Friday 29 October 2021

Behavior in movement means 'application' in karate.


In this photo you can see that I'm executing a jodan mae-geri kekomi with tsumasaki. This can be directed to the face, in particular the eyes, also the throat at jodan level. It is not a finishing blow but it is still very effective and nearly invisible outside of the dojo. When wearing shoes, this waza can still be well applied.

On the topic of KARADA NO BUKI (the weapons of the body) I'd like to point out a few points 'lost in translation'. In the past, I have used these to conform with Western standards; however, I regret that as sometimes this is creates confusion.

Here are three examples...


RIDGE HAND         

(Japanese) BACK SWORD


OX JAW HAND       



BENT WRIST          

(Japanese meaning) CRANE HEAD

This brief post was based upon a request. One challenge I have is that while I read and write kanji, I forget that many karateka outside Japan do not. This sometimes means that they get 'lost in translation'. Beyond this point, because I'm a native English speaker, the English definitions of karate terms are also indoctrinated in me. 

These points aside and, with them in mind, by confirming the 'correct definition of aspects in karate' progression can be sped up. Such things may seem insignificant, however, conceptualization shapes ones behavior. Behavior in movement means 'application' in karate.


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

Thursday 21 October 2021


By request from one of my deshi I was asked to write an article on stationary zenkutsu-dachi. I thought that I'd keep it really simple and highlight the most basic points in the most simplistic manner possible. Overall, I hope that this is useful for everyone, even my seniors here in Japan who conversely want to convey their teachings into English for the next generation. One of the good points of having English as my mother language and Japanese, is that besides training itself, I can get lots of information then translate that, when I teach.

Basic zenkutsu-dachi in a transitional period after shomen.

   So here we go! BASIC ZENKUTSU-DACHI

(1.0) Formation of zenkutsu dachi (shomen) 

The usual width of the stance is that of the hip joints, to be specific, the inside edges of both feet are the same with as the outside edges of the hips.

The length is dependent upon, and dictated by the flexibility of the ankles and hips. These dictating factors are firstly that rear foot can point more to the front than the side. Ideally this is about a 30 degree angle, but no more than the less ideal 45 degree; furthermore, that the outside edge of the foot can be made completely flat. Secondly, that a perfectly aligned shomen (frontal/forward facing) position can be achieved. This also includes pelvic, back and head/neck alignment. Thirdly, the straight expansion of the rear leg and ‘rolling over of its respective thigh’ with harmony of the knee, upper leg and corresponding hip joint. Keep in mind not only the frontal alignment of shomen but also the lateral alignment; that is, tilting the upper body to either side.

 The front foot is pointing approximately one toe-width inwards. To be more specific, the outside edge of the foot is facing directly forward as opposed to the toes. The knee head of the front leg is usually directly above the tips of the front foots toes; furthermore, the front knee must not be allowed to collapse inward nor be pushed outward unnaturally. Accordingly, there is a very subtle inward squeeze so the outside of the front knee and corresponding thigh are in perfect alignment. This methodology makes a strong connection between the thighs of both legs which feels like the formation of metaphorical triangle. Like the rear feet, the front foot is completely flat on the floor


(1.1) Rotating into zenkutsu dachi (hanmi)

Once the zenkutsu-dachi shomen position is acquired one is equipped to utilize koshi no kaiten (hip rotation) to transfer into hanmi or the ‘half-facing’ position. Whilst this position is not as strong as shomen it is elusive for defense and allows for a strong counter rotation.

To make hanmi, push from the heel of the lead foot and rotate the hips diagonally towards the rear leg. The degree of the rotation is variable but typically ranges between 45 and 90 degrees. More subtle turns of the hips are also utilized. The key points in this rotation are as follows: firstly, keep the front knee and leg as set as possible—no pulling back or wobbling sideways, likewise keep the head set and facing directly forward; secondly, when rotating into hanmi the axis of rotation should be the rear shoulder and rear hip—imagine a pole from pointing perfectly straight down through these joints; thirdly, keep the hips perfectly level at all times; fourthly, required to achieve the previous point, without any changes below the rear knee, slightly contract the rear leg by bending and rolling it outwards. Without this point the waist bio-mechanically cannot be kept on a perfectly level plans, moreover, the imperative drive of the rear leg cannot be fully applied in the counter rotation; fifthly, be conscientious about the contraction of the rear legs gluteus-maximus muscle. To clarify this, it should be slightly contracted/tilted under and a little lowered, but not enough to make any change in height whatsoever.

It is important to conclude that when utilizing this action, with lead arm techniques, use the hips/waist as coordinated unit to hurl the limb.

(1.2) Counter rotation from zenkutsu-dachi (hanmi) into zenkutsu-dachi (shomen)

To counter rotate from hanmi to shomen in zenkutsu-dachi, in contrast shomen to hanmi one must use kakato-chushin driving with the rear heel to expand (stretch/straighten) the rear and roll it inward and downward. This is, of course, subtle tai no shinshuku (the contraction/compression and expansion/stretching of the body). Again, the front leg should be made as still as possible, in particular, the front knee must not be pulled back. This elucidates the meaning of zenkutsu-dachi, which translates as the ‘forward leaning stance’; nonetheless, carefully insure this forward leaning does not involve any forward bending of the upper body, which must remain perfectly upright irrespective of the rotational action.

Expanding on the rotational action be sure to not only turn the hips but also drive them towards the target. That is, drive from the rear heel, thrust of the back, rotating then forward thrusting of the hips. This is the first variation of this action—one line from the ground up. The second way is start at the center to establish a line of power via two lines starting from the center; that is, the power is sent in two directions. In this case, the rear leg is thrusted from the top down to the corresponding heel and coordinated with respective waza. Put another way, the first methodology is pushing with the rear kakato and sokuto; whereas, the second method is pushing the kakato and sokuto into the floor/ground.


(1.3) How to make zenkutsu-dachi (gyaku-hanmi)

Whether in zenkutsu shomen or hanmi to make gyaku-hanmi (the reverse half-facing position) is same with the exception of the scale of rotation. From shomen this rotation with naturally be less. Also, irrespective of the preceding position, unlike hanmi, the rear leg position must be like that of shomen; that is, straightened to propel the hip of the rear forward and beyond the position of shomen. The stance here is very important to highlight, as while it is a form of zenkutsu-dachi it is in fact simply called (migi/hidari) ‘zenkutsu’ or by Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei and the older generation of instructors here in Japan (migi/hidari) ‘shokutsu-dachi’. Irrespective of the respective term used, this variation of zenkutsu-dachi is shorter and narrower than the regular version. The length of this position is dependent on hip flexibility, the main point being the maximum extension forward of the rear legs hip. The width has the rear legs heel in line with the inside edge of the front foot; nonetheless, a fist width wider than this is also accepted as correct form. Keep in mind when attacking with this position aim is to get as much hip power into the technique as possible; whilst, when defending the application is avoid the respective attack as much as possible. In either case this action uses the hips to the limit. It is also worth noting that many Japanese masters teach that knee can pass the tips of toes in this stance.

When making ‘techniques in a different direction from zenkutsu’ this variation is termed as ‘(migi/hidari) ashi-kutsu’. A quick an easy example of this to avoid a long explanation is movement 11 of Heian Yondan Kata and all the rearward gedan-barai in Enpi.

(1.4) Movement in zenkutsu-dachi

Obviously I could on and about this subject, however, I want to keep it simple today and focus on what is critically important. With that in mind "...Irrespective of the movement, the aim is to “…optimally move the center for attack—to use maximum mass in one’s attack"; also, to move the center for optimal defense." The relationship between kakato (the heels) and tsumasaki (toes)—in Shotokan—plays a very important part in kihon. In fact, this is a very central point, in the karate I’ve inherited, and to be frank is 'a very deep well’.

From this point we can readily see the famous maxim: ‘attack with your stance and defend with your stance’. Moreover, this highlights that the stances in karate, in application, are not static positions but, rather, active and transitional; that is, pragmatic/functional.


One point I need to reiterate is the use of the kakato (heels) and tsumasaki (toes), which in my coaching/teaching I have dubbed ‘The kakato—tsumasaki relationship’. Depending on the waza, and its application, the heels and toes are used optimally. This optimization, in budo karate, is not merely for good form or demonstration; rather, the objective is optimal effectiveness in actual self-defense. Zenkutsu-dachi is powerful attack as it allows one to fully apply their mass into a target; hence, its high emphasis not only in Shotokan but the majority of other kaiha and ryuha as well. My biggest advice here is not only make it a position or a movement; instead, make it ADAPTABLE in accordance with spontaneity in relation to the situation at hand. This, of course is not only for zenkutsu-dachi, but for ALL EFFECTIVE KARATE.

 押忍 – AB.

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

Tuesday 19 October 2021




Sanchin-dachi is a particularly important tachikata in the kata of Naha-Te. However, don't get caught up in the geographical stuff, Okinawa is a small place, and Funakoshi Gichin Sensei was a genius instructor; hence, his fame and the success of his karate. Sanchin means ‘three battles’. These are technically related to the coordination of stance and movement, technique, and breathing; however, also to ‘shingitai’. It is sometimes poetically referred to, in Western karate circles, as 'the hourglass stance'; however, like many other translations, I think this is a disservice to proper understanding.

Naifanchi kata (Tekki) is the tanden base for Shuri-Te, Sanchin kata is the tanden base for Naha-Te. Consequently, these two tachikata and their bio-mechanics, and applications, cannot be overlooked. In saying that, Shotokan gives a top down position for Naifanchi-dachi, as the style is more refined and effective. Whereas, with Sanchin-dachi, most Shotokan karateka are particularly disadvantaged.

Today I’d like to help rectify this problem by correctly detailing Sanchin-dachi. So from now, I will some background info before verifying the correct stance.

In the standard 26 Shotokan-Ryu kata Sanchin-dachi appears merely five times:

ニ十四歩 (Nijushiho): (1) movement four flowing into movement five; (2) movement 32 flowing into movement 33; (3) and the final action, movement 34

雲手 (Unsu): (4) movement 45; and (5) movement 46.

Sanchin-dachi appears many times in the kata Asai Sensei’s introduced. To name a few: 明鏡ニ段 (Meikyo Nidan/Matsumura Rohai), 百八歩 (Hyakuhappo/Hyakuhachiho/Suparinpei), 火手 (Kashu/Hi no te), 安三 (Ansan), 雷光 (Raiko) etcetera. Needless to say, these kata force one to make a correct sanchin.

I’d like to conclude by providing the foundational test for one’s Sanchin-dachi  for projecting power (as opposed to absorbing impact). After assuming migi ashi mae sanchin-dachi extend teisho awase-zuki. From here have a training partner strongly push your palms. With the correct aforementioned form the force of the opponents push will be absorbed into the ground as opposed to being resisted primary by the arms and upper body. Of course practice this also in hidari ashi mae sanchin- dachi and later with various turns, seiken-zuki and so forth.

Finally I explain ‘how to make a correct sanchin-dachi’ in Shotokan-Ryu. Please note that in other Ryuha/Kaiha there are sometimes slight variations.

Key Points of Sanchin-Dachi:

1. Keep the upper body in shomen at all times. No hanmi.

2. Unless using dynamic tenshin (i.e. - like in kata such as Sanchin and Tensho) do not contract the seika tanden forward; rather, keep natural with a subtle lock). This is usually an expansive stance which requires the posture to be upright whilst the stance is inward tension. 

3. The back foot: the outside edge (sokuto/sword foot) points directly ahead or ever so slightly inward. Outward is incorrect. Asai Sensei taught greater inversion of the rear foot, and that's my particular way. However, I need to say that this is the 'Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei JKA style methodology'. I like this as I can generate more explosive power.

4. The front foot is 30 degrees or so pointing inwards.

5. The weight distribution is 50/50 with the knees bent in accordance to spontaneous functionality.

6. The power is inwards towards the seichusen and from the heels directed to the front.

7. When moving straighten the front foot (same as the form of the rear foor) then crescent step to the aforementioned front foot position).

8. Lastly, make sure that the big toe of the rear foot is 'approximately on the same line' as the heel of the front foot. A longer Sanchin beyond several centimeters is incorrect and this is a common error due to the high emphasis on extended tachikata in Shotokan.

I will conclude on that note today. My hope is that this somewhat helps your SANCHIN-DACHI.

This post is dedicated to Chuck Merriman Shihan who just passed away. A master of Goju Ryu Karate, an absolute gentleman, and of course, Sanchin. RIP.

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

Sunday 17 October 2021

Another new YouTube video and new video links (for the last 12 months)

 This video is from my self-training at Nyu Jinja, here in Oita City, two days ago. It's not special just, just general training. In saying that, it reflects some of my base practice well, which is important for strengthening and reinforcing the synaptic connections which relate to technique and reactivity under pressure.

This repetitive work is not easy and not fun, however, all the knowledge in the world is nothing without this base, as everything will crumble under pressure against a strong and aggressive opponent.

So, I decided to post this on the site today; also, direct links to the other new videos uploaded in the last 12 months. Click, like, subscribe and comment if you have any questions or something to say.

Greetings and all the very best from Kyushu, OSU.

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

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

Tuesday 12 October 2021

New YouTube Video: Positve Energy 1 (Daily Self-Practice here in Oita Japan)

 Below is a short video just posted on my YouTube channel. It’s nothing special as it just depicts regular daily training. That being said, I hope that it offers some MOTIVATION from its normality.


If you haven’t already, and like the video, please subscribe to my official YouTube channel: are also really appreciated, including questions. To be frank, the more interest shown, the more motivated I am to upload YouTube videos.


OK! So, below is a direct link to the video. Best wishes and training, and positive energy, from sunny Kyushu. 

押忍 André

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

Tuesday 5 October 2021


The 前腕胸前水平構 (‘Zenwan mune mae suihei kamae’) is included in six of the standard Shotokan kata for a total of nine times. Half of these kata are the three Tekki, one of which is a shitei-gata (Tekki Shodan); one is a sentei-gata (Jion); and two are classified as advanced jiyu-gata: Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho. Here is a summary…

Kata Movement

Tekki Shodan 9, 23

Jion 37

Tekki Nidan 16, 24

Tekki Sandan 16, 36

Gojushiho Dai 1

Gojushiho Sho 1

A key point of this Kamae is that it never occurs independently; moreover, it is always preceded by an ukewaza (and/or the Kamae itself becomes the reception) coupled with jodan ura-uchi. In the case of the two Gojushiho ‘zenwan mune mae suihei kamae’, just said before is the uke and, instead of ura-uchi, another ‘back fist attack is employed: uraken tatemawashi uchi.

In the three Tekki, of course kiba-dachi is used indicating a horizontal movement or positioning in relation to an attacker; moreover, the lead in action is always haiwan jodan nagashi-uke doji ni gedan-uke.

Jion has the most unique ‘lead in’ to this kamae and ura-uchi: from ‘ryoken jodan juji-uke’ apply saken chudan tsuki-uke doji ni uken migi kata ue kamae’. It is worth noting here that like Gojushiho Dai and Sho, ‘zenwan mune mae suihei kamae’ is completed in zenkutsu-dachi.

So 50% of this Kamae is in kiba-dachi, and to reiterate, in application this is ‘horizontal to the opponent’ or ‘shifting that way (in relation to them and/or their movement)’ and 50% is in zenkutsu-dachi (which in Jion is stationary—a flinch reaction based on the preceding shikakewaza—and, in both Shotokan versions of Gojushiho, it is proactive irimi-waza).

There are several classical—simple and highly effective—applications of this Kamae (and its surrounding movements). What’s more, they are non-specific therefore not dependent on a certain action and/or position of the opponent, require minimal fine motor skills, and are strong irrespective of physical strength or lack of it. In the case of employing zenkutsu-dachi a flinch/reflex model is employed by a generic cover up flowing into an impact.  functions just as well against a clinch or frontal grappling, a linear and circular type punch; moreover, the defense requires minimal accuracy as it is a cover. The kiba-dachi variation in involves manipulating the opponent (or, if much smaller) using the same action to manipulate oneself in relation to them, followed by applying hadaka-jime (the rear naked choke).

Without deviating from ‘zenwan mune mae suihei kamae’ we can see that this position is ‘the finisher’ in Tekk Nidan; whereas, in say Tekki Shodan, a neck wrench coupled with an ashi-barai helps ‘complete the job’.

Of course there are a lot more impressive applications to these, but these ones work, and work extremely well.

The last thing I’d like to highlight is that we can really tell, from the example of today’s subject of interest—the ‘zenwan mune mae suihei kamae’, that the original purpose of karate was, indeed, civilian self-defense. Furthermore, that our kata is full of grappling techniques mixed with percussive blows, which are highly effective in this context. Accordingly, without the understanding and practice of such waza and their proper applications, karate is an incomplete art.

At the other end of the spectrum is ‘applications for the sake of creativity’. While these such applications 'demonstrate the creativity of an instructor and cerebral karate', they are meaningless unless they are truly applicable; that is, utterly reliable and highly effective.

To conclude, it goes without saying that “…ANY WAZA or KAMAE (or movement/transition for that matter) found numerous times within the kata, is/are important”. Especially in regards to various positions/completions labeled as ‘Kamae’. Much like 'ukewaza are attacks' and 'jumps are for throws', Kamae are active positions and 'conclusions' (which are often used to control the opponent in various ways or outright conclude the fight).

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

Sunday 3 October 2021

From the most simple KIHON to KARATE-DO

 The most important kihon is not the ‘laced up’ grading syllabus type renzokuwaza, which is mostly just for the masses; rather, it is the single waza and, indeed, small and simple renzokuwaza.

For example, techniques like ‘chudan soto-uke followed by enpi, uraken gyaku-zuki’ are commonplace in regular classes at most of the honbu dojo (of various groups and organizations). However, for the most part if you ‘get behind closed doors’—into elite level sessions (instructors classes, squad trainings, and private lessons with the top Japanese experts)—for the most part, such elaborate kihon seems to vanish. Suddenly, a metaphoric huge magnifying glass comes out to check, scrutinize and better refine the most ‘basic’ techniques.

Seeking out and accessing training from many of the best instructors in Japan, and also having the chance to spend a lot of time with them outside of the dojo, one thing is apparent: kihon for elite karateka (and certainly to reach an elite level) is raw. Now, again, you can imagine that big magnifying glass being used as 'figurative cooker' by concentrating a sharp beam of light onto your waza.

That is, there is nowhere to hide one’s faults and weaknesses. A key aspect of this point is that ‘depth as opposed to width is the focus’. This is one of the reasons that the professional instructors, here in Japan, are as good as they are. They do not just develop movements that look good and sharp, they develop workable and automatically adaptable skills that are reliable under the most maximum pressure.

So while average Karateka is working on that new combination for their next examination, the professionals are constantly practicing the most simple kihon over and over again. Furthermore, they are working on the corresponding jiyu-kumite kihon on a daily basis. Accordingly, the most simple classical kihon in combination with the freestyle rendition are seamlessly combined.

Added to this is the kihon in the form of yakusoku-kumite, impact work, jiyu-kumite drill and jiyu-kumite itself. This is topped off and integrated with kata then, application work, followed by continuous and endless cycle back through kihon.

I won’t say who, but I asked one very famous instructor, “What would happen if Shotokan dojo (plural) trained with less elaborate kihon? (like in high level sessions). The answer was “… There would be many empty dojo (again, plural)”

This same instructor then remarked to me “Do you really want to become good or do you just want to feel you are good?” What he meant was that all the ‘bling’ is just that: smoke and mirrors. If people want dangerous and highly reliable karate, they must practice ‘the most simple of the most simple’ both a lot and with great degrees of precision.

You will this in all other arts, sports and skills as well.

 In sum, as Funakoshi Gichin Sensei stated “Victory depends on simple matters” and, needless to say, the old adage: ‘There are no shortcuts but there are better ways. 

Some people can get downhearted knowing truths. I say, instead, ‘step up to the plate’. Irrespective of what level you will peak at is actually irrelevant. Why? Because it will be higher than otherwise if you take the high road! It’s like at University. Yes, C’s get degrees. However, the person who always seeks the A+ will certainly achieve higher than otherwise; moreover, mitigate the risk of failure by trying to just slip through with a pass. In addition, there is another dimension to this, which is dear to me. This is the inertia that effort and successes bring. This aspect feeds motivation when combined with guts, planning and clear cut achievement objectives/goals.

With these points in mind, just do it! Accept limitations and barriers. They are not there to put you down. Rather they are literally ‘your friends’ telling you ‘where you must go’, or at least ‘where to aim towards’. Needless to say, and as I have already stated, this is just as much as (if not, more) a psychological journey. Isn’t that a big part of 道 (Do) in Karate-Do? Simple kihon is at the core of this process, actually the vehicle itself. 

Osu, André 

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