Saturday, 28 November 2015

Kumamoto Training

With Nakamura Shihan after keiko: outside the Shototakuhiro Dojo
I had the pleasure of travelling back to Kumamoto City and coaching at Nakamura Shihan's dojo: the Shototakuhirokan. It was really great to catch up with Nakamura Masamitsu Shihan, Nakamura Akiyoshi Sensei, the Nakamura Family, Ogasawara Senpai, and a selected group of club members.

Shihan asked me to check and critique the students' kata; namely, their shitei-gata and their respective tokui-gata. My focus was to: (1) refine the students shisei and alignment in relation to their junanasei; (2) improve their kakato chushin; (3) introduce a handful of 'level up' aspects for several kihon-waza (found in the aforementioned formal exercises); and (4) to be able to accurately self-monitor skill development, stagnation, or decline in skill and 'application capacity'. Overall, I saw some significant improvements and, with practice, these will become subconsciously ingrained; and accordingly, will result in large scale improvements that can be easily self-monitored.

I was very lucky, as outside of the training, Nakamura Shihan also gave me some great technical advice from his treasure trove of JKA/Shotokan knowledge, which I deeply appreciate. Taken as a whole, and as I have said before, I highly recommend anyone who lives in (or visits) Kumamoto City to seek Nakamura Shihan's training. Osu, Andre
(c) André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Trainees from Paris, France

Yann and Phinh Robert recently came to my dojo as renshusei. They are karateka from Paris, France, whom are both Nidan (2nd Dan): although they both voluntarily wore white belts for all of the trainings.

Over three days they completed six hours of training with me, which covered critical aspects of Karate-Do (specific for their technical development and their personal requests). It was great to see them both practice diligently and, as a result, immensely improve their efficiency of movement. 

Without going into details, here the techniques we `primarily' focused on: (1) choku-zuki; (2) zenkutsu-dachi; (3) gyaku-zuki; (4) oi-zuki; (5) uraken-uchi (yoko mawashi uchi); (6) enpi-uchi (shihou-enpi); (7) shuto sotomawashi uchi; (8) mae-geri keage; and last, but not least `kihon-wise, (9) key `unsoku' and the (transfer of weight in body shifts - in coordination with junansei). Finally, what was worked on in kihon was applied in kihon kumite and also kata: namely, one shitei-gata (Heian Shodan); one sentei-gata (Bassai Dai), and one non-syllabus kata.

Overall, it was a pleasure having Yann and Phinh in Oita. I am sure they have plenty of karate homework for some time to come! We wish them both the very best! Osu, André.
© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Budo Karate (True) or Non-Budo Karate (False)… How to know?

Here is a simple ‘formula’ that establishes if something is Budo (Martial Arts) Karate or not. Please note, I have used the  physical aspect primarily as it provides a far more ‘clean cut’ way for people to establish what is `Non-Budo Karate' and what is 'Budo Karate'. I believe this is important as there are now so many people wearing black belts who obviously don’t know (and many whom don’t want others to know: due to vested interests and personal friendships). These individuals and groups aside—as already mentioned at the start of this article—there is a simple formula that establishes if something is Budo (Martial Arts) Karate or not. Primarily this post is for all the people seeking true Karate-Do; and more importantly, regardless of  group/organization, instructors background (i.e. – trained in  Japan or not), affiliations (past or present), qualifications (dan, shidoin…), etc.., this will help anyone to see if the training they're observing or receiving is the real deal.

The Formula: Budo Karate OR Non-Budo Karate… How to know?

Firstly, a very easy method to clarify ‘Non-Budo Karate’


1.0 Training/Teaching of movements/techniques that do not connect to/result in effective free-style
fighting (jiyu kumite).

1.1 Can be easily be identified with `over creativity' and a superfluously expanded array of drills and techniques (these, in turn, do not lead the karate toward effectiveness against non-compliant opponents: they are just for ‘show’). This type of training is increasing at a rapid pace outside of Japan. It is what I refer to as ‘the wide path’ based on Biblical analogy.  
This does not happen in the traditional Japanese dojo (please examine the training in JKA Japan i.e. - the Sononbu and others) where ‘the narrow path’ is followed relentlessly. In this way, you can see that `non-budo karate' is trapped lamely inside of movements and ideas: all thought, talk and theory, but does not help—even when it comes to facing up to a mediocre opponent—in a non-prearranged context. 
Put another way, if karate is only useful in a pre-arranged context, it is just movement that perhaps resembles a martial art but has unreliable `combative substance'. This is all too common-place now: especially outside of Japan where ‘learning tricks’ and ‘feeling’s seems more important than developing truly reliable techniques.

1.3 Another way to identify non-budo karate is too much waffling. Many instructors are demonstrating so many different types of movements and techniques now, and are talking their heads off in the class. The class is all about them, and what they ‘know’… Of course, this knowledge is merely self-created and copied on a surface-level. Yet, people are sucking it up, because they want to kiss, hug and ‘get real deep’ about karate… “Oh, man, I can feel it! Thank you Sensei for teaching me ‘that feeling’ and giving me the knowledge. Wow! You’re as good, maybe even better, than  all those Japanese guys because they don’t know about the ‘feelings’. Hey, we even got a work out!”

1.4 Not coincidentally, the standards of students who are instructed by groups and instructors teaching `non-budo karate are not high. And those who are talented who do go, clearly do not understand what budo karate is… If they did, they would realize they were wasting their time if seriously seeking karate is their aim... Nevertheless, from the entirety of this article, it will be clear. 
Last but not least, while this is not a ‘definition’, it is a very easy way to recognize non-budo karate: compare everything to top level Japanese classes. One can nowadays easily do this on the internet. If the training looks different (obviously not in level, but in style of practice and teaching), there should be some alarm bells going off in your head.

I’d like to wrap up that some may claim that ‘non-budo karate’ is still karate; however, I won’t argue that, as it is not the point of this article. My objective is to concisely point out ‘what Budo Karate’ actually is and isn’t, in accordance with the technical understanding (and training/ practice methodology that follows this ‘understanding’) here in Japan. Of course, in my case, I LITERALLY KNOW FIRSTHAND that anything that is ‘non-budo karate’ is not true karate; moreover, I believe “…people and groups teaching ‘non-budo karate’ are spreading an art, which insults the martial art”.   

OK, so lets move on to what Budo Karate actually is... Again, here is very easy way to ‘clarify’

BUDO KARATE                                         

1.1 Budo karate is defined by all techniques leading towards effectiveness in a real conflict. The techniques and drills all direct one towards this technical aim. 

1.2 Accordingly, kihon, kata and kumite are one: the heart of all actions being ichigeki-hissatsu (to finish with one blow). Budo karate therefore naturally steers towards the technique and power the top Japanese exponents, as this is the only way to follow to achieve this outcome. There are no tricks or gimmicks, no short cuts and no way to avoid getting hit. Training is repetitious and tough, with priority on the most `simple' kihon practiced in the most direct manners with brutal criticism, and relentlessness (the only real way to hone reliable weapons for a real fight).
Many Westerners are attracted to 'non-budo karate' as it involves less hard work and less danger. They would prefer to play karate rather than learn the real thing: theorize, think and play with a hybrid movements/combinations/drills. What's more, and profoundly incorrect, is that they convince themselves that 'what they are doing' (or what they are being taught) is budo/traditional. As soon as this gets pointed out, they start panicking, as they deep down know that they aren't practicing the true karate. This is fine, I personally don't care what they do, but it is clearly wrong that they claim that what they are doing is 'traditional' or 'budo karate'. Why? Because it unambiguously isn't and is, hence, deception.

If what these people are doing is budo (as some may groundlessly argue), then why are the authentic karate dojo of Japan not teaching and practicing karate this way? Is it because these groups and instructors are better than the likes of the JKA Sohonbu??? If someone thinks this way, they seriously deluded and, yes, some are. Needless to say, the revolving door of talent in the traditional Karate-Do clubs of Japan speaks, undeniably well, for itself.

I'd like to wrap up by saying that while my home is in Japan, I am proud New Zealander; however, irrespective of being a `kiwi', karate-do must follow the Japanese way: BECAUSE KARATE IS A FORM OF TRADITIONAL JAPANESE BUDO. Likewise, if one does the Haka, it must be done the Maori way, this is no different from Karate-Do. Anything labelled as budo karate which does not result in effective technique in a freestyle context, and doesn't follow the Japanese way (as explained in my summary of 'non-budo karate') is, quite simply, not budo. It doesn't matter if fancy moves are taught, the instructor is nice, the dojo has Funakoshi Sensei's portrait, on wall etc...

In sum, this is not about affiliations (organization), nationality (you certainly don’t need to be Japanese), nor country (you don’t need to live here in Japan) but, rather, the points made above pertain to actual technique and training methodologies that define true Karate-Do. As I have stated above, those individuals (and groups) who are pretending to teach/practice Budo Karate will be annoyed by this post, as will their students. However, I would prefer to provide a transparent lens for wider society to see through this rubbish—should they wish to—and seek instructors and clubs who follow the Japanese way: as unequivocally outlined above. I for one will always follow Budo Karate as any other way is literally fake, and will get myself and my students in serious trouble ‘should karate be needed’ outside the dojo. My many years in the security industry taught me that all too well. As a result, I personally take Karate-Do very seriously to defend myself and my family (and also have full responsibility for those whom I instruct). So people playing around with it just to be creative or to make themselves look cool; get more students; make money; or otherwise—irrespective of how friendly and articulate they may be—regardless of 'feelings' are nothing more than tricksters.
Let's spread the word about what Budo (Real) Karate is! Osu. André Bertel.

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Trainees from Western Australia

The most `simple' of kihon technically determines everything in Karate-Do.
Ken and Helen Bainbridge and a small group of their students (from Western Australia) came for a one-hour karate lesson in Oita today. The session consisted of the `essential points of kihon', which are expressed by the top karateka here in Japan: behind closed doors.
The main techniques covered were choku-zuki, mae-geri keage, gyaku-zuki, oi-zuki and basic movement in zenkutsu-dachi. In all cases, I stressed relaxation the correct use of kakato (the heel); furthermore, to make and utilise a proper shomen and to `erradicate any wasted movement'.
The correct twist of the forearm when making any form of straight punch was stressed; likewise, the use of a proper hiki-te (the 'pull back hand'). In particular, specified `shime' (choking/squeezing) of the elbow in this action was closely monitored. Within this, 'forward projection of energy' was explained and studied; for example, if 'throwing a towel' with ukewaza (reception/blocking techniques) the towel must go forward. I could see that this point `clicked' straight away with Ken; moreover, it pertains to not 'overblocking'. This study should be advanced to the next stage.

Training and practicing kakato-chushin. This multi-dimensional point results in extreme improvement.
Mae-geri was used to show the criticality  for both shime and `tai no shinshuku' (the contraction and expansion/stretch of the body).  At the same time, not using `koshi no kaiten' (the rotation of the hips) but keeping the hips `sono mama'; thereby, staying as square as possible throughout the kick. Critical point: toes, ankle, knee, relax and hiki-ashi. The ratio in the speed  of `snap kicks' is 3:7.
I hope Ken, Helen and the members of their dojo work hard to master what I taught them today. The points covered are the base gems for long-term and very high-level development in Karate-Do. These points were totally new for them and I could see, `blew their minds'. Of course, I make no apologies whatsoever. Please practice harder but keep the body relaxed! 

As always, these notes are a reminder of the key points covered for those who train with me; hence, I have not given extensive details (as they are theirs, for 'putting themselves on the line' by coming to train).

We wish Ken, Helen and their students a safe journey home to Australia; also, to push forward in technical development from the points practiced today. Kindest regards! Osu, André.
Toes, ankle, knee, relax and hiki-ashi...You now understand, don't forget, and make good keriwaza.
© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Foreign Renshusei (Trainees)

The following list includes the non-Japanese karateka who have come (HERE IN JAPAN) for private lessons with me. Others have come to train, but the following have: (1) officially applied to be renshusei; (2) have been accepted; and (3) have come and completed training as renshusei:
Name                                  Country of origin                            Year(s) when trained
1.   ROBERT, Yann                   FRANCE                                              2015
2.   ROBERT, Phinh                  FRANCE                                              2015
3.   BAINBRIDGE, Ken             AUSTRALIA                                        2015
4.   BAINBRIDGE, Helen         AUSTRALIA                                        2015
5.   MORALDE, Noel                AUSTRALIA                                        2015
4.   MORALDE, Heidi               AUSTRALIA                                        2015   
7.   GOTO, Ryu                         UNITED STATES OF AMERICA         2015
7.   LAMPE, Peter                    GERMANY                                          2015
9.    KÖHLER, Frank                  GERMANY                                          2015
10.   SCHÖNE, Rainer                GERMANY                                         2015
11.   PINTOS, Leo                       AUSTRALIA                                       2014
12. JORDAN, Pietro                 ITALIA (based in CANADA)              2014
13. LEHMANN, Christa           SWITZERLAND                                   2014
14. DILKS, Morgan                  NEW ZEALAND                                  2014
15. RIVAS, Sergio                     SPAIN                                                 2013
16. DUKAS, Bryan                    SOUTH AFRICA                                 2010
17. KALLENDAR, Paul             ENGLAND (based in JAPAN)           2010
18. JEHU, Lyn                           WALES (based in JAPAN)                2009
19. DILKS, Morgan                  NEW ZEALAND                                 2008
20. LEHMANN, Christa           SWITZERLAND                                  2008
21. KELLY, Ben                         IRELAND                                             2007

PLEASE NOTE: This list will be periodically updated and re-published when foreign karateka come and complete training at my dojo.
Application to be a renshusei: To apply please email me directly at: In your email include the following: i. your proposed dates to train; ii. full details: if other karateka will be coming with you; iii. dan rank(s); iv. age(s)—please note, those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent/caregiver; and (v) any questions/inquiries that you may have.
 © André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Thursday, 15 October 2015


Introduction - Kihon, Kata and Kumite are one: I was given a request to write some notes on choku-zuki. I hope that readers will find these useful. Before I begin, I'd like to emphasize two utterly critical points. Firstly and fore-mostly,  kihonwaza (the fundamental techniques)—and, indeed, kata, yakusoku kumite, etcetera—never stand alone. They must also  be practiced in a freestyle context; that is, in jiyu-kumite (dojo kumite, traditional shobu ippon or otherwise).If they do not relate to an free actual engagement, they are nothing more than movements. Secondly, and inseparable from the first point: "always extend the practice of all attacking techniques 'being worked' into `uchikomi training' and/or hitting the makiwara/sandbag". Put another way, hone your tsukiwaza into effective weapons  (" working them the way you actually /will use them"). To provide an analogy, think of a pro-baseball player like Japan's Suzuki Ichichiro... Of course, Ichichiro doesn't just `solo practice' swinging his bat. He also has  to practice his swing against high level pitchers, so it will be effective in actual games. Yes, fundamental training such as solo work is essential, but training cannot stop there. How and what you practice is what you will become. So many instructors and dojo (clubs) fail to directly link kihon, kata, kumite and kata application to freestyle. Kihon for kihon's sake, kata for kata's sake, application losing kihon and kata, kumite just to win competitions... These are all wrong if one is seeking authentic Budo karate. My point here is: never loose sight of the fact that 'the training of techniques' (irrespective of what they are) must lead to a pragmatic outcome; that is, 'to how the technique will actually be applied'. Yes, the three K's are one and, thus, choku-zuki is a significant piece within this puzzle: as it underpins all of the linear punches of Shotokan-Ryu (and arguably, the circular punches as well)…

Choku-zuki tuition and adaptability: On to the 14 key points that I PRESENTLY EMPHASIZE in the instruction of choku-zuki. I say 'presently emphasize' as these points naturally evolve/adapt depending on my own karate training objectives/needs; increased learning from my seniors here in Japan, my colleagues, and my own daily practice; the needs of those whom I coach; and so on. Also, these points naturally vary in degrees of emphasis based on people's innate and learned differences: both correct and incorrect. Irrespective of such a seemingly ambiguous remark, I believe that these notes can immensely improve one's physical understanding, training, and application of choku-zuki; and consequently, this will improve other tsukiwaza, and Karate-Do in general.


1.   Shisei (posture) correct: alignment of the pelvis/hips, backbone and neck/head position. For me, this is the start point of all techniques as it determines everything else. Once you have a 'set shisei' based on a precise shomen/zenmi in hachiji-dachi you have the canvas for a good choku-zuki and Karate-Do in general. This sounds simple, and it is, but when movements, centre of gravity, positions, and environmental aspects change: it can be challenging. Never forget, posture influences balance, breathing, emotions, self-confidence and spinal health.

2.   Eyes fixed and zanshin diligently maintained: Imagine at triangle formed by the shoulders and eyes. You must be able to see all four limbs of an opponent and have maximum peripheral awareness for other opponents/harmful stimuli. Practice this, even without an opponent in front of you. In this regard, try to empty your mind and to fully be in the moment; that is, be 'open' to your environment as opposed to being closed and, therefore, `restricted within yourself'. Needless to say, this is not only visual, but relates to your other senses and constitutes zanshin. I make no apologies if I sound a little ‘Zen’ here. I'm certainly not a Buddhist but a clear mind in fighting is very difficult to achieve, due to fear and adrenaline; nonetheless, this should be the ultimate aim of every martial artist. I'll add here that while I've had moments of mushin in kumite (and in real fights, whilst in the security industry), I’m far from consistent in this regard. Moreover, I sincerely believe that this is at the helm of martial arts mastery: literally beyond technique.

3.   Hiki-te parallel with the floor (this is one is a present weakness I have), shime applied to the wakibara (arm pits) and hiji (elbows): The `feeling' is tension from the skeletal system as opposed to the muscles much like `pulling back the string of a bow'. The hiki-te and the firing out of the punching arm, when practicing choku-zuki, is the first and most obvious example of tai no shinshuku (the contraction and expansion/stretching of the body) for beginner karateka.

4.   Seiken of hiki-te and punching hand correctly formed and twisted (hikite - small finger side higher; tsuki - small finger side slightly lower): Note: Please use this, and points 1-3, as a reference for all Karate-Do techniques).

5.   Trajectory of the tsuki is straight from the 'hiki-te position' to the chushin (edge of seiken on the chushin upon completion): Note, this is merely a reference for targeting practice. Of course, in application it always 'case-by-case'; accordingly, this elucidates the discipline of fundamental training, which makes the freestyle forms of techniques much easier to perform - if techniques are trained correctly and with enough repetitions.

6.   The forearm of the punching arm/wrist is turned over at the end of the tsuki: Apply shime to the punching with the feeling of ura-zuki across the path (a good point of reference is the punch going from ura-zuki to tate-zuki and finally seiken-zuki with the elbow brushing the side of the body as opposed to flaring out). Many instructors more-so focus on the tate-zuki in this action; however, I personally recommend ura-zuki if one finds their twisting of the wrist forearm troublesome. This is because the maintaining of ura-zuki, with subtle shime, will still eventuate in a three range transition, but is easier to control at high speed: which will obviously still encompass tate-zuki/tate-ken when `corkscrewing' into seiken (but at an imperceptibly slightly later movement in one's punching action).

7.   In the case of the hiki-te, do not hit/slap the body but, rather, bring it straight back to the side: Try to `out-speed' your punch with your hiki-te whilst, at the same time, still harmoniously working together. Note - slapping the body with the hiki-te may create at false sound of power, which may impress amateurs and sports karate lovers, but it will also reduce your speed and power (by not traveling on the b-line). In other words cheating to look (sound???) stronger literally results in cheating and undermining one's karate prowess.
Funakoshi Gichin Sensei practicing an `angular choku-zuki' on the makiwara.
8.   The hips remain in shomen by one of two methods: (a) the simple form: the hips remain `sono mama' (unchanged/where they are); or (b) by hip vibration: slightly going towards the punch then reversing back into shomen. Put another way, this `koshi no kaiten' is the combination of jun-kaiten (regular rotation: hips going in the same direction of the technique) followed immediately by gyaku-kaiten (reverse rotation: the hips moving in the opposite direction/inverting into the technique). What is ironic is that the first method, where the hips remain motionless, is actually far more difficult.

9.   The shoulders remain either: (a) perfectly square (the simple form); or (b) snapped; that is the front of the torso and hips remain square, however, the back muscles are engaged: via the stretch/extension of the deltoids. Point of note: some instructors disallow the use of `shoulder snap' in the `core' kihon, kata and yakusoku-kumite. I completely respect this approach and understand the logic underpinning it; however, I personally advocate extending the deltoids to engage latissimus-dorsi. In my case, I am physically not strong and my reach is short... Accordingly, to not gain some extra power—from my lats—and a bit more reach, in my case, would unequivocally be nonsensical.

10.  Power is generated from the ground, up through the legs, and from the centre of the body: This point highlights the adage of ichigekki-hissatsu (to `finish off' in a single action': drawing every millimeter of power to deliver an optimal blow). Paradoxically, to achieve maximum power from the ground, and then to utilize the body optimally, techniques are delivered with junansei (softness), smoothness and natural energy: as opposed to being `forced' or 'brute strength'. Yes, brute strength works well in real fights if you are big and strong (and aggressive), but if the big, strong and aggressive person keeps in a state of relaxation, they will be far more dangerous. Try to think of lightness and speed to snap (or whip out) your techniques. In this way, you will only use the muscles you need and avoid curtailing your transfer of power. I tell my students to imagine their muscles hanging off their bones and joints, thereby, helping them to eradicate muscular tension. The 'way power is generated' is without a doubt 'THE major difference between Japanese karateka and the majority of their non-Japanese counterparts'. Don't get confused about `kime' and lock up the muscles, instead, think of kime as being: (a) `where you decide to complete your punch or technique': decide the target and, (b) in the case of kumite, also the depth of your target penetration. Let the body do everything naturally. Compare a choku-zuki where you are relaxed and one where you consciously tense all your muscles for a split second. Likewise, get on the sand bag and test your tsukiwaza. You want to dent the bag not push it. Please don't mindlessly believe what I say or write, test it yourself!!! Finally, just to relate kime to `generating power from the ground', just remember that "...kime is a decision to use your entire body to achieve maximum output": it is to conjure up every source of energy possibly to decisively impact on the opponent. This, as Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei pointed out, is a unique characteristic of the techniques of Karate-Do. Furthermore, this is why Karate-Do capacity is not totally dependent on the advantages of size and strength.

11.   Remember to breath naturally: Unnaturally holding one's breath is never good. In saying that, the percentage of breath held/reserved and exhaled can be varied for maximum effect. Avoid audible breathing without purpose. This is not only Hollywood karate, but also exposing your breathing pattern to your opponent(s). With the exception of the kiai, breathing should be full, yet (in the case of Shotokan) stealthy. Learn to attack on your opponents inhalation and to harmonize your breathing with their's. This skill is one possessed by all senior karateka irrespective of audibility.

12. Targeting, basic points in regards to tachikata (stance) and other bodily weapons: In the case of choku-zuki, the typical targets are the jinchu (the area just below the nose/upper lip), the suigetsu (solar-plexus), and the myojo (basically the lower abdomen just above the groin). Furthermore, the stance in basic training tends to be shizentai/hachiji-dachi and kiba-dachi. Practicing a straight punch from the natural position/hachiji-dachi, on the spot, is unambiguously a very important exercise for actual self-defence (that is, punching immediately on the spot). Choku-zuki in kiba-dachi is superb method for finding your chushin and checking how efficient your body balance is: in regards, to uniformity and dividing the torso in half. Beyond seiken as the base practice of choku-zuki, other karada no buki (weapons of the body) must be practiced i.e. - nakadaka ippon-ken, teisho, shihon-nukite etcetera. That being said, seiken is the main practice as it is the base of hand strength. This is something I came to profoundly appreciate thanks to Nakamura Masamitsu Shihan in Kumamoto (Shototakuhirokan), where I trained for two years.

13.   Choku-zuki body action can also be improved with various forms of unsoku (leg movements): for example, yori-ashi, 90 degree turns, 180 degree turns, 360 degree turns, jumping, and so forth. Likewise it can directed towards different targets/directions i.e. - 45 degree, 90 degrees etc. Such training allows one to “…further develop the fundamental principles of choku-zuki, via various body shifts”; thereby, stimulating accelerated technical progression. In this regard, also consider the choku-zuki found in Bassai-Dai, Kanku-Dai, Gojushiho-Sho and other kata, which all DIRECT RELATE to oyo (practical application).

14.   For high level Karate-Do practitioners, the body is divided into many sections, which can be used together, separately and various orders: For example, the front of the torso alone is divided into six specific parts. This point elucidates VERY HIGH LEVEL Karate-Do and requires extreme mastery of the fundamentals: resulting in special execution of techniques and jiyu-kumite application. Taken as a whole, whilst choku-zuki is widely classified as 'simple technique', it can be used to train advanced Karate. Indeed, this is a generic rule that pertains to all of the core fundamental techniques.

Brief Conclusion: In all of this, there is a danger which can cancel out the very purpose of Karate technique, which was stressed at the start of this article. This purpose is that "...Karate as budo, is a martial art of actual effectiveness, as opposed to being merely `art for arts sake'" (as I often state in my articles). This danger can be elicited by two common means. The first danger, as stated above, is by 'not directly connecting techniques and drills to freestyle application'. The second danger, is when one gets 'so bogged down in technical details' that they also get swept away from technical pragmatism.

Solutions: The means for countering these issues are actually rather simple: (1) by prioritizing and actively seeking effectiveness at all times (what I refer to as `Budo Intention'); (2) regularly completing high repetitions of the core fundamentals such as choku-zuki (thereby, honing `consistent' excellence); and (3) constantly engaging in competitive `dojo jiyu-kumite'. In this way, the key points of any given technique become second nature for the body: as opposed to being nothing more than theoretical notions and flash drills, which can't be used in real world self-defence.

Again, I hope you have found this article useful and that it once more reflects how—in traditional Japanese Budo Karate—kihon, kata and kumite are literally one. Kindest regards from Oita, Japan. – André.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2015).

Friday, 25 September 2015

Power flow: the outcome of junansei

One of the key points of the karate that I inherited is what I refer to as `power flow'. This way of moving means that techniques are performed in one coordinated/flowing action via the joints, as opposed to `conscious use' of the muscles.

Just as important is that the joints are used in the correct order like following the links on a chain. For example, in the most basic terms for a beginner, a mae-geri keage starts with the toe joints of the kicking foot; then the ankle of the kicking foot and the heel of the support foot; from there; from this point, the knee joint and hips (and the natural contraction of frontal abdominal muscles, one of the many forms of shime, which I won't go into here); and finally, the knee joint to return/recoil the kick. Of course, and once again, this is the most basic type of example and does not include many utterly integral aspects such as shisei/setting your hips/spine/posture; chushin; the aforementioned and `seemingly paradoxical' aspect of shime, and so forth. 

Taken as a whole, 'power flow' essentially allows one 'to move primarily by their technique as opposed to forcing their actions'; accordingly, it therefore highlights such old adages as "...technique is more important than strength" and "less is more". Returning to the example of mae-geri, we can often see lower grades kicking hard with brute muscular force, whilst higher ranks (who are deserved of their grades) are 'relaxed and whip-like'. The lower grades are in fact fighting themselves when they use brute power, as they are using both sides of their muscles (e.g. - simultaneously contracting, say, the quadriceps and hamstrings) and, thus, limiting the velocity of the attacking limb (what is often termed as `self-resistance' here in Japan). What's more, they are destabilising their entire body by exerting unnatural force and, in particular, exerting unhealthy pressure on their bones, ligaments and tendons. Conversely, the higher grade using power flow, is faster, their torso is more stable, their output/impact potential in general is much greater, and they are less likely to acquire injuries. Indeed, there are even more advantages... Power flow, as mentioned before, allows one to use the joints more freely, more aligned, more smoothly and in the correct order. What's more, it frees the mind, as when one forces techniques the tendency is to become `mentally locked' their own action as opposed to having optimal zanshin.
 Actually, there are many other advantages of power flow, such as the ability to execute unpredictable henkawaza (continuous/combination techniques) and the capacity to develop top level deai-waza (meeting techniques), but I will leave these for you to discover via training. To help prove my point, think of the women's kata at the JKA  (Japan Karate Association) All Japan Championships... How and why can those lightly framed Japanese girls move so sharply/powerfully and have such technical precision? Even now in 2015, no one comes technically close... Why is that so? Is it because they are small? Is it because they are Japanese? Is it the Japanese physique? No! The answer is that they are fully expressing power flow in their techniques, which comes from correct training of Karate-Do technique. Another great example are the children's kata divisions. The reason they are often so sharp is quite interesting... It is because their muscles are underdeveloped!! Think about that for a moment, and self-apply: if you do you will really improve your karate... I'd like to stress here that I am 'by no means saying muscles are bad'. On the contrary, the stronger your fast twitch muscles are, the better you will be. My point here is that, "...stronger muscles are stronger at holding you back if you use them incorrectly"; that is, without using power flow.
Away from kata, a basic experiment is to engage in jiyu-kumite with a senior grade, who is a skilled kumite exponent (I'm saying that for mutual safety), and try to punch, kick or strike them with all your might/muscle strength. If they are indeed skilled, you will stand no chance against them. Contrastingly, then change into a complete state of physical relaxation: it will be immediately evident that this is infinitely superior. This brings a major question to rise... Why are so many karateka relaxed in kumite yet stiff in kihon and kata? Probably, they answer is a lack of physical understanding and/or awareness of power flow. Irrespective of the reason, it is critical to know that power flow is not a theoretical point. It cannot merely be cerebral. Likewise, the trinity of the `The Three K's (Kihon, Kata and Kumite) cannot only be something people give lip service to. One must practice techniques over-and-over again, year after year, to make it a physical reality that permeates
through every aspect of one's karate. Consequently, the essentiality of the foundational techniques--and high repetitions of them--is once again vividly illustrated.

In sum, real power in Karate-Do comes from correct technique, which is primarily from the proper positioning, and moving/synchronisation of the joints, which can only derive from power flow. Yes, the muscles are what move the joints; however, power flow can only be achieved when unnecessary muscle tension is eradicated. The wonderful thing with power flow is that it allows the muscles to naturally/autonomously do what they are meant to do: in the best way possible. To further illustrate this, imagine the professional boxer, tennis player, and other such high level athletes. You never see them consciously tensing up. Yes, you can see the muscles contract when the boxer connects his punches. And yes, you can see the calf muscles of a tennis player tense when they stretch their stance (when launching across the court to return an incoming serve). But neither the boxer nor the tennis player are consciously tensing in these actions, the muscles are simply tensing based on the action being performed. I'll repeat that one more time: tension is the result of action only, not a conscious point of/within the action.

Here's a simple test (to establish your power flow and make some serious corrections/improvements): Make a kizami-zuki with your fingers extended, like a nukite but loose. Whip it out and back as snappily as possible. Now, do the same thing with a normal kizami-zuki; that is, from a proper kamae and with a properly formed seiken. If the speed of your normal kizami-zuki is not close to identical (to the first exercise) you are definitely too stiff. With a little practice, you can achieve identical speed. This is merely step one. The next point is to be able to do the same with age-uke, mae-enpi, yoko-geri keage, yoko-geri kekomi, shuto yokomawashi uchi etc...

On the whole, irrespective of how one labels it, 'power flow' is the most important aspect of using natural energy in Karate-Do. It allows the full expression of the joints/intersections of the human body via junansei (softness) and, just as importantly-if not more, it permits the muscles to work in an optimal manner to achieve this objective.
© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Back to the fundamentals: A restart with a relocation

In the recent weeks we've been settling back into Oita. Since moving I decided to go back to the core kihon of karate-do and kihon-kumite; in particular, gohon-kumite (five-step sparring) and kihon ippon-kumite (fundamental one-step sparring). Perhaps paradoxical to those reading this, my kata training has been extremely broad. The reason underpinning this is that I’m currently renewing my tokui-gata. To provide a concrete example of this broadness, yesterdays training concluded with Sochin, Gojushiho Sho, Hangetsu, Nijushiho, Tekki Nidan, Tekki Sandan and Jitte. That being said, and probably needless to say, my focus in kata practice is still ‘kihon-centric’; namely, addressing efficiency and effectiveness of the most fundamental movements.’

Due to the mix/inconsistency of kata I am currently doing, I won’t mention this part of my current training regime today. Likewise, I wont go into my kumite practice (as it has already been outlined above) except to say that jiyu-ippon, uchikomi and jiyu-kumite appear intermittently. However, I will outline the “set kihon” in my routine. Lastly, for those wanting to know my reps, at present I have no set number; instead, I stop when I’ve done enough based on my execution and the daily condition of my body. All the best from sweltering Nippon, “Osu!” - André

1.      Chudan choku-zuki (Hachinoji-dachi).
2.      Chudan choku-zuki (Kiba-dachi).
3.      Jodan kizami-zuki kara chudan gyaku-zuki (Hidari and migi zenkutsu-dachi).
4.      Chudan mae-geri (Heisoku dachi).
5.      Chudan mae-geri (Hidari and migi zenkutsu-dachi).
•       Isolation practice: Koshi no kaiten in hidari and migi zenkutsu-dachi; and hiza-tsuchi in both heisoku-dachi (and on both sides in zenkutsu-dachi).

6.      Chudan oi-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi).
7.      Sanbon ren-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi).
8.      Mae-geri kara oi-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi).
9.      Ren-geri: Chudan mae-geri kara jodan mae-geri (Zenkutsu-dachi).
10.     Chudan mawashi-geri (Zenkutsu-dachi).
11.     Yoko-keage (Kiba-dachi).
12.     Yoko-kekomi (Kiba-dachi).
13.     Yoko-keage ashi o kaete yoko-kekomi (Kiba-dachi).
14.     Jodan age-uke kara chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi)
15.     Chudan soto-uke kara chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi)
16.     Chudan soto-uke kara yoko-enpi (Zenkutsu-dachi kara kiba-dachi)
17.     Chudan uchi-uke kara chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi)
18.     Gedan-barai kara chudan gyaku-zuki (Zenkutsu-dachi)
19.     Shuto chudan-uke kara nukite (Kokutsu-dachi kara zenkutsu-dachi)
20.     Shuto chudan-uke kara kizami mae-geri soshite nukite (Kokutsu-dachi kara zenkutsu-dachi)
•       Isolation practice: Advancing and retreating in zenkutsu-dachi and kokutsu-dachi (aiyumibashi/fumidashi); and leftward and rightward movement in kiba-dachi (kosa-aiyumibashi and yori ashi).

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2015).

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Seido Karate Christchurch (New Zealand): 50th Anniversary!!!

In September, the Christchurch Seido Karate Shibu will have its 50th Anniversary!!! As I've mentioned on here, earlier this year, this will be an unprecedented event in New Zealand Karate-Do history. As the time is nearing I'd again like to wish my friend Renzie Hanham Hanshi and all the members of Seido, past and present, the utmost best for the big day.

The fantastic poster attached above outlines the event and impressively reflects 'five decades' of the club in Christchurch. Omedetto gozaimasu from Oita City, Japan. - Osu, André

Some related links:

Previous post on the 50th Anniversary of the Christchurch Seido Shibu:

Class at Christchurch Seido:

Interview with Christchurch Seido Chief Instructor, Hanshi Renzie Hanham (8th Dan):

 © André Bertel, Oita (Japan) 2015.