Monday 28 March 2022

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

Tuesday 15 March 2022


The 足の小指 or small toes are very important in karate, in regards to the direction of one’s feet. Of course, I could list all the 立ち方 (tachikata)/stances of karate; however, by merely using the three main ‘extended stances’ in kihon practice—騎馬立ち(kiba-dachi), 前屈立ち(zenkutsu-dachi) and 後屈立ち (kokutsu-dachi)—this aspect will be more than clear. I’ll also clarify some other related points in this article, but I’ll address those later.

Allow me to explain why the 小指  (small toes) are so important in karate… 

Firstly and obviously, they are weakest toes of the feet.


Secondly, as said above, the direction they are pointing is what really establishes the direction of your feet (as a general rule, please note this, on my kokutsu-dachi point, which I'll state at the end of this article). Firstly think of kiba-dachi. If your ‘pinkies’ are perfectly pointing straight ahead, there is actually a slight inversion of both feet. This is the same with the pillar (rear) leg of kokutsu-dachi. That is, the small toe is ideally 90 degrees so that, like in kiba-dachi, there will be a slight inversion of the foot towards the front. As stated before, I will leave the lead leg of kokutsu-dachi for now, and that will become obvious why later. 

Looking at zenkutsu-dachi the front foot is, of course slightly inverted. Again, this position is dictated by the koyubi. That is, by just pointing the foot generically forward is insufficient. Rather, it is the small toe pointing forward; thus, resulting in the inversion of the entire foot. Indeed, we must also look at the rear foot in zenkutsu-dachi as well. Again, ideally speaking, the rear foot is less than, and no greater than, 45 degrees to the front; moreover and once again, the focus here should again be on the koyubi.


Thirdly, why is all this the case? Well, as stated this part of the foot is the weakest, therefore, we must use it in harmony with the stronger toes: the strongest, of course, being the big toe. 

Furthermore, there is another very important point: 足刀 (sokuto). In Shotokan, a critical basic in kihongeiko is “keeping the entire foot as flat on the floor as possible”. The main focus, in this regard, is keeping ‘sokoto down’ as opposed to the common error of ‘rolling them over’, which results in instability of the respective leg in question. 


This rule is only in classical training, nevertheless, when strictly adhered to, when engaging in freestyle, it makes one’s natural movement much easier. In this regard, optimal is the best word. Put another way, standing in a natural jiyu dachi, it is like ‘taking the breaks off’ (when moving with agility and reactively is the priority). In addition to this, it allows one “…to retain and recover balance when  executing full speed and full power techniques against an opponent”, or any other physical target (sandbag, focus mitts,  etc. Notice something here??


What I’m elucidating here is “…that when ‘throwing techniques into the air’ (I.e. – solo kihon and kata) we keep the feet flat”; that is, sokuto down. Now, please always keep in mind that this intrinsically relates to the 小指  (koyubi). The only exception to this is the classical Yakusoku-Kumite: 五本組手 (Gohon Kumite), 基本一本組手 (Kihon Ippon Kumite), and the most basic form of 自由一本組手 (Jiyu Ippon Kumite). To put this in context, these methods of Kumite must be recognized for what they really are: ‘Partner Kihon Drills’ which “…train the classical techniques of karate—with another person/opponent—and progressively bridge the gap closer towards Jiyu Kumite: whilst mitigating the loss of kime in techniques”.

So, we can see that sokuto is not only for kicking… Moreover, the importance of the 小指 (small toes) for precise foot directions, which not only result in beautiful foot positions in stances but optimize the feet for explosive speed and power; balance and recovery; and generically speaking, fine tuned bodily control.


OK, so if you closely read above, you will notice that I purposefully left out the lead leg of kokutsu-dachi. Well, I did that on purpose as it is what I personally term as ‘a rule breaker’, which is a constant in karate and all forms of budo for that matter. In this case, the entire foot points forward as opposed to the small toe. This is because the prime focus is on the compression of the rear leg and the front foot establishes one’s line for power transition as opposed to being directly for function itself. This also enables a neutral position for a kizami-geri; however, this somewhat deviates from the focal points of this article.


To conclude, by properly understanding, and applying of your koyubi, you can readily achieve professional classical stances with Japanese flavor; furthermore, these classical positions and the resulting unsoku/footwork from them, will greatly enhance one’s Jiyu Kumite and ability to defend oneself.

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

Friday 11 March 2022

平安初段 (Heian Shodan)

Introduction and commentary:

Purposefully, I decided to conclude this series of five articles on each of the Heian with Heian Shodan. My hope is that the readers gain from this, via the content of all five articles. Okay! So let's begin. With 21 movements 平安初段 (Heian Shodan) is the first in this series of five kata; however, as you will know, the original the order was reversed.

While most people are aware of this, and know ‘why Funakoshi Gichin Sensei switched the first two (Heian/Pinan)’, I will concisely state ‘why he did this’ this here: based on his various writings about it. Essentially, he changed the order “…because ‘the original Nidan’ was easier to teach and learn”. Yes, it’s that simple!


However, significantly fewer people know that “the original order of the Heian gata was based on their respective levels of 応用 (Oyo/Application). This was the work of the kata’s creator, Itosu Anko Sensei.


So, the order that Shotokan uses, “…begins with Pinan Nidan (our Heian Shodan), which is a kata for practicing/applying ‘flinch responses’. That is dealing attacks coming in at us. Whereas, Pinan Shodan (our Heian Nidan) practices/applies ‘responses after connection to the opponent’”. This could be カキエ (Kakie) or 手組 (Tegumi)/無刀 (Muto).


Therefore, to summarize: “Shotokan has a more systematic/logical order for initial teaching and learning; whilst, the original order is more logical in regards to an exchange with an opponent/self defense”. In my opinion—during the initial stages of learning—Master Funakoshi’s switching of these two kata was a very positive thing for karate; nonetheless, ‘it is still essential to understand the reversed order in regards application’. This may seem an overly simplistic approach, but as the Funakoshi Sensei famously said: “Victory and defeat are determined by simple matters”.


Here are the five different waza featured in Heian Shodan:

Before I list those five waza I want to reiterate and expand on Funakoshi Sensei’s ‘educators logic’ in switching the first and second Heian/Pinan (which is largely shown by the numbers of waza encompassed in these kata). Whilst the ‘original Shodan’ featured 12 different waza, the ‘original Pinan Nidan’ only has only five. Moreover, Funakoshi Sensei allegedly deemed ‘applying keriwaza’ as being “…more complex actions for beginners and of lesser importance for them, than tewaza (in the very early stages of training)”. In addition, the ‘original Heian Nidan’ has “…far more ‘single waza in single steps’. There is literally only one (movements three and four: gedan-barai kara kentsui)”. Whereas, the original  Heian Shodan features five (renzokuwaza/combination techniques).


Still, from bujutsu/practical oyo perspective, regardless of the aforementioned points, the Heian Shodan (of Shotokan) is often only applied in “the secondary phase in a self defense situation”; that is, if the initial attacks are percussive blows as opposed to connecting. Hopefully that matter is clarified now. OK, so allow me to move on to the five waza in our Heian Shodan (Pinan Nidan).


1) Gedan-barai (Zenkutsu-dachi).


2) Chudan oi-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi). Also commonly labeled as ‘Jun-zuki’.


3)  Kentsui jodan tatemawashi uchi (Zenkutsu-dachi).


4)  Jodan age-uke (Zenkutsu-dachi).


5)  Shuto chudan-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).


To expand on details of the kihonwaza, in the ‘Shotokan Heian Shodan’, I recommend this article just over five years ago. It has a few technical tips: 


REI (Musubi-dachi). 

YOI: Ryoken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).


1. Hidari sokumen hidari gedan-barai (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


2. Migi chudan oi-zuki (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


3. Migi gedan-barai (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


4. Migi kentsui tatemawashi uchi (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


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


6. Hidari gedan-barai (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


7. Migi jodan age-uke (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


8. Hidari jodan age-uke (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


9. Migi jodan age-uke (Migi zenkutsu-dachi)—KIAI!


10. Hidari gedan-barai (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


11. Migi chudan oi-zuki (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


12. Migi gedan-barai (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


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


14. Hidari gedan-barai (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


15. Migi chudan oi-zuki (Migi zenkutsu-dachi).


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


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


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


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


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


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

NAORE: Ryoken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).


REI (Musubi-dachi).


I know from now, that I'll seemingly self contradict (some of my points made above), but what I’ve discovered—as I’m sure you have also—is that parallel knowledge always exists. The aforementioned aspects of ‘ease of teaching/learning’ still apply,  as does ‘the oyo/applicative order’… So, why then do most of the top Shotokan karate experts see Heian Shodan as ‘the ultimate kata’? The beginning and the end. Well, the idea is simple, yet important to know. The full circle in Budo represents technical completeness, but with no ending: this is Heian Shodan.

Taken as a whole, Heian Shodan is a kata which leaves nothing to hide in one’s kihon and karate in general. Even though there are no kicks, ‘keriwaza ability’ is shown via the unsoku. Intrinsically and collectively, the first Heian (in Shotokan) is a challenge: irrespective of technical level and experience.   

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

Monday 7 March 2022

Are you looking for SPECIFIC CONTENT on this site?

I often get asked, where’s the SEARCH Function? Well, it’s always here, but if you are using a mobile phone it’s not visible unless you change to what's called the 'VIEW WEB VERSION'.


To do this scroll down on your phone to the near bottom of the page until you find the red bar which says ‘Home’ in white (you can see this by checking the bottom of the next photo).


Immediately, under this is ‘View web version’

Click on this, and you will find the SEARCH function at the very top left corner of the page.

Click on the 'View web version' immediately above.

 Type in what you are searching for between the orange and white BLOGGER logo on the left, and the little magnifying glass on the right (shown in the image directly below).

It’s that simple and from there you can easily comb through 15 years of articles here on the site. 

Emails: Still, if you have any questions you are welcome to email me at: I tend to receive a large amount of emails each day, so I can’t physically answer them all. It would literally be impossible. That being said, when ‘a specific theme becomes requested enough’, I will usually answer via an article. An example of this is the recent Heian articles.


Of course, when possible or deemed necessary, I also answer people and groups back personally: via email.


Overall, I hope that this post allows you to better navigate the site. I’d also like to thank the thousands of Budo Karateka, here in Japan and around the world, who have supported and followed this site. There are lots of great things to come and many projects in the works.

 押忍 ― André 

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

Wednesday 2 March 2022

平安五段 (Heian Godan)

Said by seniors to be Nakayama Sensei's closest follower, Abe Keigo Sensei.

Introduction and commentary:

With 23 movements 平安五段 (Heian Godan) completes this series of kata and, like Yondan, is a summary of the fundamentals found in Nidan, Shodan and Sandan; moreover, an extension of these to deal with alternative situations in unarmed self-defense. Accordingly, it features flinch responses/striking; responses upon connection to the opponent(s); gatame-waza (locks); and nagewaza (throwing techniques).


An important lesson from this formal exercise is to avoid blurring techniques; that is, when renzokuwaza are used (and there are many in this short kata) you make each action fully with kime.


Movements one to six feature an application principle on both sides and can be used according to the position of the opponent. The wind up and weight drop with uchi-uke dropping into kokutsu-dachi must be maximized. Likewise the snatch and tsuki followed by tai-sabaki and zenwan mizu nagare no gamae, which functions as an ude-gatame (arm lock).


Once again, remnants of yondan are found in movement seven by the use of an advancing kokutsu-dachi and the execution of chudan morote-uke. This is occurs again one more later in the kata (movement 20), albeit in a different stance (migi ashi zenkutsu), which is  a telltale.


Movements eight to twelve involves ryoken gedan juji-uke follow by ryosho jodan juji-uke, ryosho juji chudan osae-uke, follow rapidly by nobashi-zuki (uke-zuki/hiji suri-zuki) flowing immediately into chudan oi-zuki. This sequence also involves locking and impacting. Be sure that ryosho juji chudan osae-uke drops directly downward as opposed to being brought closer to your body.


On movement 13 which is migi sokumen gedan-barai there are two ways. One with and one without fumikomi. I personally still do the ‘Best Karate’ version with the stamp, which is consistent with movement 26 of Bassai Dai; however, both ways are equally effective. In this case, I advise everyone to experiment with the best version for themselves when applying this waza in Oyo Kumite and the other essential forms of 'kata based goshin-jutsu practice'.


Movements 14 to 16 involves trapping the opponent then impacting with mikazuki-geri then pulling them into an enpi. Kick chudan in solo Kate training but, in application, make a big slap to the opponents inside thigh or groin to fold them in half; thereby, chudan becomes jodan with your elbow. This is a very powerful and reliable sequence which very little fine motor skills and accuracy. Just focus "...on a relaxed and snapping swing of the leg and sharp and soft shoulder to deeply plant the tip of your elbow".


Movements 17 to 19 conclude with the first high jump in the Shotokan Kata, however, this is literally throwing oneself when practicing Godan as a solo routine. These three movements are, in fact, the set up and execution of 背負い投げ (Seoi-nage).


Once again chudan morote-uke is applied again here in movement 20 (as mentioned above) but this time in the straight lined zenkutsu. By this stage the karateka must be well versed "that as this waza (within Heian), is always in isolation"; hence, it is always a simultaneous defense and attack.


To conclude movements 21 to 23 apply a take down and, alternatively arm lock and neck wrench on both sides. This also trains "hip work and transitions from zenkutsu to kokutsu-dachi in harmony with the shuto gedan uchikomi and classical Shotokan ‘manji’ formations" (which was a vast technical improvement on the Okinawan version, which was allegedly masterminded by Master Funakoshi and/or his son).


Here are the 17 different waza featured in Heian Godan:


1. Chudan uchi-uke(Kokutsu-dachi).


2. Chudan gyaku-zuki (Kokutsu-dachi).


3. Zenwan mizu nagare no gamae (Heisoku-dachi).


4. Migi chudan morote-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).


5. Ryoken gedan juji-uke (Kokutsu-dachi).


6. Ryosho jodan juji-uke (Zenkutsu-dachi).


7. Ryosho juji chudan osae-uke (Zenkutsu-dachi).


8. Chudan oi-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi).


9. Sokumen gedan-barai (Kiba-dachi).


10. Tekubi sokumen chudan kake-uke  (Kiba-dachi).


11. Chudan mikazuki-geri (Ichi ashi dachi).


12. Mae-enpi (Kiba-dachi).


13. Sokumen chudan morote-uke (Kosa-dachi).


14.   Uho tsuki-age (Renoji-dachi).


15. Tobi-komi kara ryoken gedan juji-uke (Kosa-dachi).


16. Chudan morote-uke (Zenkutsu).


17. Jodan nagashi-uke doji ni shuto gedan uchikomi kara sokumen jodan uchi-uke doji ni sokumen gedan-uke (Zenkutsu kara kokutsu-dachi soshite heisoku-dachi).

 Some additional important aspects to conclude my overview:

 Before I should go on, I need to point out that while their are17 different waza are in this kata, making it the most diverse Heian, many find it easier than Yondan (in the solo training of the kata). In saying that, in oyo (application), it easily stands out as the highest level kata in the series. With this fact in mind, and originally Nidan being the first taught, and we can see a logical advancement through these five formal exercises. This, in particular, highlights that if kata are only performed superficially—as solo athletic routines with kihon based bunkai’—the order of progression through the five Heian would be illogical. Really speaking, absolutely and utterly non-sensical!


From the many tegumi-waza (grappling techniques) in the ‘basic’ Heian we can see and learn “… a complete system of self-defense. This, as opposed to ‘impacting/striking arts’, and ‘grappling arts’, being separated/compartmentalized”. Indeed, before competition Karatedo (and, of course, competition Judo, as well) budo was bujutsu. Hence, for the traditional karateka: " unarmed self-defense, striking and grappling are absolutely inseparable entities".


Once karate practitioners, get through to practicing Heian Godan and have sufficient physicality in all five Heian kata, it is important that they are well into flow drills dealing with realistic self-defense scenarios; moreover, this training cannot be merely an occasional novelty but, rather, included in daily practice. Allow me to quote Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei here: “Kata can teach you how to fight, but not by merely doing them”. What he meant was "just doing the moves is not enough. With that in mind, I’ll now move on to a generic overview of Heian Godan.


                           HEIAN GODAN OVERVIEW

REI (Musubi-dachi).


YOI: Ryoken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).


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


2. Uken chudan gyaku-zuki (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


3. Hidari zenwan mizu nagare no gamae (Heisoku-dachi).


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


5. Saken chudan gyaku-zuki (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


6. Migi zenwan mizu nagare no gamae (Heisoku-dachi).


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


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


9. Ryosho jodan juji-uke (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


10. Ryosho juji chudan osae-uke (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


11. Saken chudan nobashi-zuki (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi).


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


13. Migi sokumen migi gedan-barai (Kiba-dachi).


14. Hidari tekubi hidari sokumen chudan kake-uke (Kiba-dachi).


15. Sasho ni migi chudan mikazuki-geri (Hidari ashi dachi).


16. Sasho ni migi mae-enpi (Kiba-dachi).


17. Migi sokumen chudan morote-uke (Migi ashi mae kosa-dachi).


18. Uken uho tsukiage (Hidari ashi mae renoji-dachi).


19. Tobi-komi kara ryoken gedan juji-uke (Migi ashi mae kosa-dachi)—KIAI!


20. Migi chudan morote-uke (Migi ashi zenkutsu).


21. Sasho jodan nagashi-uke doji ni migi shuto gedan-uchikomi (Hidari ashi zenkutsu) kara migi sokumen jodan uchi-uke doji ni hidari sokumen gedan-uke (Migi kokutsu-dachi).


22. Jotai-sonomama (Heisoku-dachi).


23. Usho jodan nagashi-uke doji ni hidari shuto gedan-uchikomi (Migi ashi zenkutsu) kara hidari sokumen jodan uchi-uke doji ni migi sokumen gedan-uke (Hidari kokutsu-dachi).


NAORE: Ryoken daitai mae (Hachiji-dachi).

REI (Musubi-dachi).


 General summary of the Heian Series

 To directly quote the writings of late Master, Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei: “Heian and Tekki are the foundational kata in karate and are, therefore, indispensable”. The fact that Heian make up 'one third of the core Shotokan kata elucidates their importance for Master Funakoshi'. While I never had the opportunity to train with Nakayama Sensei, let alone (and obviously) his teacher Funakoshi Sensei, I’ve had much time (over three decades) with many of his very best students here in Japan. Technically speaking, for me, Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei is synonymous with Heian, not only due to his demonstration of them in the ‘Best Karate’ books and videos, but from my personal experiences of them in his utterly superb classes; moreover, personal corrections and advise over many years.


In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that 'Osaka Sensei almost references Heian for everything else in karate' which, again, elucidates their criticality for us Shotokan practitioners. While not 'mind boggling spectacular' like Osaka Sensei (in external performance of his kata) I also enjoyed Abe Keigo Sensei’s teaching style. Moreover, it is said by many of my seniors that "...Abe Sensei’s Karate  was closest to Nakayama Sensei": at least ‘teaching-wise’. Needless to say, anyone who can break things down into simple parts, and make it accessible for everyone, is an expert teacher. I admire that he could teach kihon and kata that way, even though his fame came from being a ferocious kumite man. His waza of choice were uchiwaza and keriwaza, both of which were feared. In addition to his bushi lineage, he really had Samurai spirit. Accordingly, in light of this, I can’t help but think of Abe Sensei’s exceptional budo teaching skill in addition to his background and karate specialties.


It’s interesting to consider that with the Heian combined, the total number of official movements is 117, which is significantly longer than any other kata (standard Shotokan or Koten-gata). Maybe this point is trivia, but for me, unless only focusing on one Heian, I tend to do them all in succession followed by the oyo (applications). In this way, the consistent themes and progressive extensions of these can be practiced in a systematic manner. Needless to say, before this approach can be done, one must have good knowledge of the 基本技 (Kihonwaza) in all five. This highlights a very important point: “One can know all the applications, but without sufficient physicality (as alluded to above in this article), this also will have no meaning.” Consequently, balance in training is utterly imperative.


With this mind, whilst the meaning of the characters 平安 in Chinese (Mandarin) means ‘SAFETY’—referring to self defense mastery so one is 'safe'; whereas, the Japanese reading of the kanji is interpreted as ‘PEACEFUL’. It is important for me to say here that the Japanese reading is also essential for complete knowledge. This relevance is related to having ‘a calm mind’ and a ‘relaxed body’ in order to optimally use it in self-defense. Taken as a whole, this indeed gives “…a complete understanding of the name PINAN/HEIAN” and, more usefully for one’s daily training, “what the core physical objectives of these five kata are”. It also shows the intellectual genius of the formulator of these kata: Itosu Anko Sensei. 押忍  André

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