Monday 24 July 2023

Special Training

 Here are some photos from my special training yesterday, here at the Dojo. Special training is a highly intense 'hardcore practice', which I don't do so often (since I turned 30) to avoid stress and 'wear and tear' injuries. Four days ago, I turned 47 years old, which is still very young in Budo Karate terms, so I'm still pushing myself at the 'post twenties' level in my self-training. 

I wish everyone the very best in their training and great health! Greetings from Oita City, Japan.

押忍!! — AB

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

Wednesday 19 July 2023


Sonoba-tsuki: Explanation of basic maai in Budo Karate (Freital, Germany Seminar 2023)

The 間合 (MAAI) in International Karate Shotokan 約束組手 (YAKUSOKU KUMITE) is closer than the other Shotokan groups. The focus is on “…the attacker being in distance to really be able to optimally impact on their respective opponent”. Typically, if you look at yakusoku kumte you will notice that the attacker is placed in a position, which merely means they will reach their respective target. Contrastingly, we require that the attacker positions themselves at a distance where they could literally break a solid board; thus, in IKS, simply reaching is deemed as being incorrect.


Accordingly, if one demonstrates any form of one step yakusoku kumite (and the first step of Gohon Kumite)—irrespective of demonstrating sharp and successful defenses and counters—they will still fail the test if their ‘initial attacking portion of the drill does not have the correct maai’.


Therefore, in regards to defense we more strongly stress unsoku to escape in gohon kumite; drop in kihon ippon kumite; and compress and expand in jiyu ippon kumte/kaeshi ippon kumite. In these regards, the ukewaza literally functions as a cover, secondary to ‘not being there’. Put another way, rather than prioritizing the johanshin (the upper body) the actions of the kahanshin (lower body) is the first line of defense, and this is supported/backed up by the respective ukewaza which is employed.


受け技. (Ukewaza) are therefore primarily covers, checks and parries; thus, as the term translates from Japanese—they are literally ‘reception techniques’. I need to add here that they are often used as kogekiwaza in actuality, and are extremely effective as percussive blows, joint locks, holds and breaks/dislocations; however, in yakusoku kumite they are most commonly practiced as ‘defensive receptions.'


Here I’d like to offer a warning, in regards to being ‘too close of a distance’ when attacking. In old school ‘traditional’ Shotokan training (which IKS follows), the designated defender is permitted to make a pre-empted attack if the designated attacker excessively crams them. In other words, the attacker is committing mubobi. This is especially the case in jiyu ippon kumite and kaeshi ippon kumite. In these regards, when attacking one must launch their waza with the optimal maai, which can cause maximum damage, whilst ideally being out of the range of a pre-emptive thrust from the defender's current position.


Conversely there’s another error in yakusoku-kumite, which must be strictly observed. When attacking, one must not run away from the defender's counterattack. In other words, they are lacking kihaku. Again, in old school ‘traditional’ Shotokan training (again, which we follow), the counterattacking person can then chase the person running away with a secondary attack or attacks. 

Jodan mawashi-geri with correct maai: A knockout, if not controlled, will be achieved.

In sum, in all cases correct maai must be used, otherwise yakusoku kumite training/practice will be counter-productive if 'effective budo technique is the aim'. Incorrect distancing can never optimize the ability to deliver full power blows and, hence, grooves ‘critically bad habits’ into one’s karate.


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

Monday 17 July 2023

It's the individual!

The four major styles of karate are:


Shotokan Ryu

Goju Ryu

Shito Ryu

Wado Ryu

Masters of 'the BIG FOUR': Miyagi Sensei, Mabuni Sensei, Funakoshi Sensei and Otsuka Sensei.

However, other major styles include Kyokushinkai, Uechi Ryu, Shorin Ryu, Ryuei Ryu, and others. Indeed, there are also many derivative styles such as Shukokai, Seido, and so forth. In regards, to Shotokan, the Shotokai can literally be classed as a ‘different style’ due to the extreme variations and use of body mechanics, which it employs.


I do not believe that any style is superior to the rest. It always comes down to the individual practitioner, not the style or organization.


That being said, globally Shotokan is by far the most practiced style in the world.


Naturally, this has both positive and negative connotations.


On a positive front it means that Shotokan, due to having the most practitioners, means that a significant pool of these practitioners reach a high level of skill as competitors and instructors.


On a negative front, also due to being so widely practiced, there are also a significant number of low level practitioners, instructors and clubs as well.


In either case, it’s obviously a numbers game.


Some like to paint Shotokan in a negative light through such instructors and groups; nonetheless, I believe it is more important to analyze the people at the top rather than the McDojo’s.


Others and individual groups who teach Okinawan karate and Full Contact Karate, sometimes also claim Shotokan’s inferiority. Claims are that Shotokan is inferior to the karate of Okinawa, which is ‘they claim is the real thing’. And, because Shotokan is not generally full contact, it doesn’t train one for actual self-defense.


Both of these claims are absolutely incorrect, "...just as us Shotokan karateka should not say Shotokan is superior to anything else." That is equally as incorrect. In sum, any of this type of banter is false. Of course, in the case of self-defense, there is truth to this if one doesn’t train for it, and many don’t or do not do so effectively.


Irrespective of the style, one must practice and train to make it effective for themselves: especially in regards to self-defense, but also as an art form. Too many people hide behind style, organizational acronyms, and other irrelevant points. Even behind instructors!


To be excellent involves self-training, seeking the best instruction possible, and seriously aiming to improve. Irrespective of the karate style, if one does these things, they will develop high level skills and the ability to effectively apply them—again, irrespective of style and/or organization. I always say, "Shotokan is the best style for me".


I want to offer 'a deep bow to all of the authentic style styles of karate' and all of the organizations, clubs and instructors who teach their respective arts as budo/bujutsu.


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

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Don Walker Sensei back in Oita

Don Walker Sensei (5th Dan) returned to Oita--between July 10th and 13th--for private karate training. This time, in addition to again bringing his lovely wife Bev, he also travelled with his ten-year old grandson. Beyond the practice in the dojo, and as always, we also had great time off the tatami. 

Don Sensei and me after the final session today: July 12th, 2023

This time I focused on 上級基本 (Jokyu Kihon) underpinning the core/standard Shotokan-Ryu, extended through Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei’s ‘extension of JKA style Shotokan', and real world/practical application of our style. Kata-wise the prime focus was on 鉄騎初段 (Tekki Shodan); however, rather than application this time, I emphasized technical points: namely, (1) 立ち方 (stance) moderation; (2) the command count in relation to 決め (kime) and 技の緩急 (waza no kankyu); and (3) several subtle technical points, which are rare, including a variation of 浪返し (nami-gaeshi). This was later applied and concentrated on in an 足払い (ashi-barai) partner drill. Kumite practice consisted of impact training - which is an imperative aspect of IKS, several forms of 基本一本組手 (Kihon ippon kumite) and 自由組手 の基本動作 (Jiyu kumite no kihon dosa).


As always there was the overarching theme of “…‘Relaxation’ to increase power through increased speed, fluidity and external mental awareness”; furthermore, to avoid self-resistance. Allow me to expand on this simple yet CRITICAL POINT for everyone who reads this: “The muscle that is contracting is the agonist and the muscle that is lengthening is the antagonist; consequently, if these ‘opposite action muscles’ are both tensed, one is ‘figuratively speaking’ hijacking their own movements”. As Asai Sensei always stressed “RELAX”, “SNAP” and “FLOW”.


Overall, I was once again that Don, who is in his 60s, is still seeking to refine his techniques in the dojo. Even coming again to Oita with that quest. BIG RESPECT!!! Lastly, through karate we can build wonderful friendships which go beyond the walls of the dojo. I’d once again like to thank Don and Bev, also Hudson. We look forward to seeing you all again. Until then, 押忍!! — AB.


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

Wednesday 5 July 2023


 A critical ‘key to success’ in karate is for individuals to find what ‘best suits’ themselves. No Sensei in the world, past or present can entirely guide others in these regards. Only each individual can do for this: irrespective of style or art. Therefore, my policy, as an instructor, is to train others to seriously 'seek what best suits' them and practice/train accordingly. This requires a lot of self-honesty, an open-mind, discipline and, often, thick skin. 

I’d like to add here that I’m not patronizing others but, rather, encouraging them to ‘find their own karate’ and, in this way, maximize their individual potential. Moreover, “…to continue doing this as they age and naturally change through time”. In this way, one’s karate will literally keep improving and enhancing one’s life in multiple domains.


One of my senior Japanese trainees suffered a severe back injury from an automobile accident. This injury has, and probably permanently, limited his practice of the kata (plural) and the techniques he can do. Actually, in a strange way the back injury has helped him to become 'a specialist'. Moreover, it has forced him to find the ‘best fit’ for himself. I had the same thing with a terrible back injury in the late eighties and knee injury in 1996. Isn’t that ironic. Injuries, illness and 'wear and tear' are tough but can in fact revolutionize one's karate!


Needless to say, these are merely a few examples. But I could say the same thing about numerous other karateka who have aged, had other injuries, battled illnesses, or just psychologically evolved as they’ve travelled through their life. These karateka have sought to find what ‘best suits’ them and “…their skill has evolved and transcended the masses”.


Think of it like two people separately lost in a large forest. One has a compass, and one doesn’t. Who would you prefer to be with, if finding you way out was a matter of life or death? Not constantly seeking the karate ‘that best suits yourself’ means that you will eventually be just walking around in metaphorical circles. Perhaps you will make incremental gains here and there, but it will be impossible to reach your maximum potential. Interestingly, many high-level karateka come to me to help them back on this budo path; furthermore, this always underpins any technical training that I give. Referencing this point and introducing waza, kata and applications provides a 'blank slate' to really move forward and make measurable improvements. This is why trainees always return. THEY LITERALLY GET BETTER! MUCH BETTER!!!


To conclude, in regard to the application of karate, (and directly related to this topic) always take heed that, “You cannot expect anyone else to protect you if you are attacked”. Accordingly, if high-level budo karate is your aim, inherently you must maximize your potential “…by constantly seeking, practicing and training what ‘best suits YOU”.

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

Tuesday 4 July 2023

André Bertel July 2023 Training Regime

My current training routine typically contains ‘the 3 K’s—基本 (Kihon), 型 (Kata) and 組手 (Kumite)—the technical ‘Trinity of Karatedo’. In the case of kihon I’m practicing a mix of 20 waza/renwaza. 12 of these are その場基本 (stationary fundamentals) and the other eight are 移動基本 (fundamentals on the move). For kata, I’m currently focused on five (four set, and one random/interchangeable daily). And lastly, in the case of kumite I’m having my regular stint of 返し一本組手 (Kaeshi Ippon Kumite). To clarify, I do this as it greatly sharpens the ability to attack with high efficiency, and just “…let the attack do its own thing”; thereby, allowing us to focus on kime in our secondary attack or defend and counter the opponents counter. In sum, it’s training attack and defense/counterattack simultaneously. If one possesses tradition budo/bujutsu waza, this methodology is highly effective in both dojo kumite, shiai and the real world. Today, I will not add sets and reps but, rather, emphasize that I’m training according to my daily condition in these regards. However, each day's self-training is no less than two hours in duration. Okay! So, let’s get on to it. 

押忍 (OSU)!! — AB.







Nakadaka ippon-ken chudan choku-zuki (Heiko-dachi)



Nakadaka ippon-ken jodan choku-zuki (Heiko-dachi)


 三本連突き (平行立ち)

Sanbon ren-zuki (Heiko-dachi)


 中段前蹴り蹴上げ (閉足立ち)

Chudan mae-geri keage (Heisoku-dachi)



Hidari kizami-zuki kara migi jodan gyaku-zuki (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi)



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


 左中段刻み前蹴りから右上段前蹴り蹴上げ (左前屈立ち)

Hidari chudan kizami mae-geri kara migi jodan mae-geri keage (Hidari zenkutsu-dachi)


 右中段刻み前蹴りから左上段前蹴り蹴上げ (右前屈立ち)

Migi chudan kizami mae-geri kara hidari jodan mae-geri keage (Migi zenkutsu-dachi)


 上段揚げ受けから中段外受け、中段内受け、下段払いそして手刀中段受け (平行立ち)

Jodan age-uke kara chudan soto-uke, chudan uchi-uke, gedan-barai soshite shuto chudan-uke (Heiko-dachi)


 裏拳上段縦回し打ちから裏拳上段横回し打ちそして回転裏拳 (平行立ち)

Uraken jodan tatemawashi uchi kara uraken jodan yokomawashi uchi soshite kaiten-uraken (Heiko-dachi)


 縦猿臂から後ろ猿臂、前猿臂、横猿臂そして回転猿臂 (平行立ち)

Tate-enpi kara ushiro-enpi, mae-enpi, yoko-enpi soshite kaiten-enpi  (Heiko-dachi)


 手刀上段外回し打ちから手刀上段内回し打ち、手刀縦落とし打ち、背刀上段外回し打ちそして回転手刀上段内回し打ち (平行立ち)

Shuto jodan sotomawashi uchi kara shuto jodan uchimawashi uchi, shuto tateotoshi uchi, haito jodan sotomawashi uchi soshite kaiten shuto jodan uchimawashi uchi (Heiko-dachi)





  刻み突きから三本連突き (自由立ちから前屈立ち)

Kizami-zuki kara sanbon ren-zuki (Jiyu-dachi kara zenkutsu-dachi)


  上段揚げ受けから中段前蹴り蹴上げそして中段逆突き (前屈立ち)

Jodan age-uke kara chudan mae-geri keage soshite chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi)


  中段外受けから横猿臂、裏拳横回し打ちそして中段逆突き (前屈立ちから騎馬立ちそして前屈立ち)

Chudan soto-uke kara yoko-enpi soshite uraken yokomawashi uchi (Zenkutsu-dachi kara kiba-dachi soshite zenkutsu-dachi)


 手刀中段受けから刻み前蹴りそして縦四本貫手 (後屈立ちから前屈立ち)

Shuto chudan-uke kara kizami mae-geri soshite tateshihon-nukite (Kokutsu-dachi kara zenkutsu-dachi)


 下段払いから中段内受け、前手上段裏突きそして縦拳中段逆突き (前屈立ちから猫足立ちそして前屈立ち)

Gedan-barai kara chudan uchi-uke, maete jodan ura-zuki soshite tateken chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi kara nekoashi-dachi soshite zenkutsu-dachi)


  中段前蹴り蹴上げから上段追い突きそして中段逆突き (自由立ちから前屈立ち)

Chudan mae-geri keage kara jodan oi-zuki soshite chudan gyaku-zuki (Jiyu-dachi kara zenkutsu-dachi)


 連蹴り:中段刻み前蹴りから中段前蹴り蹴上げそして上段前蹴り蹴上げ (前屈立ち)

Ren-geri: Chudan kizami mae-geri kara chudan mae-geri soshite jodan mae-geri keage (Zenkutsu-dachi)



Kizami-zuki kara gyaku-zuki, choku-zuki, oi-zuki soshite gyaku-zuki (Jiyu-dachi kara zenkutsu-dachi)




  平安初段 (Heian Shodan) or 太極初段 (Taikyoku Shodan)


   鉄騎 (One from the Tekki: Shodan, Nidan or Sandan)


   拔塞大 (Bassai Dai)


   慈恩 (Jion)


  自由型 (Free Kata: selected for fun or based on the sessions learnings/focal points). For example, this week included 珍手 (Chinte), 気法拳一勢 (Kihouken Issei) and 騎馬拳 (Kibaken).




返し一本組手 (Kaeshi Ippon Kumite).


I have only been practicing level three Kaeshi Ippon, but in order to explain it, here’s also a description of levels one and two.


 Level One: the kogeki (attacks) are set, as in ‘standard jiyu ippon kumite’ {jodan oizuki, chudan oi-zuki, chudan mae-geri, chudan yoko-kekomi, chudan or jodan mawashi-geri and chudan ushiro-geri}; however, the hangeki (counterattack) must either be chudan or jodan gyaku-zuki. The initial attacker then defends and counters against either of these counter attacks. In sum, the initial attacker counters the defender's counterattack.


 Level Two: This is the same as level one with the exception that the hangeki is jiyu-waza (free technique). This is the most commonly practiced form of Kaeshi Ippon Kumite.


 Level Three: In this variation, which is what I’m actually practicing at present, the initial attack is also free and not announced. Needless to say, this training is really “…on the edge of becoming jiyu-kumite, whilst bridging strongly to the core fundamentals.”


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

Saturday 1 July 2023

KAMAE must be conscientiously active: both tangibly and intangibly

Still from my daily self-training on June 28th, 2023. Movement two of HEIAN NIDAN.

Many non-karate practitioners' question “why do Shotokan karateka have such low guards?” and rightfully so.


The answer to this question is simple: “the dominance of point-based kumite competitions”. To be clear about this, generally speaking a Chudan Kamae (middle-level guard) allows one to most readily stop one’s opponent from ‘snatching a point’ (an ippon or a wazari).


That being said, the typical Chudan Gamae used in kumite competitions still has its place in Budo Karate. 


So how is this the case? Out of distance a Gedan Gamae (or ‘no Kamae’—Shizentai) is employed such as ryoken daitai mae. Once one comes into the so-called ‘kicking range’ the guard raises to Chudan Kamae. And, when coming into ‘punching range’/‘striking range’ the guard rises further into a Jodan Gamae. Please note, this is ‘generally speaking’ as one might use a particular Kamae in a different range for tactical reasons; however, when using the Kamae to cover up, it usually changes according to maai. A good example of strategies interrelated with this can be found in this article here:


Also, and needless to say, techniques transcend categorical ranges. For example, an oi-zuki can be launched and impact from the generic ‘kicking distance’ and tate mawashi-geri, depending on flexibility and strength, can be executed inside the punch/striking range.


I need to add here that the Chudan Gamae and Chudan-waza (in general) are obviously centralized; thereby, with “…merely a slight adjustment jodan or gedan attacks and defenses can be achieved”. Furthermore, practicing Chudan helps one to focus on their own center. While this may seem overly simplistic, that’s because it is! I like the saying ‘it’s easy to make things complicated’. Accordingly, simplifying practice helps to acquire depth of knowledge by removing the metaphorical fog. 

Self-training: June 30th, 2023.

On another note, there’s a saying here in Japan. Based on an opponent of the same height and reach, “the longest reaching waza that one has are Chudan waza (plural)”. This is actually a sports karate perspective. Budo karateka see this same point in another way: “The ‘deepest impacting technique’ are Chudan-waza”. Chudan attacks literally target the spine. This is the ‘traditional aim’.


I need to elucidate that one’s Kamae in Budo Karate is also active in other ways. In particular, Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei was the JKA’s top expert in the field of ducking; that is, ‘head movement—‘bobbing and weaving’ etcetera. Asai Sensei taught that this was inseparable from one’s Kamae. His most famous waza being his technique dubbed ‘the submarine’ where he could suddenly duck under a kick. 


In addition to this, being able to ‘sprawl’ when the opponent attempts a ‘shoot’ or tackle you to the ground is also a part of the Kamae. 


Lastly, one’s 'Psychological Kamae' also exists. This place includes receptivity and reactivity, being able attack or counterattack whilst keeping your defense (like practiced in Kaeshi Ippon Kumite), and Zanshin following your respective actions. The overarching theme in these regards is 無心 (Mushin). In this way, one’s karate functions automatically, with optimal effectiveness, even when suddenly attacked and injured. Without this point—this ‘Kamae’—, even with all the knowledge and the best external technique, one will be overcome by a strong and relentless attacker. Many karateka now fall into this category and cover their inadequacy by ample theoretical banter. Here's a link to an article on the 'psychological kamae', which may be a useful supplement to this post: André Bertel's Karate-Do: Psychological Kamae (

To conclude, Chudan Gamae is important in the right context and for training. Also for those competing. Nevertheless, in real fights and self-defense the Kamae must change according to maai and the opponent's actions. In other words, our KAMAE must be conscientiously active: both tangibly and intangibly.

Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei and Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei: 'BEST KARATE: KUMITE 1"

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