Tuesday, 21 October 2014

HAIEN: Down and out with severe pneumonia

A photo of my training in the early days of this website.
One of my policies, when I write articles on this blog, is “…when I don’t train I don’t write nor post”. My mentality (and not at all a criticism of others) is that “When I don’t train, I have no `right to write’ about karate”. Furthermore, I also believe doing so takes away the kokoro that comes out of this site, which has made it so popular around the world. Unambiguously, in many ways, I suppose this is utter nonsense; nevertheless, I do intrinsically and wholeheartedly believe that when it comes to Karate-Do, training takes precedence over every other aspect. Thinking and writing have their place, but can never replace the hard yards on the dojo floor. I’ve talked about this much before—in past posts—but here I am posting today; indeed and understatedly, without training for the first time in many years.

Anyway, today, I was diagnosed with serious pneumonia (39.6 Degree Celsius fever) and told that I must either be admitted to hospital, or go home and strictly stay inbed. I decided to come home, as I’m not contagious (safe for our new-born baby Mia, and Mizuho).

That being said, the doctor told me firmly “NO WORK, NO KARATE BERTEL SAN: FOR AT LEAST FIVE DAYS!” So, here I am, hypocritically breaking my own rules… Perhaps ironically, I have plenty to do here, study Japanese (desperately need to do more of that), read books, you name it,... Yet, it is really is strange not to teach nor train karate daily… And today is only my first day!!! Oh my…

You might think I’m implying I can’t relax, but that is not true either… Give me a cold beverage and good company; a walk in nature; or, especially at present, time with my wife and daughter, and I am more than relaxed.

So what am I writing about??? Basically, ROUTINES. I couldn’t work out my consistency with karate for so many years. I was really asking myself, and of course being asked by friends and family, “HOW DO YOU KEEP GOING?” I am not bragging when I say this—and you will see why—after I explain routines more specifically.

It is not my personal determination or mind-power that keeps me going. I can’t credit those attributes to myself, insofar as my daily karate training goes; instead, it is that karate training is in `my daily routine’—irrespective of how busy I get in life.

If there is not enough time for karate, I make the time. If that means getting up a lot earlier to self-train etc., that’s exactly what I have to do.

I never jeopardise other areas of my life for karate, especially family. Instead, like water, karate training flows into the gaps of my life and fills them idealistically. Perhaps there is some level of  determination involved; but, more importantly, I have a power which transcends my personal weaknesses (especially that inherent lazy streak, which we all have).

Ewwieeee, so André has a power…  Well, no! As mentioned above, it is primarily routine. Let’s compare daily karate training to the simple action of brushing our teeth.  We don’t stop brushing our teeth two-three times per day because of any factor (at least I hope that no one who reads this does…). Rather we brush on a daily basis to avoid cavities, look as nice as possible, and not `submit the world around us to extremely bad breathe’. What I am trying to say is that karate is simply a routine to me, more so than my effort: otherwise `lazy bones' would certainly win!

MY SECRET—KARATE IS CONTROLLED BY MY ROUTINE: If I am having a great day, and all is super, fine, and yes, even dandy—I still train. If I am feeling tired, glum, frustrated, or anything else—yes, I still train. What I’m trying to say here (and have indeed stated numerous times in the past) is that “Training is not controlled by my emotions: nor love or periodic dislike for karate—which has occurred consistently over the years; instead, it is a part of me. This makes keeping up training `NO EFFORT’ because it is simply what you do. It is primarily cerebral as opposed to emotionally driven. The bonus, not the main point, is what karate does for my body and mind (irrespective of my day). Needless to say, these points make us happy.
A special message for those who competed at the 13th Funakoshi Gichin Cup World Karate Championships. Firstly, congratulations!!! Secondly, the fire is burning hot now, but naturally it will cool. This is a wonderful window of opportunity to routinize your karate, so that your training moves forward consistently from now. The excitement may waver for a little while, but again, don't let this influence/lessen your training. A special thanks to Pinto Karate Dojo: http://pintokaratedojo.com/ for streaming the World Karate-Do Championships live. Also apologies to Lutie van den Berg Sensei and Naka Tatsuya Sensei for being unable to meet with you tomorrow night due to my illness. Of course, I am very disappointed about this.
I’ll wrap now… I hope this little article offers you something. At the very least, if you are a karateka, keep going to the dojo; and, make karate-do your routine: irrespective of how many days a week you can get to the dojo (and especially irrespective of your emotions, which are all too often hindrances to peoples life achievements and, overall, their joy).  If you do this, you will gain the most from your training and will routinely continue; moreover, should you choose to do so, you may well continue benefiting Karate-Do until your old age.

Kindest regards from my Japanese futon, André
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Updated training regime: a return to the sentei-gata

Warming up: my private dynamic stretching routine.
At present I am reviewing the sentei-gata: Bassai Dai, Kanku-Dai, Enpi and Jion. Needless to say, this is a big step from the five Heian and Tekki Shodan, however, I am now tackling `the big four’ in light of them. In addition to these kata I am working on Gohon kumite (Five step sparring); Kihon ippon kumite (Fundamental one-step sparring); and once again going through the JKA syllabus kihon. In my own training this is currently focused on the 9th, 8th and 7th Kyu exams.

Balancing this, at the Kumamoto Chuo Dojo one of my seniors (Mr. Katayama who is in his 70s) is going for his JKA Sandan soon; consequently, kihon practice with Nakamura Shihan has naturally been focused on the Sandan curriculum.  For those of you who don’t know this includes: (1) Kizami-zuki+ sanbon ren-zuki; (2) Jodan age-uke + same arm chudan soto-uke + gyaku-zuki; (3) Chudan uchi-uke in kokutsu-dachi + kizami-zuki + gyaku-zuki; (4) Shuto-uke + kizami mae-geri + nukite; (5) Stepping back with jodan age-uke + advancing with mawashi-geri + uraken yoko-uchi + chudan jun-zuki; (6) Mae-geri + yoko-kekomi + mawashi-geri + gyaku-zuki; and (7) Mae-geri + yoko-kekomi + ushiro-geri kicking frontward, sideward and rearward: before returning the kicking foot to the floor (with both right and left legs). Perhaps a little off topic, but it really impresses me how we can find several of these renzokuwaza (combination techniques) in the 1960s JKA textbook, `Dynamic Karate’. Other groups do this as well, but the JKA have some very special points which pertain to the origins of these waza.
Kanku-dai kata.

That being said, it is very interesting how everything comes back to the core fundamentals—the core foundational principles, irrespective of complex renzokuwaza, kata, kumite, self-defence or impact work. When this is a physical reality—all aspects of training unite—and shingitai can be optimally worked towards. Contrasting my previous months kata training, of the six shitei-gata, with the more advanced sentei-gata; furthermore, my current `basic’ kihon work (in my self-training) with the `advanced training’ (under Nakamura Shihan and Akiyoshi Sensei); and the aforementioned point can be vividly seen.
Presently I'm focusing on deai in jiyu-kumite as depicted here in Germany.
It is from this reference point that the lines between basic and advanced become blurred and often undertake a sort of ‘polar reverse’ if you will. In my case, this has constantly occurred over the last three decades in karate-do and will certainly continue to do so. Such learnings are what make karate so challenging and, at the same time, so enjoyable. Osu, André.

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

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Hirota's Latest Karate Uniform: The `TAKUMI'

A while back I bought the `Takumi’ (Craftsman), which is the latest dogi (karate uniform) from Hirota. I can honestly say that it is the best dogi I have ever worn in my karate career—actually the best by far! Until now, their `Pinak kata’ was, in my opinion, the best karate suit on the market.

Probably the most accurate way to explain the Takumi is that it’s half-way between the `Pinak Kata’ and ‘Pinak Kumite’. It has paper thin material which moves with the body yet it is firm. This means it gets the best of both types of Pinak… Not to mention, it dries rapidly.

Comfort and how a dogi hangs/”sits” on the body are probably the most important points when it comes to karate uniforms, and the Takumi is unparalleled in both of these aspects. Accordingly, I rate this new suit 11/10… `11’ because I can’t see Hirota, or any other companies, ever outdoing it. Of course, I’d like to see them prove me wrong, but I really can’t see this happening. Essentially, this dogi is certain to become “the standard” for all experts (and world level competitors alike).

With all these points in mind, make sure you get the perfect size for you!!! And, as always, I strongly recommend going through Kuroobiya to ensure this: because they are the best in Japan at achieving an optimally fitting dogi. Hamid and his team at Kuroobiya will ensure you get the right size (which is critical, as the Takumi is a fully tailored uniform and thus requires real specifics to get it right).
Hirota's measurement chart... Looks easy, but requires a thorough knowledge of the product: in relation to your own
specific wants and needs.
Here is a link to the Kuroobiya homepage—it is a one of the few karate websites I have bookmarked: http://www.kuroobiya.com.
 Taken as a whole, I can’t overemphasise the excellence of Hirota’s Takumi: this new dogi has lifted the bar to an unprecedented height.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Body imbalance

Body balance is an area that is particularly challenging for me. Not keeping my balance but, rather, vertical and horizontal equilibrium—in relation to techniques. My problem is not my technique; rather, it is my body. In particular, from the accumulation of injuries (from karate and real altercations in the security industry) over the years and, of course, imbalances between strength and flexibility: between the left and right `hemispheres’ of the body. As many of you know, when I was very young, I suffered a very serious spinal injury, which I’ve had to work around for over 25 years.
Why am I writing about this today? Well, certainly not to complain, but rather elucidate that I am taking more action in my own training to mitigate these imbalances; moreover, to help those who read this (you) to self-check for such problems. Obviously, this has little value for those of you working as body guards and as bouncers whilst on the job; however, it will still be useful in your `scenario drill-work’.   

THE PROBLEM OF BODILY IMBALANCES: The problem with such imbalances is that often `we don’t want to recognise them’ in favour of our `better sides’. For example, “more flexibility with one leg that allows for `superiority with particular techniques’ with that leg”; likewise, “…significantly more power on one side that leads to an internalised bias”.

In this regard, I primarily recommend utilising the five Heian kata for study. Then Tekki Shodan. There is so much to be gained from the shitei-gata, actually too much. Worldwide I believe that if everyone properly understood (performed) the Heian kata—on a truly deep level—very few would perform kata beyond the sentei-gata (Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi and Jion). If we are honest, the advanced nature of the `big four’ “…are well beyond most people in the world who are doing the more advanced kata”. You may now be thinking “How can a guy who does so many `additional kata’ say this?” Well, additional kata are simply for specialisation, i.e. – more options in a martial arts/applicative context… For instructors, this is an advantage to best assist students (as one can coach people in accordance to their specific needs).

Secondarily, I recommend kihon ippon kumite for balance. Not just for techniques but the internalisation of movements and principles. This is deep stuff if fully understood…
Conclusion: Returning to the foundation of karate-do—KIHON—we have a complete system, which perfectly connects kata, kumite and real world self-defence. Nonetheless, body balance must be consciously addressed and this requires a significant level of physical (and mental) discipline. I’d like to wrap up by saying that this is extremely worth pondering and testing in one’s training. Besides being good for every karate practitioners techniques (to optimise effectiveness), it is also essential to heighten one’s musculoskeletal health and physical longevity.
Osu, André Bertel.

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

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Talking and thinking too much: Western Karate Drivel

"Learn by doing" - André Bertel (Kumamoto, Japan).
Simplification of practice with deep meaning/study/understanding is exactly what happens, here in Japan, amongst the very top dojo (plural). In conjunction and directly pertaining to this is high level tuition, which is bolstered by a `learn by doing’ as opposed to `the overly thinking’/discussing approach (an approach which is predominant in Western nations).

Recently I was shown some videos of an American instructor who `moves OK'; however, no depth -- no real power, from a Japanese karate-do perspective. That is, lots of technical variations, lots of talk, and theories… Not to mention `sound effects' when the guy punches: yet clearly no real danger with his waza. Here in Japan, irrespective of ideas and lots of technical variations, what counts is that `one can you use their karate in a freestyle context’. In the context, of the aforementioned American, the answer is clearly “not the case”. My Japanese colleagues were laughing as we went through the videos: the comments were "what is this?". If such a person comes to Japan and enters serious training here, “that feeling” he is always talking about (which always coincides with his sound effects) will be replaced by a trip to the dentist.

This appeal in Western countries for a lot of `karate drivel’ is very interesting, and is at the heart of why Western karate is no closer—to traditional Japanese karate—than it was 20+ years ago. There are, of course, some exceptions: but very-very few.

Using the example of Japanese technicians… Think about the likes of Naka Tatsuya Sensei. He teaches numerous variations; however, his technique is perfectly functional in a freestyle context. It transfers from the dojo to street practicality. He has very dangerous karateka. Another such karate expert is Keith Geyer Sensei. Two words, `phenomenal' and `devastating' come to mind. In actuality, all of the top Japanese JKA instructors have this quality. Why not the majority of Western instructors like Keith Sensei? Needless to say, if I lived in Australia, I would be in Melbourne to access training under Keith Sensei. Such non-Japanese true masters of karate-do are soooooooooooo rare!!!!!!!!!

Perhaps some people will not like this post, but it is literally a case of `the truth hurts’. There are, as said above, `exceptions’; nevertheless, I believe this needs to eventually be the norm-- not merely exceptions -- if Western karate is to truly advance. Unfortunately, based on what Western `karate consumers’ want, and how the majority practice karate, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
True karate is effective in the real world, not talk and theory: this is `budo karate'. This is Karate!
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Monday, 1 September 2014

Progressing in Karate-Do forward requires the full circle

Movement four of Enpi kata: hidari chudan kagi-zuki (kiba-dachi).
While I am still strictly adhering to the training programme I started in August the prime emphasis has been on “referencing everything to Heian Shodan Kata”. In this way, whether doing kihon, other kata, kumite or oyo (applications) my training is `H1-centric’.

This training is highly technical pushing me to my limits; nonetheless, it is acutely renewing my understanding. It goes without saying, Heian Shodan always does this to experienced karateka; that is, it presents the ultimate challenge in karatedo: technically, psychologically and, of course, on deeper levels.

I’ll always be a beginner of karate-do in my heart and mind, and also in my training. In saying that and encouragingly, I am far beyond where I was, since returning to Japan in August of last year, “…yet I’m back at the very beginning”. My point here is that “Karate-Do is such a wonderful art”: it pushes us to become whole via a constant cycle. As the title of this post states "Progressing in karate-do literally requires the full circle". In this regard and in this way, I only hope that one day I can truly be a `good karateka’. Despite achieving this target, or not, I’ll continue pushing toward this goal.
Kindest regards from the first day of Japan’s autumn.
Osu, André Bertel  
Movement three of Heian Shodan kata: migi gedan-barai (zenkutsu-dachi hanmi).

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

Monday, 25 August 2014

Latest self-training regime

Here is my latest karate-do training regime. I hope it finds you happy, healthy, and training hard. Especially those, enduring the cold, in the Southern Hemisphere!!! Best wishes from boiling Nippon. Osu, André Bertel       


(A)     Stationary kihon

1.      Chudan choku zuki (hachiji dachi)

2.      Chudan gyaku zuki

3.      Chudan mae-geri

4.      Chudan yoko keage (heisoku dachi)

5.      Mae geri kara yoko kekomi soshite ushiro geri

Hidari mawashi-geri in ido-kihon practice. `Axing' with the josokutei utilising the `roll over of the hips': a traditional `basic'.
(B)      Ido kihon: Kogeki (Tsukiwaza to keriwaza)

6.      Chudan jun zuki

7.      Sanbon ren zuki

8.      Chudan mae geri

9.      Chudan yoko keage (kiba dachi)

10.  Chudan yoko kekomi (kiba dachi)

11.  Chudan mawashi geri

12.  Chudan ushiro geri

13.  Yoko keage ashi o kaete yoko kekomi (kiba dachi)

(C) Ido kihon: Hangeki (Ukewaza to hangekiwaza)

14.  Jodan age uke kara chudan gyaku zuki

15.  Chudan soto uke kara chudan gyaku zuki

16.  Chudan soto  uke kara yoko enpi (kiba dachi)

17.  Chudan uchi uke kara kizami zuki soshite chudan gyaku zuki

18.  Gedan barai kara chudan gyaku zuki

19.  Chudan shuto uke (kokutsu dachi) kara nukite

20.  Chudan shuto uke (kokutsu dachi) kara kizami mae geri soshite nukite

 ·        Repetitions: Stationary kihon – “40+ of each”; and Idokihon – “20+” (not including a 10 rep warm-up set).


i. Kihon Gohon Kumite (Jodan, Chudan and Mae geri).

ii. Kihon Ippon Kumite (Jodan, Chudan, Mae geri, Yoko kekomi and Mawashi geri).

iii. Jiyu Ippon Kumite (Jodan, Chudan, Mae geri, Yoko kekomi and Mawashi geri).

·        Note: All defences and counters `the most foundational’: i.e. kihon-ukewaza followed by gyaku-zuki). Focus on kakato chushin in attacks, and kime in general. Repetitions: Five sets of each form of kumite including one `warm-up set’.


Main focus: Shitei-gata (Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan, Heian Godan and Tekki Shodan).

Secondary focus: Sentei-gata (Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi and Jion).

General—interrelated focus: Tokui-gata (Gojushiho Dai).

·        Daily breakdown of kata training based on my typical ‘seven day routine’ with focus on one or two different kata per practice session. Repetitions: If one kata, approximately 20 reps; and if two kata, around 10 repetitions of each (depending on daily condition).
Hidari yoko-keage doji ni hidari uraken yokomawashi uchi: Movement six of Heian Yondan Kata.
 © André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2014).

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Motivation for the `long haul'

Self-practicing `hidari kizami mawashi-geri' (ido-kihon) yesterday.  
 Often people ask me “what is your key to my motivation in karate-do?” and, while I’ve talked about this before, I’d like to reiterate my mental approach today. I’d like to emphasise here that this is not `something new’, or a `new revelation’ for me. It is reflective of my training since I was very young.

Fundamentally, I believe that “…if we let go of our egos, we become liberated”; and consequentially, we gain a level of motivation which doesn’t waver and `much deeper satisfaction’ from our karate practice. Those who are better than us, we admire and respect; likewise, we do not compare ourselves to those we have surpassed (or are ahead of on the karate path).
This means that that “Your karate then truly becomes `your karate’”; thereby, setting the stage for you to bolt forward and `to really win battles against yourself’. Irrespective of whom you are, what your goals are, and any other factors, I believe this is the ultimate key to motivation in our wonderful martial art.
The ambitious junior or competitor as `a motivator’… As the lyrics of `The Fly’ by U2 go, “It’s no secret that ambition bites the nails of success.” Some see this as a good thing, but I personally disregard this as well (as it only works to a certain level and takes one psychologically away from the highest level of motivation). Again, I’ll say it again, “motivation to me should not be about others”. That way, regardless of outcomes, the process is always emphasised over the product (or result). To me personally, this is the MEANING OF KARATE-DO: the WAY or PATH of karate. Truly, it is THE PROCESS, and quality (and authenticity) of this process, that matters most.

Well wishes for all the competitors and nations attending the 2014 JKA World Championships: I’d like to wish everyone who is competing in the 13th Funakoshi Gichin World Championships, here in Japan in October, the utmost best. Also, I hope you remember my words in this post. Enjoy the tournament, and just do YOUR BEST. To me, just by entering this event—the most prestigious traditional karate-do event in the world—you have already ‘won’ from my perspective. While I’ll not be attending, I admire every person who is entering: whether they go out in the first round or end up contending for world titles. 

By and large, as I wrote in my 1996 karate-do memoirs “…don’t set the bar too low, nor too high. Set it at a height where you are challenged, but not so much that it is an impossibility”; furthermore, and just as important for motivation (and as discussed today), don’t worry about whether some can jump higher than you, or have `yet to reach your heights’. They (others) are insignificant when it comes to your karate! What matters is that “YOU KEEP PUSHING FORWARD without letting your ego becoming puffed up, nor flattened”. Focus on the process: the process of self-progression, which can only be maximised when it is "...devoid of ego that is steered and swayed by comparisons".  This, of course, transcends karate-do.
Kindest regards and best wishes, André.
Movement four of Seiryu kata during my self-practice.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2014).

Monday, 18 August 2014


Every so often I make a complete return to the start of my karate-do training. These days I like to describe it as `a self-reboot’.

Technically, at least for me—because I’m not a naturally talented karateka, not physically big, nor strong—I really need to do this; that is, to go back to the critical details of kihon and work on them in the most detailed way. Needless to say, I am also doing this via yakusoku-kumite/kihon-kumite (especially gohon and kihon ippon, but also jiyu ippon kumite); and—of course, within the `so-called basic kata’ (Heian shodan, nidan, sandan, yondan, godan, and Tekki shodan). Basic... YEAH RIGHT! Humble pie... Yes, certainly!!!

Beyond technique, I use these periods of `starting karate-do all over again’ to assess what karate-do is to me `personally’, and what karate-do truly is: in the traditional Japanese context. This aspect is something I began to do when I first came to Japan for training, at the JKA (Japan Karate Association), 20+ years ago...

At present, while I am doing this `self-reboot’, I'm continuing to practice my current tokui-gata; the four sentei-gata; oyo-kumite; and jiyu-kumite. However, these aspects are currently overshadowed by the aforementioned focal points.
For those, whom have followed my blog for the last seven years, you will know that this strays from my previous `reboots’; nevertheless, I am also attempting `to keep the momentum up’ from my previous months of practice. In this way, `this reboot is doing something a little different’; and therefore, adding a little spice to my training.

This process began on August 15th with a vigorous three day training stint, to commemorate eight years since the passing of my late teacher. I have much kansha for the 13 years I personally learned from him.
アンドレ バーテル

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

Friday, 8 August 2014

Deutschland Seminar Video

Below is a video from my last seminar in Germany in 2012. Like the previous video, from the United Kingdom, these YouTube uploads have essentially been to clean up my files and, hopefully, offer something useful to karateka around the world. As I always say, “we must talk with our karate-do”. In this way of thinking, via photographs and videos, I've aimed to verify my understanding; thereby, giving legitimacy to my writing/articles. The reality is that "....so many say so much, yet we never see their actual karate!"

By the way, many people are saying that since I re-joined the Japan Karate Association (JKA) I’m no longer doing what I have learned over the last 30+ years… I’d like to assure everyone that: (a) I am dedicated fully to JKA; and (b) that I practicing everything I was taught prior to returning to JKA.
Taken as a whole, JKA has been encouraging me to continue practicing my karate in the way I was: prior to re-joining. All the very best from Japan, André Bertel.

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