Wednesday 27 December 2023


Takushoku University 1939

You can’t only practice 基本 on the spot—Sonoba Kihon; and marching up and down the dojo—Ido Kihon. Yes, merely hitting the invisible enemy. Splitting the air. 

Yet so many fail to insufficiently go beyond these base methods. It's like a baseball player simply practicing their swing, yet never facing a pitcher trying to strike them out. Lots of karate instructors are like this now, only image, not combative practicality. 


It is utterly imperative to train kihon to be functional, which means ‘kumite training of kihon’ and full-contact impact work; moreover, doing this practice needs to be regular—especially for the higher kyu grades and beyond. Otherwise, it is not true karate: only an impression of karate: 'karate movement'.


The constant target of “…being able to hit more accurately, more strongly, and faster, are naturally high priorities amongst budo karateka (plural)”.


What I strongly advise, for those doing insufficient kihon, is to simply amp up uchikomi practice and bag work (also makiwara, focus mitts, impact shields, etcetera).


I also recommend doing reps and sets. Three sets of fifteen sets of a ‘one—two’ combination: for example, kizami-zuki kara jodan gyaku-zuki. Set one as uchikomi with a training partner. Sets two and three with maximum explosiveness on the sandbag, followed by moving focus mitts.


This is a super simple example, nevertheless, a 'start point' for many people. Reps and sets help: they motivate! I need to add here that many require strength training. Not only to maximize their karate and avoid injury, but also for daily life. The typically sedentary nature of people's lives now has resulted in the average person's muscles and bones to be weaker. Hojo-undo, weights, calisthenics, plyometrics, and so forth, are all excellent to maximize ourselves. However, it is imperative to take care to not overtrain and cause injuries: step-by-step... The key is to be systematic and build up slowly.

ALL OF THESE POINTS ARE 'KIHON'. Mix them in accordance with what you need to maximize yourself. Furthermore, do so safely so that you can avoid injuries. Simply punching the air on the spot and doing line-work is OK for beginners and intermediate level karateka; however, one cannot develop true BUDO/BUJUTSU (that is, REAL KARATE) if they only do this.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Tuesday 26 December 2023

New Hirota TAKUMI Dogi

 I recently go a new dogi from Hirota. My last one was a MH-11 and the latest is a new designed custom cut TAKUMI.

This time I’ve gone for a longer cut for more comfort.

There are several reasons I really like the Takumi. Firstly, it sits very well. Secondly, it is very thin and dries quickly. Thirdly, it’s strong! You can literally use it in hardcore grappling training. Fourthly, and in merely my opinion as a professional instructor, it’s the best karatedogi on the market; that is, "IT'S THE BEST" KARATE DOGI IN THE WORLD.

I literally go through two or three Dogi every year as I self-train every day, in addition to teaching. The Hirota Takumi 'more than fulfills' all my requirements.

Accordingly, while I still give the MH-11 five out of five stars (it is comparable with Shureido and Tokaido's best models), the Hirota Takumi simply has the edge over everything else.


© Andre Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Monday 25 December 2023

鷹 (Hawk)

I had a unique experience on Christmas Day here in central Oita City. Whilst walking through the remains of Funai Castle, I was eating a convenience store burrito. Normally I don’t eat on the run nor eat junk food, but I was in a real rush and needed some quick calories.


As I was eating, suddenly an ominous shadow came from above. Looking up I saw a 鷹 (TAKA - hawk) rapidly swooping down on me!!!


In that moment, without a word of a lie, the hawk literally grabbed my hand with one of its talons and snatched my lunch with its beak... I pulled the burrito back. The hawk then immediately soared upwards. In this process a kiai automatically came out, but only from shock and needing composure to react.


This story sounds crazy…even impossible, but it really happened. So, I feel compelled had to write about it! For me it has been the oddest experience of 2023. To be frank, I was completely caught off guard, the speed and angle the bird came at me was utterly astounding. The shadow was my only indicator of its incoming. My reactions were not skilled in any way nor form, just from sheer shock and reactive desperation. I just couldn’t believe what had happened. The suddenness and randomness of the incident... 


Fortunately, one city council worker witnessed the whole thing (the Oita City Office is next to the castle remains). She asked if I was harmed as it had clearly made physical contact. She was amazed at the speed the hawk and stated (in Japanese): “So scary, but your yell scared him off!” To be honest, I’ve never been attacked by wild bird before, so I was still stunned as she spoke.

To be frank, I was just lucky it was clearly not wanting to harm me. She went on to explain that—she’d never seen a hawk do that before—even though she walks through the castle grounds four times a day for her job.


She introduced herself as (Ms.). Ishikawa and even asked if she could have a photo with me! It turns out that she is a yoga instructor here in the city in addition to her day job. I did not reveal that I was a karate teacher as I’d just been totally outclassed by a feathered thief! An opponent I've never trained for, nor expected.

That hawk has balls! Or maybe not, it might have been a mother hawk stealing my food? I have no idea, but attacking a man like that is certainly courageous. In karate this is referred to as KIHAKU. 


What I find really interesting, about what happened, is that I’m sure the hawk could have really hurt me, but with the exception of getting a chunk of my lunch, it didn’t even slightly damage my hand with its talon. It actually, somehow, grabbed me gently. What incredible control, dexterity, and, I assume intelligence.


It was a good reminder for me that we are no match for nature. Of course, after parting ways with Ms. Ishikawa I immediately called my wife to tell her about what I'd experienced. I hope the hawk enjoyed a little piece of my burrito and didn't get a bad stomach from it!!!


Later when walking back through the castle grounds I found my new feathered friend again: circling high in the sky. I could only wonder if he/she recognized me from earlier; moreover, if it knew it was Christmas Day and wanted to steal a present!? Who knows, but the experience is something I'll never forget!!




© Andre Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Saturday 23 December 2023

Exclusive Christchurch Seminar

My first seminar outside Japan next year will be in Christchurch, in the South Island of New Zealand.


Everyone is welcome (political issues, organization, style, etcetera, mean nothing, only world class training and friendship—so, everyone is welcome); however, there are limited spaces on this course. So, let’s enjoy keiko together in a small group. Yes, this one is exclusive, so get in fast if you want to attend!


What I promise (as always) is that everyone who attends this seminar will significantly improve their karate, furthermore, instructors 'will attain many points not taught outside the elite institutions here in Japan' (foreigners visiting are never subjected to the highest-level training). So, the seminar will be super valuable to everyone and all styles: not only Shotokan groups.

I deeply respect all of the ryuha and kaiha and hope to see a great mix. I like the term: ‘karate family’. Irrespective, I am just happy to say this, as I really want karate to move forward without any barriers and, that the next generation, can really expand in expertise.

To secure a place on this exclusive seminar, you can do so via the following contact information on the poster. This will be a knowledge-packed event which will especially give instructors (and serious karateka) a greatly boosted advantageous edge: in both coaching and training.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Friday 22 December 2023

Kapiti Coast New Zealand Seminar: February 2024

Here's a link to the Kapiti Coast (North Island, New Zealand) Seminar Information, which will be conducted in February 2023.

Click here for the details:

KKA Karate Academy - Andre Bertel Seminar

For all who are attending, greetings from Japan and see you there!!!

押忍, AB

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Thursday 21 December 2023

形 or 型 ?

 Many instructors use the kanji as opposed to for KATA. I tend to use as I personally follow the 'old style JKA Shotokan' (and the extensions/advancements of this style: researched, developed and introduced by Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei).

Nevertheless, for advanced karate practitioners (from a kanji perspective) probably is more appropriate in the context of self-training.


Let me explain the basic difference between the two kanji:  to convey what I’m meaning by this comment.


1.  (Kata)

Meaning: ‘Type’, ‘(Set) Model’, ‘Mould’


2.   (Kata)

Meaning: ‘Shape’, ‘Form’, ‘Style’

In Japanese conveys a far more set routine. Whereas the kanji  somewhat insinuates 'plasticity'; that is, ‘less strictness’ and, potentially, adaptability.


Self-training: December 20th, 2023. -- Jodan heiko-zuki (Kiba-dachi).

While I tend to favor the first of the two, in my self-training, and when teaching others, I’m always seeking individual optimization; therefore, in actuality is more appropriate. To conclude kata, for advanced karate practitioners, must evolve into ‘alive fighting forms’ as opposed to merely being empty routines.

押忍, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Monday 18 December 2023

Technical Form: 'find what's best for you". — T. ASAI

One action that I’ve been asked about is Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei’s sliding up of the rear foot when executing 右上段揚げ突き (Migi jodan age-zuki), which is performed four times: on movements six, ten, 20 and 26 respectively. Needless to say, I’m talking about 燕飛型 (Enpi Kata).


Some claim this an error, or just a bad habit… Both of which is incorrect. For example, he did not do this when doing Chinte Kata, where 'Nihon-nukite jodan age-zuki' is executed. These points are  ideal to allow me to explain an important aspect: in regards to karate technique'for advanced practitioners.'


To begin, I need to emphasize that in competition, I would not do that as maintaining the elongated zenkutsu-dachi is the set form. Consequently, by sliding up the rear foot—in this case—would result in a lower score.


However, from a bujutsu perspective (and a higher level) sliding up the rear foot results in more impact power via getting ‘more body’ into your tsuki. This is because moving your center forward and advancing into shokutsu-dachi allows for greater gyaku-hanmi torque. Considering, say, Asai Sensei’s smaller physique, you can readily understand why he’d do that with any seiken-zuki. He needed to increase the impact. Likewise, you can also see why he didn't need to do that with nihon-nukite in Chinte. From a self-defense perspective this is all obvious stuff... And this is the origin of our art of Karate and Shotokan-Ryu Waza.


To conclude, I want to stress that high-level ‘technical karate form’ is about ‘optimal effect in self-defense’. While ‘kata in isolation’ is unrealistic, in the greater picture—via ‘the bujutsu habits’ its training ‘should instill’—it contributes to optimal actions when facing a violent attack.


Simply to do the form well, with good speed, power and poise is not enough. This is nothing more than a ‘karate form of gymnastics’, which is what the majority of karateka around the world do now. Ironically, this type of ‘performance’ always results in robotic looking kata, where the unique characteristics of the different forms are inevitably lost.


Rather, bujutsu karate requires ‘active kata’. Yes, the aforementioned gymnastic attributes are there; however, the budo karateka actively seeks how to increase effectiveness of the actions as opposed to being locked into the external form. I like to say the kata are organic. They are ‘alive fighting forms’. This is why many instructors, for kata, use the kanji as opposed to . However, that is worthy of another article. Accordingly, out for respect for those who read this, I will write that: and post that here on the site soon.


OK! So, I need to stress here that “…this doesn’t mean that one goes off onto a strange tangent where the form disintegrates, and Shotokan becomes unrecognizable”. Nevertheless, at a high level must find what best works for them in their constant seeking of ichigeki-hissatsu. Without this constant aim in daily training, one’s maximum potential cannot be attained.


This is the reference point for all of the great masters here in Japan; moreover, it is why the older generation all have ‘unique styles of Shotokan’. In this regard, rather than look at the differences from an aesthetic standpoint (and be blown around by different opinions and various teachings), “…seek the optimal effectiveness of your own karate-waza" and then, via training and systematic testing, THE FORM WILL FIND YOU. This is the traditional way of kata.

押忍, André

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023). 

Friday 15 December 2023

自由一本組手 (Jiyu Ippon Kumite) a few notes...

Jiyu Ippon Kumite under the direction of Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei.

自由一本組手 (Jiyu Ippon Kumite) is often translated as ‘Semi-free sparring’; however, it is probably better described as ‘free one-step sparring’. Unlike Kihon Ippon Kumite both karateka are in a freestyle stance with a ‘kamae’, furthermore, move around freely like in Jiyu Kumite.


In sum, from these positions, it involves single attacks by a designated attacker and a free defense and counterattack by the designated defender. Another difference from Kihon Ippon Kumite is that ‘instead of leaving the counter thrusts extended, after countering the defender immediately returns to their en-guard position’. After the completion of several sequences, the roles of attacker and defender are reversed.


At a basic level, the attacks are prearranged and announced before being launches; however, during matured practice of jiyu ippon kumite (in daily training), each of the single attacks can be any waza. The only rule is that the attack is launched from an exact position optimal for its effectiveness. Kenseiwaza (feints) are also permitted but if perceived as ‘mubobi’, the defender can preemptively attack the attacker.


The defender can utilize tai-sabaki, deai, tenshin and so on; however, high level practitioners must deliver ‘the best waza from where they, following or simultaneously with their defense’. That is, after say executing an ukewaza, one must change their position, this is too late. Accordingly, the karateka must immediately and reactively execute the optimal waza in that very moment. This skill is critical in this drill.


One major error is where the defender keeps running away, so that the attacker is unable to begin the drill. Here in Japan that’s a ‘no-no’ and, in serious dojo (plural) one will eventually be chartered with a barrage of attacks. I should add here that this coincides with the attacker doing ‘mubobi’. Both in attack and defense one must respect their training partner, have courage and kihaku (fighting spirit).


The ‘standard set’ of attacks are as follows:

 1. 上段 (Jodan): 上段追い突き (Jodan oi-zuki).

Target the jinchu with seiken. The maai is to reach between two inches and midway through the skull. A deeper thrust is preferable, but not at the expense of losing acceleration and engaging in mubobi.


2.  中段  (Chudan): 中段追い突き(Chudan oi-zuki).

Target the suigetsu with seiken. The maai is to reach the rear of the spinal column.


3. 前蹴り(Mae-geri): 中段前蹴り蹴上げ (Chudan mae-geri keage).

Target the suigetsu or myojo with josokutei/koshi. The maai is to reach the rear of the spinal column.


4. 横蹴込み (Yoko-kekomi): 中段横蹴り蹴込み (Chudan yoko-geri kekomi).

Target the suigetsu or myojo with sokuto. The maai is to reach the rear of the spinal column. Please note — Never land passively after this waza; that is, after hiki-ashi land in zenkutsu-dachi as opposed kiba-dachi.


5. 回し蹴り(Mawashi-geri): 中段または上段回し蹴り(Chudan or Jodan mawashi-geri). 

Target the opposite side of the head or torso. Make sure your maai is close enough. Many people make their mawashi-geri out of distance to deliver a full contact waza. Note — when calling the attack announce “chudan mawashi-geri” or “jodan mawashi-geri” depending on the waza you are executing.


6. 後ろ蹴り (Ushiro-kekomi): 中段後ろ蹴り蹴込み (Chudan ushiro-geri kekomi). 

Target the suigetsu with kakato. The maai is to reach the rear of the spinal column.



Supplementary Notes


a. Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei taught me that after countering I should use tenshin every time to escape and/or position myself optimally for any follow up action. He also stressed this is important training when dealing with more than one opponent (to essentially use people as body shields. Positioning yourself correctly in such situations can largely mitigate the advantage that more than one opponent has.


b. In any case, high level Jiyu Ippon Kumite counters must be “…exactly the same as when you want to make full-contact on the sandbag or break a thick board or roof tile”. Hence, (a) the maai must be exact to do this for optimal target penetration; (b) the lower body and hips must be fully engaged; (c) the speed and power maximum; (d) the weapon of the body and corresponding target optimal; (e) fighting spirit —yet, “calm, reactive and aware”; (f) the target is reached, but the attacking limb is stopped. What this means is that “your control is to either hit with full power, or not”. To reiterate, if the technique is incapable of working (hitting the  target with absolute maximum force), the technique is wrong.


c. Take note when forming your 自由立ち (Jiyu-dachi). Unless feinting/drawing the opponents attack, always contract your stance by bringing the rear forward. In this way you can immediately attack. Pulling back the front foot against a strong opponent—who is focused on finishing you—provides them with an opening.


d. Also take note of the 自由な構え (Jiyu na kamae). The ‘general position’ has your lead fist or open hand pointing at the opponents jinchu with the rear arms elbow resting on the torso in front of the ribs. The direction of the fist is variable, but usually aimed at a chudan or jodan target. Extend the front arm but keep enough bend to directly attack from this position. This greatly depends on arm length, however, the bend should be no greater than 90 degrees and no less than 45 degrees. In regards to the position of the hips, I personally prefer being closer to shomen, as this allows fully body power with both hands, and more natural defense. I teach ‘using hanmi’ in offensive, defensive and evasive actions.


e. Fix the eyes. Asai Sensei watched the opponents throat as opposed to their eyes. So I followed this. It is great because you can easily see all four limbs of the opponent and, at least for me, allows me to also have better peripheral awareness. When I worked in security and entered physical conflicts, I found that this worked extremely well, especially in regards to instinctive fear. All of the verbal abuse and attempts to intimidate me with fierce eyes had no affect. I simply ‘went in’. Practice this in jiyu ippon kumite and make it your habit. It works in real fights.


f. Jiyu Ippon Kumite is required for the shodan examination. To pass you need to really try to hit your opponent when attacking. Conversely, when defending your counter must be full-power but arrested (as noted above). At ikkyu (1st Kyu) and above, if your defense fails you will be hit extremely hard by your opponent. If this is not the case, it is not proper jiyu ippon kumite. If so, the karateka is/are not ready for jiyu ippon kumite and should return to kihon ippon kumite to build up accordingly. This is the original way of Yakusoku Kumite practice that is really followed now. Asai Sensei told me to preserve this ‘way’.


g. For brief moments the point of kime is classical kihon between fluxes of freestyle. If one can replicate this and the underlying principles in Jiyu Kumite, their free fighting will be very strong. 

In sum, Jiyu Ippon Kumite links kihon, kata and kumite with the objective of mastering kime in all actions. Underpinning this is “…constant goal of seeking ‘ichigeki-hisatsu”; thereby, maximizing one’s karate potential.


© Andre Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Thursday 14 December 2023

基本一本組手 (Kihon Ippon Kumite): a few notes...

Kumite training with World Games Champion, Inada Yasuhisa (photo, circa 2002).

 基本一本組手 (Kihon Ippon Kumite) involves two to five foundational attacks, which are practiced on both right and left sides. Today, I’d like to briefly address these in regards to targeting and distancing; furthermore, some other fundamental notes (for the budo/bujutsu practice of this drill).


1. 上段 (Jodan): 上段追い突き (Jodan oi-zuki).

Target the jinchu with seiken. The maai is to reach between two inches and midway through the skull. A deeper thrust is preferable, but not at the expense of losing acceleration and engaging in mubobi.


2. 中段  (Chudan): 中段追い突き(Chudan oi-zuki).

Target the suigetsu with seiken. The maai is to reach the rear of the spinal column.


3. 前蹴り(Mae-geri): 中段前蹴り蹴上げ (Chudan mae-geri keage).

Target the suigetsu or myojo with josokutei/koshi. The maai is to reach the rear of the spinal column.


4. 横蹴込み (Yoko-kekomi): 中段横蹴り蹴込み (Chudan yoko-geri kekomi).

Target the suigetsu or myojo with sokuto. The maai is to reach the rear of the spinal column. Please note — Never land passively after this waza; that is, after hiki-ashi land in zenkutsu-dachi as opposed kiba-dachi.


5. 回し蹴り(Mawashi-geri): 中段またわ上段回し蹴り(Chudan or Jodan mawashi-geri). 

Target the opposite side of the head or torso. Make sure  your maai is close enough. Many people make their mawashi-geri out of distance to deliver a full contact waza. Note — when calling the attack announce “chudan mawashi-geri” or “jodan mawashi-geri” depending on the waza you are executing.



Supplementary Notes

a. If unsure about maai, use the ‘board breaking reference’. If the technique is not at the correct distance to break a board, i.e — only able to make surface level impact, quite simply, it’s wrong. Wrong because the technique is ineffective and literally grooving a bad habit. This bad habit is not negative only for the attacker… It also ‘wastes the defenders training time’.


b. Attack with your zenkutsu-dachi. In the case of the tsukiwaza the seiken must impact slightly before the completion of the stance; thereby, it maximizes hand speed and maximum transfer of bodyweight/mass into the target. Obviously, in the keriwaza one leg is already up; therefore, emphasize the snap/whipping action of the kicking leg and the drive of the sasae-ashi. In both cases,”harmoniously combine hard and soft actions”.


c. Always keep in mind that whilst 基本 (Kihon) can be translated as ‘basic’, it better to be described as ‘foundational’ or ‘base’ techniques, drills and kata. This allows one to properly characterize the term as understood by Japanese people. Needless to say, most English speaking people instinctively perceive ‘basic’ as being ‘easy’ or for ‘beginners’, which is, of course, misleading.


d. Lastly, always remember that correct form—which encompasses the above four points—is the aim of Kihon Ippon Kumite (also 五本組手/Gohon Kumite) as opposed to ‘fighting’. These drills are Kumite, but moreso ‘Kihon with a partner’, which adds the elements of physical contact, timing and maai. With these points strongly in mind one can make the most of these fundamental partner drills.


To conclude, and to reiterate, “…please remember in Yakusoku Kumite that the quality of the attack is of higher importance than the defense and counterattack”. As, without an effective initial attack, the exercise is completely invalidated; moreover, as I’ve already stated, ‘actually bad for your karate’.


I hope that this article helps karateka to better practice their kihon ippon kumite and, in doing so, contribute to their overall budo development. 押忍! —AB

Countering using deai with jodan mawashi-geri.

© Andre Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Karate changes for each individual based on their personal objectives, age, health, injuries, and so forth.

Today in my self-training I focused on the Heian kata kihon followed by ten kata. Most of my practice in the kata portion of my training went to Enpi (Shorin) and Hangetsu (Shorei).


  1. Taikyoku Shodan


  1. Heian Shodan


  1. Tekki Shodan


  1. Tekki Nidan


  1. Tekki Sandan


  1. Gankaku


  1. Hangetsu


  1. Enpi


  1. Bassai Sho


  1. Kakuyoku Nidan


My aim in kata training is to move with economy for optimal effectiveness of waza. This approach is not good for kata competitors, so I do not advocate that for such trainees (who are seeking competitive success here in Japan and international tournaments); however, post competition or ‘non-competitors seeking true karate—its origins as “bujutsu”—this practice is imperative.


Karate changes for each individual based on their personal objectives, age, health, injuries, and so forth.


I personally advocate mindfulness in self-training: that is, self-honesty and reflection. This style of self-analysis has the potential to really maximize each individual's potential.  As an instructor, this is my goal, for all trainees. I want to boost the level of karate skill here in Japan and around the world.


© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

Sunday 10 December 2023

義務 (Gimu)

Today, due to the beautiful weather here in Oita City, I decided to do my first self-training of the day, outdoors.


Recently I’ve been reviewing the ‘IKS弐段基本‘ (IKS Nidan Kihon), but today I also worked a lot on 肘技 (hiji-waza/elbow techniques). Of course, in Shotokan we primarily refer to these techniques as 猿臂技 (enpi-waza).


In addition to kihon I focused on the three Tekki Kata (鉄騎初段、鉄騎二段 and 鉄騎三段). Heian Shodan (平安初段) and Enpi (燕飛). Needless to say, the three Tekki are infighting templates; whereas, Heian and Enpi are more focused on middle distance fighting. I also utilized the training exercise of Junro Sandan (順路三段) for the fundamental practice of uchiwaza.

I’m so thankful to all my guides on my karate journey and owe them to work hard each day; furthermore, to share this knowledge as an instructor domestically and internationally. These points fuel my extra practices, outside the dojo, every day.


In Japanese I have 義務 (Gimu), which means DUTY/OBLIGATION.





Practicing in the office: December 10th, 2023.

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023). 

Friday 1 December 2023

太極 (Taikyoku)

The three 太極 (Taikyoku) kata—Shodan, Nidan and Sandan—were an integral part of Funakoshi Gichin Sensei’s karatedo. The name means ‘Grand Ultimate’ and is read in Chinese as ‘Tai Chi’.


Master Funakoshi stated: “due to their simplicity Taikyoku can easily be learned by beginners; however, as the name implies, these kata are of the most profound character and, upon mastery of karate, the expert will return to them as the ultimate training form” (‘Karatedo Kyohan').


Ironically, within the larger mainstream Shotokan organizations, while Taikyoku Shodan is sometimes practiced, however, more than not, it isn't. Furthermore, the second and third Taikyoku are rarely trained. In most groups 平安初段 (Heian Shodan) is the first kata one learns. The logic behind this is that it encompasses Taikyoku, which is logical but by no means totally right. But I'll get to that later via some points. 


Some groups claim there are higher versions of Taikyoku; nevertheless, these were not from Master Funakoshi or his son. There is also a kicking drill based on Taikyoku, which is taught by a significant number of JKA (日本空手協会 / Japan Karate Association) instructors. We do not do this as we have 乱雪 (Ransetsu, also known as ‘Rantai’), 脚戦 (Kyakusen), and other ‘leg focused kata’.


Following Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei’s teachings I usually focus on Heian Shodan as the initial kata, but we also have 序の型 (Jo no kata) which a simple preparatory form. This is a ‘training form’ for the fundamentals as opposed to being an 'official kata'. Again, for us, Heian Shodan is still the start. Others are compliments to bolster kihon.


Insofar as Taikyoku Shodan is concerned I often find it to be excellent for moderation of my form, zenkutsu-dachi, shomen and hanmi, gedan-barai and chudan oi-zuki (jun-zuki). Also. All the various turns that occur with gedan-barai. Note, the defenses always coincide with a body shift and the attacks apply the entire mass via fumidashi. Often concentration on the relationship between kakato and tsumasaki when moving, shisei, zanshin, and other points can be really isolated/concentrated on with Taikyoku training. Of course, you can do this with other kata, but the simplicity allows one to home in on specific details and find, and refine, depth of skill. Zenkutsu-dachi is particularly important as the fundamental and its transformation to Fudo-dachi for the advanced. In sum, the forward projection of energy/power.


On personal and nostalgic note, Taikyoku Shodan was the first kata I ever learned when I was a young boy. I remember finding the turns difficult (to learn) until I learned ‘the trick’; that is, “…you always turn towards the center of the I”. From that point I learned the importance of the enbusen. Looking back, I guess that's kind of cute!


For me, when I was a little boy, it was great to especially not have to deal with kokutsu-dachi and shuto chudan-uke when learning my first kata. And, in particular, to really focus on zenkutsu-dachi shomen and hanmi in relation to tenshin and fumidashi. That really helped my kumite abilty.


Referring about what I said about ‘Tai Chi’… Tai Chi is called 太極拳 (Taikyoku-Ken) in Japanese. Some say this is the origin of the flow in the movements of the  松濤会 (Shotokai). Interestingly, the Shotokai remain the intensive practitioners of these three forms. One thing is for sure... Indeed, Shotokan and Shotokai are very different forms of karate.

Some of you may remember my 2007 post: 'Half-way between the JKA and the Shoto-kai', regarding Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei's Karate: André Bertel's Karate-Do: Half-way between the JKA and the Shoto-kai ( That's the link if you'd like to read more.

Consider also questioning “What did Funakoshi Sensei mean?”—in the quote above—when he said: Taikyoku is “...the ultimate training form”? Why did he say that? My assumption is that he meant what he said in other publications, which can be summarized: “the most simple actions are the most important”. Nonetheless, this is only an assumption. Perhaps the movement of Tai Chi, hence the name of the kata, is the underlying reason. I have researched this a lot over the years as I believe it has some substance. However, that is not to say one must deviate away from classical Shotokan but, rather, utilize internal energy/biomechanics/natural energy to bypass one’s maximum muscular capacity. Perhaps, the simplicity of Taikyoku allows advanced practitioners to focus on this point in near total isolation? I certainly do not claim to have concrete answers in these regards, but constantly practice in the dojo to physically investigate such aspects. Consequently, internal self-understanding and external speed, power and precision can be improved; moreover, receptiveness/ mindfulness.

In this sense, perhaps Taikyoku is best for Shihan-level karateka, again, reflecting Master Funakoshi's sentiments? Regardless, this is an interesting thought. For me, on my karate journey, "any thoughts that motivate training and physical investigation/evaluation" are valuable. 

Irrespective of whether one practices it or not, Taikyoku (especially Shodan, sometimes referred to as 基本型 / Kihon-gata) holds an important place in Funakoshi Sensei’s legacy and his style: which came to be known as Shotokan-Ryu.

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023). 

Friday 17 November 2023

Zawan-Dachi 座湾立ち

 Zawan-Dachi 座湾立ち (Description: ‘Wide-Seated Crossed Leg Stance’. Literally, in Nihongo: ‘Seated Bay Stance). 

Zawan-dachi is essentially a wide Kosa-dachi which allows for maximum KOSHI NO KAITEN.


This tachikata is found in several Ryuha/Kaiha but is no longer commonly practiced in mainstream Shotokan (outside of the students of Asai Sensei, and offshoots from his influence within the old ‘pre-split’ JKA).


As alluded to above, it is primarily used for TENSHIN WAZA—rotational/spinning techniques; in particular, kaiten-uraken, kaiten-enpi, kaiten-shuto, haito, and various keriwaza. In IKS we also practice it with tsuki and with partner resistance. Rather than for practical application this challenges and develops core stability/balance and internal awareness of these aspects: especially when engaging in rapid movements. Consequently, this improves explosiveness in the standard Shotokan-ryu waza. 

左足前座湾立ち (Hidari ashi mae zawan-dachi) with 左回転裏拳 (Hidari kaiten-uraken).

A major advantage of spinning in this stance (as opposed to zenkutsu-dachi, kiba-dachi, etcetera) is that it done immediately (on the spot by simply compressing). Compare this to movement nine of Heian Sandan etc...

In practice, these spinning techniques are made to frontal targets, which is very powerful but requires significant fine motor skills.


While this is certainly applicable, the main application of Zawan-dachi—in actual self-defense—is against attackers at one’s side or rear. This requires minimal fine motor skills (and capitalizes on the the more difficult frontal attacks practiced in the dojo). 

押忍, André

右足前座湾立ち (Migi ashi mae zawan-dachi) with 右回転猿臂 (Migi kaiten-enpi).

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (November, 2023).

Monday 13 November 2023


Tanaka Masahiko Sensei: movement one of 慈恩 (Jion).

The technique 中段内受け同時に

下段受け (Chudan uchi-uke doji ni gedan-uke) is a ‘simultaneous middle level inside-outward reception and low-level reception’.


It is featured in six of the ‘standard 26 Shotokan kata’ for a total of 18 times! 

Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei correcting 'Chudan uchi-uke doji ni gedan-uke'. 

Four times in 平安三段 (Heian Sandan)—movements two, three, five and six. Once in 慈恩 (Jion)—movement one. Three times in 半月 (Hangetsu)—movements 11, 13 and 15. Four times in 鉄騎三段 (Tekki Sandan)—movements two, 14, 15 and 35. Once in 珍手 (Chinte)—movement 13. And five times in 慈陰 (Jiin)—movements one, 16, 21, 30 and 31.


While the 分解 (BUNKAI) for learning the correct initiation, trajectory and completion is an 受け技 (ukewaza), the 応用 (OYO) is classically a hold break (either outside-inward with the initiation or inside-outward with the completion); however, the more common use is a hold break and/or ukewaza with a simultaneous impact. This aspect is highlighted by Heian Sandan, which clearly Itosu Anko Sensei placed this ‘double block’ twice in succession; thereby, clarifying its offensive and counteroffensive meanings.

The G.O.A.T of Kata: Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei. 平安三段 (Heian Sandan)

Hangetsu kata applies this waza with open hands. The uchi-uke utilizes haito, while the gedan-uke is done with shuto. This is also the only kata where this technique is applied with a 180 degree turn and a kiai, which again elucidates it containing an offensive action.


Jiin features this waza the most. Four out of the five times—it is executed in the kata—it is uniquely performed with the chudan uchi-uke being done with the rear arm (with gedan-uke over the lead leg).

Whether applied in a grappling scenario, as in Tekki Sandan, or after planting a kick (as is done in Chinte), Chudan uchi-uke doji ni gedan-uke is clearly an important and applicably versatile waza in Shotokan Karate. Accordingly, like other such commonplace techniques, must be practiced to enhance one's foundational self-defense skills; thereby, becoming instinctively reactive as opposed to consciously applied: which inevitably lacks reliability in the real world.

I'd like to conclude by emphasizing that "...when a waza is repeated many times in various kata, pay close attention to it". This is never an accident or coincidental.

押忍, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).