Monday, 30 June 2014

Morgan Dilks Sensei visits Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan.

This week my good friend Morgan Dilks Sensei and his family came to visit, and practice karate-do, here in Aso-shi (after training with his teacher, Fukamizu Kennichi Shihan in Takanabe, Miyazaki). Morgan is currently living in Singapore, for his work, but will be moving back to Palmerston North (New Zealand) later this year.

The conclusion of movement 44 in Unsu kata. 
We had an absolutely wonderful time catching up and had an excellent three hours of advanced karate-do practice on Sunday morning. Morgan taught the first part of the session focusing on turns; namely, 270 degrees (from zenkutsu-dachi into zenkutsu-dachi (shomen/zenmi and hanmi), kokutsu-dachi and kiba-dachi. He also went through oi-zuki/jun-zuki and chudan shuto-uke (zenshin)—primarily focusing on timing. Excellent practice and a great sign of things to come: especially for karateka back in `Palmy’. I then took over and went through the full oyo-jutsu (applications) of Gojushiho-Sho kata, then covered Unsu in depth, again also, with its respective oyo. We wrapped up with individual renditions of Unsu working on timing for effective technique/practical application.

Here are some of the previous links, on this site, with Morgan Sensei:
After training...Morgan Sensei outside Aso-shi Budojo, Kumamoto, Japan.

Via Morgan Sensei, I trained with his instructor -- Fukamizu Shihan -- in 2010:

Away from karate-do, and as always, Mizuho and I had a really fantastic time hanging out with Morgan, Yuko and the girls. The only question is “where in the world will we catch up next time?” I'd like to wrap up by saying that I am deeply honoured to be a friend of Morgan, Yuko and their children. Thank you all for coming to visit us in Aso-shi. Osu, André.
Morgan Sensei will `fly back' to Palmerston North later this year.
 © André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Latest training regime marks the seventh anniversary of this site

Here is my latest karate-do self-practice routine, which I have been following since early last week. I guess it is not particularly outstanding in any way, just merely about `getting stuck in’ and attempting to capitalise on self-analysis. Bolstering this, of course, is the phenomenal tuition of Nakamura Masamitsu Shihan, whose technical advice is absolutely invaluable. Before I outline my latest self-training regime, it is probably also worth mentioning that today marks the seventh anniversary of this blog! Osu, André.
KIHON: This month, in my kihon training (besides seiken choku-zuki, gyaku-zuki, mae-geri, and shuto yokomawashi uchi) I am focusing on ido-kihon; namely the JKA (Japan Karate Association) syllabus techniques. Normally, I tend to be more diverse and simplistic in my self-practice of kihon; nonetheless, I periodically still go through the `examination kihon’. That being said, I do not believe in merely doing laps up and down the dojo. Every practice, I focus on a core theme i.e. – kokyu (breathing), a specific aspect of my unsoku (leg movements/footwork) and so on. Anyway, here is my `flexible’ base plan…
Ido kihon: (1) Either `Chudan jun-zuki’, `Sanbon ren-zuki or ‘Kizami-zuki kara sanbon ren-zuki’; (2) Either ‘Jodan age-uke kara chudan soto-uke kara chudan gyaku-zuki’ or `Ippo sagatte Jodan age-uke kara mawashi-geri, yoko-uraken soshite chudan jun-zuki; (3) `Chudan soto-uke kara yori-ashi yoko enpi (kiba-dachi), yoko uraken soshite chudan gyaku-zuki’; (4) Chudan uchi-uke (kokutsu-dachi) kara kizamiz-zuki soshite chudan gyaku-zuki; (5) Ippo sagatte gedan barai kara chudan jun-zuki soshite chudan jun-zuki; (6) Either ‘Chudan shuto-uke (kokutsu-dachi) kara nukite’ or ‘Chudan shuto-uke (kokutsu-dachi) kara kizami mae-geri soshite nukite; (7) Either ‘Mae-geri kara chudan jun-zuki’, ‘Ren-geri’ or Mae-geri kara yoko-kekomi soshite chudan gyaku-zuki; (8) `Yoko-keage ashi o kaete yoko-kekomi (kiba-dachi); and (9) Either Mawashi-geri kara gyaku-zuki’ or mae-geri kara yoko-kekomi, mawashi-geri soshite chudan gyaku-zuki’.
 ·         Repetitions: At present I am doing quite low repetitions compared to normal Each ido-kihon waza I merely perform 10 times slowly, then 10 times with maximum effort. If unsatisfied, I simply do another set (another 10 slow, then with everything I’ve got). In sum, my kihon training at present is all about quality rather than quantity, and really working on `precision coupled with explosiveness’ in a systematic way.
KUMITE: At present, Nakamura Shihan has us going through all of the forms of standard Nihon Karate Kyokai kumite (Gohon kumite, Kihon ippon kumite, Jiyu ippon kumite and Jiyu kumite) but occasionally he gives us a variation; for example, jiyu ippon kumite—then immediately after the counterattack—a quick moment of jiyu kumite. In my self-training, besides reviewing what we are doing in the group practices, I am working a lot on my deai-waza; furthermore, reviewing the oyo (applications) of Gojushiho Dai kata.
KATA: Quite simply my kata practice is divided into three sections: shitei, sentei and tokui-gata, as follows…
 (A) Shitei-gata: Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan, Heian Godan and Tekki Shodan; (B) Sentei-gata: Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi and Jion; and (C) Tokui-gata: GOJUSHIHO DAI.
·         Repetitions: Unlike kihon I am tending to do kata `until failure’ i.e. – until I can no longer continue. Of course, this depends on my daily condition and the environment each day. To wrap up the kata portion of my training, I always end with a treat i.e. – “blast out a kata not from my regime” (either another jiyu-gata or a `non-syllabus’ kata). For me, this final kata really strips me of all my energy, and ends the session with a bang.
アンドレ バーテル
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto-ken. Japan (2014).

Saturday, 14 June 2014

五十四歩大 (Gojushiho Dai)

As you will know, I am not a person to chop and change (unless I have an important enough reason to do so). Recently, that has been the case, and if necessary I will change again… What I am talking about here is my tokui-gata (specialised formal exercise) which, since returning to Japan last August, has now changed three times! I started off working with Nijushiho (二十四歩), which I used for my JKA (日本空手協会/Japan Karate Association) Godan shinsa; then switched to my old favourite, Unsu (雲手). Finally, following last Friday’s training, I was `technically encouraged’ to trade in Unsu for Gojushiho-Dai (五十四歩大).

So why the change? Well, basically because of the way I see kata in the bigger picture of karate training; that is, what I believe the kata are for. Essentially, I believe that kata are training exercises for technically increasing our martial arts/self-defence prowess. Consequently, the selection of tokui-gata/jiyu-gata should be based on the kata that best achieves this target. Needless to say, this must be supported by: (a) the base/foundation of kihon; (b) the shitei-gata (Heian and Tekki); (c) the sentei-gata (Bassaidai, Kankudai, Enpi and Jion); (d) the various forms of kumite; and (d) impact training (i.e. – makiwara training etc.).  

Some more specifics about my change to Gojushiho Dai… Like Nijushiho, I found that Unsu has many useful elements; nonetheless, it has not pushed me to develop in the way that I’m physically seeking at present (and technically require). Gojushiho Dai, on the other hand, addresses a number of skill sets/combative principles that I’m envisaging to further refine (and literally need to if I wish to maximise my martial arts ability). In particular, I’m looking more closely at a higher level of hand/foot timing for greater effectiveness; refined `wave-like transitions’ of power; and, on the `technical front’, the neck based throws/attacks, which without a doubt “best characterise” both Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho (coming from the original Useishi / Gojushiho of Okinawa). Again, this returns us to the traditional budo karate adage that “…kihon, kata and kumite are indeed one”. By and large, kihon and kumite-wise, the aforementioned points in my karate need to be further refined and, more pertinently, there are subtle deficits that need to be addressed.

Background: A little about Gojushiho-dai… With a command count of 67, Gojushiho Dai is the longest kata in standard Shotokan Ryu Karate-Do: as established by the Kyokai. Whilst Gojushiho Sho more closely resembles the original Okinawan form, and is more commonly seen in exams and tournaments, Gojushiho Dai is widely regarded as being more technically challenging. It is rumoured that Funakoshi Gichin’s Sensei’s son, Funakoshi Yoshitaka (Gigo) Sensei “…developed both the Dai and Sho versions we have today—from Shito-Ryu’s Gojushiho” (via Mabuni Kenwa Sensei); however, there is also a belief that “the Dai rendition came from our late Chief Instructor, Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei”. An interesting and fun piece of trivia, which is often told to Shotokan karateka when learning this kata, is that the gedan ippon nukite in Gojushiho Dai is “…imitating a woodpecker on a tree trunk looking for worms”. Garden insects aside, Gojushiho Dai is indeed a masterpiece, like a long story, that has many technically sophisticated gems within it; nevertheless, it tends to be more appreciated by high level karate-do experts: as opposed to `most anyone else’. 

Conclusion: It may sound unusual but I’d like to wrap up by saying that “my switch to Gojushiho Dai is something that training itself has directed me to do”. Several subtle points in this kata have `called out to me’—via my kihon and kumite practice (namely, technical deficits that need my immediate attention—if I’m to really progress from now). It goes without saying that `self-honesty’ is an essential skill in all endeavours: perhaps best reflected by ‘the meaning of 54’ in the name `Gojushiho’? Taken as a whole, this elucidates a critical point in traditional budo karate… “The Art does not dictate the martial art; rather, it is the Martial Art that shapes the art”. Indeed, this point is worthy of deep introspect amongst all contemporary Karate-Do practitioners.  Kindest regards and all the very best from Kumamoto, Japan. Osu, André.

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

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Practice is Karate-Do

In the case of all physical disciplines, of course including karate-do, the basis for development—physically, technically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—derives from actual practice.

Unambiguously, theory and ‘thinking about karate’, whilst important, is counterproductive when it “takes precedence over actual training”. In all cases, thinking is secondary to training/practice. To restate what I said in my opening sentence: “all of the non-physical benefits of karate-do practice, and budo training in general, come from doing the hard yards in the dojo”.

This is an area where Japanese karateka, generally speaking, are far superior to their Western counterparts. Fundamentally, they train and just get on with it. Contrastingly, Westerners tend to over-theorize, come up with many creative answers (especially in the case of kata applications) and, in many cases, even significantly change techniques, kata, drills etcetera.

Like it or not, this to me is the loss of the traditional Japanese budo karate, which keeps things very simple and `effective in the real world’… It is this very `simplicity’ that causes things to become far more difficult. What I mean is that “simple things require much more depth; and therefore, much-much more practice”. From this perspective it is easy to see why the `creative theoretical path’ is a much easier one.

By the way, the photos from this post are from my practice of Gojushiho Dai kata today. This follows some high level advice from Nakamura Masamitsu Shihan, not pertaining to this kata; nevertheless, resulting in my training of it (here, broken down into kihon and also at formal dojo keiko).  Such advice only comes when we put ourselves on the line physically… Sweat, blisters, calluses and bruising are prerequisites. Subsequently, we grow to understand ourselves better, our strengths, limitations and kokoro.  

Just some food for thought, Osu.

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