side of this, is that “…one who is called Sensei should be mindful of the person honoring them with this title and should act accordingly”. This is hard to see in Japan, especially amongst the older generation, but is something that I personally believe is essential if we wish to take the Dojo Kun seriously.


How about the titles of Shihan, Fuku-Shuseki Shihan, Shuseki Shihan, Soke and so on? Well, usually such titles are for paper only; that is, they are organizational titles. For example, on a paper document such as diplomas or on websites. Those of 5th Dan or 6th Dan and above often have the title of Shihan. Nevertheless, in the dojo the title of ‘Sensei’ is typically utilized for all levels of instructors. Indeed, some groups use these terms verbally—and it is fine, but this is not the case in mainstream Shotokan style karate. The exception might be in a major event such as an international seminar or competition.

My Sensei's SENSEI... Nakayama Masatoshi.

For example, Funakoshi Sensei (note I’m using ‘Sensei’ even for the father of modern day Karate-Do) was the first Shuseki-Shihan of the JKA and Shotokai. Likewise, Asai Sensei was the Shuseki-Shihan and founder of the IJKA and JKS. Again, note, I am still referring to him as ‘Sensei’.


How about the term ‘master’? In television, radio and newspaper interviews over the years I have been referred to as a ‘karate master’. I have never liked this term, as I find it to be opposite of what we do in ‘the empty hand way’. Instead, I prefer to think that we are all seeking to master our karate, which is an unattainable goal. This motivates me. So, being called a ‘master’—whatever that might be—is something that I believe is actually inappropriate for our art. That being said, there is still nothing wrong referring to someone as karate master. Especially those who have been experts since youth and continued teaching and training into their old age. I consider several of the greats ‘karate masters’, but the term ‘Sensei’ still applies in person.


Wider use of the title ‘Sensei’… Here in Japan the obvious examples of using ‘Sensei’ is the school system from yochien (kindergarten/pre-school) right through to daigaku (university). However, there are other fields, as stated in the opening of this article. For example, dentists and doctors are also called ‘Sensei’.


For all of you around the world reading this, I ask you to read it knowing it is NOT AN ATTACK what I'm about to say next. But an update of knowledge from my wish to teach you about Japanese. Finally, I feel it must be explained here on this site, as hundreds of people have innocently referred to me in this way. Often people call me ‘André San’. Again, please do not worry as I understand that these people are just trying to be nice (and certainly mean no offense to me or others). But to be honest, it is actually not good. Please do not use ‘San’ after someone’s name unless you live in Japan and are dealing with clients. Think of it like this, in English… “Hello Mr. André. Could you teach me this kumite technique Mr. André. Thank you very much Mr. André”. “Mr.—Mr.—Mr. Andre”. It sounds sarcastic doesn’t it. Lastly, if this is your habit, NO PROBLEM! You can blame it on Mr. Miyagi. In sum, drop the ‘San’ and stick to ‘Sensei’ if you want to be polite or just stick to people’s preferred name.


So, in the context of karate (Shotokan style), if you wish to show respect to an instructor, use the term ‘Sensei’. And, if you have a personal relationship outside of training (and/or are not learning from them), just call them by the name they go by. For example, I have a friend, who is very senior, who simply likes to be called ‘Yoshi’ outside the dojo. Still, however, I can’t help but call him Sensei. This is also fine and indeed, ‘safe and respectful’.

The Sensei of my Sensei's Sensei!!! Funakoshi Gichin SENSEI...

So, I hope that this article informs you about the title of SENSEI and how to use it. To recapitulate: (1) Never refer to yourself as Sensei—it is an honorific title from others (the only exception is dealing with children); (2) If you respect someone, who you wish to learn from and you desire a fully open relationship—especially in Japan—call them ‘Sensei’. In the cases of learning a Japanese art/discipline, not using ‘Sensei’—in this context—is actually unimaginable; (3) Avoid calling people ‘San’ and ‘Sama’ unless you are working in Japan in some form of service-based occupation, salesmanship or government department; and (4) There are many other titles which denote positions in various organizations but, in the end, ‘Sensei’ is still the ultimate. This is because calling someone ‘Sensei’ is not merely a title: it establishes a personal and respectful ‘teacher-learner’ relationship. Really speaking, the simplicity of the title 'Sensei' surmounts all of the other titles and, dare I call it, 'bling'.


To conclude, one practice I have always done is to call all instructors ‘Sensei’ when I’m in the dojo: irrespective of tenure, age and Dan. Outside of the dojo I tend to still call my seniors ‘Sensei’ and juniors by their first name. However, if the students of my juniors are with them, to be polite in this context, I also call them Sensei. This is not necessary, but I believe that reflects the courtesy that is imperative in Karate-Do; that is, being mindful of thinking of others first. As Funakoshi Sensei said: “Karate-Do begins and ends with courtesy”. 

Lastly, when I am called SENSEI by serious budo karateka, it's a real honor, also a responsibility: both of which must never be taken-for-granted. Again, this is the essence of Karate. Osu! – André


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

Thursday 22 October 2020

順路 (PART 2): Deeper Aspects of the Junro kata

I was encouraged to write this article after receiving a few good questions, which pondered about the deeper aspects of the five Junro Kata. Also, rather than doing it at a later date, I thought I’d get on to it this morning. Why? Well firstly, I’m currently going through Junro kata in my daily training and, secondly, my last post (which stimulated the questions) was on Junro, so writing this will flow well. The images in this article were from first of my two trainings yesterday, which was all kihon and kata. Greetings from rainy Oita City, André.



Junro Shodan’s well known theme is ‘push and pull’. However, this is not merely forward and backward, but also using gravity to drop and ground power. Furthermore, this kata master’s different forms of tsuki: the counterpunch and the attacking tsuki. Namely, this is to do with timing, which even here in Japan is mostly practiced incorrectly.

Taken as a whole, this is about using hand speed and fully utilizing the weight in your tsukiwaza; that is, the combination of relaxation for snap and the transfer of weight into the target to achieve maximum impact. In the contact of defense, Junro Shodan is all about the fundamental fluctuation of distance via the active use of tachikata. Junro Shodan elucidates that stances are not positions in themselves but, rather, as Asai Sensei said “…exaggerated positions found within dynamic and freestyle motion”.



Immediately when thinking of Junro Nidan one will think of two hand attacks and simultaneous ukewaza with tsukiwaza. While this is correct it does not highlight the importance of mastering these techniques, which is fully utilizing the backbone and pelvis. There are actions in this kata which are quite subtle but must be done precisely if its core theme and purpose is to be achieved through practice.

One important point is the use of ground power and ‘sinking’ ones weight in addition to moving the center. In all cases to maximize the use of the hips and backbone one must fully utilize the drive of the rear leg via proper tai no shinshuku. With these points in mind and practiced correctly, Junro Nidan will be of great benefit to ones karate as it will improve one shomen/zenmi in relation to technical delivery.



Junro Sandan was designed by Sensei to have karateka practice more striking techniques which, due to their illegality in competitions (in the case of most of them), tend to be the least practiced in kihon. Nonetheless, there is more to Sandan than this. Asai Sensei was concerned about the trajectory of strikes which in the last few decades have changed, not for efficiency but for aesthetics. Accordingly, the purpose of Junro Sandan is to use wide arcing strikes which ‘go through’ the respective target.

Another aspect that Junro Sandan works on is using different strikes for different distances. This mixture of long-range and close-range attacks is a feature throughout this kata and strongly encourages one to coordinate kata practice with time on the makiwara, sand bag and so forth.



You will know that the theme of Junro Yondan is to perfect fundamental hip rotation; nevertheless, this broad statement is rather obscure. Firstly, one must know what hip rotation is. In Japanese, the hip or hips are not what we often call ‘hips’ in English. The term ‘hips’ in English usually relates to the hip joints, which are located on both sides essentially linking your legs and torso; whereas, in Japanese it means your backside. That’s right, your butt! Needless to say, by rotating by using the backside, and therefore being centralized and functioning as a unit, one can generate far more speed and power. What’s more, then we can secondarily focus on the hip joints, which become the frontal and rear axis and, with further practice have many other subtle variables.

Certainly, this is not the whole picture with Junro Yondan. The kata also forces one to master the timing and positioning of the feet, toes and ankles—in addition to "being harmonious with the technique being applied". This coordination, in relation to hip action, defines this kata.


Junro Godan is the most technically difficult in the Junro series. At face value, many do not see nor understand this. One the main reasons for this is that Junro Yondan is externally more technical; however, the underpinning transitions make Godan harder.

In particular, the ukewaza whilst turning into nekoashi-dachi are challenging (in the use of power in the arm actions as one transfers into the respective 'cat leg stances'). This example is still too obvious and fails to fully verify the overarching technical point. The real challenge is the correct transition of weight and precise moving from the center. In the case of Junro Godan, the center-line changes backwards and forwards requiring a full understanding of the seichusen; furthermore, full expression of each fundamental tachikata.

When this is understood, and practiced extensively, the theme of Godan, (Unsoku/Ashi-hakobi), can be fully appreciated, worked, and capitalized on. Thinking back to what I explained about Junro Shodan (earlier in this brief article) you will see a full circle that connects this important series of Kata.


Ok! I hope that this better helped you to understand the Junro series. Please keep in mind that their objective is to improve people’s karate: kihon, kata and kumite (self-defense) capacity. They are therefore best understood and practiced as ‘training tool’s’. In this way, one will maximize their practice-times and see immense advancements in their tokui-gata and the practical application of their karate from a budo/bujutsu standpoint.

Last, but not least, I have yet to teach beyond these points and applications—to any of my students—both here in Japan and around the world. However, there is a deeper level (to these and other kata) which I will begin sharing once they demonstrate sufficient technical ability to me. This is the ‘old way’; that is, one must earn the right (be ready) before higher skills/deeper levels are taught. There is so much to come in the future and I hope to fully pass on this knowledge, which came directly to me under the personal guidance of Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei. I also hope that this does not intimidate anyone but, rather, motivates people to train intently and with vigilance. This was the ‘Karate Way’ impressed on me from Asai Sensei, and what still really inspires me to this day. Osu, André.

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

Saturday 17 October 2020

How to get the most from the 順路 (JUNRO) Kata

While I have written a lot about 順路 (JUNRO) in the past I’d like to expand a little more on them today. I would like to do this by explaining where I place them in my routine—for my own training—and certainly, more important for you (who are now reading this): HOW THIS INFORMATION WILL HELP YOU GET THE MOST FROM PRACTICING THE JUNRO KATA (plural).



So, to begin with, let me briefly recapitulate about Junro. Firstly, the name. The two characters to formulate the name of this series of kata are which means orderly, and which means path or road. If you come here to Japan when visiting say, a castle or famous temple, you will often see the combination of these two kanji. In these cases, Junro indicates the correct route you must follow when touring around the premises.


It is worth noting a couple of points here. When Asai Sensei was developing these five basic training kata he was trying to provide an orderly path of study (hence the name), which incorporated nekoashi-dachi, kizami mae-geri, tenshin (rotation), increased smoothness, single arm combinations and other important aspects as ‘core kihon’; furthermore, he wanted to do this at an earlier stage in the training of Shotokan karateka.


Also, as I’ve said before, one of Sensei’s favorite sayings in English was “Step-by-step”; nevertheless, he always liked to add a humorous extension of this, usually “Step-by-step-by…”


Lastly, each Junro had a core theme… In this regard, if you are interested, I encourage you to do a search on this site as there is already a lot information on this. So, let’s move on to the main point of this post: TRAINING APPROACH/METHODOLOGY…




Firstly, while the five Junro are kata, more than kata I teach them as ‘training tools’. They are kihon ‘drills’ which, when done properly, boost people’s foundational skills in addition to extra kihonwaza and principles that they work on.


To use Asai Sensei’s words they are also ‘REPETITION VIA STEALTH’. With Junro practice, in addition to the extra aspects they bring to the table, they are making you practice more kihon than you otherwise would. This explains the phenomenon of how they have greatly raised the level of so many people.

In particular, I have found this to be the case in regards to UNSOKU/ASHI-HAKOBI (footwork/leg movements) especially pertaining to using the jiku-ashi and sasae-ashi; furthermore, the correct utilization and variability of the seichusen.


Based on this understanding, it is still imperative to understand and practice the five Heian and Tekki Shodan as THE ESSENTIAL KIHON KATA. Without these kata, Junro has no base. Accordingly, to acquire the best results, use the Junro to bolster the execution of the core fundamental techniques. Taken as a whole, use them as kihon training ‘as needed’ (or ‘thematically’ as a coach—based on a point you are trying to teach/refine when teaching your classes). In this way, each of the Junro do not merely function as ‘just another bunch of kata’ but, rather, as specified tools to develop/improve karate skill. This may sound odd in text but, over the last two decades, I’ve consistently proven this approach to be highly effective for boosting my karate skill and, indeed, increasing the karate skill of numerous trainees.

However, the Junro journey was not a perfect one… In 2002 Asai Sensei put the Junro for the Gokyu (5th Kyu) to Ikkyu (1st Kyu) Examinations. This, however, proved to be too much for the majority of karateka at these ranks. One of the reasons was that Asai Sensei was functioning at such a high level and naturally found it difficult to understand the general masses. What some would call ‘Genius Syndrome’. Interestingly, his creation and spreading of Junro actually helped him to see this and, consequently, he revised this to the aforementioned ‘training tool’ methodology. Asai Sensei recommended “…Junro Shodan for the Shodan test and a free choice of any Junro for Nidan” which is the system I have followed for the International Karate Shotokan syllabus. Indeed, this does not mean we do not teach Junro at Kyu level; rather, we focus on standard Shotokan kata for the Kyu Exams. That brings me to how I use the Junro Kata… 


Here are two concrete examples of using the Junro Kata in my training or teaching:

a.    Self-training or teaching KOSHI NO KAITEN in relation to the SASAE-ASHI (support) leg. In this case, I might utilize Junro Yondan kata; Junro Yondan Kumite No Oyo; and/or Kihon sequences from the kata to work on this point.


b.    Self-training or teaching utilization of the SENAKA (back bone) in counterattacks utilizing DEAI. In this scenario, Junro Nidan is ideal as it really isolates pelvic control and moving the center from the central spine to deliver ‘two arm techniques’.


Again, these are just two examples. Moreover, one doesn’t NEED the Junro kata to do such practices… Nonetheless, from my experience, I have found that karateka get more motivated and practice more due to Junro; hence, their undeniable value. This also allows us to see why kata were constructed from a contemporary standpoint.

Thursday 8 October 2020

A look back... My teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko Shuseki Shihan (Part I)

 A great lookback, OSU!

I was the founder of JKS New Zealand, also IJKA - both appointments directly by Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei. So please do not be confused by the video titles. I have no ties to these groups nor their technical standards. 

My training and uchideshi relationship with Asai Sensei is the basis of our INTERNATIONAL KARATE SHOTOKAN, here in Japan, which most closely follows my masters karate. More to come. OSU!!!

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

Tuesday 6 October 2020

宮田実先生 (Miyata Minoru Sensei)

Miyata Minoru Sensei was a pioneer of Shotokan-Ryu and a founding member of the JKA (Japan Karate Association). He was very important in the development of ‘Budo focused’ Shotokan.

Before I go on, the still images in this post come from the book dedicated to Miyata Sensei’s karate, which was given to me here in Japan. It was briefly circulated in 1994/1995.


So, to emphasize the importance of Miyata Sensei’s karate, rather than my words, I would like to quote Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei. This was in regard to Jiyu Ippon Kumite and Jiyu Kumite:


“The late Minoru Miyata was my classmate and a colleague of mine since the founding of the Japan Karate Association. From his long years of experience, he held a clearly defined view of jiyu ippon kumite and jiyu kumite. Since he was a man who capabilities were highly evaluated by others and one whom I had very great confidence. I would like to quote him on this subject. The method of jiyu ippon kumite is this. Both men take a kamae freely at an optional distance. Announcing the area he is aiming for, the attacker attacks decisively. Against this the blocker freely uses techniques he has mastered and counterattacks at once. This is a training method; the purpose is to put into actual practice the techniques of offense and defense. This is jissen (actual fighting) kumite." - Nakayama Masatoshi ('Best Karate Vol. 3' - Kumite One).

In fact, Miyata Sensei was so important to Nakayama Sensei (in the sense of 'old school technical application') that he dedicated both of the ‘Best Karate’ kumite books (volumes 3 and 4) to him.


What’s most interesting about Miyata Sensei's karate, based on I’ve heard from my seniors here in Japan; furthermore, WHAT YOU CAN SEE IN THESE IMAGES from this book is that 'you can see Miyata Sensei's karate is really OLD SCHOOL SHOTOKAN. Functionality is the purpose of form, as opposed to aesthetics. Also, more emphasis is on 'striking atemi (vital points)' with sharp karada-no-buki (weapons of the body). This is the karate that can be used by a weaker person to disable a more stronger and violent attacker. In a nutshell - 'self defense for the average Jane or Joe'. Interestingly, I heard that Miyata Sensei's karate was different from Nakayama Sensei's in that it was more like Funakoshi Yoshitaka Sensei's methodology. This can also be seen in his junior, Kase Taiji Sensei.

I personally believe with the refined Budo/Bujutsu Karate that we have now combined with the understanding/application of Miyata Sensei's generation (especially in regards to self-defense and ethics) is the correct way forward. 

Some familiar faces looking very young. Furthermore, some wonderful historical shots.

To conclude I very much believe that it is important "...to keep in mind the past—and integrate the strengths of that time—while embracing the positive  developments of the present time". Certainly, this goes vice-versa in regards to weaknesses and negative points. Please know! This is not modern thinking! It has been THE WAY OF KARATE and all arts from their very beginnings. Nevertheless, those who have failed to understand and apply this to their personal training will never maximize their own potential.





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