Monday 29 March 2021

府内城の桜 大分市2021

Over the last, nearly 14 years, of this blog I have annually posted some 桜 (Sakura) pictures, and this year is no different.

Today I'd like to share some simple photos from here in 大分市central Oita City, at the remains of 府内城 (Funai Jo). While these photos are not what I'd call spectacular, I hope you enjoy them! Like other images on this site, you can click on them to see them more clearly.

Osu and greetings to everyone around the world.


Andre Bertel

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

Tuesday 23 March 2021

OI ZUKI: 'The model of hand-foot timing'

 Using oi-zuki as ‘the model of hand-foot timing’ that it is, please allow me to unpack it as a technique that can be used in both jiyu-kumite in the dojo, competition and, yes highly effective on the street as well.

 Before I go on, it needs to be stated that SO MANY PEOPLE CLAIM OI-ZUKI IS INEFECTIVE ON THE STREET.


The 'basic' oi-zuki: which is important for foundational training, but incomplete practice.

 Well, the reality is, OI-ZUKI IS EXTREMELY STREET EFFECTIVE. The problem is that "...their oizuki, training, skill, physicality, and/or understanding of it, is incorrect (or, more to be more accurate, 'incomplete').

Of course, most techniques in the foundational training are not directly transferrable from their basic form (specifically for their ‘so-called basic function’). Let me give a few concrete examples (other than oizuki):


(1)      Opponent throws a jab or cross at your chin, you meet it with a classic age-uke. Yeah right!!!


(2)      You decide to launch a mae-geri and you do so with gedan kakiwake-gamae. Please punch me in the face!!!


(3)      Opponent raises his fists; you drop into a long and low zenkutsu-dachi with gedan-barai, before raising yours. Best scenario: your opponent(s) collapse in laughter.


These are clearly all just silly; moreover, doing a basic oizuki in a real fight is also a ridiculous notion.


However, these training methods have a lot of value. To save time I’d just like to refer to one of these… The kakiwake position when practicing kihon mae-geri. This is position with arms diagonally downward at both sides of the body help us to control our hips and core (and most importantly, monitor these aspects via this position). In combination, forming a triangle with the top of the head, we develop less telegraphed keriwaza, amongst other things. In sum, it is basic isolation training of mae-geri in its most simple form. This practice is important, but “…if this is all one does, they will not develop the technique fully”. Of course one also needs to practice it in freestyle, solo and in kumite, on the bag etcetera.


OK, so onto oi-zuki… Oi-zuki as I said is what I refer to (as I said in the opening of this article): ‘the model of hand foot timing’.


Why is this the case. Well, like all techniques with timing, there are multiple stages between initiation and completion (also pre-initiation and post initiation, including zanshin, which I wont go into today); however, THERE ARE THREE MAIN FORMS OF TIMING. I’ve written and taught much on this before, but it is very well worth my recapitulating this subject: as I really want to take these points to much higher levels in future courses and, certainly, with future renshusei as well.


FIRSTLY, the foundational Shotokan timing; that is TE-ASHI ONAJI—the hands and feet complete at the same time. This is our basic style… It’s our ‘reference point’ or marker for the other two main forms of timing. I'll come back to this later a few times.


SECONDLY, there is what I refer to as OKINAWAN timing. In this case, the stance is completed then the tsuki (or other tewaza) is launched. It is also seen in many other styles. An obvious example of this are movements 2-7 in 雲手 (Unsu) kata. This methodology can be used to cause one’s opponent to mistime their defense (just think of Gohon Kumite between beginners and intermediate level karateka). Often, in this type of situation, the beginners timing is really awkward for their training partners. I’ve even heard students complain about their partners ‘incorrect timing’ resulting in them being hit… I also say "Bravo, how fat can you make their lips!" But that's another story. Indeed, while the technique itself might be incorrect (incorrect shisei, tachikata etc.), they are instinctively/naturally using good timing to 'whack' their partners! The problem is that the intermediate karateka are not watching to receive the attacks with the right timing: cheating, moving too early. This is because "...the basic oi-zuki is not effective". Yes, this is the only oi-zuki that 'the people who think oi-zuki is ineffective' actually know. Yes, their concept of oi-zuki is like Kindergarten students understanding of quantum field theory. Well, hopefully not that bad, but it makes a point.


So, this (delayed tsuki) is actually a good thing ‘when masterfully utilized’ in the aforementioned context. It is also very useful in combination with grappling techniques (again, note: the aforementioned use in Unsu and its applications); furthermore, in environments that are less than ideal (i.e. – the floor of a slippery bar, on a stairway etc.).


THIRDLY, and lastly, the tsuki precedes the step/transfer. In this way, it almost becomes gyaku-zuki—and indeed it can be half-way between oi-zuki and gyaku-zuki; nonetheless, its nothing more than a linear punch which is different in timing. This results in increased hand speed and greater mass behind the fist because you are literally attacking your opponent with your zenkutsu-dachi. Driving from the back leg and unweighting the lead leg is extremely powerful. Once the weight forward with the head of the knee above the toe tips, the technique is already over. This is the ‘post attack loading’ for your next attacking or defensive maneuver.


So, we have:


(1)      Oizuki which is completes exactly with the completion of zenkutsu-dachi.


(2)      Oizuki which is delivered sometime after completing zenkutsu-dachi.


(3)      Oizuki which is completed sometime before completing zenkutsu-dachi.


I want to clarify here that... "I am by no means saying 'I have the best way... This is my personal style of teaching from my experiences here, over the last few decades". However, it really sums up the ‘proper and basic Shotokan approach to timing’ by all of the greats. Especially 'the combination of their demonstrations and explanations in Japanese' within the more exclusive trainings and private lessons. To reference a few instructors in this regard: Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, Tanaka Masahiko Sensei, Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei, Kagawa Masao Sensei et al. I want to stress here again, that this is THE SHOTOKAN METHODOLOGY. The other authentic ryuha/kaiha have their equally effective methods, which I also deeply respect! Nevertheless, I personally find that sticking to ‘the Shotokan way’ avoids strange adaptations of techniques, which in the past I've found to hinder people's kihon. This is because many of the core principles are conflicting. Again, this is only my opinion from my own experiences in training and in the coaching of others. To be honest, I have yet to meet anyone at successfully cross training (kihon and kata) in vastly different styles and not seriously deforming their kihon. I hope one day I do. Even training full time, I could never do that. Perhaps I should write about this in the future in greater depth, as I have had some excellent conversations with Osaka Sensei about this topic.


So, again let me now break 'the three main types of timing' down from the Shotokan perspective. 

The first type is a generic reference. However, its application is good in the case countering with a gyaku-zuki, moving/stepping back and countering, when doing waza with tenshin (rotation), when dropping with a waza, and, indeed, when jumping (you can easily reference the photo below for the 'tobi oi-zuki' timing). This stabilizes the waza and allows one to utilize ground power/reactive force—driving from the floor with power going to the impacting weapon (or, driving from the center going simultaneously down the floor and to the impacting weapon). No need to explain dropping/falling and and jumping, as they are self-explanatory. We also have third and far more advanced method.


The second type (finishing moving then making your waza), as already said, can be used to mistime your opponent. However, also as I said, it is good in combination with grabs, holds, locks, throws, take-downs and strangulation techniques. Not to mention with follow up percussive blows potentially after an ‘weight transferred attack’. And let’s not forget the environment, which I won’t mention again here.


The third type is the timing for rapid and heavy attacking. You can use this in a street fight as is. Ironically, though, without the prototype ‘te-ashi onaji’—the first type—this waza cannot be optimized. So ironically, all three must be practiced.


So how can I use oizuki in a fight? Well, attacking with this waza requires three basic points to be covered. The first is distancing, the second is positioning, and the third is using ‘the third type of timing’.


STEP ONE: Try this… Stand natural with a training partner in orthodox stance (left foot forward). Both hands up protecting your chin and jaw line.


Oh no! This position is not good. If you try a stepping through punch (oizuki) you’ll 70% most probably walk straight into either of their fists. It is literally a ‘Kamikaze’ move. You are all but asking them to break your nose.  


OK, let’s fix this! Instead, for oizuki, have the opposite foot forward to the opponent. That is, if they are in an orthodox stance, you should stand southpaw and vice-versa.


So, you are in the opposite stance and you step through and punch. Nope! This is not ideal either! The best is where you use your lead arm to ‘check their guard’ whilst simultaneously attacking. Note – whilst doing this one must still focus on ‘collapsing the front knee forward’ as in kihon kumite and essentially maximizing ‘juryoku’ (gravity)’. Ideally 'prep the knee' before initiation and 'cut down the seichusen': this really mitigates cues for the opponent to detect your attack.


This is a good oi-zuki that you can use… However, there are a couple of other really important points. Namely:


(1)      Don’t attack from too far back. You need to be close enough to go right through the opponent’s head, but so close that it can instantly turn into a ‘slug fest’. This also functions to give the opponent very limited time to defend and/or escape; furthermore, to ascertain your attack. I’ll quote Tanaka Masahiko Sensei here: “When I attack I concentrate on driving my hips through my opponent”. I want to say that this advice helped me over the years and helped me better understand Tanaka Sensei’s ‘ankle spring’.


(2)      Don’t hikite unless you are pulling the opponent in (to control, ‘blindside’ and or ‘set’ them. Best still, if your aim is a rapid 'king hit' is a light 'check' of their guard and with simultaneous (or near simultaneous) impact on their jaw, chin, neck/throat, temple or jinchu.


(3)      Zenkutsu-dachi can be big, but doesn’t have to be. The determinant is ‘case by case’. In any situation, the extended position we call ‘zenkutsu-dachi’ (and all the other stances for that matter) are “ACTIVE POSITIONS as opposed to STATIC one’s.


(4)      Even though this is freestyle version, DON’T LOSE THE CORE KIHON and PRINCIPLES OF OIZUKI. By doing this, your tsuki will be more direct and have far more impact.


If oi-zuki is done in the aforementioned way, in addition to Kihon training, it is a highly effective tsuki in any context: dojo shiai-jo and street. The problem is that many people only train the basic way.  Yes, the basic style of practice is critical—'IT IS THE BASE’, but without practicing it in the freestyle way, it has no meaning. Lastly, we can see WHY OIZUKI is practiced so much in Shotokan-Ryu and why it's such an important technique for mastering timing, lightness for speed, moving from the center, and maximum heavy transfer of mass. Next time when you hear that oi-zuki is not a useful technique, know this: any person 'who thinks and says that' does not understand oi-zuki. I hope you enjoyed this article. Osu, and greetings from Western Japan. - André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

Monday 22 March 2021

When Kihon and Kata are not for Kumite, they cease to be TRUE KARATE.

Practicing at the dojo today. STEP BY STEP!

 Today’s training was all kata; however, the focus was movement for effect/optimal application. I practiced and worked aspects of the following ten formal exercises, five of which are kihon-gata (foundational) and five ‘jokyu-gata’ (advanced).

The standard ‘Standard Shotokan’ I worked with today were: 平安初段 (Heian Shodan), 平安三段 (Heian Sandan), 二十四歩(Nijushiho), 
王冠 (Wankan) and 百八歩 (Hyakuhappo).

Warming up with Ushiromawashi-geri variations.

The ‘Asai-ha Shotokan-ryu kata I practiced were: 順路初段(Junro Shodan), 常行一勢 (Joko Issei), 脚戦  (Kyakusen), 騎馬拳 (Kibaken) and 水手 / 水の手 (Suishu/Mizu no te).


My focus was to optimize each kihonwaza; furthermore, how they link together to create the flow for effectiveness. Each kata has its only character/personality to fight with. This point is not only external but internalized. Especially in regards to sensing the opponents maai and ‘instinctively responding optimally’ according their cues.


Movement 55 of 騎馬拳 (Kibaken) kata at my daily dojo training today.

This point elucidates a key point in karate: Kihon is Kumite and Kata is Kumite: Jissen (REAL) Kumite. When Kihon and Kata are not for Kumite, they cease to be TRUE KARATE. 

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

Thursday 18 March 2021

IMPACT IN TRAINING: An opportunity to clarify the truth

Some have questioned “Why do you virtually use the entire surface of the foot (foot side on) when you do ushiro-geri with training partner? They have even told me that my ushiro-geri is wrong. I don't mind, as the keyboard warriors are such karate-gods. However, I thought I'd use such trolling comments to highlight how Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei taught me to impact safely: for 'giving and receiving'. 


So, to begin with, to answer the ushiro-geri question... It is the same reason I utilize haisoku with mawashi-geri and sokutei with ura mawashi-geri and ushiromawashi-geri.


Furthermore, it is the same reason I strike down the dogi, across the dogi, etcetera, with the various strikes on strong parts of the anatomy…


The reason is simple: So I don’t hurt my training partners and assistants whilst being able to put a little but controlled power into the waza. 


Of course, when I’m hitting the sandbag, impact shields etc..., I hit with proper weapons of the body and targets, like I would (and have) outside the dojo. In other words, to inflict as much damage as possible with the respect waza. Let's examine how I train on OBJECTS in the dojo, with the aforementioned techniques...


Ushiro-geri I impact with kakato (the heel), which the heel is diagonally at the top of my foot formation.

Mawashi-geri with josokutei (the ball of the foot) or sune (the shin), both of which I heavily axe downwards.

Ura mawashi-geri/Ushiromawashi-geri with kakato (the heel).


In the case of the strikes - real fighting - they are instead directed to weak points, for example, instead of shuto kesa-uchi snapping down the dogi (as said above: for safety practice) it directly impacts on say the clavicle, temple, or carotid artery. Some people have accused Asai Sensei, and me also, of just 'slapping'. Anyone who has trained with Asai Sensei, or myself, knows that these waza are not mere slaps. The aforementioned points explain this, but not fully. They train the 'follow through' of waza which is imperative to maximize effectiveness.

Another example is striking the upper inside thigh as opposed to impacting the testicles. Taken as a whole, I hope that all these points are self explanatory.


Impacting not to injure each others in training, is obviously very good and ethical practice (for each other) as we can AMP UP the speed and power without injuring each other. In this way we can give (execute) techniques more vigorously in the mechanical sense; furthermore, and more importantly, receive (feel/experience) more explosive waza. Of course, all of this depends on our respective training partners, kumite 'opponents' and demonstration volunteers. No one should be forced into any training experiences, which are detrimental to them. However, those who want to experience more intensity must equally be given the opportunity.

Lastly, to the haters and trolls. This post will not help your jealousy. My advice to you is this. Instead of being keyboard warriors and trying to promote yourselves through successful karateka, instead seek real training and push yourself to higher levels outside of your micro-kingdoms. I am personally so happy to see (and help) people get better at karate all over the world. As an instructor of karate, and in my mid 40s, my aim is always to build karateka much stronger and technically better than myself. To summarize, the aforementioned methodology in this article is very important in this process. Accordingly, the critical attack of my ushiro-geri has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to clarify these points. How ironic is that? OSU!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

Wednesday 17 March 2021


 What is the purpose of IKS 国際空手道松濤館 (International Karate Shotokan) having SO MANY KATA?

 Have I mastered all this content? Of course not, no one could do that!

 The point is to preserve these kata and the respective budo knowledge within them and, most importantly, GIVE MORE OPTIONS FOR KARATEKA TO SPECIALIZE! Specialization is determined by one's personal strengths and weaknesses, respective physiques, health, injuries, age, likes and dislikes, and so on. Everyone is different therefore, once attaining a strong foundation, ideally everyone must follow different karate paths (that is, paths best suited for them to reach their peak skill level in the art).

 This aspect of MORE OPTIONS is very important in IKS as SPECIALIZATION is utterly imperative for MAXIMIZATION OF EACH INDVIDUALS SKILL. Yes, again, let me repeat: "if you want to reach your maximum potential in karate you must specialize!"


So, while we have A LOT MORE KATA than other Shotokan groups, our syllabus encourages (actually requires) ‘specialization in a small number of kata’.


Yes, it’s true I go through all of the kata as ‘general practice’ (and I recommend others do this as well); however, my personal training really focuses on just a handful of them. One kihon-gata, one sentei-gata, one or two jiyu-gata (standard Shotokan-Ryu) and one or two ‘Asai-ha’ kata. 

What’s great about this is the 'broad general practice' often steers what I end up doing in my specialized training (you discover things as you develop and evolve); furthermore, this changes over time. In this way, one’s skill is not only lifted, but training is far more interesting and motivational. In sum, International Karate Shotokan’s training creates a combination of getting better and enjoying training; hence, produces strong motivation to practice. Karate is hard, but done in this way is also a joy to do.

 This is one of the reasons why many senior karateka, especially those seeking budo karate have come to the IKS.

Let's face it, unless you are a competitor under a certain system of rules or in a group that demands certain kata for your next examination, "...the Shotokan kata examination (and competition requirements) developed in the middle of 20th Century are not only outdated, they are literally lessening people's technical potential".


Lastly, I want to stress the issue of health and age. One of the reasons Asai Sensei brought in the additional kata was not only to ‘add bujutsu karate (techniques, applications and principles) missing from mainstream Shotokan’ but also to promote more natural karate. Needless to say, the standard Shotokan kata (for the most part) tend to be quite hard on the body, whereas the Asai-ha kata have more natural movements. In particular, they become more suitable as one’s body ages. In this way, karateka can continue ‘within the Shotokan style’ as a base and bolster their skills irrespective of injuries, age and overall condition.


This extension of Shotokan, therefore, is not only good for specialization, motivation, and health… It is also an exciting, new, and more advanced journey on the Shotokan path.

 I wish you all the absolute best on your respective karate journeys. Osu, André

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

Monday 15 March 2021


At present my 基本 (KIHON) training is very streamlined; that is, I’m back in a phase of really focusing on one or two points per session and/or one or two categories of waza. Periodically I’ve done this, especially since my early 20s. For example, uke followed by hangekiwaza (counterattacks) or such techniques and, in addition to them, (for example) various forms of ashi-barai.

Each day in my kihon practice I’m keeping my reps lower than usual and intensively focusing on high-quality execution at all times. While this is always a core aim in keiko, I’m really pushing hard at present in this regard. This conscientiousness is demanding and is literally what is known as ‘DELIBERATE PRACTICE’. Of course, I always do this, but my aim is to break through some barriers, so I’m really pushing hard in this regard at the moment.


My current (KATA) training presently includes: 1. A random SHITEI-GATA (平安/鉄騎 – Heian/Tekki); 2. 明鏡三段 (Meikyo Sandan); 3. 王冠 (Wankan); 4. 百八歩t (Hyakuhappo); and 5. 掌手小 (Shote Sho). These are all demanding kata for me, so I have to swallow my pride and do my best. I do each of these kata at least four times per day. Slowly and step-by-step, I’m working to build up my skill via them—especially in regards to fluidity within the transitions.


Uncoincidentally, my current 組手 (KUMITE) practice is also focused on fluidity and transitions for power; in particular, from an internal/soft perspective and ‘wave motions.’ While I am not practicing them ‘in full’, I’m often referencing techniques, combinations and principles from the five ‘NATURAL ENERGY KATA’: 1. 雲手 (Unsu); 2. 火手 (Kashu); 3. 水手 (Suishu); 4.  (Roshu); and 風手 (Hushu).



© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021). 

Sunday 14 March 2021

百八歩 (Hyakuhappo): the ス-パ-リンペイ (Suparinpei) of Shotokan

 ぺッチュ-リン (Pechurin) or --リンペイ (Suparinpei) is known as 百八歩 (Hyakuhappo, in Shotokan-Ryu. This means 108 steps, which has direct roots to Buddhism; likewise, Gojushiho with 54 steps and, indeed, Joko. I am zero-percent Buddhist, however, it must be clarified that these names reflect ‘phases’ in that particular religion, which makes sense, as our art originated from India and China.

Hyakuhappo is also referred to, by the younger generation of instructors (meaning, under roughly 80 years old) as ‘Hyakuhachiho’ which is a more contemporary reading of the same kanji. Asai Sensei said to me that “...the older generation (Shotokan practitioners) only used ‘Hyakuhappo’.” But to illustrate that names are not so important, Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei simply calls this kata as ‘Hyakuhachi’. I will return to Osaka Sensei later.


While still relatively obscure, this was a kata ‘in mainstream JKA Shotokan’ in the past and, as you will well know, was mentioned by Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei in his ‘Best Karate’ series (along with other kata, not later included in volumes five to 11). Most notably, and certainly worth mentioning here, is that Wankan and Jiin were also missing (as they are widely practiced); nevertheless, I have explained about this in detail in the past.


So, it is said that Hyakuhappo entered Shotokan at the same time as Unsu, Sochin, Nijushiho and Gojushiho (Sho)—Gojushiho Dai was an adaptation formed at ‘The Shotokan’. Nevertheless, the story changes from instructor to instructor. Rather than go on about kata history (respect to them, but I’ll leave that for the karate historians), I prefer to JUST TRAIN. That is, use the kata as a training tool to develop my skill as a karateka, and improve my students as much as possible.


Let me give a generic explanation about Hyakuhappo from my senpai (seniors) here in Japan:


“It is said that Chogi, the second son of Lord Yoshimura, financed Higaonna Kanryo’s training trip to Fukien, China. Higaonna Sensei was his teacher. It was during this time that Pechurin was acquired; furthermore, and allegedly, it was based on the original Chinese form of Sanchin. It is believed that in older times Pechurin/Hyakuhappo was made up of three interconnected and individual kata: Jyo, Chu and Ge. The kata widely practiced now is only the Jyo version”.


Now, I should mention that rendition that I practice and teach is slightly different from the mainstream JKA-style Shotokan one. There are five stance differences and the second to final waza (movement 79), while still using yori-ashi, moves in a different direction; moreover, is a completely different waza/application. 

The Hyakuhappo I do is Asai-Ryu, but probably not original: based on what learned from Osaka Sensei.


The version taught by the late Yamaguchi Toru Sensei is said to be the original - he learned this from Shoji Hiroshi Sensei; nevertheless, I prefer the Asai-ha rendition in both training and practical applications. This version is probably unique to IKS, especially in regards to the aforementioned use of Fudo-dachi.


I would like to end by saying that Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei strongly advocates that both Jiin and ‘Hyakuhachi’ should be retained within the standard Shotokan kata. So much, that he produced and widely distributed a manuscript (across Japan) featuring them both. I think it is fair to say that 'this says a lot'. Based on Asai Sensei's teachings and Osaka Sensei's reinforcement of these, IKS has officially 're-included' Hyakuhappo into our list of 'standard Shotokan-Ryu Kata'. Needless to say, Jiin has never been omitted from what I practice and teach. I will leave it there for today and wish everyone the best in their training, good health and happiness.


© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

Saturday 13 March 2021

Value your life

Greetings from Oita City, Japan. I want to send some positivity to all who read this, from a dear friend of mine. Morgan Dilks.

 Each day we live we can interact with others, those others who we interact with might disappear tomorrow.

I apologize for this common sense talk for the older people, however, I am sharing this for the young people who visit this site.

 Simple message from Morgan:

Value your life, value you those who you come in touch with. Disease and death will come to all of us.

Morgan also said "Don't fight cancer, it will then fight harder back. Instead, treat it like a pet".

He also said to me, "Yuko, Yuri and Miya are everything to me"... Before cancer and after. BIG LOVE! What a beautiful family.

God bless you all. Let’s be beautiful to each other. Our hearts are with Yuko, Yuri and Miya,

André Bertel

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).