Friday, 23 March 2018

Newspaper article

I just recieved these lovely photos from a newspaper article back in New Zealand. 

Training with my late teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei. Hard to believe that he passed away nearly 12 years ago.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Monday, 19 March 2018

Here is an article on the excellent blog of my friend Oliver Schomburg:
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Why 'CHUDAN' so much? A bigger picture

One question, which is often asked, is “why we practice chudan tsukiwaza (middle level punching techniques) so much. Well, there are two reasons: one is for training and the other is for self-defence application. However, before I outline these I want to state something that many people teach and astonishingly seem to believe.

1. Here is a typical, and incorrect, understanding about why chudan tsukiwaza are practiced so much: “The advantage of punching chudan is that the torso is a larger target and is less mobile than the head. Furthermore, a chudan level technique has greater range than a jodan tsuki for all the obvious reasons. In sum, chudan punches score more ‘points’; hence, they are practiced more”.  -This is 100% SPORTS KARATE.

Well, firstly, I’m not denying that chudan punches aren’t great for winning competitions. I won many matches, and was New Zealand National Champion many times, by often employing chudan tsukiwaza. Nevertheless, and needless to say, competition karate is just ‘a testing ground for ones karate’ and certainly ‘not the origin of technique nor the purpose of the art’.

2. So why so much chudan in our traditional training? I will briefly outline both purposes, as said above—one for training and one for application…

Firstly, for TRAINING: We practice/train chudan-waza for ‘centralization’; that is, everything starts from the center and, furthermore, it is from this point that variations/deviations can most easily be made. Another way to think of it is that “chudan is the marker point for the extremes of height variations (which constitute ‘jodan’ and ‘gedan’)”.

Mid-level tsukiwaza essentially allows us to optimally train both vertical and horizontal tai no shinshuku of the torso—combining the use of the seika-tanden and opening and folding of the seichusen, which underpins the use of the back muscles in relation to the chest muscles.

Secondly, for APPLICATION: Before I go into this point, I’ll need to address two points. Firstly, context. This is an area which many karateka overlook or disregard; however, it largely establishes the training approach and, directly pertaining to that, optimal effectiveness with one’s karate outside of the dojo.

A. Context—civilian unarmed self defence:

Without wasting any time, the context of karate is ‘civilian empty-handed self-defence’; that is, when understood correctly—at least in the case of Shotokan—“…karate is not for the battlefield, mutually agreed street fights/duals, nor for competitive fighting.”

The fact is that warfare and duals primarily involved weapons for thousands of years. Blades for stabbing, clubs for hitting, arrows for shooting and, in more recent centuries, weapons firing bullets, explosives, etcetera. In all cases, when the weapon(s) is/are gone, or the ammunition is out, unarmed martial arts are the last resort… In other words, and please excuse my language, it’s the “oh shit” moment for ‘warriors’. Unarmed combat is the literally the final option.

Karate is not an art for warriors or professional fighter’s—and it never has been—rather, it is a martial art ‘for the average person’ who needs reliable skills to repel an attack on the street. Clearly, this is different from people training to enter K1 kickboxing, cage fighting events, and the boxing ring. This is why, when karateka enter such events they need to cross train in competitive fighting arts such as boxing, judo, college wrestling, Muay Thai etcetera.

Ultimately, Funakoshi Sensei completely disagreed with tournament karate and, likewise, his motto was “Karatedo ni sente nashi” (there is no first attack in karatedo). Nonetheless, he also said that karate, by itself, is enough for 'complete self-defence'; accordingly, let’s now generically look at oyo (application): to understand 'why' this is the case.

B. How to apply karate?

So now I have explained the correct context of karate, Master Funakoshi’s words should make more sense; moreover, they unambiguously tell us two key points about the use/application of karate techniques. The first point is that karate is applied in response to an attack—which again highlights 'personal protection' as opposed to a dual context (or the battlefield). The second point, which he also stated, was that karate was too lethal for ‘matches between exponents’. Clearly, therefore he was strongly against karate tournaments and, more importantly than this, “…it elucidates that the karate, he was talking about, was nothing like the ‘kumite’ found in modern tournaments (both now in 2018, right back to the first All Japan Championships in 1957).

It is very worth mentioning here that “the first All Japan tournament was held in the year Funakoshi Sensei died 1957—after he was dead)”. Just an unlucky coincidence? Well, based on his published opinions, which I have conveyed above, that is highly unlikely.
Funakoshi Sensei opposed competition as his karate was too dangerous, and he didn't want to water karate down.

So, to reiterate, Funakoshi Sensei stressed that “…the application of karate is for 'self defence' and is 'extremely volatile'”. This is why ‘when we see kata, it doesn’t resemble competition kumite’. Sure, there are relationships but, indeed, very dim ones.

OK, so let’s return to the point of this article: chudan tsukiwaza… Surely, if karate was so dangerous in application it wouldn’t teach so many 'body shots'. Yes, body punches are, of course, highly effective, but (for obvious reasons, and generally speaking) it is natural to prioritize head attacks.

Well, as I learned many years ago from Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei: "Most of the chudan punches in the 'time capsules of our art'—the various kata (which, again, ‘coincidentally’ Master Funakoshi emphasised)—are, in fact 'jodan attacks' when applied". Over and over again, we can see that the techniques in the kata result in the opponent’s head being lowered, by the use of gravity, being folded forward at the waist, and so on.

What’s more, is “…that the head is positioned directly in the line of the ‘chudan trajectory’; moreover, in a position that disallows the neck to do one of its most important jobs: 'to move the head in relation to an impact/trauma', thus, reduce any potential damage to the brain”.

In sum, the opponent is highly exposed as they are off balance, potentially disorientated, and have become, at least momentarily, a ‘sitting duck’ for a king hit with a ‘chudan-waza’. The funny thing is that this ‘way’ can be applied effectively by small and/or physically weaker people and, most importantly, “…can be devastatingly applied by someone with minimal prowess”. In particular, this last point is essential as “fine motor skills have an extremely poor rate of success under the pressure of a violent assault”. From reading this, you will now see what Funakoshi Sensei meant by his words and how, karate, for the most part, has lost it’s direction.

Today I have used the example of chudan tsukiwaza to highlight a bigger picture. I sincerely hope that this article has enlightened you in some way, or provided a different thinking platform. Overall, and needless to say, merely thinking about such points is insufficient. The key is, as I have always stressed, daily and correct physical karate practise and training. In this way, karate can be returned to ‘the unparallelled martial art of civilian self-defence’ that it actually is. Osu, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Special Kata Practice

 Today I had a special kata practice covering a wide range of kata, both standard Shotokan and Asai Sensei's extensions of our style.

I will not write an article today but, rather, leave you with some images from the practice.

I'd like to wish the thousands of followers of this site, all the around the world, very good health, happiness and the best training.

With the kindest regards, appreciation, and with much thanks.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Fabio and Alexia visit from Paris

Over the weekend Fabio and Alexia from Paris, France, came to Oita City for training with me. They practiced intensively for six hours over two days and we also enjoyed nice times outside of the dojo.

Both the classical Shotokan style kata combined with Asai Sensei’s kata—were used as a base—to deeply enhance their Kihon and Jissen-Kumite (Real Fighting) application: namely, to better 'physically understand Karate as Bujutsu'.
Overall, Fabio and Alexia did extremely well and will certainly return home to France with a lot of new knowledge to work on and share. I wish them both the very best in their ongoing karate development and for their remaining time here in Japan. Osu, Andre.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Wednesday, 21 February 2018


The seminar this year in Germany is the second part to last years and will conclude the subject matter. The first session will recapitulate last years seminar (part one) and second, third and forth sessions will complete the learning objectives (part two).

Overall, this karate seminar will be very unique: in that the knowledge being handed on will be extremely useful for the immediate and long term karate advancement of the participants.


The themes will be as follows:

(1)    Level-up on JIMEN KARA NO CHIKARA (ground power) and JURYOKU (gravity);

(2)    Advanced use of snap through a higher level JUNANSEI utilisation combined with KOSHI NO KAITEN (rotation of the hips) and TAI NO SHINSHUKU (the compression and expansion/stretching of the body);

(3)    Correct martial arts application for actual self defence: pre WW2 KARATE NO OYO-JUTSU (effective application of karate);

(4)    The teaching of a KOTEN-GATA (old kata - from outside of the standard 26 formal exercises); moreover, properly taught (not ‘shotokanized’) to recap and enhance learning points one, two and three;

(5)    And, lastly, the general theme: ‘Essential points for karate as bujutsu’—that is, the means to practise and preserve martial arts karate—for future generations.

Overall, as said last year, it is going to be my most important seminar to datefor transmission of a high level of knowledge; furthermore, and obviously, 'a VERY-VERY big step up' from last year. This seminar will be extremely beneficial for all who attend and will set a new international standard. Osu!!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Monday, 19 February 2018

Video Links

Here's a link to the last couple of videos, as requested. I apologize for not responding sooner. The link at the bottom has a comprehensive overview: via my Youtube Channel. Best wishes from Oita, Japan. Osu.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The single most important 'training point' of true karate

I was recently asked what is the single most important point for budo/bujutsu (martial arts) karate training. So here you go...

The number one point is: 'You will respond as you have trained'... Not only in developed technique, power, speed, distancing, timing and tactics, but, especially in regards to 'training context'. That is, if you have not developed these skills in the context of freestyle "...when facing a real situation your martial arts ability will lack reliablity".

1. Never forget: 'You will respond as you have trained'. Also, 2. Never forget: 'Just training nice looking  movements and 'ideas' with compliant training partners can never be enough'. Needless to say, this type of karate has become increasingly popular outside Japan; however, it is has " relationship whatsoever to authentic martial arts karate".

Best wishes from Oita City, Japan.

Osu, André

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).

Saturday, 10 February 2018

MA 間

The two kanji (Chinese characters) which form ‘ma’ are a combination of mon (gate) and taiyo (sun). Ma therefore depicts the sun seen through, or between, a gateway. Here in Japan ma is used by the various traditional art forms namely for distance and timing.
For example in Shodo (Japanese calligraphy), Kado (flower arrangement), Sado (tea ceremony), and other cultural disciplines, ma is a top priority. For the budoka, control of ma’ai (meeting distance) in a fight outweighs everything else. Why? Because fundamentally all successful evasive maneuvers and attacking techniques are completely dependent on ma.

A great illustration, if you want to really improve your own ‘ma’, is to study the actions of a shodo shihan (Japanese calligraphy master). If you have seen a true master at work you will know how motionless they sit in seiza, how their washi (rice paper) is perfectly situated in relation to their position, how they take time to meticulously cover their brush in ink, then finally.., and with total decisiveness, make each stroke of their brush to form beautiful kanji. Their action is the same as karate kata, some techniques rapid, some increasing or decreasing in speed, others very slow, yet others heavy, light, or a combination of both.

Ma in kata
I’ve heard many people asking “how can I move like the elite Japanese karateka?” especially in regards to kata, and the answer is threefold: Firstly ‘precise Japan trained kihon’. Secondly, ‘high repetitions of this exact kihon’. And thirdly, ‘proper use of ma’. The lame excuse of Westerners claiming “Japanese exponents have ‘better' or 'advantaged physiques' for kata" is utter rubbish. However, correct use of ma does require a comprehensive understanding of Japanese culture, via living and training extensively in Japan. It is a 'total experience' not a partial one. Like it or not, this is the reality of practicing a 'Japanese martial art', and is undeniably why Japan still sets ‘the standard’. Karate instructors who haven't made long-term pilgrimages to Japan (or have trained, for many years, under a sensei who has), are simply incapable of teaching ma, and authentic karate in general. Needless to say, correct ma in kata immediately reveals this.


Ma in kumite
Obviously correct use of ma in kumite destroys the adversaries distance and timing, and also allows one’s own attacks and counterattacks to ‘work’. In traditional karate this means that percussive blows will destructively penetrate the target, if not arrested*. However, in sports karate, often fully stretched attacks, which could have never seriously damaged the opponent, are still awarded points (like a game of tag). Scores are allocated to competitors by simply reaching/touching the surface of the target, which clearly illustrates a ‘major void’ between traditional (martial art) karate and sports (game) karate.

* Correct karate ma’ai, in dojo kumite training, or competition jiyu-kumite, is where the legs/hips and body weight, are fully committed to drive through the target, but the respective attacking limb does not penetrate. Therefore, when impacting on the makiwara, sandbag etc.., or in a real altercation, the karateka simply does the exact same technique(s), but without arresting the striking limb(s). Dojo jiyu-kumite and kyogi-kumite conducted in this 'correct manner' are useful tools for effective martial arts training (note: this was the base of the traditional Shobu Ippon rules).


To conclude I'd like to reiterate the following points: Firstly, ma is the extreme contrast between stillness and movement, ma is rhythm. Rhythm can be fast, slow, poised, accelerating, decelerating and so on. Rhythm determines distancing and timing, success or failure, therefore it determines everything! Secondly, ma highlights the difference between authentic traditional karate (karate as a martial art), and imitation karate (karate played as a sport/game). And lastly, ma is an important part of Japanese culture, something that karateka need to fully understand, and physically express, if they want to execute traditional Japanese karate-do.

© André Bertel, Japan 2008: (Republished, February 10th, 2018).

Monday, 15 January 2018

Strong seiken (fore-fists) and shuto (sword hands)

Relaxing the fists lightly, before and after kime, is an important skill; however, it can only come after strong fists have been mastered.
OPENING STATEMENT: Regularly I find that people have swift and strong movements, however, their karada no buki (weapons of the body) are often weak.

Needless to say, this post could address the many different weapons of the body; nevertheless, today, I’d like to focus on: (1) the most common form of fist: 正拳 ‘seiken’ (the fore-fist); and (2) the base form of all open hands in Karate-Do: 手刀 ‘shuto’ (the sword hand).

So, here we go…

正拳 ‘SEIKEN: One of the first things—taught in karate—is ‘how to make to a proper fist’. Yet, look at the immense numbers karateka, and even high ranking Dan grades, who have weak or ‘incorrectly formed’ fists.

The problem is not that these karateka do not know how to form seiken correctly, rather, it is about a loss of consciousness/awareness of their fists. Underpinning this is the commonly eventual “…too much focus on the movement at the expense of the weapon”. In other words, this is like a warrior, holding a spear, and focusing on ‘moving the staff only, as opposed to ‘also focusing on the tip of the blade’.

The source of this error is “the difficulty of simultaneously having firm fists and relaxed arms/shoulders”. This skill requires to essentially be able to autonomously compartmentalise: (a) shime/squeezing of the weapon; and (b) the looseness for everything above the wrist. Needless to say, this applies also to the shime of foot formations and relaxation of everything above the ankles in ashi-waza (leg techniques). In sum, this skill—in all techniques—clearly elucidates “the constant relationship/interaction between hard and soft”.

My advice is that ‘karateka spend more time hitting the makiwara’ then ‘to strictly use their makiwara fists’ throughout their Kihon and Kata. With constant practice and review, relaxed arms/shoulders and strong seiken will be achieved.

手刀 ‘SHUTO’: It is also commonplace for karateka to have weakly formed ‘sword hands’. Like seiken, if not firm nor correctly formed, shuto will be less effective—or even nullified—as a weapon.

To avoid this, make sure: (1) the four fingers are as straight as possible and tightly connected; and (2) the thumb is bent to a 90 degree angle and firmly placed on the side of the hand—as opposed to the ‘palm side’. In the case of the regular, most commonly practised, shuto-uke in Shotokan-Ryu, one must also make sure that the wrist/back of the hand is kept straight; that is, in line with the forearm.

I think it is important to recognise that poorly formed sword hands are a result of indecisive understanding of various techniques and their meanings/applications. A good example of this is something I often have to correct on black belt karateka: tateshuto-uke. I cannot count the number of times I have seen people with their thumb pointing sidewards when doing this technique. In this case, they have confused this technique with tsukami-uke (the grasping reception). Failing to have the thumb connected to the the side of the hand results in a significantly weaker waza. This is obvious when one thinks that the impacting sword hand is comprised of five digits connecting together with the ‘knife edge’ of the hand striking. Not connecting the thumb to the side of the index finger, therefore, means “…losing (give or take) 20% of reinforcement of the weapon”.


I believe that this article requires no further explanation; that being said, I’d like to conclude with a relevant quote that originally came from Azato Ankou Sensei (one of Funakoshi Gichin Sensei’s karate masters): 人の手足は剣と思え“Hito no teashi wa ken omoe” (this basically means ‘Think of peoples hands and feet as swords’). Winter greetings and very best wishes from snow covered Japan. Osu!

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).