Sunday, 1 March 2015

Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi)

During training (this and Last week) at the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Central Kumamoto Dojo—Shototakuhirokan, amongst other things, Nakamura Shihan and Akiyoshi Sensei had us work on Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi). Here is a brief description of this variation of ‘Kihon Ippon Kumite’, which is now required during the JKA Examinations for Sankyu (3rd Kyu Brown Belt) and Nikyu (2nd Kyu Brown Belt). I apologize in advance for not having any pictures from the training; that being said, the simplicity of text—that I have used below—will not require corresponding images (as there is a `general overview’ then `kihon drills’ thoroughly detailing each stimuli and response in this form of Kihon Ippon Kumite).

 An overview of Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi):


1.      The designated attacker steps back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi with hidari gedan-barai. They then announce “jodan” then attack with jodan jun-zuki.

2.      The designated defender responds to the attack by stepping back with the right foot into hidari zenkutsu-dachi, lower the weight/centreline on the spot), and blocking with hidari jodan age-uke.

 NB – steps one and two perfectly resemble kihon ippon kumite.
3.      From here, instead of the defender countering with gyaku-zuki they instead counter with jodan jun-zuki. A kiai is executed on this punch.

4.      The person who initially attacked (the designator attacker) then blocks and counters the designated defenders counterattack. This is done by making a full step rearwards and blocking with jodan age-uke and countering with gyaku-zuki. A kiai applied on the gyaku-zuki.

‘Chudan’ and `Mae-geri’ follow the same pattern: This same pattern is followed with chudan jun-zuki (1. chudan jun-zuki attack; 2. defender blocks with chudan soto-uke; 3. they then counter with chudan jun-zuki; 4. the initial attacker steps back and blocks with chudan soto-uke and counters with gyaku-zuki); and, for the Nikkyu-Shinsa, chudan mae-geri is added (1. mae-geri attack; 2. defender blocks with gedan-barai; 3. they then counter with zenshin mae-geri; 4. the initial attacker steps back and blocks with gedan-barai and counters with gyaku-zuki).

To reiterate, here is the complete exercise broken down into six solo kihon drills:

Please forgive me for the simplicity of this, however, —if you are like me and not so good at karate—“breaking everything down into kihon and `practicing over and over again’ is utterly critical”… My apologies for the height of mundaneness in advance!

Drill one: Step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and execute gedan-barai. Announce “jodan” and attack with jodan jun-zuki. Next step back and block with jodan age-uke and counter with gyaku-zuki applying a kiai. Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill two: From shizentai/hachiji-dachi step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and block with jodan age-uke then counter with jodan jun-zuki (kiai). Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill three: Step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and execute gedan-barai. Announce “chudan” and attack with chudan jun-zuki. Next step back and block with chudan soto-uke and counter with gyaku-zuki applying a kiai. Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill four: From shizentai/hachiji-dachi step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and block with chudan soto-uke then counter with chudan jun-zuki (kiai). Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill five: Step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi with and execute kakiwake geda-barai. Announce “mae-geri” and attack with chudan mae-zuki. Next step back and block with gedan-barai and counter with gyaku-zuki applying a kiai. Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill six: From shizentai/hachiji-dachi step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and block with gedan-barai then counter with chudan mae-geri (kiai). Repeat on the opposite side.

In sum, ‘Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi)’ is very simple; nonetheless, it unmistakeably supports to build (and break) some `deeply ingrained’ patterns of fundamental movement; for example, always countering on the spot with a gyaku-zuki. For that reason, the hangeki (counterattacks) with jun-zuki jodan and chudan, and indeed countering with zenshin mae-geri, also develop one’s maai more acutely: as opposed to simply ‘sitting tight’ to counter on the spot. Of course, ‘sitting tight to counter’, in the case of being counterattacked by a well-executed oi-waza, “…will result in being `steam rolled’.” Taken as a whole, Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi) challenges the ingrained habit of the ‘static counter with gyaku-zuki’ and provides a springboard “ more readily move towards `the midway between jun-zuki and gyaku-zuki’”. Last but not least, it offers a fundamentally-based/introductory means of practicing a `win-win’ situation; that is, to attack whilst “being ready to counter your opponents counterattack”.

 PS – I would like to add here that one must keep in mind `who Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi)’ is targeted for’; namely, those testing for Sankyu and Nikyu (4th and 3rd Kyu students respectively). With this in mind, the strict adherence to kihon in this form of kumite readily makes sense: especially pertaining to the development of ‘kime’ amongst ‘kyu grades’ and, indeed, in a testing scenario. Needless to say, this type of practice can, and is, applied in a much more advanced/freestyle way for example in various extensions of jiyu ippon kumite etcetera. All the very best from chilly Japan, Osu! – André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The criticality of jiyu kumite in relation to kihon, kata, and the truth of one's skill

Jiyu kumite with Morooka San at the JKA Kumamoto Chuo Dojo (Shototakuhirokan).

Jiyu kumite is critical. Why? Quite simply, for putting one’s techniques to the test in a freestyle or `non-prearranged’ context. Nonetheless, based on my observations proper jiyu-kumite is rarely done correctly by the majority of karateka; that is, with a direct link to kihon and kata.
Firstly, just what is proper jiyu-kumite? I am not talking about friendly ‘sparring’ here, but really testing oneself in a truest sense of budo. Furthermore, I am not necessarily referring to full-contact bouts either but, again, full contact can indeed be the case. What I am speaking about here is a serious training experience which can be controlled, but not necessarily (this can be mutually decided by the trainees who are engaging with each other). In this way, everything—every technique that is thrown—has one’s maximum potential, whether controlled or not controlled/full-contact; that is, “…just like kihon and kata, no movements are launched without kime”. Put another way, every technique is “full” and applies total-body power with a direct connection to kihon and kata. The only variation is whether, or not, one `arrests’ their techniques. In sum, the kumite literally functions to ‘prepare the karateka’s technique’ for use/self-defence outside the dojo.

Proper jiyu kumite is not sports karate—it is budo applied in a freestyle context: To see this in action, it does not resemble sports karate, because the aim is not merely to tag your opponent, nor does it break away from kihon and kata; instead, the aim is to land your techniques with your entire body—to essentially collide—(a) applying the full application of your body weight; (b) utilising the explosive snap of the limbs; and (c) doing everything from your centre (driving from the legs to the hips and tanden). Needless to say, if partners mutually agree to engage in full-contact like this, one or both will sustain injuries. This is because full-contact in this context (the context of `proper karate technique’) literally becomes a real fight: in quintessence, a serious duel. Without going off-topic, this certainly provides a strong case for utilising sun-dome; and once again, means that “one’s technique does not degenerate from budo (due to `being controlled’)”. Simultaneously, and just as importantly, “…the inevitability of injury, which naturally will occur in serious duel, can be mitigated” (without the `commonplace diminution’ of jiyu-kumite into a watered down form of karate, which is predominantly the case amongst contemporary karateka). In effect, this is vividly seen when jiyu-kumite no longer seems attached to the other aspects of karate and, of course, vice-versa.
Jiyu kumite training at one of my seminars. It is utterly essential to be able to apply effective waza in a freestyle context.
 Jiyu kumite proves the truth of techniques and drills: Ultimately, when the things you try in the context of `proper jiyu kumite’ don’t work/fail (whether “with control in the proper way” or with full contact), you address them; that is, you can work to make them effective via the the trinity of kihon, kata and kumite; or, you can cut them out of your karate altogether. Many non-Japanese instructors are now teaching a vast array complex and flash looking drills; yet, they are impractical unless they can be applied in the context of freestyle. Most of what I see is only useful for demonstrations. Still, these `looks based’ demonstrations/practices coupled with longwinded explanations are gaining popularity (please refer to my article ‘Western Karate Drivel’ here: In this regard, people should question, why is this type of karate not occurring at the top karate clubs here in Japan. Moreover, why aren’t the best Japanese exponents and instructors training and teaching in this way? One can also question “if this this instructor tried this in Japan against a high level exponent, what would happen?” The answer is very obvious.
While I do not advocate jodan kicks for self-defence, one must still be able to apply such techniques in a freestyle context.
Proper jiyu kumite immediately cuts through all useless techniques and, indeed, establishes the technical effectiveness of practitioners themselves. `Feeling based’ training coupled with lots of waffling, and reliance on cooperative partners, is indicative of impracticality. Of course, cooperation is fine—in the low/initial levels of training and coaching (for clarity)—but only if it moves on (and translates into, jiyu-kumite). To be blunt, I can see a large number of prominent instructors, especially those outside of Japan, who wouldn’t want to try their techniques/applications in a freestyle context here… Proper jiyu-kumite thus helps to unveil true budo and true martial artists. Karate must work in non-prearranged circumstances; moreover, the higher up that ladder one is, this effectiveness must be able to deal with increasingly stronger and more skilful opponents—in a freestyle context. Taken as a whole, as I said in the opening sentence, “For me, jiyu kumite is critical”... I will conclude on that note. Osu, André.  
Jiyu kumite with Matt Brew Sensei (Christchurch, NZ).

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Preparatory exercises for Karate-Do

 Recently I was asked by some of my students to provide how I personally warm up (at present) and, pertaining to this, what I recommend for a general Karate-Do class. Whilst there are many variations of `junbi-undo’ I personally divided my `preparatory exercises’ into two sections. I will fully outline my personal junbi-undo below but, firstly, I’d like to outline my philosophy: in regards to `preparing the body for karate’. Before I go on, a quick search on here and you will find that this subject has been addressed at least twice. If you wish to search for a topic simply type it in using the search function (at the top left side of the screen).

Approach in my personal training and for the people I teach: I treat my junbi-undo as a day-by-day/case-by-case and highly variable matter; likewise, I do not push students to harder or lighter—JUNBI UNDO MUST BE A PERSONAL THING… NOT BASED ON EVERYONE PUSHING TO THE SAME LEVEL. Using myself as an example, some days I am sitting in the splits and my hips feel as soft as a baby’s. The next day my muscles can be extremely tight. In both scenarios, I just go with the flow, doing my junbi-undo at my own pace (and this is what I encourage others to do). The good thing to point out here is that in both scenarios, with `case-by-case preparation’, the quality of one’s karate will be equally good. Always remember: the junbi-undo is never a competition to beat others i.e. – stretch lower etcetera; rather, it is a competition for you to not let your ego kick in and specifically “prepare yourself for your karate”. Anything else is asking for an injury and is, therefore, imprudence.

MY PERSONAL ‘JUNBI-UNDO’: (Total time: 10—15 minutes)

Warm up (Approx. 6. Mins)

  1. After seiza, begin with light aerobic exercise; for example, jogging around the dojo, hopping/skipping, star jumps, squats, push ups, light kata and the like. Mix it up!—don’t stick to one thing!!! The key is not to excessively tire the body but, rather, to get the blood flowing. Indicative of this is a light sweat, increased heartrate and a getting a little puffed. This should take about five minutes but will naturally depend on your training environment (e.g. – if training outside in the cold this section might take up 15 minute by itself).

  1. Once nice and warm, joint rotations/movements, and the like, should be completed. Use karate stances i.e. – hachiji-dachi for shoulder circles, hip rotations, neck movements; heisoku-dachi for knee circles etc… Don’t do this slowly, move quickly between exercises (working up or down the body) to ‘keep in a state of warmth’. Around one minute and this section will be finished if the instructor is on the ball; i.e. – neck, shoulders, trunk, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles—over... 
Stretching (Approx. 4—9 minutes)

a. Firstly use the stances to execute passive static stretches; for example, extended zenkutsu-dachi and so forth. Work down to floor stretches and gently hold them all for at least 10 seconds. The variations here are virtually endless, however, the key is relax, not to overstretch, and breath naturally (in essence, this stretching should never be painful; rather, `very comfortable with a light pulling feeling’). After completing these stretches, loosen up the hips again with some rotations for the final phase of preparation. I’d like to add here that there is much debate about using passive static stretches prior to technical practice; nonetheless, from my experience I recommend them to simply loosen up. Please note: if one wishes to work towards more intensive flexibility with deep and long held static stretches; isometric stretches; PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation); and the like, I recommend doing such exercises this at the conclusion of karate-do training; alternatively, as a part of home training or a supplementary strength/fitness/flexibility regime.    

b. The final phase of the preparatory exercises in karate-do is dynamic stretching with the legs. The trainees will all have a very good sweat by this stage and feel very ‘elastic’; furthermore, they will be psychologically well into `karate mode’. Essentially this section can include various knee raises; and controlled straight leg swings to the front, side, rear (and both inside and outside crescent actions). It is possible that you only need to do 10 reps with each leg (per exercise); however, the instructor might opt to do a couple of sets with each leg. That concludes the junbi-undo that I personally utilise and advocate. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Being in the moment

Hidari chudan jun-zuki.
Outlined below is my latest training regime, which I began upon returning from our recent trip to New Zealand. Essentially, the focus--in kihon, kata and kumite--is simplicity and `connectedness'; namely, Shin-Gi-Tai. Paradoxically, my ido-kihon and kata practice is relatively advanced: but I believe this better serves the aforementioned objectives. Before I launch into my practice outline, I thought to leave you with a quote from Funakoshi Gichin Sensei, which pertains to my current focus: "Kantan na momo yoku kachi o seisu" ("The balance between victory and defeat often hangs on simple matters").


Stationary kihon: 1. Migi gyaku-zuki (hidari zenkutsu-dachi); 2. Hidari gyaku-zuki (migi zenkutsu-dachi); 3. Mae-geri (heisoku-dachi); 4. Migi mae-geri kara yoko-kekomi soshite ushiro-geri (hidari zenkutsu-dachi); and 5. Hidari mae-geri kara yoko-kekomi soshite ushiro-geri (migi zenkutsu-dachi).

Ido-kihon: 6. Kizami-zuki kara sanbon ren-zuki; 7. Jodan age-uke kara chudan soto-uke soshite chudan gyaku-zuki; 8. Ipp sagatte jodan age-uke kara mawashi-geri, uraken soshite chudan jun-zuki; 9. Chudan uchi-uke (kokutsu-dachi) kara kizami-zuki soshite chudan gyaku-zuki; 10.  Ippo sagatte gedan-barai kara chudan jun-zuki soshite chudan jun-zuki; 11.  Chudan shuto-uke (kokutsu-dachi) kizami mae-geri soshite shihon nukite; 12.  Mae-geri kara yoko kekomi, mawashi-geri soshite chudan gyaku-zuki; 13.  Mae-geri kara yoko-kekomi soshite chudan gyaku-zuki; 14.  Yoko-keage ashi o kaete yoko-kekomi (kiba-dachi); and 15.  Oi komi gyaku-zuki (jiyu-dachi).

* Reps: I am presently doing less reps than usual. Stationary kihon only 30 of each (+ one set of 10 slowly as a `junbi-undo'). My ido-kihon is five repetitions up and down the dojo once slowly, then repeat twice with maximum snap. When I make any errors, or fail to be satisfied by my execution of any aspect, I perform an additional set (or sets if need be).

a.      Nijushiho
b.      Gojushiho Dai
c.       Random selection from the six shitei-gata (Heian 1-5 and Tekki-shodan).

* Reps: My kata training is where the hard work is at the moment. This is partially why repetitions of kihon are presently lower than normal. Looking at the last few practices and I've been averaging eight to twelve Gojushiho-dai, the same with Nijushiho, and randomly going through the shitei-gata twice each. Needless to say, upon finishing kata, I have jelly-legs: especially my left leg (all of you Gojushihodai fanatics out there will know what I mean)...


Yakusoku kumite: I. `Gohon kumite’ (jodan , chudan); II. `Kihon ippon kumite’ (jodan, chudan, mae-geri and yoko-kekomi); and 'Jiyu ippon kumite' (jodan, chudan, mae-geri, yoko-kekomi and mawashi-geri).

* Reps: My present kumite practice is more technical than full-on; again, this relates to the physical pressure from my current kata training... Consequently, I am only twice going through Gohon, Kihon Ippon and Jiyu Ippon Kumite; however, both times with maximum speed/explosiveness. All counters are either chudan or jodan gyaku-zuki. When I self-train, I am doing this as kihon, and when with a training partner, both kihon then as `kumite' in the standard form. Again, this is very simple practice, yet VERY challenging as it is `pure'.
To conclude, my present training gives me nowhere to hide the numerous weaknesses in my karate; hence, I hope to use it to mitigate these and continue to improve throughout 2015. Irrespective of this, my focus remains on the journey by `being in the moment'. Best wishes from Kumamoto-ken, Japan. Osu, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015). 

Monday, 19 January 2015

New Zealand Seminar Video: January 2015

This video is a mere technical reference for the karateka who attended! Osu, André.

I'd like to also give a very special thanks to my friend Hanshi Renzie Hanham (8th Dan) for making this seminar possible. For more information on Seido Karate Christchurch please visit their website:

Lastly, here's a link to an interview I did with Hanshi three years ago:
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto-Japan (2015).

Friday, 19 December 2014


On January 10th and 11th I’ll be coaching a weekend of Karate-Do seminars in Christchurch, New Zealand. This will be a one off event before I return to Japan. As most people are away (on holiday) at this time, and the sudden notification, it is expected that not so many karateka will attend; nevertheless, this will result in the attendees getting much more personal tuition than usual.

The venue has yet to be decided; however, the schedule will be as follows:

Session one: Saturday 1pm - 3pm

Session Two: Saturday 4pm- 6pm

Session Three: Sunday 9am - 11am

Session Four: Sunday 12pm – 2pm

If you wish reserve a place, please email me directly at: Already karateka from around New Zealand, and from Australia, have confirmed their attendance. For those attending, see you in New Zealand. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Trainee from Sydney, Australia: Leo Pintos

Leo at Kokuzou Jinja.
Leo Pintos, from Sydney Australia, came to Japan to train at my private dojo last week. Leo has attended several of my karate-do seminars (in New Zealand and Australia) so it was great to see him here in Kumamoto Prefecture. I will not specifically detail the training he received—as that is for him—and for whom he chooses to share this knowledge with; however, I will provide a brief outline, and a few photographs, from his training with me here in Japan.

Leo, me, and Morooka san: movement one of Enpi kata.
Day one: After some sightseeing at Aso Jinja (Shrine) the first two hour session began. This covered the subtle points of traditional Japanese kihon that are most commonly misunderstood; in particular, "...the aspects that are essential for budo karate, which essentially work towards the objective of ichigeki-hissatsu (the ability to down an adversary with a single blow)". Again, without going into detail, this primarily focused on foot positioning, use of the legs and hips: essentially, the kahanshin. This training was then seamlessly applied to Enpi kata, Gohon kumite and Kihon ippon kumite. Overall, the proper connection of the '3 K's', which leads to karate being highly effective (for self-defence in the real world), was decisively practiced.
Traditional application of movement one of Enpi.

Traditional application of movement two of Enpi.
 Day two: I took Leo for sightseeing at Kumamoto-Jo (Kumamoto Castle) and Musashi Koen (the park that hosts the grave of Japan's legendary swordsman, Musashi Miyamoto). I have to say that I had a great time hanging out with Leo… Super bloke! Following this, we went for a few hours of training at the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Kumamoto Chuo Shibu under Nakamura Shihan and Akiyoshi Sensei. This session really reinforced the previous day's training as it covered Jiyu Kumite Kihon; Gohon Kumite, Jiyu Ippon Kumite, and several rounds of Jiyu Kumite; and Kata (free-choice). Leo and I performed Enpi based on the previous days practice. Unambiguously, he did really well and everyone at the dojo took a shine to him immediately.

Kime with haito uchi.
Day three: On day three Morooka San and his family took Leo sightseeing here in Aso-shi. This included the famous Daikanbo lookout point where one can see the caldera in its full glory. Following that, the two hours of training expanded on days one and two. Morooka San further emphasised the points covered, and these were expanded upon. My theme again, in this class, was `karate as a martial art’. Kanku Dai was also trained, in addition to Enpi. Once again, the real meanings, and foci, of Gohon Kumite, Kihon Ippon, Jiyu Ippon Kumite were stressed. The session ended with a controlled Budo Jiyu Kumite drill (which must not be `sparring’ but, rather, “reinforce full commitment of the body every time one attacks”). After this training, which I should say was at the new Aso-Budojo (i.e. - not my `refrigerated dojo), a nomikai (drinking party) was well deserved!

Kime with jodan zuki to the throat.
Day four: Leo’s final day of training recapitulated everything on a deeper level. We also covered the oyo (applications) of Enpi, which come from the origins of Wanshu in Okinawa. This was done
via the first level of Oyo Kumite. Again, this is for  Leo, as he took the plunge and came to Japan with Budo Spirit; that is, he talked with his karate and put himself on the line.

Energy dissipated by Morooka San's uke and body shift.
To conclude, I really respect Leo as a karateka and also as a person. Mizuho and I are honoured to know him. Domo arigato gozaimashita Leo San, you are always welcome at my dojo here in Japan. Furthermore, Morooka San, Nakamura Shihan, Akiyoshi Sensei, and all the members of JKA Kumamoto Chuo hope to see you again! You have made many friends in Japan. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).
Kime with migi jodan gyaku-zuki by Morooka San.

Jodan mawashi-geri

Hidari seiken jodan-zuki to the throat.

Jodan mawashi-geri.
Morooka San, Leo, and me, after the Saturday training at my dojo.
Leo: movement one of Kanku-Dai Kata.
Movement one of Enpi at Kokuzou Jinja (Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan). Even though you can't see it, it was lightly snowing.
Leo after training at the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Kumamoto Chuo Branch.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Correct elbow positions in ukewaza

Migi zenkutsu-dachi with migi chudan uchi uke.
The position of one’s elbows when utilizing ukewaza (reception techniques) must be fully understood, and correctly applied, whether using ukewaza for defence, attack or both simultaneously.

A good way to learn this is to learn this is from the top down: especially in a freestyle context such as jiyu-kumite or via self-defence scenario training. Have your partner attack you, and attack relentlessly (without concern of your counter offensive manoeuvre; that is, their safety); accordingly, restrict your actions to only ukewaza.

At first concentrate on (using) your hands: This is typical amongst beginners and is very difficult if the opponent is relatively strong, and aggressive. Secondly, concentrate on (using) your elbows to move your hands. This, in comparison, you will find is much more easy and, understatedly, far more effective. Of course this also equally applies to ashi-uke (leg blocks) i.e. - focusing on the knees instead of the feet. I'd like to elucidate here that I am not disregarding the imperative use of the hips, the criticality of body shifting/footwork, and so forth. Rather, this is an isolation exercise for better understanding the elbows (in the overall context of karate-do waza).

Returning to the "basic" ukewaza, which we train in a formalized context (kihon, kata and yakusoku-kumite), we quickly gain an appreciation of our elbows. From here, let's consider the five most 'standard ukewaza' of Shotokan-Ryu as established by Funakoshi Gichin Shuseki-Shihan, at  the foundation of the JKA (Japan Karate Association), namely jodan age uke, chudan soto uke, chudan uchi uke, gedan barai and chudan shuto uke.

  (1)  Jodan age uke: wrist one fist width from the forehead and forearm diagonal.

(2)  Chudan soto uke: elbow one fist width from the body and bent 90 degrees.

(3)   Chudan uchi uke: elbow one fist width from the body and bent 90 degrees.

(4)  Gedan barai: wrist one fist width above the knee and elbow one fist width from the body.
(5)  Chudan shuto uke: elbow one fist width from the body and bent 90 degrees.
Hidari kokutsu-dachi with migi shuto chudan uke.
In all cases, with the exception of shuto uke (where the sword hand is applied), the blocking surface is one's tekubi (wrist) and, 'fundamentally speaking', all of them target the opponents respective wrists and ankles; furthermore, the power of all ukewaza primarily derives from your centre; most notably, the hips. In particular, this comes from koshi no kaiten, which like all `technical categories' in karate-do can be applied via jun-kaiten, gyaku-kaiten, or a combination of the two (often referenced as 'hip vibration'). However, koshi no kaiten cannot be so easily summarised as "..there are also various degrees of rotation and appropriate usage, which differs `case-by-case'". Additionally, it involves using the seika tanden and numerous other parts of the body (and a vast array of aspects, which establish `mastery'). Needless to say, we could go on and on but, for the sake of this article, I'd like to return to the issue of one's elbows.

So where do the elbows, in the context of the `core ukewaza’, fit in relation to one's overall effectiveness? Well, besides the point mentioned above in the freestyle context (essentially controlling what the hands/wrists “do”), the distance of the elbows in relation to the torso determine leverage. In simple terms, as the blocking elbow gets further away from the body the basic ukewaza become weak. Ironically, if it comes closer to the body (than a fist width) they lose functionality/applicability.

If this point is fully expressed one can create a huge amount of power if the waist is fully applied, via the rear leg, and the shoulders relaxed (all the other aspects such as shime simply add to these points). In this way, the feeling is to attack with both your wrist and elbow as single unit. Suddenly age uke becomes a rising elbow strike; soto uke - a roundhouse elbow strike; uchi uke - a side elbow strike; and both gedan barai and shuto uke become downward elbow strikes. Again, this goes beyond various forms of enpi-uchi...

Another aspect I'd like to mention here is 'over blocking'; that is, executing ukewaza beyond the body or head. A "classic error" is chudan soto uke in, say, Gohon kumite (Five step sparring) where the defender superfluously moves. All of my students will laugh here, because you all know what I'm about to say and what I do when this happens... When someone over blocks, in Gohon kumite (or in any of the forms of Ippon kumite), I immediately punch jodan. For me, when this occurs, they have given me a huge gap of time that I can't resist capitalizing on and—much more importantly—it gives me the opportunity to give my students a `foundational lesson’... I then ask them, "…were you imagining you were also defending someone next to you?" To me this is the benefit of yakusoku-kumite because in any form of 'freestyle' "...superfluous `over-action’ is what will get one hurt in serious dojo kumite or in a match (or killed in the likes of a carjacking, home invasion and the like)".  If such key fundamental points are not second nature in one's technique, even in a basic pre-arranged context—in the somewhat `safety of the dojo’—they certainly won't be able to be applied in an unpredictable circumstance (of a serious match or in a real fight). In sum, it is obvious that "if one continues to practice in this way they are literally reinforcing very-very bad habits". But here's the good news, if you do your ukewaza correctly (adhering to proper kihon and kata) you will not over block; moreover, you will learn to use and adapt to combative variations subconsciously, which is the beauty of strictly practicing budo. I can say this with confidence from my experience in the security industry, on the door, private protection jobs, and in other occupational contexts of my former life.

Some of you reading this may be questioning the 'the elbow one fist from the body' rule mentioned in this article (in relation to chudan ukewaza); furthermore, you may be questioning the issue of techniques such as tate shuto chudan uke. To answer these questions: Firstly, yes it is true that around twenty years ago chudan uke were changed to 1.5 fist widths from the body by Sugiura Motokuni Shuseki-Shihan (i.e. – in the `Karate-Do Kata’ textbooks; however, this has recently been amended to one fist width. This is a minor difference, and 'application-wise' insignificant, but I believe is better, based on further simplification. Simplicity is what I learned to appreciate when I had to use my karate in the real world. Secondly, in the case of some ukewaza, such as tate shuto, the energy applied is different; for example, swinging the uke in an arc. This idea is consistent with muchiken-waza such as kesa shuto uchi, sotomawashi haito uchi and, indeed, various keriwaza.

Migi ashi mae hangetsu dachi with migi chudan uchi-uke.
 A critical error with basic chudan uke: one typical error that is seen by sports kata exponents is making their chudan uke too high. For example, numerous kata 'champions' perform their ryo keito chudan haneageuke (movement two of Unsu kata) incorrectly. Such 'changes' in the techniques of karate, merely for aesthetics or to make performance more easy, is clearly due to a total lack of understanding, faking power, or—in most cases—both. Essentially what they do is turn karate kata into an odd dance form. The same can be seen by their exchanging yoko keage for yoko kekomi, excessive pauses, and performing other superfluous actions. Worse than the athletes doing this are those who copy them around the world! And yes, there are legions of them. It’s what I guess can be termed ‘karate fads’ and unambiguously have no relationship with actual karate—the martial art. In saying that, this helps to identify genuine from the artificial karate.

A key indicator of correctness: "The top of the fist, or finger tips of shuto, when executing the core chudan ukewaza is in-line with the top of the shoulder (with VERY SLIGHT VARIATIONS depending on ones arm length etc.)". Keeping this in mind, with `the one fist width from the body rule', and the elbow bent at right angle: and the correct form becomes immediately apparent. This is the most effective and physiologically/biomechanically strongest position for the core chudan ukewaza... "If you have a look around you will see many sports kata `world champions' who do this incorrectly. Indeed, this is one of the numerous ways of easily separating budo karate (real martial arts karate) from fake karate, which is merely for show". While this may sound like I am repeating myself, I am, on purpose...

Last, but not least, by adhering to the correct form (and principles) of the core ukewaza one can maximize their ukewaza in un-prearranged context: whether the karateka wishes to block/cover/parry, strike, lock or apply a joint lock/dislocation. In traditional budo karate, irrespective of style, "kihon, kata and kumite are one; moreover, this is not merely an abstract idea". Hence, the techniques of real karate always reflect optimal functionality in a freestyle context. The key is to know the 'how's' and 'why's', which are often misunderstood in the greater karate world. Of course, this transcends the positions of one's elbows; nonetheless, "...such points collectively come together and literally establish authentic karate technique, which is grounded on the tradition of optimum functionality".
Kiba dachi with hidari sokumen gedan-uke.
All the very best from Kumamoto-ken, Japan. Osu, André
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).