Thursday 30 December 2021

Kanku Dai (Part Two): A summary and some important points

 Following up from my last article here is a technical summary of Kanku Dai Kata. The numbers convey the correct command count, which is optimally for perfecting ‘kime’ in every waza. This is especially notable in renzokuwaza (combination techniques) and, in particular, in the first movement of sequences. All too common, in sports karate, this action is weak and ineffective. This is because the aim is to artificially make more rapid actions in order to appear more explosive/dramatic. This type of movement must be avoided at all costs for those seeking budo karate as it not only has no meaning, but also provides an obvious gap in one’s defense.

Kata are not ‘for making bad habits’, so each waza must be maximumly effective. Every time the aim is ICHIGEKI-HISSATSU, which is the only way one can seek optimization in every action. While there is a literal meaning in this, more importantly, the relentless chasing of this technical ambition is what drives the budo karateka forward in their development/refinement of technique, physicality, mentality and heart.


Finally I’d like to mention ‘variations of kata’ between different organizations, dojo (plural) and individuals. Obviously, this is not only for Kanku Dai, but all kata and karate waza. One thing you will easily notice is the Kanku Dai of JKA is different from SKIF, likewise the JKS version is different from both of these groups. I could go on; however, I think it is fair to say that there are subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—differences between individuals, clubs, groups etc...


Hey you! Your shuto uke is too extended!!! That’s wrong! So and so Sensei in Japan said ‘this is correct’. This type of thing is OK when we are talking about beginners and intermediate level karateka. At these stages one needs strict guidelines to acquire a line of reference. But the individual must grow and moderate themselves—to literally optimize themselves as budoka—from the standardized versions.


I personally respect ALL VARIATIONS as long as they are pragmatic in application and avoid superfluous actions. As an instructor, I teach the way I was taught; however, I avoid correcting variations which are equally effective. In saying that, I will teach my way if karateka are interested. When this occurs, I recommend that they experiment and find the best way for themselves. I could never say to someone that Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei’s version of any kata is wrong, likewise Yahara Mikio Sensei et al. I have deep respect for all of these groups and variations, which are steeped in budo karate.


That is why, in a grading, if one presents a rendition of a kata—which is different from mine—if it is correct in the budo sense and of the appropriate level for the respective grade, I cannot fail them. To do so would be folly; moreover, representative of the commercial monopoly which, so often, organized karate is.   


Rather with our necks tilted, eyes and minds looking at the ground, we should be LOOKING AT THE SKY. On that note, here is Kanku Dai generically summarized.




REI (Musubi dachi).


YOI (Hachiji dachi)—Ryo te kafukubu mae.


  1. Ryo te hitai mae ue (Hachij dachi).


  1. Ryo te kafukubu mae (Hachiji dachi).


  1. Hidari haiwan Hidari sokumen jodan uke, usho mune mae kamae (Migi kokutsu dachi).


  1. Migi haiwan migi sokumen jodan uke, sasho mune mae kamae (Hidari kokutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari tate shuto chudan uke, uken migi koshi (Hachiji dachi).


  1. Uken chudan choku zuki, saken Hidari koshi (Hachiji dachi).


  1. Migi chudan uchi uke (Hidari hiza kutsu).


  1. Saken chudan choku zuki, uken migi koshi (Hachiji dachi).


  1. Hidari chudan uchi uke (Migi hiza kutsu).


  1. Ryo ken hidari koshi kamae (Okuri bashi kara hidari ashi dachi).


  1. Migi sokuto yoko geri keage doji ni migi uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi  (Hidari ashi dachi).
  2. Hidari shuto chudan uke (Migi kokutsu dachi).


  1. Migi shuto chudan uke (Hidari kokutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari shuto chudan uke (Migi kokutsu dachi).


  1. Sasho chudan osae uke doji ni migi chudan tateshihon nukite (Migi zenkutsu dachi)—KIAI!


  1. Hidari shuto koho gedan barai kara sasho jodan uke soshite migi shuto jodan sotomawashi uchi (Hidari shokutsu dachi, gyaku hanmi).


  1. Migi jodan mae geri keage (Hidari ashi dachi).


  1. Migi sokumen jodan uchi uke doji ni hidari sokumen gedan barai (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


  1. Sasho jodan nagashi uke doji ni migi shuto gedan uchikomi (Hidari ashi zenkutsu).


  1. Saken gedan, uken migi koshi (Hidari ashi mae renoji dachi).


  1. Sasho jodan uke doji ni migi shuto jodan sotomawashi uchi (Hidari shokutsu dachi, gyaku hanmi).


  1. Migi jodan mae geri keage (Hidari ashi dachi).


  1. Migi sokumen jodan uchi uke doji ni hidari sokumen gedan barai (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


  1. Sasho jodan nagashi uke doji ni migi shuto gedan uchikomi (Hidari ashi zenkutsu).


  1. Saken gedan, uken migi koshi (Hidari ashi mae renoji dachi).


  1. Ryo ken migi koshi kamae (Migi ashi dachi).


  1. Hidari sokuto yoko geri keage doji ni hidari uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi  (Migi ashi dachi).
  2. Sasho ni migi chudan mae enpi uchi, usho hidari hiji ate (Hidari zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Ryo ken hidari koshi kamae (Hidari sagi ashi dachi).


  1. Migi sokuto yoko geri keage doji ni migi uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi (Hidari sagi ashi dachi).
  2. Usho ni hidari chudan mae enpi uchi, sasho migi hiji ate (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari shuto chudan uke (Migi kokutsu dachi).


  1. Migi shuto chudan uke (Hidari kokutsu dachi).


  1. Migi shuto chudan uke (Hidari kokutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari shuto chudan uke (Migi kokutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari shuto koho gedan barai kara sasho jodan uke soshite migi shuto jodan sotomawashi uchi (Hidari shokutsu dachi, gyaku hanmi).


  1. Migi jodan mae geri keage (Hidari ashi dachi).


  1. Migi uraken tatemawashi uchi, saken Hidari koshi (Migi ashi mae kosa dachi).


  1. Migi chudan uchi uke (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari chudan gyaku zuki (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Uken chudan maete zuki (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Sasho soede migi jodan ura zuki doji ni migi hiza zuchi (Hidari ashi dachi).


  1. Ude tate (Migi ashi zenkutsu).


  1. Hidari shuto gedan uke, migi shuto mune mae kamae (Migi kokutsu dachi).

Kase Taiji Sensei executing movement 44 of Kanku Dai: the extended kokutsu-dachi.

  1. Migi shuto chudan uke (Hidari kokutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari chudan uchi uke (Hidari zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Migi chudan gyaku zuki (Hidari zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Migi chudan uchi uke (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari chudan gyaku zuki (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Uken chudan maete zuki (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Ryo ken hidari koshi kamae (Hidari ashi dachi).


  1. Migi sokuto yoko geri keage doji ni migi uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi  (Hidari ashi dachi).
  2. Hidari shuto chudan uke (Migi kokutsu dachi).


  1. Sasho chudan osae uke doji ni migi chudan tateshihon nukite (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Hidari uraken Hidari sokumen jodan tatemawashi uchi, uken migi koshi (Kiba dachi).


  1. Hidari kentsui chudan yokomawashi uchi (Hidari e yori ashi, Kiba dachi).


  1. Hidari sokumen migi chudan mae enpi uchi, sasho migi hiji ate (Kiba dachi).


  1. Ryo ken Hidari koshi kamae (Kiba dachi).


  1. Migi sokumen gedan barai (Kiba dachi).


  1. Hidari zenwan gedan uke doji ni uken furi age (Fumikomi, Kiba dachi).


  1. Uken otoshi zuki (Kiba dachi).


  1. Kaisho jodan kosa uke (Hachiji dachi).


  1. (Migi ashi jiku migi mawari kara Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Ryoken mune mae (Migi zenkutsu dachi).


  1. Nidan geri kara migi uraken jodan tatemwashi uchi, saken Hidari koshi (Migi zenkutsu dachi)—KIAI!

Asai Sensei executing the first of the two kicks in Nidan-geri: the 65th count of Kanku Dai.

NAORE—Migi zenwan migi sokumen sukui kara ryo ken daitai mae (Hachiji dachi).

REI (Musubi dachi).


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

Wednesday 29 December 2021

JUST DO KATA: Kanku Dai (Part One)

Oh no! Not 観空大 (Kanku Dai)! We’ve all heard that before… Maybe we were the one’s that said it? I have in the past, because I'm naturally lazy. Accordingly, I use lots of self-motivators from the various schools of psychology, which I've used to generate motivation. But that's another topic.


Quite often, earlier in people’s karate careers (Shotokan-Ryu)—between the brown belt and nidan stages—go through a real ‘Kanku Dai phase’; however, just as often they tend to later veer away from it. Over the years, as an instructor, I’ve found many reasons for this; nevertheless, these are the most common (I’ll also add some supplementary comments where potentially useful, at least I hope!!).



1. It’s length! With 65 movements Kanku Dai second only to Gojushiho Dai amongst the standard 26 Shotokan kata. Gojushiho Dai has 67 movements, Gojushiho Sho and Kanku Dai 65. We then drop down to Unsu and Kanku Sho, in third place equal, with 48 movements.


2. Related to the previous point—but also due to the immense amount of large-scale techniques within it—its physicality. Kanku Dai is hard work!


3. It is the most difficult of the four sentei-gata as it most vividly reveals the individual’s level of kihon; thus, unveils their overall technical skill. Quite possibly, according to several legendary instructors I personally know and learn from here in Japan, it is the most difficult Shotokan kata to masterfully execute. In other words, it’s scary!


4. Flexibility! Again, in regards to the second point, Kanku Dai requires a large range of motion. For example, there are four yoko-geri keage, three jodan mae-geri keage and one nidan-geri. Not to mention all the transitional movements to and from large scale tachikata.


5. This point might seem interesting, but it’s very true. Relaxation!!! This kata, like all kata and karate/budo in general requires one to be relaxed; nevertheless, this is most obvious in Kanku Dai. To become one with one’s surroundings, which is minuscule dot—yet still a part of the universe—one must flow via relaxation and naturalness. This links Kanku Dai ‘look at the sky’ to Unsu ‘cloud hands’ in ‘waza no chikara’. Notice that the opening movement of Unsu is contained in the opening movements of Kanku Dai. Indeed, this is one of several points. Overall, these are both ‘sky kata’ and the sky is something which relaxes us. That’s why I always look at the sky and post photos of it. The other sky kata is Hushu (Kaze no te), which is the most complex kata I practice and is yet to be shown and taught to the wider world.


6. Stigma… This comment is more of an issue here in Japan amongst Japanese karateka. Here in Japan Kanku Dai is called ‘the DAI ICHI kata of Shotokan-Ryu’. Consequently, away from its competitive requirements, Japanese karateka typically avoid it. This situation comes from Funakoshi Gichin Sensei and Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei.


I’d like to wrap up by saying that Kanku Dai is not a good kata for my body type, however, I regularly practice it—along with all the other kata. It’s really hard for me and not fun, but it boosts my karate. I think Kanku Dai is a really beautiful kata, but very few can make it beautiful. That being said, when one’s focus is budo karate, vanity must be left at the dojo door.


Here's great quote from Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei which he said to me, I hope it resonates and inspires you: “Everyone is trying to be too precise… just do the kata. Kata is for fighting!” I failed my Godan under Asai Sensei for this very reason. He said I was too precise. He sternly emphasized “this is not a competition”. Basically he was telling me to ‘grow up’. It was needed advice for me, and he knew it.


Kanku Dai is exactly this… yes, it’s tough. But it’s something that helps us ‘grow up’ our karate.


My advice here, to whoever reads this, is simply this: just do kata. Seek to always improve, of course, but don’t get hooked on ‘tournament perfection’, which dominates the minds of people doing kata now. Free yourself, find your own karate and maximize your individual growth. JUST DO KATA, and aim to improve yourself! This is the real purpose of kata. In my opinion: "Kata is RESTRICTION TO FIND LIBERTY".

 Osu, Andre

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

Sunday 26 December 2021


Here’s my updated self-training program for the last week of 2021 and will continue through until the end of January 2022. I hope this finds everyone in great spirits, training both hard and smart, and also enjoying the final moments of this year. If you’d like to supplement this, boost some motivation and motivate me to upload more videso, please subscribe to my YouTube channel. Here's a direct link: ANDRE BERTEL - YouTube. OK, so on to the regime.



基本 (KIHON)




1. Sanbon-zuki—all three tsukiwaza jodan (Shizentai). 


2. Hidari kizami-zuki kara migi jodan gyaku-zuki (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi). Do not use muscular power, focus on relaxation and the actions/kinetic chain of the joints to achieve snap.


3. Migi kizami-zuki kara hidari jodan gyaku-zuki (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


4. Sonkyo no jodan mae-geri keage. Control the center with ground power and interconnective flexbility.


5. Migi chudan mae-geri keage kara migi jodan mae-geri keage soshite migi jodan mae-geri kekomi. For this waza execute the second keage without flooring the first waza. After jodan mae-keage return to zenkutsu-dachi, then drive kekomi out and back to your original stance (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi). Asai Sensei loved this drill and it is hard work. Seek to be in a natural state even after many reps to maximize the benefits.


6. Hidari chudan mae-geri keage kara hidari jodan mae-geri keage soshite hidari jodan mae-geri kekomi (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).





7. Sanbon-zuki—all three tsukiwaza jodan: jodan oi-zuki kara jodan gyaku-zuki soshite jodan maete-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi). Target the jinchu each time and make the hip position as exact as possible each time.


8. Sanbon-geri—advance stepping with two Chudan mae-geri keage; then execute a third mae-geri keage on the spot, and step back into your stance (Zenkutsu-dachi).


9. Yoko-keage ashi o kaete yoko-kekomi (Kiba-dachi). Emphasis on pelvic alignment and tilt; furthermore, ankle flexion, compression and expansion of the sasae-ashi, and natural energy.


10. Ren-geri: Chudan mae-geri keage kara yoko-kekomi, mawashi-geri soshite  ushiro-geri kekomi (Zenkutsu-dachi). Special note for ushiro-geri in application. Utilization of a precisely set jiku-ashi is essential in lining up a the opponent based on their movement, maai and your shikake-waza (set up techniques); hence, in kihon, while sticking to the most direct technique "...always remember this merely the reference point for optimal technical deviations in any given moment". Needless to say, all techniques need this instantaneous adaptability in any freestyle context. Without this, one's karate is nothing more than mere movement. 


11. Jodan age-uke kara chudan soto-uke, gedan-barai soshite chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi). All three uke with the same time. Ensure full hip action is maximized each time.


12. Chudan shuto-uke (Kokutsu-dachi) kara chudan kizami mae-geri soshite nukite (Zenkutsu-dachi). Be careful with weight distribution, also ensure that the keriwaza has the body weight going forward. Simple stuff yet hard work with high intensity and repetitions.


13. Gedan-barai (Zenkutsu-dachi) kara chudanuchi-uke (Nekoashi-dachi), jodan ura-zuki soshite chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi). Often this renzokuwaza is practiced with yori-ashi/yose-ashi on the gyaku-zuki; however, I follow Asai Sensei's teaching in which he emphasized that you slide forward with ura-zuki flowing into gyaku-zuki.





14. Bag-work: tewaza only (tsuki/uchi)—three three minute rounds.


15. Bag-work: tewaza and keriwaza—one five minute round.





A. Jiyu Ippon Kumite: standard attacks, direct defenses and basic counters.


B. Jiyu Ippon Kumite: standard attacks and the use of taisabaki followed by free choice counterattacks. After countering utilize taisabaki again to change position with zanshin. If you’d like to see an example of this, check out this video taken by my student Matt Brew in Hawaii (2003):


C. Jiyu Ippon Kumite: as previous but with any random single attack (not announced).


In all three of these ‘variations’ of jiyu ippon kumite there are some important rules. Firstly, if the defender runs away the attacker can attack again. Secondly, kenseiwaza (feinting techniques are permitted). Thirdly, if the attacker puts themselves into danger, by cramming the defender too much—this is actually mubobi, the defender can simply preemptively attack. Fourthly, and very importantly, if the attacker does not attack from a distance—which makes each respective waza optimally effective—the training is pointless; in fact, ‘bad for both the attacker and defenders karate’. And fifthly, and lastly, the defender must immediately counter from where they are ‘with the best waza for that moment (distance, angle, trajectory in relation to their opponent). This is the point of this training!





I. Random 平安 (Heian).

II. Random 順路 (Junro).

III. Random 鉄騎 (Tekki) or 騎馬拳 (Kibaken).

IV. Random  常行 (Joko).

V. One from the official IKS kata: 松濤館流 (Shotokan Ryu) or 古典型 /浅井派松濤館流  (Kogen-gata / Asai-Ha Shotokan Ryu).


My point in this training is relating the foundational techniques to the various kata I practice each day: basically to recapitulate my entire years practice. Furthermore, this wide variety of kata is to wrap up on a high note in preparation in preparation for 2022.



アンドレ  バーテル

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

Thursday 23 December 2021

New YouYube Video: STEP BY STEP

 New YouTube video uploaded. I hope it is motivational. Greetings from Oita City, Kyushu, Japan. OSU!

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

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Joko and Hanon

To understand the 常行 (Joko) series of kata, designed by Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, one needs to understand their theoretical basis (pros and potential, not only potential but real, cons); furthermore, the achievement objectives that they collectively set out to attain.


There is an interesting story behind Joko that nearly answers all of these questions—which I believe you will find is fascinating, if not genius—and I’ll will outline this today.


Before doing so, for those who are less familiar with Asai Sensei’s karate, I want to stress that “…the Joko series are not 古典型 (Koten-gata/Ancient/Classical kata, nor formulated/reverse engineered directly from them) as often claimed”; rather, they are kihon training kata created by Asai Sensei. Moreover, Sensei made them primarily ‘theme based’ for optimizing the training of the foundational techniques; thus, while there are applications, they are not so direct (but, rather, underpin actions). Taken as a whole, “…the five Joko are ‘higher-level’ 順路 (Junro)”.


Ok, so now that is out of the way, allow me tell you a fascinating story.


Asai Sensei was an avid reader, and if you ever visited him at his company office—Futami Tsusho—in Shinbashi, he’d often visit the local bookshop. He had a wide range of interests, one of which was classical music which, again, he greatly enjoyed reading about.


That brings me to the Joko Kata. As you will probably know the name Joko basically means ‘always do’ and the labels ‘Issei’ to ‘Gosei’ translates as (first to fifth) ‘energy’/‘force’/‘authority’/‘vigor’/‘influence’/or ‘impetus’. As I’ve stated in the past this kanji for (Sei)—for most Japanese—immediately brings the power of physics to mind. In Asai Sensei’s terms ‘natural energy’.


All right, but that obviously still doesn’t provide the complete story…. Allow me to link classic music, with these kata, via Charles-Louis Hanon (1819 – 1900); in particular, his most famous publication: ‘Le Pianiste virtuose’ (The Virtuoso Pianist).


This classic piano textbook—first published in Boulogne, in 1873–is “…a compilation of sixty exercises meant to train the pianist in speed, precision, agility, and strength of all of the fingers and flexibility in the wrists.”


The exercises are intended to address common problems which could hamper the performance abilities of a student. These include "crossing of the thumb", strengthening of the fourth and fifth fingers, and quadruple- and triple-trills. The exercises are meant to be individually mastered and then played consecutively in the sections they are placed in. Apart from increasing technical abilities of the student, when played in groups at higher speeds, the exercises will also help to increase endurance.”


Here’s a quick summary of ‘Le Pianiste virtuose’… You’ll notice, consistent with the aforementioned aims, it sounds like a karate textbook!!!



Part One: Exercises 1 – 20 are "preparatory exercises",


Part Two: Exercises 21 – 43 are referred to as ‘further exercises for the development of a virtuoso technique’.


Part Three: Exercises 44 – 60 are high-level ‘virtuoso exercises for mastering the greatest technical difficulties’.



Yes, this is all ‘kihon’ for pianists, nonetheless, it is ‘hard core kihon’. It is this work of Hanon—in its entirety—that ‘inspired the Joko series of kata’ and sums up their purpose.


Does that mean the Joko kata are good for everyone? The answer is clearly ‘No way!!!’. Interestingly, the same goes for Hanon’s 60 exercises. Many contemporary piano teachers claim that they are not good for technique as they take up too much time. Furthermore, they insist—for the person not seeking an ‘extreme level of technical skill’—believe it is better to go straight to Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin et al.


This is the basis of Hanon’s exercises—extreme skill in the ‘basics’—and, indeed, the five Joko kata. Who would imagine that Hanon is an influencer of Asai Sensei’s creativity and teachings? But he was! There are other such situations as well, however, I’ll stick to Joko today.


Needless to say, this type of practice is not for the faint hearted. It is ‘deliberate practice’ requiring deep mental concentration and physical effort whilst simultaneously offering very little joy. To explain this, the investment of training is very high and ‘the returns’/‘gains’ are slow to come; that being said, if somebody wishes to get to a really exceptional high level and is really tough, the investment  is worth it.


To conclude, I really hope that this article was worthy of your read. If you are interested in more information about Joko, here is another article which will further your understanding:



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

Saturday 11 December 2021

 The kanji has eight brush strokes and eight is very important in budo.


In fighting there are eight generic directions/angles… Are you following me here? Master Funakoshi didn’t just change the name of karate from 'Chinese hand' to 'Empty hand', he was also trying to make a reputation above his peers, as there was clearly a race. 


The ‘kara’ in karate—was an extremely advantageous and intellectual way—to assist his efforts in this regard. His multi dimensional approach " a studious lover of classic Asian literature" was behind his labeling of our art. History shows, that Funakoshi Sensei became the dominant master introducing and promoting karate in mainland Japan (via the pen as opposed to the sword); hence, via transcending his peers. Consequently, he is now recognized as ‘the founder of modern day karate’.


Irrespective of whether this is taken as a compliment or otherwise, again, Funakoshi Sensei came out victorious amongst his contemporaries; and, as a result from this catapult, Shotokan became—by far—the most popular karate style in the world.


So now, allow me to return to the eight brush strokes in . He transcended the meaning of 'empty hand', and his study of Taoism and other Chinese classics underpinned this. This is because he included the technicality within the name ‘Karate’ and ‘Karatedo’. This technicality is 'Happo'. This concept and physical reality is at the heart of TENSHIN. Circle and point. Certainly, this immediately brings to mind the 八門型 (Hachimon Kata)—‘eight gates’, which is has an enbusen that “…covers all eight defensive and counter offensive directions”.


Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei ran with this idea and, in doing so, tied the karate of Funakoshi Sensei with Hakutsuru-ken (White Crane Fist) and contemporary JKA-style Shotokan-Ryu.


I will not address the reading issues of onyomi and kunyomi in this article, as that would be distracting from purpose of writing it. Instead, I recommend readers to focus on the eight brush strokes as this has relevance (to both tangible training and a facet of the intellectual basis) in the naming of KARAte. I’ll leave it there for today. 押忍アンドレ.

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

Thursday 9 December 2021

打ち込み (Uchikomi)

This article will hopefully clarify 打ち込み (uchikomi) and, more specifically, “…uchikomi practice and its purpose in budo/bujutsu karate”.

Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei and Kawasoe Masao Sensei

Before I do that I want to give some generic background details. Firstly, allow me to detail the meaning of the term: 打ちmeans ‘strike’/‘hit’; whilst 込み translates as ‘in’. Allow me to expand on the second part 込み, as in Japanese it literally has a deeper connotation; for example, ‘driving a weapon into a target so that it becomes lodged’. Only with this understanding can we practice uchikomi meaningfully; that being said, even here in Japan this is often overlooked in favor of ‘uchikomi training being a predominantly sports karate Kumite practice’. Basically a ‘point scoring’ exercise. Of course scoring points in a match is good. But this statement depends on the quality of technique, which is very different in sports kumite from what we do: ‘we’ meaning all of us who follow budo and understand technique as effective bujutsu. I will return to this point later in this article.


Secondly, I want to point out that uchikomi can be found in all of the arts of traditional budo/bujutsu (sumo, judo, kendo, etcetera…). It is important, and mainstream practice, for primarily making one’s kogekiwaza (attacking techniques) highly functional/effective: reliable—irrespective of environment and stimuli.


Thirdly, and unequivocally related to the previous point, uchikomi grooves techniques/precise and ‘adaptable motions’ deeply into the subconscious, thus, resulting in greater physical skill: especially under pressure. Obviously, this is stating the obvious, but it is important to do so for actual training as opposed to mere rhetoric. Returning to what I just inferred earlier about sports verses bujutsu, these strengthened synaptic connections are utterly critical. Why? Well, quite simply how you train is what you’ll do. Uchikomi for sports karate focuses on landing and retracting as quick as possible. This means that a destructive blow is counter to the aim, as this is slower, and means the escape is also slower; thus, risking being scored on. Sports karate kumite, in its current form, is literally a highly advanced tag match. I am by no means saying this with ill intent, but that’s what it is, and the athleticism is very high, which in itself somewhat deserves recognition. I’d like to add here: that this is not the athletes fault, they are world class. It is the rules and the judges, as they shape their behavior in order to ‘win’. I really hope this can be changed via consultation. I believe this would also contribute to a more globally popular version of mainstream Kumite competition that would not only reflect budo karate, but would also be more impressive for the masses outside the karate world. However, due to all of the political red tape, I don’t think that would ever happen.

Yahara Mikio Sensei.

So, back to uchikomi. How should it be done? Well, firstly control must still be applied; however, to avert the aforementioned sports karate slump, the aim of each respective waza must be ‘to optimize the potential to finish the opponent’. Notice that I’m not implying this to be a black and white scenario, but rather ‘the constant physical aim’. Therefore, exact kihon must be used each time. In saying this, I don’t mean adhering to basic movement, but ‘applying each waza with the underpinning of the base kihon’ (again, striving towards achieving Ichigekki Hisatsu every time). The idea here is to never short-change oneself in training, which can never contribute towards each individual achieving their very best. This, of course transcends all karate ‘styles’ and thus is totally inclusive.


Put another way, the training of uchikomi—like jiyu kumite—must be as follows: “…without control, serious damage will be inflicted”. This especially means that the distancing must be correct for maximum damage; hence, the distancing is naturally closer than the present-day mainstream/sports kumite .


Uchikomi, trained in this way, forms neural connections which are useful in the real world. To reiterate, this is because every attack is exactly how you will use it outside the dojo or shiai-jo. It’s like going to the firing range.


The present sports karate version of this would be firing out of distance. The bullet leaves the pistol and makes a weak trajectory, then, after all, the bullet drops to the ground before effectively penetrating the target. Of course, this is generally speaking, in relation to ‘point scoring’. I need to add, everyone who has competed in sports karate knows that heavy contact also occurs intermittently. But, again, that being said, “the majority of techniques thrown have anything but the potential to cause real damage”.

Tanaka Masahiko Sensei precisely planting a kick to his opponents temple.

 In karate as bujutsu, the bullet leaves the pistol and makes the optimal trajectory, then impacts with optimal effect. Irrespective of strength and size, with accuracy and the right weapons of the body—this is more than sufficient for civilian self defense. Bujutsu, irrespective of art, is focused on effective skills to save one’s life.


So what is uchikomi training? Well, we have so many variations, so today I will focus on the most basic form. This form is done with one or more training partners. But today let’s focus on three or more participants. In English this is often referred to as ‘line training’.


One person is the defender whilst the others attack one at a time. Each attacker charges ‘in’ with their waza then loops around returning to the rear of the line. At a basic level the attacks might be set; for example, jodan gyaku-zuki. However, this often builds up to any hand technique, any leg technique, grappling, throwing or a combination of all of these


As I mentioned earlier, there are higher levels such as using ‘tenshin’ and so forth; nevertheless, these are secondary—better put, supplementary—to the aforementioned base form of uchikomi.


Uchikomi training, if one desires to achieve a high level in true karate, requires that effective bujutsu waza is launched over and over again. This is what I term as an instructor as ‘habitual effectiveness’. Many karate people call their karate budo or traditional, but are not seriously training their techniques to REALLY work. My karate is always focused on this point, kihon—kata—and kumite. While I’ve competed, karate is not a sport for me.


I want to end by saying that I'm not to trying to undermine competition, as competition is essential. The experience is extremely valuable and bolsters one's level in the both the short and long terms. Rather, my advocacy is to keep competition under the direction of bujutsu karate waza; that is, not compromising kimewaza and “…the constant striving in daily keiko towards achieving Ichigeki-Hissatsu”. Of course I could expand a lot more on this today, but I will leave it there. OSU!

Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei.

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

Thursday 2 December 2021

'The moving leg'

One important point that often get slightly less attention than it needs is the ‘moving leg’ which, more often than not, is a little overshadowed by the pillar leg or sasae-ashi.


This is for several reasons, the first being the highly engagement and use of muscles into the sasae-ashi needed for compression, propulsion and so forth.


Irrespective of this, it is essential to correctly use the moving leg as it is still 50 percent of the leg actions; albeit, significantly lighter and swifter. In sum, this balance of hard and soft, powerful and swift, is essential if one wishes to optimize their leg movements.


While, for the most part—when doing kihon waza—we keep the hips at the same height. This means that we load the support leg by conscientiously bending/compressing at the knee and stretching the ankle. This allows us to utilize the momentum/contraction-expansion of the action and utilize the power line fully. In addition to these aspects the removal of superfluous and overt telegraphing is also ideally addressed following this methodology. Obviously, I could add to these points, but I think this is all very clear.

Movement three of Heian Yondan provides a very blatant example of this. When turning and advancing from hidari kokutsu-dachi into migi zenkutsu-dachi we begin with majority of the weight on the left leg. From there it is essential to strictly invert the lead right foot counterclockwise to precisely face shomen then transfer the majority of your weight to it. From here we drive forward transferring the weight to the left leg (with a swift action of ‘the moving leg’) forming hidari zenkutsu-dachi. In sum, open-close-open. Tai no shinshuku... Of course, the upper body actions also follow this process, which results in the dynamic and powerful waza: which characterizes Shotokan-Ryu.


Simply advancing with the moving leg—the pillar leg ‘playing catch up’—can work at a very low level; however, it is an unreliable and unsophisticated methodology, which cannot lead to technical excellence.


Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei was highly particular when it came to unsoku. I think that he greatly contributed to the JKA style that exists today, irrespective of organization. Sensei greatly emphasized maximum impact via unsoku, taisabaki and tenshin. Tenshin was the topic of his JKA Hachidan exams ‘Kenkyu Happyo’ (Research Presentation). In saying that, he did not compromise 'effectiveness for looks'; rather, his 'karate path' was was based on optimal effectiveness: KARATE AS BUJUTSU.


Irrespective of the type of unsoku, from the most simple to the most advanced, the mastery of both the pillar leg and moving leg—and their inseparable harmony—is of utmost importance to achieve optimal kime in one’s waza.

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