Saturday, 28 December 2013

Training with Morooka San

Today I enjoyed a two-hour practice at my private dojo with my friend, and training partner, Morooka Takafumi San (JKA 4th Dan). I won’t unveil our practice here; but, as always, training with him was excellent. Domo arigato gozaimashita Morooka San. Osu, André.

 © André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Thursday, 26 December 2013

2013 winds down

2013 has been a very-very busy year for me. It included doing my final semester at the University of Canterbury; graduating and receiving my degree in absentia; teaching karate seminars in South Africa and New Zealand; moving back to Japan; joining the Japan Karate Association (JKA); attending a seminar by Shuseki-Shihan Masaaki Ueki (9th Dan); testing for JKA 5th Dan; celebrating seven years of being married.., the list goes on…

 One thing I can say, reflecting on all the busyness of 2013, is that it has been a very productive and happy 12 months. Furthermore, 2013 has provided me with ample opportunities to grow as human being. Needless to say, Karate-Do has been a major force in this process.
 
Today's training was hard and, yet again, showed me that I still know nothing about karate. Accordingly, this inspires me to continue my daily practice and keep seeking Karate-Do. Whether I can ever get `good' or  not is irrelevant. My aim is to simply move forward as best I can.

 I’d like to use this opportunity to thank everyone whom I have been fortunate to come into contact with this year through Karate-Do. Thank you all very much!

 Finally, I’d like to wrap up by wishing you, and your family, a very happy and healthy 2014. Kindest regards, Osu.

André Bertel

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Developing your `Radar'

It is obvious that nation states, in the modern world, without radar and other detection systems would be extremely vulnerable. Likewise, the concerted development of `radar like awareness’ is also essential for budoka (martial artists). But how can one develop such awareness? Well there are several ways, but the most important of these—in standard karate training—are as follows:

 Firstly, when practicing kihon or kata, in their solo forms of training, one needs to maintain constant awareness: of their surroundings/opponent(s). This takes immense mental discipline, but in time, becomes second nature.

 Secondly, when practicing jiyu-kumite don’t only focus on your opponent, but what’s around you—be ready for anything. Likewise, in the case of yakusoku-kumite (prearranged sparring), don’t concentrate on the `announced attack’ but rather be ready for a mawashi-zuki (roundhouse punch); someone applying a shimewaza (strangulation technique) from behind; a rugby tackle; a gedan mae-geri instead of a jodan oi-zuki, etc... As emphasized before, this ultimately becomes a concerted effort that one consciously undertakes in every moment of one’s training.

 By and large, `keeping your radar switched on’ becomes just like other fundamental skills, such as using your hips when you perform techniques or not changing height (during steps, turns and stance transitions).

Lastly, and most importantly, one needs to intensify their training environment whilst adhering the two aforementioned points. Only by having an intense/realistic training environment, and by maintaining self-discipline, can one sharpen their `detection capabilities’ to a high level. I hope the critical importance of fostering this skill has been vividly highlighted in this article; moreover, that developing it requires a concerted effort in one’s daily practice.

 © André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Friday, 20 December 2013

Completely dedicated to kata

My training today was completely dedicated to kata. The session consisted of Heian-shodan; Heian-yondan; Tekki-shodan; the `Big Four’—Bassai (Dai), Kanku (Dai), Empi and Jion; and of course, Nijushiho.

In particular, I find the `Big Four’ extremely challenging due to their extreme technical diversity and unique `characteristics’. Like the Heian kata, they force me to face the weaknesses in my foundational techniques; albeit, in a more profound and merciless way. In this manner, one’s tokui kata becomes a real “treat”, a chance to shine a little, when practiced alongside these unforgiving challengers.

 Warm up: The session was tough as my junbi-undo (preparatory exercises/warm up) took much longer than usual: due to the extreme cold... Thank God for the new dojo! That being said, it was great to finally get warm and get stuck into training—the rewards of winter training.

 Training: Without undermining its utmost importance, Heian Shodan was used my `specific warm up’; subsequently, this led on to blasting out Heian Yondan, and Tekki Shodan. It was then onto Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai and Jion, which I only executed a couple of times each. Lastly, I extensively worked on Empi and Nijushiho.

 
Conclusion: I have to say that it was nice to spend an entire training dedicated to kata. Taken as a whole, I believe that the kata of karatedo are amazing tools for gaining a window of technical introspection; what is more, they are at the heart of self-training— the “key of self-motivation”—amongst long-time practitioners. These two points make kata invaluable and, for that reason, should not be forgotten in the overall context of budo (martial arts) training.
 © André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2013).

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

冬将軍 (Fuyu Shogun)

Due to the extreme cold I have changed dojo for my private/self-training. Until last week, I had been practicing at the old Aso Budojo, which is located in Miyaji. This dojo while great—due to its age—is literally like a commercial freezer. Yes, the dojo even has icicles in it!!! With the snow now falling in Aso-shi, my feet were going purple and numb from the cold… Due to this, and it finally reducing the quality of my practice, I decided to move my self-training to the new Aso-Budojo.
 
As added bonus is that the new Aso Budojo is located in Uchinomaki only five minutes away from our apartment in Mikubo. Clearly, this is a another advantage as Japan's winter intensifies and travel becomes a challenge.
 
Anyway, here are some photos from my first training at the dojo, yesterday, on December 17th. The practice to christen the dojo included jiyu-kumite “image training” with hangeki-waza (countering jodan and chudan with chudan gyaku-zuki); stationary kihon (chudan gyaku-zuki and chudan mae-geri and jodan mae-geri); ido-kihon (chudan jun-zuki, jodan jun-zuki, mae-geri and mawashi-geri); and the following four kata: Heian-shodan, Heian-nidan, Nijushiho and Unsu.
Image training: chudan hangeki

Overall, the dojo was fabulous to train in, not to mention, it was great to be able to feel my feet after practice! Best wishes and greetings from wintery Japan. Osu, André
Nijushiho kata: my new work in process... A major challenge for the coming years.
Unsu kata: Christening my new dojo
Outside the Aso Budojo in Uchinomaki, Aso-shi. December 17th, 2013.
 
© André Bertel, Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Jiku-ashi timing and the bigger picture

My final practice in New Zealand before returning to Japan.  From l-r: Matt Brew, me, Lyall Stone Sensei & Andrew Makin.
 Based on several emails sent to me “questioning my `pivot foot timing’, and timing in general”, I decided to simultaneously answer both questions by synthesising both of these themes/technical enquiries. I did this as they are clearly related. Enough of my small talk, on with the article and the bigger picture of "timing"…

The “timing of the pivot foot”—a fundamental point in isolation (the small picture): When turning the jiku-ashi (pivot foot) must coordinate with the turn. Whilst this is highly comprehensive, and easy to understand in text, it still requires practice of `reserving’ the pivoting action. What I mean by reserving the pivoting action is keeping the foot in place and only turning it when the rest of the body completes its tasks. Unambiguously, when done correctly this results in single harmonious waza. For example, movement 10 of Heian Shodan (the 270 degree turn with hidari gedan barai); the second half of movement 25 in Heian Yondan (the transfer from migi hiza-geri into hidari shuto-uke) etc… Of course, there are numerous such examples throughout all of the JKA kata.

A “generic methodology to improve and/or resolve timing problems” (the big picture): If timing in this, or any other regard, is problematic for you or your students—here’s a simple tip. Just remember there are “three broad categories” of timing in karate-do: firstly, `same time’; secondly, `before’; and thirdly, (and less commonly in Shotokan) `after’…Basically, if something is wrong in your timing—or not working—(irrespective of whether it’s kihon, kata or kumite) use these three categories to guide you. TRY THE TECHNIQUE, OR APPLICATION, USING ALL THREE TYPES OF TIMING’…Decisively establish “what happens?” If nothing else, this will help you to better understand your waza.
Unsu kata... Photo courtesy of Sergio Rivas of Spain (when he came for training last month).

For example, in Jiyu Ippon Kumite (and of course, all other forms of kumite for yudansha in dojo training), when attacking, don’t only attack with the same timing of your footwork (the orthodox way); but also try `punching then advancing’—the best `oi-komi’ way; and `advancing then punching’. Generally speaking, these variations when applying appropriately and instinctively (and at a higher level, in an ever more subtle manner, can result in one’s opponent `mistiming their defensive action’ or `beating it’…Practicing in this way, so that one instinctively applies the appropriate timing for any given situation/opponent(s) “is utterly essential”: if mastery of karate techniques is a personal objective. This is something that is often weak outside of Japan, and, where it isn’t, has been reduced to means of merely `tagging’ ones opponent: as opposed to downing them with a single blow.

Jiku-ashi: Back to the timing of pivot foot, and its timing in turns.., why are such precise and harmonious movements sought after? The answer is that “by seeking perfection of movement, of harmonious/coordinated action (in a strict form) one can effectively deviate from this form very easily. Therefore, this training results in a clear path that, whilst being “never-ending”, functions as ‘subconsciously grooved line of reference’ for `variations’. Intrinsically, this is the base of henka-waza—a big part of my karate education between 1993 to 2006. Nonetheless, this is something I certainly won’t delve into today.

Conclusion: I would like to end by saying that “only by using/training the body as coordinated unit can we learn to use the different parts of the body—independently—with great effect”. Above and beyond physical skills, otherwise known as ‘optimal performance/ability’—the outcome of our `good days’, this must be grooved into the subconscious mind/ via relentless training. Good days are not reliable! Accordingly, this can only come from conscious effort and, as just said a moment before, relentless training. Thinking about the timing of the jiku-ashi in this way helps us to see karate-waza as whole—this is something that elucidates the importance of kihon. I hope you found this little article useful. But don’t think too much about it. Rather, get down to the dojo and sweat it out. All the best from chilly Nippon, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Monday, 2 December 2013

Koyo

It has been exactly four months since we returned to Japan; moreover, today Mizuho and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary—how time flies!
I will not write anymore now, instead, I’ll leave you with these photos from my training during Koyo. As the saying goes "A picture speaks one thousand words". Best wishes from Kumamoto, André.
 
 
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Sunday, 1 December 2013

People are never one dimensional

I’d like to offer FOUR PUBLIC STATEMENTS to answer numerous emails sent to me from around the world. These four statements pertain to my joining the Japan Karate Association and, the preservation of what I have learned, prior to my JKA membership. Thank you very much. – André Bertel.

#1. First and fore mostly, I’m 100% committed to the JKA. Otherwise I would not have joined. I took many months to join, fastidiously analysing everything and communicating with the JKA.

#2. All of my orthodox Shotokan-ryu kihon techniques, kata and kumite are being brought in-line/standardised under the guidance of the JKA (that is, `standard JKA technique’).

#3. I’m still practicing everything I learned from outside of standard Shotokan (prior to joining the JKA).  These techniques and applications will remain in my repertoire and preserved in an “unchanged” state. However, they have now been shifted into my daily private dojo practice; that is, for my self-training.

#4. Ultimately, I am moving forward with the JKA and are building on the skills I have developed over the last three decades. With this and the above points in mind, always remember that, as the title of the post states, "people are never one dimensional."

To conclude, I would like to deeply thank JKA Japan and JKA members, from all over the world, for their warm welcoming. Lastly, I hope this post clarifies where I’m at in my karate and, more importantly, where I heading. Osu, André.
 
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Ueki Shuseki Shihan Seminar & Dan Grading

 On Saturday the 16th of November I attended a phenomenal seminar by the chief instructor of the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Ueki Masaaki Shihan (9th Dan). Then, on Sunday (the 17th) there was a dan-shinsa; and tests for JKA shidoin (instructor), and shimpan (judge) qualifications. This event was held in Nogata-shi, Fukuoka-ken.  
Ueki Shuseki Shihan Technical Seminar (An overview): Ueki Shihan’s seminar was very `exam focused’ but, at the same time, targeted critical points of fundamental techniques strongly linking kihon, kumite, and kata. I really loved the training and learned so much! His demonstration of sections from the kata Jutte, Kanku-dai, Bassai-dai, Enpi, and others, was utterly superb; also his amazing use of deai-waza in kumite was wonderful to see first-hand. Many foreign karateka will know Ueki Shuseki-Shihan from Master Nakayama’s classic `Best Karate’ books. In one of the kumite volumes he was profiled along with his tokui-waza; in volume eight he demonstrates Gankaku kata; and in volume 11 he demonstrates Gojushiho-sho kata. When he demonstrated sections of Gojushiho-sho, everyone was in awe: it really was poetry in motion.
SEMINAR BY THE JKA CHIEF INSTRUCTOR: A BRIEF OUTLINE
Kihon: 1. Ayumibashi (speedily forward then rearward alternately in zenkutsu-dachi). Emphasis was on maintaining perfect shomen, and an erect spine, irrespective of the speed of the two steps; 2. Repeat on the opposite side; 3. As previous, but stepping back with gedan-barai then advancing with jun-zuki; 4. Repeat on the opposite side; 5. Exactly the same again but stepping back with jiyu-kamae then jun-zuki; and  6. Repeat on the opposite side.
 
Kumite no kihon (Uchikomi): 1/2. Attacking with chudan gyaku-zuki (right then left side); 3/4. Attacking with jodan kizami-zuki (left then right side); 5/6. Against kizami-zuki step back diagonally with jodan age-uke and counter with gyaku-zuki (left side then right side); 7/8 Against chudan gyaku-zuki move diagonally with gedan-barai and counter with chudan gyaku-zuki (left side then right side); 9/10. Deai-waza: Against chudan gyaku-zuki advance diagonally with gyaku gedan-barai and attack with jodan kizami-zuki (left side then right side). Note – it was emphasised that jodan age-uke must have the blocking wrist in line with the middle of the forehead (as opposed to aligning the blocking elbow with the side of the body).
 
Jiyu-Kumite: We then put into practice our tai sabaki by engaging in two rounds of jiyu-kumite with random partners.

Kata: During the training Ueki Shihan had us perform Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai and Jion over and over, giving technical points, and emphasising the correct counts, which should correspond with the waza no kankyu (rhythm of the techniques). I.e. – making long counts for slow movements and rapid counts for speedy movements; nevertheless, not making the rhythm of the kata too fast (or too `drawn out' as often seen now in sports karate). After numerous executions of the above three sentei-gata, we then had us perform our tokui-gata for the respective exams we were taking the next day. I worked on Nijushiho with a small group of four or five. Others groups and individuals around the room were practicing Bassai-dai, Jion, Kanku-dai, Hangetsu, and Gojushiho-sho. Ultimately, this was concluded by each individual (or group) going out in front of everyone and performing their respective kata, followed by personal tips from Ueki Shihan. What was perhaps more amazing was that Ueki Shihan gave every examinee tips. His generosity in helping everyone grading was really outstanding. I really benefitted from his corrections.
Conclusion of the Technical Seminar: To conclude the seminar, an explanation was given, followed by the aforementioned demonstration, which was invaluable and awe-inspiring. On the whole, it was clearly shown how JKA kihon, kata and kumite are truly one, and inseparable. This was a great wind down of the three hour seminar—and supportive/methodological “lead-in” to the exams.
JKA GODAN EXAM
It goes without saying that Sunday was completely dedicated to testing. Two courts, tatami areas, were used: the left side was for those taking yondan and godan; and the right side was for those taking licences. JKA karateka from all over Kyushu had come to attend the seminar under Ueki Shuseki-Shihan, and grading, so it was clear that it was going to be a long day.
The JKA Godan examination, which I attempted, involved: (1) Idomokuhyo with both migi and hidari chudan gyaku-zuki, which I only had to perform around five times with each hand; (2) Jiyu-gata.., as already mentioned, I used Nijushiho—a first for me—in a dan exam; (3) `Question and Answer’ session. In my case, this involved explaining the bunkai/oyo (analysis/application) of movements 18-20 from Nijushiho; (4) A shitei-gata randomly called by the examination panel (any Heian or Tekki Shodan). In my case I was asked to perform Heian Yondan; and finally (5) I had to engage in two rounds of continuous jiyu-kumite against other Godan examinees.
To conclude: I’d like to express my deep appreciation of Nakamura Shihan and Nakamura Sensei for their fantastic training sessions, which have helped me, and continue to help me, immensely; Naka Tatsuya Shihan for his “massive support”—which is too much to detail here---thank you so very much Naka Shihan; and the members of Japan Karate Association Kumamoto and Kyushu; in particular, my excellent  training partner, Morooka San (JKA 4th Dan). I am very thankful to all of these people and the Kyokai. Domo arigato gozaimashita, André.


© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2013).


Monday, 25 November 2013

New self-training regime

I have finally updated my self-training regime, post JKA (Japan Karate Association) dan shinsa, to address my newfound weaknesses—and move forward. In brief, here is a blueprint of my schedule. I hope that it finds you well.

Kata: I am currently  training the following kata: (a) The six shitei-gata (Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan, Heian Godan and Tekki Shodan); (b) The four sentei-gata (Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Empi and Jion); and (c) Two jiyu-gata—Nijushiho and one other randomly self-selected kata each day (based on my intentions/feeling/goals).

Kihon: Essentially my kihon is based on my current kata regime; hence, I outlined my kata training first. For example, the timing of the hands/arms with body shifting, the reservation of the pivot foot etcetera. Presently, this is the bulk of my kihon training; however, I have been topping this off by going through the Japan Karate Association kihon exams… A sort of mock test to push myself to the limit.

Kumite: (i) The bunkai (analysis) of Nijushiho kata, especially pertaining oyo (applications); and (ii)  Uchikomi/Jiyu Kumite training.

Overall, I have some major targets in 2014, which I am now aiming for. Regardless of whether they materialise or not, my aim is to use them to continue pushing forward. All the very best,  André Bertel.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2013).

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Trainee from Spain: Sergio Rivas

Sergio Rivas recently came to Japan to train under me. Sergio is from the Basque Country in Spain, and besides being a very serious karateka—he is a great guy. A really great guy! He even got injured here in training - and pushed himself to keep going...OSU. It was precisely one year ago since he attended my seminars in England, so I was very happy to catch up with him here in Kumamoto; moreover, that he was so keen to train with me again. Despite the long journey from Northern Spain to Aso-shi, we straight away began training. Here is a brief outline of some of the practice he experienced whilst he was here in Japan (please note, this is far from complete—as he also made an trip to Miyazaki):
Sergio outside of my private dojo where I self-train in Aso-shi.


1.      ENBU (Demonstration) and LESSON at Namino Junior High School: I firstly had Sergio assist me for a demo at Namino Chugakko followed by a basic lesson for the students. This included a history section of traditional Japanese karate-do, which was conducted by Ono Sensei, the schools taiku no sensei (Physical Education teacher). In the demonstration we engaged in yakusoku-kumite, and performed kata. Sergio performed Heian Shodan and Heian Yondan, and I executed Tekki Shodan, and Nijushiho. Following Heian Yondan we demonstrated beginner level bunkai (analysis) of the movements. Essentially, this was accentuate that kata are not just patterns of movements but are intrinsically linked to kihon, kumite and goshin-jutsu (self-defence) in general.
After the demonstration and practice at Namino. The children loved the lesson and meeting a budoka from Spain.  
The LESSON at Namino Junior High School… (a) Karate-Do etiquette and formalities were practiced: I primarily taught the students how to do seiza and do rei correctly. Special emphasis was on posture, attitude and having pride their culture (this was a point stressed by the school—and very pleasing to emphasise via the lesson); (b) Karate-Do techniques we taught: 1. Shizentai (Hachinoji-dachi); 2. How to make a fist (seiken); 3. heiko-zuki (for hiki-te practice); and 4. Karate taiso needed for developing the base strength and flexibility required to properly/effectively execute karate-do waza; and (c) The philosophy emphasised for the students: Funakoshi Gichin Shihan’s “Karate-do ni sente nashi”; that is, “There is no first attack in karate-do”… Overall, the demonstration and lesson was a great success.

2.      KATA while in Kumamoto: I re-taught Sergio Gojushiho-sho and simultaneously the complete oyo (applications) for all of the movements in the kata. At the Takahiro Dojo, under Nakamura Shihan, we also went over all five Heian and Tekki Shodan numerous times along with a number of sentei-gata, and jiyu-gata. Sergio worked on Bassai-dai, Empi, Jion and Jitte; while I did Nijushiho and Bassai Sho.

3.      KUMITE: The prime emphasis was on the application of kata techniques and principles in self-defence; namely, oyo-jutsu and oyo-kumite. This included an analysis of karada no buki (the weapons of the body) and generic atemi (vital points), which, needless to say, optimise ones capacity in the messy reality of a violent/unexpected attack.  At the Takuhiro Dojo we also practiced Gohon Kumite (Five step sparring); Kihon ippon kumite (Basic one-step sparring); and Jiyu ippon Kumite (Free one-step sparring). Sergio really enjoyed the wonderful training under Nakamura Shihan, Nakamura Sensei and training with my friend and training partner, Morooka San (JKA 4th Dan), whom he did uchikomi with after class.
 
 Sightseeing and relaxing in Kumamoto: Out and about, we also visited the grave of the legendary Musashi Miyamoto--which is not far away from our home, Kumamoto-jo (Kumamoto Castle), Aso Jinja (Shrine), and numerous other places. Sergio also enjoyed the volcanic nature of Aso-shi, onsen (hot springs) and a vast array of delicious Japanese cuisine. Still, this didn’t stop us from practice when chilling out...i.e. – the occasional kata outside the backpackers, kata applications, kihon and so forth.
Sergio at the park where the legendary Musashi Miyamoto rests.
On the whole, we had a wonderful time with Sergio and greatly enjoyed his company both in and out of the dojo. Accordingly, I would like to use this opportunity to wish him all the best in his karate-do endeavours. Moreover, We really look forward to seeing you again Sergio! Keep talking with your karate. Osu, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2013).




 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

終わりなき旅 (ENDLESS JOURNEY)



Contrastingly over the years, I have seen numerous people leave karate because they couldn’t win at competition level, or were champions who were finally defeated and their spirit was broken; likewise, I have seen many people quit because they couldn’t pass a particular kyu or dan test. These people, in my opinion, missed the point of karate-do: the battle with them-selves was lost—as their focus was on “end points” rather than the journey—which I believe defines Karate-Do. My question is “How can one focus on destinations when practicing karate when, in reality, destinations/achievements are just moments in the wider scheme of time? Especially when considering the blatantly obvious point that time keeps moving”… Also, without being pessimistic, what is success/achievement? Notwithstanding, this can’t help one to think of the words of the Greek philosophers… Parmenides immediately comes to mind... In sum, the underlying principle of `DO’ in budo, and other traditional Japanese art forms, is that of “a journey: as opposed to a destination”.
Grading examinations and tournaments: So what about entering competitions, taking kyu and dan exams, qualification tests etcetera? Perhaps one should just train? …There is nothing wrong with tournaments, examinations and the like… Of course, they are wonderful goals! It is great to train towards a gold medal in a competition, or the next rank. In my opinion it is essential to experience these things. Not experiencing competition, and attempting examinations, is nearly as bad as quitting altogether… Why? Because the same things that make people quit karate are the same things that stop them from participating in such events.

EGO & FEAR: Not trying to enter tournaments, or trying for the next rank is often connected with ego and/or fear of failure. Again, this elucidates too much internalised focus on the destination as opposed to the bigger picture. People think “how I will look if so and so beats me in the kumite?” or they are too scared to walk out in front of examiners—to have their technique scrutinised. Being free from our ego turns us into LIBERATED HUMAN BEINGS; moreover, it strengthens us by pushing us “to face and overcome our inherent fears”. This is where competition and kyu/dan examinations really benefit us. But like all things these points should not be taken to the extreme: ideological balance is pivotal.
My personal kotowaza is to “LOSE MAGNIFICENTLY”. Don’t merely seek to win or pass, seek to improve your execution of karate and personal development in general. Seek to perform the best you can, because your best is your best... Don’t worry about `the best of others’, simply appreciate them and focus on what you have to do to improve. My aim in kumite is to always seek an ippon, I always fully commit with my attack and try to express my kihon. When this results in my defeat, so be it. My only loss is when I don’t commit, irrespective of winning or losing a match. By never seeking a wazari one can do their very best, then, if the wazari is achieved, it still has meaning. This is merely an example of losing magnificently, and of course it transcends the realms of shobu ippon.
In conclusion, always focus on the here and now in your karate-do training, and plan for the future. When you are successful in your endeavours, great… Well done… But don’t immerse yourself in glory. It’s time to move on… If you fail, ascertain why, and train hard to correct these flaws. Even if you never reach the goals you have set yourself, I assure you that, by following this way, you WILL maximise yourself. More than this, your karate training will then also function as a tangible resource to strengthen your spirit, self-confidence, courage, determination and self-efficacy. Remember, “The journey is what matters, not the destinations (plural)”. Overall, the destinations along the path are merely tools that contribute towards the greater whole: this, to me, is Karate-Do.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).


Saturday, 19 October 2013

KARATE DO: A POWERFUL MECHANISM FOR DEVELOPING RESIILIENCE


I am now reviewing the five Heian kata with special focus on fine points of fundamental technique (kihonwaza) and, in particular, the removal of superfluous actions. For example, wind ups for ukewaza such as morote-uke, seiken juji-uke etcetera; and completion of techniques within the correct range of action, such as kihon tsukiwaza (namely, jun-zuki and gyaku-zuki). This approach is also being taken in my kihon training and includes a tighter control over nukite and gyaku-zuki following keriwaza (i.e. – shuto-uke kara kizami mae-geri soshite nukite, mae-geri kara yoko-kekomi, mawashi-geri soshite gyaku-zuki and so forth).

Yet again, repeating the maxim I constantly stress on this site, “kihon is everything”. Accordingly, this is because it offers the ultimate challenge, as via its complete and utter `rawness’. Kihon, the fundamental kata, and yaksuoku-kumite show us how little we “really know”: and “know” in karate (and all other physical disciplines for that matter) is determined by what we have “programmed into our bodies”. Where do YOU come unstuck in this regard…? There are certainly plenty of places in my case: especially when I am fatigued during a taxing class. Needless to say, this is the ultimate challenge of karate—it gives us the necessary taste of `humble flavoured pie’; moreover, it elucidates how physical training can benefit us mentally and spiritually.

My understanding is that many people eventually quit training because of this point—the feeling of never getting the fundamental techniques to the level that they have in their minds/aspirations. This is definitely the wrong reason to quit and it misses what karate-do is… Karate-do is not a destination of perfection; rather, it is a road towards it—a road towards an `unattainable yet motivational goal’. Striving to get the most basic techniques right is a lesson that never ends, and I am very thankful for this point.

Pushing through this challenge is a POWERFUL MECHANISM FOR DEVELOPING RESIILIENCE: that is, the ability to bounce back in life. Resilience is a quality that everyone should have and need to maximise their lives. We shouldn’t be vain and think that we want to be the best—this is a dangerous trap, which leads to self-defeat… Instead, just think that we want to better ourselves and humbly strive towards this goal. By following this `way’ one will become the best they can be.

All the best from Nippon, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Power from within


Harnessing “power from within” in karate-do requires that the limbs are not the centre of one’s energy. This means that power (energy) is sourced from the seika tanden, the hara, the hips; that is, the centre of one’s body in accordance with natural kokyu (breathing), which facilitates higher awareness (and immensely increased physical effectiveness). Of course, as mentioned, kokyu is also at the centre: and kokyu centres the mind helping to control emotions such as anger and fear.
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This is probably one of the reasons why `chudan waza’ are so predominant (in the kihon and kata of karate-do): because they facilitate `power centralisation’ and an innate understanding of the chushin (centre line)—in the most comprehensive way. Moreover, this benefits the daily lives of traditional karate-do practitioners as it can result in greater concentration and a more peaceful life.
 
Returning to the training of waza (techniques) in karate-do, common sense quickly reveals that `jodan waza’ i.e. – jodan age-uke, jodan gyaku-zuki etcetera add additional challenges (in particular, higher level shoulder joint control) and; because of that, they increase the number of `critical focus points’ whilst practicing. Irrespective of one’s thoughts on these matters, centralisation of power and concentration on the chushin are utterly imperative.  
Most obviously this point elucidates the need for the limbs to not `leave from the body’ but, rather, “come from and are transported by the body”.  Examples of this are tight and high chambering of keriwaza, not letting the elbows of `blocking arms’ keep the fundamental rule of being  `one’ to `one and a half’ fist widths from the head/torso, and so on…
Always remember, the traditional karate-do technique is never born from the limbs: just as "the pen is mightier than the sword". Kindest regards from Aso-San, André.


© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013). 
 
 



Tuesday, 8 October 2013

MA 間


 

PLEASE NOTE: THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN REPUBLISHED FROM 2008. Kindest regards, André Bertel.
 
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.
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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.
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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.

And for this reason it is essential to sponsor top level Japanese instructors to run karate-do seminars outside of Japan.
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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 JKA Shobu Ippon rules).

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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, October 8th, 2013).