Friday 21 May 2021


I have received many requests to post videos on two particular Shotokan-Ryu Kata:






Today, in my self-training, in the kata portion of my practice I focused on these two kata, which are both very-difficult for me. I will do my best to refine them more and share them in the future. But unlike other kata, I’m not ready with these two yet.


I also find 王冠(Wankan) very difficult; however, I ‘took the plunge’ and posted that in the past. I have no regrets about that, but I need to expand my skill within its waza (technique) and oyo (applications).


My point in this post is just a simple message, but an important one! If we are talking about karate as BUDO / BUJUTSU, it is impossible to PERFECT ALL OF THE KATA. ‘Looking nice’ for competition is—of course—possible (with unlimited kata, if the individual is athletically talented and determined); however, this is ‘performance karate’ not ‘effective fighting karate’.


To conclude, I was taught many different kata; however, this teaching was not for me, it was for my students/trainees.


Don’t feel disappointed when you can’t do a particular kata well, nor use it in kumite. Instead, be happy that you have discovered that is no good for you. Moreover, that might change in the future as you change! This is one of the beauties of Karate-Do as a lifetime art.


Greetings from Oita City, Japan.


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

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Minimum tenure and age between advancement in DAN (as established by Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei)






















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


Friday 14 May 2021

The three different tanden

As a result of numerous requests from around the world, today I decided to write a little about the THREE TANDEN. I decided to keep it very simple and practical. So, while this article is far from ‘all encompassing’, it will suffice to provide a base understanding for karate kihon. Please note, I posted this article initially yesterday; however, I accidently posted an early draft! Here is the completed article with one-third more content and a couple of extra corresponding diagrams. Osu, André Bertel.



The JO TANDEN is located in the middle of the head between the eyes. This is obviously superstitious, but clearly relates to the (the traditional Asian understanding of) sensory reception of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth; moreover, the corresponding areas of the brain that process and interpret stimuli.


In addition to these points the JO TANDEN lifts the center of gravity to the toes and corresponds with the hips when transitioning; furthermore, makes the body light: easy for leaping and being picked up by an opponent. The last of these points may seem to be a disadvantage, however, if you have trained in any grappling arts, you will know that this often employed as a shikake-waza (i.e. – to set up/trap for a ‘gyaku-waza’).






Located in the chest at about heart level.


This area is the ‘transitional place’ between lightness and heaviness of the body. Moreover, and most importantly, it is an educator between the two: THE NEUTRAL ZONE (which is also referred to as ‘the initiation position’ and as I said above ‘the transitional place/position’). Of course, there is more to the Chu Tanden, so I will somewhat expand on that later in the article (in the examples from kata).







Located deep inside the ‘hara’ roughly midway between the top of the pubic bone and the navel. Quite simply. this is where one’s optimal center of balance is: both physically and mentally.


This tanden is the most essential for budoka as this is where one’s energy must be placed and exerted from. This includes kokyu (breathing). However, by understanding the other two levels of ‘tanden’ one can move optimally move and have greater awareness of ‘where their energy is at any given time’ (this not only includes physical power, but emotional control – especially over stress, fear, and anger). More about that at the end of the article.


Consequently, understanding all three tanden (plural) allows one to closely analyze/assess and ‘react optimally’ from their seika tanden.

 Let’s consider the three tanden via a simple illustration. Imagine yourself having to respond to a sudden and unexpected attack in your daily life. Probably you will be functioning in your Jo Tanden and, if not, shock will cause you to physically and internally go there. This is natural: fight or flight mode.


Now, imagine yourself being in an elevator on the third floor of a building, metaphorically this is the place you are in with your Jo Tanden. At this point you, if you are sufficiently trained, autonomously register the attack and lower yourself to the second floor—your Chu Tanden, then lastly, you drop to the ground floor—to your Seika Tanden. With correct training you can drop to the first floor faster: a true master—instantaneously does this.


Interestingly, and very importantly—"especially learned and refined in kihon and kata” (and yakusoku kumite also)—is the “…direct relationship between the hara/seika tanden and kakato (the heels)”. Furthermore, and precisely coordinated, is the relationship between koshi (the hips) and tsumasaki (the toes)”. This is what I often refer to as “the kakato-tsumasaki relationship”, which is not a formal term, but one that I created to increase trainees correct utilization of this ‘kihon’.


Lastly, I would like to stress that this is literally all ‘just kihon’. That is, it is very important, but “…only if it is utilized to make effective techniques in the real world”. Ironically, therefore, just like the Jo Tanden (which obviously includes the intellect) just having theories and superficial learning is not enough. Instead, one must ‘internalize skills so they are completely automatic under any level of pressure’. Unfortunately now, and embarrassingly for karate, many karate instructors live in the world of theory, demonstrate nicely, yet cannot fight outside of a controlled environment.

Ultimately, this coincides with the Seika Tanden and, dare I say, ‘animal instinct’.


Keeping this very basic, I would like to provide three ‘ultra-obvious’ (and hence prolific) examples of using the Jo, Chu and Seiken Tanden in kata.


Jo tanden: The opening of Kanku Dai and Unsu. Also, to give a broader perspective, any of all of the jumps in the kata.


Chu tanden: The initial movement in all kata when descending from a shizentai (the transition from the Jo tanden) into the respective tachikata. Also, for example, the initial action when descending from other natural positions i.e. – moving from renoji-dachi to zenkutsu-dachi in Kanku Dai etc.


Seika tanden: Almost every action in kata and karate in general. However, a really blatant one is dropping into tatehiza-dachi in both Enpi and Gankaku (also Senka, Rantai, Rakuyo, Meikyo Sandan, Raiko, and many other kata). In this case, one dramatically uses Juryoku (gravity) and drops their physical weight, mental energy and breath down to the pit of your stomach. Another more subtle example is simply making an ukewaza followed by oi-zuki (i.e. – Heian Shodan, Jion, Kanku Sho, Sochin, Meikyo etc). In these cases, and others, one’s Seika Tanden is like ‘traveling in vehicle on a perfectly straight and level road but still with the feeling of sinking’ (Asai Sensei taught that this is the 'shime' of the Seika Tanden); thus, ‘going through the opponent’. Correspondingly and consistent with this, I remember the teaching of Tanaka Masahiko Sensei in which he said: “attack with the aim of driving your hips through the opponent”. Of course, one could just as easily say to 'drive the Seika Tanden through them'. Both are good images if ichi-hissatsu, the essence of true karate technique is one's ultimate technical objective.


Kokyu (Breathing): I do not want to go into this too much here today as it deserves a book (or several books) and certainly better written by someone else. My knowledge of breathing is limited to that of Karate-Do and Karate-Jutsu. Rather, I just want to simplistically and practically focus on breathing in relation to the three Tanden pertaining to high level application in Budo/Bujutsu.


As discussed already, working from the Seika Tanden means more efficient movement and increased mental/emotional control. A major part of this is connected to deeper breathing which results in superior use of oxygen. It is well known that 'when people are stressed that their breathing is faster, and more shallow'. By utilizing diaphragmic breathing, which I’ve written about a lot in the past, one's efficiency—in multiple domains—will be immensely increased. From the perspective of karate this means increased explosive speed and power will be achieved, and control over one’s mind and emotions will be experienced. If you’ve encountered real world violence, you will know that the mental/emotional control is actually more important than one’s skill and power. Skill is the first thing to shrink, and it shrinks fast, once the mind goes into panic mode. 


On a positive note, if you are not a naturally courageous person (perhaps even fearful), conscientiously utilizing and developing your Seika Tanden in movement and breath, will literally change this. Likewise, if you are aggressive and like to ‘take to the fight’ it will help you control this surge. I certainly needed that in my younger times. 

Being in a state of calmness within calamity—especially when being faced by potentially life-threatening physical violence—is the highest level in karate and budo/bujutsu in general.


In this way, we can see the physical and mental connection of our art; furthermore, that the SEIKA TANDEN is literally at the center of this and literally draws us to the center (physically and mentally) irrespective of where we are , in the moment, or in our lives. I will conclude on that note today. Osu, André. 

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

Wednesday 12 May 2021

The gradual increase of speed with solo techniques (One of the several core basic methods of technical improvement)

 Here’s a question I was recently asked! I thought I’d share it, and my answer, here  today. My rational in doing this is to lay down one of the several core ‘basic methodologies of improving one’s foundational karate techniques/underpinning biomechanics’.








One thing that will improve anyone is "...the gradual increase of speed with solo techniques (kihon and kata)". Please note: I did not mention 'power' here, and this is intentional (ESSENTIAL). This is because you MUST keep completely relaxed; that is, ‘keep as light as possible’ unless impacting on a target.


Let me provide a concrete example of general daily 'solo kihon practice' (say, first stage stationary ‘kizami-zuki kara gyaku-zuki’ in zenkutsu-dachi).



After getting into a natural and a correct zenkutsu-dachi, and extending your gyaku-zuki, begin punching kizami-zuki (hanmi) then gyaku-zuki (zenmi/shomen) super slowly (what I call 'tai chi speed') whilst keeping as light as possible. Maintain perfect form as much as possible in stance, posture, seika tanden and within each aspect of each technique (for time’s sake, I will not detail this all here). Do this at least 20 times, one tsuki per action. Totally soft in the body, yet freezing at the end of each waza with exactly formed seiken. 



Next, with no more power/force of action, slightly increase the speed, but nothing else (not Tai Chi speed this time, but still very slow). Also, remain just doing one 'tsuki' per count. At least another 20 repetitions.



From here, everything the same (as the previous set) but both ‘tsuki’ per count: '1-2'. Be sure that 'the form is not changed at all' (especially don't cheat the kizami-zuki) and diligently concentrate of the clarity of the mind: not to be fixated/internalized but, rather, receptive.



Next, with no changes from the previous exercise, simply increase the speed. Do not increase any power/force and keep aware/receptive in your mind as previous. I thing I like to teach is 'not to get caught in the heat of the moment'. That is, don't let the body override the mind. Keep calm and cool irrespective of increased velocity.



From here each set gets faster and faster. Note, ‘any increase in muscle power’ or ‘loss of form’ means you are moving too fast for your current level of skill. Don't cheat yourself, eventually you will reach the next phase if you are self-honest. With this in mind, with increased speed, it is "...essential to keep the energy in the seika-tanden and simultaneously monitor your breathing whilst maintaining the aforementioned awareness/environmental receptiveness". I'll repeat myself, but more clearly: do not use the jo-tanden nor the chu-tanden, utilize the seika-tanden. The Chu Tanden and Jo Tanden are primarily to understand 'being in the Seika Tanden... If anyone is interested I can write about this in a future post.


OK... And important point to add... Supplement this practice with a strength and power training (based on your current strength/fitness, age and health) and, as mentioned earlier, "...coincide this ‘air karate’ with impact training (makiwara, sand bag, shields, focus mitts, etcetera)". Have fun and train hard hitting stuff! Furthermore, one must practice more advance kihon versions (tai no shinshuku), freestyle kihon, and of course test everything out in kumite. These aspects will not only increase one's speed, they will also make one's kihon (and both kata and yakusoku kumite) functional in jiyu kumite and, indeed, in self-defense also. Shotokan training, when done in the budo/bujutsu way is a highly logical and interconnective system for self-defense. Nonetheless, it becomes compartmentalized and disjointed when it is primarily sports focused (which is now a major problem in karate as a whole). Another, less discussed danger is when Shotokan becomes over-theorized. This karate is even 'less than sports karate' although regarded by many as being 'traditional'. I personally like the word 'traditional', nevertheless, it is so often termed by those in karate who lack the technical prowess to be successful in the sports karate world; thus, they use it as a false platform for having some sort of authority. Remember, people must talk with their karate, both form and practical application in freestyle. These points are inseparable. I'll leave that there! 

So, if more impact power is one’s serious aim (beyond form and 'peak speed') the karate exponent will obviously need to increase their mass: ideally by stacking on more muscle. Yes, with precise technical form and maximum speed—having more mass will mean that you will increase your impact power. In my case, I prefer having less mass than I did in the past. These days I personally prefer a cut 75kg and being more reliant on precision (as opposed to the extra power from having a bigger build). In saying that, I always say, each to their own! I have had trainees who I've helped to get bulked up and, contrary to popular ideas, they have not sacrificed speed, mobility nor flexibility (I didn't either, when I stacked on the muscle). On the flip side, I have also recommended several smaller built karateka to gain weight (via resistance training, healthy diets and supplements)--based on their desire to make effective karate techniques. I will quote myself from an article in 1997 here: "TECHNICAL FORM IS ESSENTIAL. EXPLOSIVE POWER IS ESSENTIAL. BEING MENTALLY TOUGH IS ESSENTIAL. BEING ABLE TO TAKE BIG HITS IS ESSENTIAL. AND HAVING MORE MASS, IN ADDITION TO THESE POINTS, IS MORE POWER TO YOU!"

Don't listen to anyone who says 'size doesn't matter'! Of course it does, and it always will 'when it comes to unarmed combat/self-defense'.


OK, to wrap up… Needless to say, there is all sorts of pseudo-science in the karate world. I could name far more than a handful of famous instructors, here in Japan and abroad, who are teaching nonsensical stuff. Some of this is based on their own weird research, training and biases, others just to be unique and stand out, yet others are just based on theoretical crap—feelings—which after being punched in the face will all go out the window. As I have said before, all such coaches are surrounded by 'a sign': the technical level of their own students (in their dojo) is low. This 'sign' is always the case, yet so many people still believe in them due to their verbal presentation and shallow copy of karate movements: 'dancing karate'. It seems to me that now, with all the information available, karate people are even more naïve than ever. The common idea now is: "if it looks nice or cool, it's good karate"... This is precisely the opposite of which I personally learned, from my seniors here in Japan.


Accordingly, I encourage all of my students and trainees to not only follow ‘what I teach’ but ‘to test it for themselves’; furthermore, to independently ‘verify with science’ (in correspondence with their self-training) and based on these points 'find what best works for them! In this regard, as a budoka, I evolve accordingly in my own training, and consequently, in what I teach as well. 


Overall, my method of coaching is on 'empowering the individual' by showing the reality as opposed to feelings and theories: this always gets excellent results and why I'm in demand. To conclude, the reality is that karate must be effective in the real world; therefore, training must always lead to this outcome and be on-going to maintain (and further refine) this core objective of bujutsu.

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

Tuesday 4 May 2021




Based on a question I received I’d like to address what is ‘Natural Movement’ in karate; in particular, the positioning it requires and most importantly “how these ‘positioning's’ dictate whether or not one can move naturally”.


This aspect is why the top Japanese karateka ‘look different’ when they move: irrespective of their varying physique’s; furthermore, why such slightly built young Japanese girls and women produce so much explosiveness and precision in their kata and kumite.


Irrespective of internalized views, it is not because these karateka are Japanese. And it is not because of their respective physiques. It is because they move naturally in accordance with their own uniqueness.


This sounds contrary to Japanese ‘dantai’ culture; however, when one considers the unparalleled number of top-class instructors here in Japan, it is obvious that this is reflected in the coaching—even though it is ‘banking model of education’.


My top priority as an instructor is to ensure trainees reach their pinnacle skill levels. If they don’t, I lose them. Actually, I really like this pressure as it pushes me forward.


Natural karate is actually VERY EASY. Ironically though, it is not easy as people tend to complicate things for themselves: in their minds and, indeed resultingly, in their movement. Actually, outside Japan, I think many instructors simply want to have control over their respective students because they are fearful. Accordingly, they want to give their students fish as opposed to teach them how to fish. This has been a major issue greatly restricting karate growth around the world since its initial global spread. It literally illustrates the saying: ‘Big fish in a small pond’.


That aside and to wrap up, I will present some points why natural karate is best (FOR EVERYONE):


Firstly, and most obviously one does not have to fight against themselves; that is, fight against their own physiques to reach optimal skill levels. Secondly, effective application is readily achieved as the body is not contorted—many karateka are what I can only describe as being ‘caught in technique’. Thirdly, karate training ‘in this way’ reduces causing damage to the body (and those injured or with poor health can continue training if they follow this methodology). Fourthly, technique is balanced and alignment correct; therefore, inherently beautiful in the budo/bujutsu sense (note: not necessarily in the empty sports ‘plastic’ sense). Fifthly, more explosiveness is achieved as the whole body can be utilized via the proper and harmonious use of kinetic chains. Sixthly, the mind is freed as “…the natural state of the body inherently allows one ‘to be psychologically in the moment’ and optimally reflexive”.


Greetings from Oita City, Japan.

André Bertel


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