Friday 18 February 2022

平安四段 (Heian Yondan)

Yahara Mikio Sensei, Heian Yondan Kata.

 Introduction and commentary:

 The forth Heian kata is the longest in the series with 27 movements. The kiai are on movements 13 and 25 (uraken tatemawashi uchi and hiza-tsuchi respectively). This kata and the fifth and final Heian kata summarize the first three ‘base forms’, moreover, contain more variations of self defense responses. These applications deal with varying circumstances and are more sophisticated; thus, require higher skill levels to utilize.


That being said, as Funakoshi Gichin Sensei emphasized: “… with mastery of the five Heian kata one can have confidence in their ability to defend themselves”; furthermore, “…the name 平安 in Mandarin literally translates as ‘safety’, which specifically elucidates this fact”.


An outstanding feature of Heian Yondan is an extensive amount of keriwaza. There are six leg attacks including three jodan mae-geri keage, two yoko-geri keage, and hiza-tsuchi.


While the kicks are practiced higher in training that is primarily for ‘solo form training’. With a training partner these waza are low kicks and are done in relation to where the opponent is to you. Yoko keage is the product of improved karate; that is, improved karate for practical self-defense. Rather than turning the hips to kick the opponents testicles—who is at your side—instead ‘keage’/‘kick up’ from directly where you are. This requires less ‘fine motor skills’ as sokuto is used, which requires less accuracy for impact and also produces what I call a ‘bulk action’.


Another stand out point is the large use of double arm techniques. Think about this for a moment. In total there are the two opening actions followed by juji-uke then chudan morote uke. And it doesn’t stop there! Finally, ryoken koshi gamae—movement five—concludes the double arm actions, but not for long. After the simultaneous uraken and yoko keage enpi is impacted onto to an open hand. Then of course is double arm open handed actions which conclude with sword hand attack and simultaneous jodan kamae.


Not long after this in movement 14 and 17 Chudan kakiwake uke is utilized, then the second to fourth advancement with chudan morote uke, in kokutsu dachi, are executed. Last but not least, on the 25th count, there is a cover and double handed head pull to impact with hiza-tsuchi.


Overall, we can readily see lessons from Kanku Dai in this form but, indeed also other kata such as ‘reverse engineering’ from Jion.

Notice the absence of Kiba-dachi after its extensive use in Heian Sandan? That's not a coincidence and is dictated by jiku/seichusen training.


A key technical aspect in Heian Yondan is te-ashi onaji, which is most notably challenged in the first two movements. Originally, these two waza were performed rapidly; however, Funakoshi Sensei increased its technical difficulty to more precisely be able to utilize in application.


Here are the 14 different waza featured in Heian Yondan:

1) Haiwan sokumen jodan yoko-uke doji ni zenwan hitai mae yoko-gamae (Kokutsu-dachi).


2) Ryoken gedan juji-uke (Zenkutsu-dachi).


3) Chudan morote-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).


4) Ryoken koshi-gamae (Migi/Hidari ashi dachi).


5) Sokuto yoko-geri keage doji ni uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi (Migi/Hidari ashi dachi).


6) Mae-enpi (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


7) Shuto gedan-barai kara jodan-uke doji ni shuto jodan sotomawashi uchi (Hiza kutsu).


8) Jodan mae-geri keage.


9) Te osae-uke kara uraken jodan tatemawashi uchi (Kosa-dachi).


10) Ryoken chudan kakiwake-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).


11) Chudan oi-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi).


12) Chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi).


13) Ryoken hiza ryogawa doji ni hiza-tsuchi (Hidari ashi dachi).


14) Chudan shuto-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).




REI (Musubi-dachi).


YOI: Ryoken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).


1. Hidari haiwan hidari sokumen jodan yoko-uke doji ni migi zenwan hitai mae yoko-gamae (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


2. Migi haiwan migi sokumen jodan yoko-uke doji ni hidari zenwan hitai mae yoko-gamae (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


3. Ryoken gedan juji-uke (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


4. Migi chudan morote-uke (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


5. Ryoken migi koshi-gamae (Migi ashi dachi).


6. Hidari sokuto yoko-geri keage doji ni hidari uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi (Migi ashi dachi).


7. Sasho ni migi mae-enpi (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


8. Ryoken hidari koshi-gamae (Hidari ashi dachi, Okuribashi).


9. Migi sokuto yoko-geri keage doji ni migi uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi (Hidari ashi dachi).


10. Usho ni hidari mae-enpi (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


11. Hidari shuto sasho gedan-barai kara sasho jodan-uke doji ni migi shuto jodan sotomawashi uchi (Hidari hiza kutsu).


12. Migi jodan mae-geri keage.


13. Sasho osae-uke kara migi uraken jodan tatemawashi uchi (Migi ashi mae kosa-dachi)—KIAI!


14. Ryoken chudan kakiwake-uke (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


15. Migi jodan mae-geri keage.


16. Uken chudan oi-zuki (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


17. Saken chudan gyaku-zuki  (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


18. Ryoken chudan kakiwake-uke (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


19. Migi jodan mae-geri keage.


20. Saken chudan oi-zuki (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


21. Uken chudan gyaku-zuki  (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


22. Hidari chudan morote-uke (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


23. Migi chudan morote-uke (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


24. Hidari chudan morote-uke (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


25. Ryoken migi hiza ryogawa doji ni migi hiza-tsuchi (Hidari ashi dachi)—KIAI!


26. Hidari chudan shuto-uke (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


27. Migi chudan shuto-uke (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


Naore: Ryoken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).


Rei (Musubi-dachi).


To conclude I'd like to stress, yet again, that the Heian series were not designed for school children. However, they were used to introduce karate (into the Okinawa elementary school system) due to them being condensed variations of the classical forms, which were much less suited. Therefore, while they are not long kata, the applicative content they have is no less dangerous than their predecessors. This is why Master Funakoshi said what he did and should be closely noted. OSU!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

Thursday 17 February 2022

平安: A foundational system of complete self-defense

Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei, Heian Yondan.

Formerly known as Channan the five 平安 (Pinan/Heian) kata, according to Funakoshi Gichin Sensei and my seniors here in Japan, establishes a complete system of foundational goshin-jutsu; that is, an entire self-defense system: for the average person.

The name infers ‘safety’ in Chinese and Okinawan dialect: in direct reference to 'personal protection in an unarmed confrontation'. 


From here, I will outline the traditional points of the first three Heian and then the fourth and fifth. It is important to note that post WW2 Shotokan deviated from these focus points; nonetheless, contemporary Shotokan-Ryu still encapsulates each of them.

平安ニ段 (Heian Nidan)       
This kata focuses on the initial phase of a street fight/self defense. Basically when one begins their assault when fists start flying. The lessons include reaction and getting around limbs to effectively stop them.

平安初段 (Heian Shodan)
This kata was reversed in order by Funakoshi Sensei. In technicality, it is easier than Nidan; however, from the perspective of application, it is more advanced as " deals with clinching". That is, either you, and/or your opponent have begun grappling. In case you are wondering, the order I’ve used here—in regards to oyo—is the original (correct one). Regardless of this, I still follow Funaksohi Sensei's order, as it is superior in early stages of training.

平安三段 (Heian Sandan)

Sandan is focused on nagewaza (throwing techniques) and concludes basic karate training.


平安四段  (Heian Yondan) and 平安五段  (Heian Godan)

Yondan and Godan summarize the first three foundational Heian; moreover, they provide higher level variations which resolve lesser likely scenarios in self-defense.


Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei taught these kata in the old way, which he himself did not originally learn. From this basis he constructed the five 順路 (Junro) and later five 常行 (Joukou) kata. In sum, brought karate back to pre-WW2 Shotokan, whilst maintaining the improvements made in the post war period. Consequently, his karate was and remains revolutionary: this is IKS KARATE.


Just to clarify, unlike Heian,  the Junro and Joukou kata are “…engines of kihon with direct/obvious actions”. While they are not necessary, they are (what I can only describe in English as) ‘booster kata’; that is, they function to accelerate fundamental excellence for effective karate application.

Movement 16 of Heian Nidan. Hidari chudan uchi-uke, gyaku-hanmi (Shokutsu-dachi)

In sum, the Heian Kata summarize the classical kata in smaller robust units. They are often labelled as kata for elementary school students, and practiced in the contemporary way, they literally are. However, when practiced in the post WW2 manner, they are immediately proven to be a self-defense system independently from the classical kata, which preceded them. The main point here is not only to practice their movements, but also practice the original intentions. While this is 'basic karate' this is something I have been teaching around the world, and are re-teaching here in Japan.

For this reason Heian is very important in Shotokan. But movement alone does not suffice.

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

Wednesday 16 February 2022

五本組手 (Gohon Kumite): A second follow-up article

Foreword: Last year in November I wrote a follow-up article, from one I wrote 19 years earlier, on 五本組手 (Gohon Kumite). In that piece, I mentioned that I'd write a 'secondary follow up article', so here it is. Rather, than moving on to other forms of kumite, I thought I'd recap some key points featured in the previous article and answer a number of questions I've received since then on this topic; moreover, expand on these aspects. Overall, I hope that you find this article useful. As always I look forward to hearing your feedback and questions, All the best in your training and greetings from my dojo here in Oita City, Japan, Osu, André

Generic description of Gohon Kumite and format of this article:

Here is a brief description of the ‘basic’ form of Gohon Kumite (Five step ‘sparring’.  This form of engagement match is the required ‘Kumite’ for the Hachiryu and Nanakyu examinations. In this article I will: (a) describe basic Gohon Kumite; (b) provide some ‘additional key points for ‘Basic’ Gohon Kumite’; (c) explain more advanced Gohon Kumite and list some variations; and (d) wrap up with some conclusive notes. Overall, while I written about this topic before, I hope that this latest article provides yet another analytical lens on Gohon Kumite as a Shotokan Karate training routine.  


Both attacker and defender are decided. After ojigi (bowing) they face each other in hachiji dachi: ryo ken daitai mae. Being at the correct distance to make maximum impact, the designated attacker steps back with the right foot to execute gedan barai in hidari zenkutsu dachi. It is probably worth mentioning that some instructors and groups kiai when making this ready position, however, I do not.


The attacker then announces ‘joudan’ then precedes to attack five times with alternate seiken jodan oi zuki and a sharp hikite each time to aid in this process. Each time the opponents jinchu (the upper lip, just below the nose) is targeted, and the aim is to use zenkutsu dachi to attack without breaking the shomen position of the hips. In this process the drive and stretch of the sasae ashi is paramount. Attack with the kahanshin. On the fifth and final tsuki kiai strongly


To fend off these five tsuki the defender retreats five times in zenkutsu dachi receiving each attack with jodan age uke over their lead leg. In contrast to the opponent driving forward into shomen, the defender strongly rotates the hips into hanmi to launch their uke. Again, the hikite is fully applied to increase the velocity and power of each ukewaza. The essential point of stepping rearward is that the rear leg is slightly bent for both balance and reciprocal action. When turning into hanmi this also allows the hips to remain anatomically level. On the fifth step the defender straightens the rear leg to apply ground power to rotate the hips for a strong counterattack with a gyaku zuki. This counter is either aimed at the opponents jinchu or the suigetsu (solar plexus).


From here both the attacker and defender return to hachiji dachi with ryo ken daitai mae. The attacker steps back whilst the defender steps forward. The roles of attacker and defender are then reversed, and process repeated.


After both sides have attacked and defended against ‘jodan’, chuudan (seiken chudan oi zuki) is then practiced. The process is the same however the ukewaza employee is chudan soto uke.*


* Note — for middle kyu ranks and up, the hangeki (counterattack) is always distance and angle appropriate. For example, when too far away a mae geri or another kick may need to be utilized. Likewise, when too close, an enpi may be optimal. In sum an incorrectly distanced gyaku-zuki, unable to break a solid board is indicative of its incorrect deployment.


How about ‘mae-geri’?

In the eighties we also practiced attacks with chudan mae-geri keage in standard ‘Basic’ Gohon Kumite (including the 8th and 7th Kyu examinations). However, this is generally not included now (as lower grades tend to get bruised up pretty badly, sometimes worse). Of course, the great thing about attacking and defending against mae-geri in Gohon Kumite is that one “…learns to do gedan-barai correctly” and also a proper trajectory with your front snap kicks. I have many memories of egg shaped purple bruises on the insides of my shins and forearms. It also wasn’t uncommon for lower grades to be downed: via a solid kick to their solar plexus. A quick way to learn that ‘zenkutsu-dachi is used to escape’ and one’s uke is in fact the secondary waza; that is, ‘the back up technique’/‘the cover’. Taken as a whole, I probably don’t think that mae-geri in Gohon Kumite—for beginners here now, in 2022—is probably a good idea. Nonetheless, it is excellent training for senior kyu grades and above: once ‘technique and conditioning’ is sufficient..


At one Dan Examination, when I was sitting next to Asai Sensei, he leaned over to me and quietly said “Gohon Kumite”. All of the Shodan candidates had just completed the Jiyu Ippon Kumite portion of the test. So, I informed the candidates and had them form staggered lines, adjacent to our table.


Asai Sensei then stood up and announced “attack  ‘mae-geri, defend gedan-barai, no count”.


It was immediately clear that all of the candidates could not manage deflecting the mae-keriwaza coming in at them. They messily attempted zig zagging maneuvers to escape from the line. Likewise, it was clear that they were getting hurt when kicking and, after the second kick, were purposefully missing to avoid bruising to their shins. Overall, what was relatively clean and sharp jiyu ippon was erased by the inability to do the most basic Shotokan kick and (gedan barai) which, of course, is one of the five core ukewaza. Taken as a whole, it was a disaster, resulting in all of the Shodan candidates, failing the examination.


So what’s the lesson to be learned here? If you can’t deflect a full speed, full power mae-geri front on (without taisabaki) with gedan-barai, your gedan-barai is wrong. Furthermore, if you can’t deflect five consecutive full speed, full power mae-geri (plural) going rearward on the line (with gedan-barai), your gedan-barai is not reliable. Lastly, if don’t hit your training partner in the solar plexus five times—if they don’t make a good gedan-barai—your mae-geri keage is incorrect.


To conclude, if you think you ‘need to get hurt and just be tough’ to properly defend against mae-geri in Gohon Kumite, you are also wrong. Correct ‘timing and distance of the rearward’ step into zenkutsu dachi, koshi no kaiten, shime of the wakibara, hikite, and correct timing of the forearm twist will result in you deflecting the biggest and fastest of opponents/training partners. In saying that, when committing with any chudan kicks, there is the inherent risk of bruising. But this is something one gradually gets used to. That being said, with a good linear trajectory, bruising will be mitigated. The key here is that when you plant your kick you do so with strict form and utter commitment.


Some additional key points for ‘Basic’ Gohon Kumite:

a. With age uke and soto uke utilize the wrist; furthermore, target your opponents wrists (for mae-geri and other kicks target the ankle).


b. Beware of trajectories when making all tsuki and ukewaza. Tsuki must be as direct as possible and uke must use the proper arcs and connect to the wakibara. Avoid over-stretching tsuki and, indeed, ‘over blocking’ with uke.


c. When attacking and defending move in a straight line. This is for effective attacking and training your defense under maximum pressure.


d. Use your stance when attacking to overwhelm the defender; likewise, when defending, use your stance to escape. This form of ‘kumite’ highlights it’s better to be out of distance than to rely solely on ukewaza. This is a key lesson of Gohon Kumite.


e. When attacking collapse the front knee and utilize juryoku (gravity) without breaking the posture; furthermore, the fist should impact slightly before the stance is completed. The purpose of this is twofold, firstly, hand speed is increased, and secondly, the movement of the center and optimal mass can be transferred into the target.


f. After your final attack do not try to physically escape from your opponents counterattack. Instead, allow them to counter you. I know of people who have tried to avoid being countered and, here in Japan, (if you are with a senpai) it will sometimes erupts into Jiyu Kumite. The key here is to watch the hangekiwaza, and visualize countering of their respective counterattack. This skill of visual analysis is very valuable even in the context of basic Yakusoku Kumite.


g. When attacking, always aim to hit. Contact depends on the training partner (comparative size, strength, health, experience, etc...) and what’s agreed on beforehand. Common sense and mutual respect is the key here. Even if there is no contact, even with young children, still aim for maximum speed and power, distancing and targeting, but don’t touch. In this way, even without contact, training time is not wasted for both partners.


h. When countering, counter with full speed and power but make no contact. Your training partner is trusting your control and giving their body to be your target. Respect them!


i. Try to match your kokyu (breathing) with the attacker. From the eyes to the shoulders form a triangle for observation. You should see all four limbs, also maintaining peripheral vision. Practice to be aware of all your surroundings, this simple drill allows one to practice such skills, which can be further developed in higher level training routines.


More advanced Gohon Kumite:

What I’ve covered up until now is the basic ‘grading form’ of Gohon Kumite. For higher practitioners, there are many variations. In particular, higher grades practice with greater intensity when attacking. Also, the counterattacks used must be optimal based on distancing and target availability. The counterattack employed must be instantaneously selected and optimal for that moment. The capacity to cause maximum damage in that moment is what dictates this reactive hangeki (counterattack).


Here are some variations of Gohon Kumite:


1. Continuous fast attacks and defense: tobi konde five times etc..

2. Broken kankyu (rhythm)/timing.

3. Uke and hangeki on every step.

4. Only using the techniques from one particular kata or group of kata.

5. Utilizing different attacks, heights of attacks, ukewaza, tachikata, unsoku etcetera.

6. Attacking with a renzokuwaza on each step.

7. Moving in different directions with attacks and/or defenses.

8. Tenshin.

9. Combinations of the above…


As you can see, the possibilities are virtually unlimited. In saying that, as I often stress, ‘innovation for the sake of innovation is time not well spent’. Accordingly, when a variation is used, the achievement objectives should be well defined and concentrated. Moreover, this should be steered by the overarching objective of developing/enhancing budo/bujutsu karate skill.


The use of 三本組手 (Sanbon Kumite):

You will know that some dojo and groups utilize Sanbon Kumite as opposed or in addition to Gohon Kumite. Sanbon Kumite is sometimes used when there is simply less space; however, some groups, such as SKIF (Shotokan Karatedo International Federation) treat it as a different form of kumite and use it to practice different level/height techniques on each step; namely, jodan, chudan then mae geri. Asai Sensei, and JKA style Shotokan karate as a whole, treat Sanbon Kumite in such a manner, as “…not a separate form of training but, rather, a variation of Gohon Kumite”. I am by no means saying that one way is better than the other; rather, I’m merely pointing out this difference in approaches. 


Conclusive notes:

Sometimes to wrap up a class I might use an innovative form of yakusoku kumite, such as those listed above. In that case, it might just be a hard out conclusion of the session (to sweat and train spirit). That being said, when serious practice of Gohon Kumite is the aim, I teach and practice it primarily as a form of ‘partner kihon’. That is, when fighting is my aim, I prefer to do jiyu kumite, impact training etc. Certainly, I’m not completely diminishing variations here; however, I am putting them in their rightful place (from the overarching budo/bujutsu karate perspective).


© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

Saturday 12 February 2022

古典型 (KOTEN-GATA)... What are they, and where do they lead?

I have often been asked about the 古典型 (KOTEN-GATA, old classical kata) handed down from my teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei. So today, rather than explaining in my own words, I thought to share his explanation, verbatim. I'll do that in Japanese first, then translate for all of you who cannot read Japanese. I hope this answers your questions. Osu, André Bertel. 

この型は、八方から攻めてくる敵に対し、華麗な回転により、縦横無尽に攻防の技を繰り広げる型である。古典型とは、実践より編み出された攻防の技を合理的に組織体系づけ、構成されたもので、古来より門外不出とされ、伝承されてきた型である。- Asai Tetsuhiko.

 "This kata (Hachmon - not stated) is a formal exercise that develops kobo (offensive and defensive techniques) in all directions by splendid (or excellent) rotation against enemies attacking from all directions (literally ‘happo’ — the eight directions, like an asterisk)."

Please note my translation from here...

"The koten-gata (old /classical kata) are formal exercises that have been rationally/systematically organized and composed of kobo (offensive and defensive techniques) devised from practice, and have been handed down secretly (mongaifushutsu) since ancient times".

While this explanation may seem too generic, it really unveils a lot. Furthermore, within IKS we have many Koten-gata which have yet to be taught openly, but contain a lot of knowledge from the past which further enhances the applicability of Shotokan.  

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

Wednesday 9 February 2022


 The term 刻み蹴り(Kizami-geri) translates as ‘cutting kick. Sometimes this confused and envisaged as being ‘what is this waza does’; nonetheless, like many things translated from Japanese to English, simple misconceptions can, and do, occur. If you follow this site, you might recall my article about the difference between 突き (tsuki) and a ‘punch’. This runs parallel with mistranslation of kizami geri and, indeed, so many other techniques/elements/aspects of karate.

Tanaka Masahiko Sensei (IAKF, Tokyo 1977).

Without going too much off topic, I should point out that “…this is an area in karate that requires a significant amount of metaphoric cleaning up”. This is because “…often concepts formed from misleading translations become ‘subconsciously rock solid in people’s minds’ and, consequently, not only impact on how they respective waza and principles, but also how they move and apply them”.

Okay! So let’s look at the meaning of 刻み (Kizami). When I think of this term, the first thing that comes to mind is actually  刻む (Kizamu). For example, when I cook, kizamu is like when I chop vegetables into smaller chunks for a homemade miso soup. In other words, I’m making smaller scale items to add to my dish.

Therefore, we can reject the incorrect notion of cutting someone with your kick and instead understand the kizami-geri (and indeed kizami-zuki) as a smaller scale waza. Furthermore, and actually more importantly in application, is that this ‘cutting’ is literally ‘cutting the 間合い (maai/distance)’. That is, rather than attacking with the rear leg (say a maegeri) or fumidashi/stepping through with the rear leg (i.e. – oizuki) the waza comes from the limb closest to one’s opponent: either the front arm/hand or front leg/foot.

Now, that ‘what kizami waza are’ has been properly defined. Allow me to fully focus on 刻み蹴リ技 (Kizami-keriwaza) in isolation and, most importantly, why they are advanced waza—not so much ‘to do’, but to make effective in the real world: which is the purpose of all budo karate-waza. To begin, I will briefly list the five ‘main’ generic forms of kizami-geri in Shotokan:

1. 刻み前蹴り (Kizami mae-geri).

2. 刻み回し蹴り(Kizami mawashi-geri).

3. 刻み横蹴り(Kizami yoko-geri).

4. 刻み逆回し蹴り(Kizami gyaku mawashi-geri).

5. 刻み裏回し蹴り(Kizami ura-mawashi geri).

Certainly a sharp kick off the lead leg to the opponents testicles, or a nicely placed blow to the neck or head, can end a fight. But ”the true mastery of the kizami-geri is the capacity to finish the opponent via a chudan keriwaza”. Only with this capacity—and instantaneous adaptability—one has mastery of the kizami-geri, as this affirms its  reliability: irrespective of where you plant it. To clarify, the ultimate aim is to target the opponents spine and, in doing so, shatter whatever bones are between this objective.

Nowadays, people make a visually sharp looking kick and people assume expertise. On top of this, if they offer articulate narration, they are immediately deemed as experts (as I highlighted in a post earlier this month). The disconnection between ‘really being to use karate waza with devastation’, and the current ‘YouTube experts’ is profound. Again, as I posted earlier this month, don’t be fooled, ‘unless you only care about karate as a performance dance’. 

Now let’s consider the complexities of the kizami-geri. It really requires extreme compression of the body, full use of the center, extremely sharp kicking snap, and plenty of brute strength/power. One has to have total commitment ‘maximizing high knee lift and support knee compression’, ‘ground power via the drive of the sasae-ashi (support/pillar leg)’ and ‘spring of the ankle’.

Tanaka Masahiko Sensei, who synonymous with keriwaza—especially kizami mae geri (and its variation kizami mawashi geri... please note: I will expand on this point in the near future)—developed 'lead leg kicks as strong as oikeriwaza'; that is, driving through with the rear leg. Above his obvious competitive success with this waza, he was devastating in dojo kumite with it and, undoubtedly, could use it in any setting. Holding the impact shield against Tanaka Sensei's kizami-geri, even in his mid sixties, was not a pleasant experience for anyone...

To quote Tanaka Sensei: “Failure, or the inability sufficiently damage the opponent with a chudan kizami geri, means that it is better not to use it, as the opponent will immediately switch or continue with offensive techniques”. That is, they will arbitrarily attack from over the top. With fully committed momentum and relentless aggression, in this position, one is likely be defeated: overwhelmed physically and psychologically. 

In sum, kizami-geri is a highly effective waza, but only if one’s technical skill and strength is sufficient; hence, it is an advanced karate technique. Again, this point elucidates “…the void between mere ‘performance movement’ (within the controlled environment of practice), and actually being able to ‘effectively use’ a waza—against a strong opponent—in a serious confrontation.

This is a point I have learned directly from many of the great Shotokan masters here in Japan and is the tradition I practice; furthermore, endeavor to propagate. 

In this way, while kizami-geri is just one type of karate-waza, it reflects the entire technical art of true karate; that is, the relentless seeking of ichigeki-hisatsu in every action.

押忍, アンドレ

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

Monday 7 February 2022

平安三段 (Heian Sandan)

Introduction and commentary:

With a total of 20 movements 平安三段 (Heian Sandan) is the shortest kata in ‘standard Shotokan’. With the kiai applied on movements 10 and 20, and much use of Kiba-dachi, Heian Sandan is “…a very balanced formal exercise in a variety of technical domains”. The basis of Heian Sandan is primarily Jitte. This especially relates to the internal and external robustness of this kata: especially in regards to the ‘last moment reservations of twisting the body for large scale koshi no kaiten’ with fumikomi. However it’s also important to note that movements eight and nine in Sandan are a variation of movements 54 and 55 of Kanku Dai. In this regard, the escapes are reversed: in Heian Sandan the thumb side of migi shihon nukite rotates counter clockwise then, before hikite (uken migi koshi) is made—it goes behind the back. To conclude this action, the spin into Kiba dachi is seamlessly completed, with hidari kentsui chudan uchimawashi uchi being applied. Contrastingly, in the older Kanku Dai, the nukite rotates in the opposite direction and goes over the shoulder. Interestingly, the spin in Kanku Dai is completed with ‘Hidari uraken Hidari sokumen jodan tatemawashi uchi’; however, immediately after this, kentsui (like Sandan, albeit with yoriashi) is executed. In sum, it’s fair to say that we can see some ‘design process’ in this example; moreover, we can establish that the aforementioned actions are important. I will leave that there as...


Another feature in Heian Sandan, which I believe is worthy to mention, is its subtle yet highly effective unsoku including: fumidashi, tenshin, yoriashi, tsugi-ashi and, most obviously, fumikomi (especially pertaining to the aforementioned ‘large scale use of the hips). While this point may not sound so interesting, it really is useful “…for anyone wishing advance and revisit how they transfer their weight/move their center; also, how to ‘tighten up’ their unsoku”.


With this in mind Asai Sensei pointed out to me that that the two oizuki in this kata also ‘represent balanced bujutsu’: especially insofar as variations in application are concerned. The first of these is migi oi-zuki after tenshin; whilst the second is hidari oi-zuki followed by tenshin.


Before I go on, I should mention here that 25% of the actions in Heian Sandan are in heisoku-dachi (movements two, three, five, six and 11). The name which immediately comes to mind with this tachikata is Akihito Isaka Sensei. Often his entire sessions after eccentric stretching routines would be moving from this position into various stances aiming for the perfect coordination of hip action, moving of the center/stance and waza. The last time I got to experience that was in Yahara Sensei’s dojo several years back. A great group visiting from the UK were also training there at the time, so it is a fun memory!


Linking movements two and five to another instructor—which are both transferring from kokutsu dachi to heisoku dachi—I cannot avoid mentioning a gem here from Abe Keigo Sensei. He once explained that in these two waza “ must maximize the ascension/elevation from kokutsu dachi to heisoku dachi”. What he was stressing was to maximize ground power (large scale power generation). Separately to movements two and five, he also focused on movements three and six. In these two stationary waza he taught that hip vibration must be used; that is, small scale power generation).


Yet another key point, from my notes here in Japan in the 1990s, is that Heian Sandan is the point where the instructor explains ‘why in Shotokan that we land in kiba-dachi’. Indeed the answer to this is not as much the tachikata as it is “…the attack with sokuto”.


Some rightfully relate the combination of chudan uchi-uke followed by chudan uchi-uke doji ni gedan-barai (and, indeed, the use of two consecutive ‘chudan uchi-uke doji ni gedan-barai’) to 鉄騎三段 (Tekki Sandan): some might even reference Jiin here also. However, while the applications are related, according to many of my seniors here in Japan ‘this was not in Itosu Anko Sensei’s design process’. That being said, I can’t help but question if that really is the case; moreover, what difference does it make if the applications are literally interrelated? I personally believe (have a theory) that such views come from post WW2 Shotokan, but that is a subject that I would not like to delve into today.


That aside, there are several milestones in this kata besides the aforementioned 360 spin, fumikomi and hip rotation, and dare I say ‘changing blocks’. The are two I feel that I need to accentuate, to give this article justice. These are: furi enpi flowing into tate uraken uchi; and lastly, the final two waza in the kata.


The furi enpi is a simple action, nonetheless, the follow up with uraken has two trains of thought. The common method is a direct and simple snap using the elbow as the fulcrum. This creates a very light and fast blow which is barely telegraphed. The majority of instructors teach this. However, in the 1990s I was told “…this is wrong” by Yahara Mikio Sensei in his typically intense manner. He passionately stressed executing ‘a large scale roll of the shoulder’ (in Asai Sensei's terms 'Shoulder snap'); thereby, instead of the uraken arcing up and over —directly from the side of the waist—the uraken seamlessly travels away from the waist (to the opposite side of your body), then makes a big loop past your opposite ear then down onto the target. Namely, the jinchu or bridge of your opponents nose. In sum, Yahara Sensei wanted to decisively turn this waza into a finishing blow. Needless to say, one could also see Asai Karate in this action as well. As a side note, from then on I followed this ‘way’ and, while I’ve been corrected by some of the other senior Japanese instructors, ‘The Boss’ (Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei) himself never corrected me when I did this. 

On a practical note, I literally used this waza in real fight back in my hometown of Christchurch New Zealand. I was with one of my black belt students, Lyall Stone (who was a newly graded Shodan at the time), and a couple of guys decided to hassle me. One of the guys started questioning "did you just check out my girlfriend?" Lyall began warning them, but the guy kept persisting while I remained quiet and just monitoring him. His confidence began swelling, as he obviously deemed that I was 'too scared to talk', 'rudely ignoring his questioning', or some other faulty rationale. Finally I turned and briefly looked at his girlfriend and smiled at her. Immediately he pushed my chest and wound up with his opposite arm (I didn't see that, Lyall told me after). Immediately on the connection, for whatever reason, of his push, I reacted with a big tate uraken that literally smashed down his nose. He did not collapse but folded in half at the waist then stayed there motionless for a while. As he came up, I did not have to do anything else, both of this hands were covering his face with blood flowing like a tap. He was defenseless and clearly visionless. A blooded mess. I can't say here what I said to his friend, but they didn't stick around. The funny thing about this story is that 'I'd never thought of using this waza in a fight' EVER: it was unplanned, even off the radar for me, yet brutally effective. 


OK, so on to the last two movements of Heian Sandan… There are a couple of things to unpack. Firstly, the tsukiage over the shoulder and simultaneous ushiro-enpi. In the most simple terms this is the ‘prototype’ of ‘close range rear self-defense’. In addition to this, the oyo is a large-scale nagewaza, which is a reoccurring applicative theme in this kata. Movement 20 is the same as 19, but on the opposite side with yori-ashi; that is, it is performed with no twist and turn. This waza (naturally also a prototype) elucidates the shifting of the center for strength; furthermore, the adjustment of position in the case of a rear defense when being grabbed from behind.


Here are the 11 different waza featured in Heian Sandan:


1. Chudan uchi-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).

2. Chudan uchi-uke doji ni gedan uke (Heisoku-dachi).

3. Chudan morote-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).

4. Chudan te osae-uke doji ni chudan tateshihon nukite (Zenkutsu-dachi).

5. Kaiten chudan kentsui uchimawashi uchi (Kiba-dachi).

6. Chudan oi-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi).

7. Ryo ken ryo koshi kamae (Heisoku-dachi).


8. Fumikomi kara furi-enpi  (Kiba-dachi).


9. Sokumen uraken tatemawashi uchi (Kiba-dachi).

10. Kata ue koho tsukiage doji ni ushiro-enpi  (Kiba-dachi).


11. Kata ue koho tsukiage doji ni ushiro-enpi  (Yori-ashi, Kiba-dachi).




REI (Musubi-dachi).


YOI: Ryoken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).


1. Hidari sokumen hidari chudan uchi-uke (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


2. Migi chudan uchi-uke doji ni hidari gedan-uke (Heisoku-dachi).


3. Hidari chudan uchi-uke doji ni migi gedan-uke (Heisoku-dachi).


4. Migi chudan uchi-uke (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


5. Hidari chudan uchi-uke doji ni migi gedan-uke (Heisoku-dachi).


6. Migi chudan uchi-uke doji ni hidari gedan-uke (Heisoku-dachi).


7. Hidari chudan morote-uke (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


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


9. Hidari kentsui chudan uchimawashi uchi, uken migi koshi (Kiba-dachi).


10. Migi chudan oi-zuki (Migi zenkutsu-dachi)—KIAI!


11. Ryoken ryo koshi gamae (Heisoku-dachi).


12. Migi ashi fumikomi kara Migi furi-enpi (Kiba-dachi).


13. Migi uraken migi sokumen tatemawashi uchi (Kiba-dachi).


14. Hidari ashi fumikomi kara Hidar furi-enpi (Kiba-dachi).


15. Hidari uraken hidari sokumen tatemawashi uchi (Kiba-dachi).


16. Migi ashi fumikomi kara Migi furi-enpi (Kiba-dachi).


17. Migi uraken migi sokumen tatemawashi uchi (Kiba-dachi).


18. Hidari chudan oi-zuki (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


19. Uken hidari kata ue koho-tsukiage doji ni hidari ushiro-enpi                (Kiba-dachi).


20. Saken migi kata ue koho-tsukiage doji ni migi ushiro enpi                  (Yoriashi—Kiba-dachi)—KIAI! 

While not mentioned in this article, Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei over the years has been the biggest personal influence on my Heian Kata. It is not an overstatement to say that he references everything from Heian.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

Sunday 6 February 2022


One major trouble with the current karate world is the primary focus being on 'nice looking movement', 'theory' and 'theoretical explanations'. All of this is fine but "...meaningless if this is prioritized above being  EFFECTIVE IN FREESTYLE" and, yes, 99% of this is.

Some even claim this 'style of fancy demonstrations and long winded explanations' is actually as good or superior to the top masters. These unbelievably naïve people copy the external form of various masters 'tokui-waza', yet because they have not trained with these masters extensively (or even at all), fail to understand the key point: That is, THESE MASTERS COULD APPLY THESE WAZA WITH UTTER DESTRCTIVENESS AT WILL - any time, anywhere. That is why they became famous... Not just because they could 'do some moves'. 

All of the top karateka have proved themselves in Kumite: both Japanese and Western exponents, and there are no exceptions. People can't just do moves and be kuchi-bushi (mouth warriors). What's the use of a person who can beautifully and artistically explain and demonstrate the external form of Mike Tysons hook, but can't use it in a fight? That's how stupid some karate people are now, they often only judge the level of others by their moves and their explanations.

Put another way, people (especially on the internet) often only seem to understand karate from 'a dance movement perspective and overly theorized' standpoint, which has no intrinsic relationship to Budo. Accordingly, this post photographically depicts a handful of masters (most of whom I know personally and have trained with) who teach (or did teach) true karate; that is, Shotokan as highly effective Budo/Bujutsu.

To conclude: "DO NOT BE FOOLED BY NICE 'MOVEMENT' AND FANCY EXPLANATIONS: IT IS EMPTY WITHOUT GUTS AND PROVEN (TESTED) EFFECTIVENESS"; furthermore, "The kuchi-bushi looks pretty and sounds nice, but is easily crushed like a small insect" - Tanaka Masahiko Sensei.

OSU, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

Saturday 5 February 2022


















         手刀上段外回打 から手刀上段打回打


















© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).