Tuesday, 24 March 2015


One of the commonplace traits of Western karate is the misguided belief in `grafting on’ kihon and kata from all over the place; that is, grafting `the perceived best bits’ of others technique onto to their own karate (to attain a `better style’ or `more impressive look’ when they perform karate). It is clear that many see this as a positive training methodology; nevertheless, I believe it is the main contributing factor of reducing martial arts development  of karateka (in the practice of kihon and kata). I’d like to add here that many senior Japanese karateka, here in Japan, also voice this view, and indeed recognize it “as the biggest anchor holding back non-Japanese karate practitioners”.
BACKGROUND: Before I go on, I will need to qualify this view and the perspective from which I come from:
·         The first thing I’ll need to do, to achieve this, is to define ‘what is karate?’ Rather than give a definition personally I’d like you to read the definition made by the JKA (please follow this link: http://jka.or.jp/en/karate/philosophy.html). This philosophical definition assertively defines authentic karate.
 ·         Based on this correct understanding of what true karate is “…it is unequivocally clear that kihon and kata are for kumite: the trinity of karate-do. And kumite, in budo is not limited to prearranged drills; but rather, it directly pertains to proper jiyu-kumite, traditional shiai (competition) and, indeed, actual self-defence”. Therefore, the idea of ‘grafting’ or `sourcing’ bits and pieces from a variety of individuals, styles, organizations—`FOR STYLES SAKE’—has NO RELEVANCE for authentic budo karate.

 ·         It is important to point out that jiyu kumite is different in this regard—grafting is fine. Grafting is a part of the unique character of developing jiyu-kumite skills. For example, we may find a technique or tactic that is useful then steal it (this is why it is called `free’ sparring; nonetheless, clearly in the context of jiyu-kumite, it is not `art-for-arts sake’). I.e. – the assimilation of an effective variation of tsuki, unsoku/ashi-hakobi, keri, a shimewaza (strangulation technique) etc. Nevertheless, I must stress again that kihon and kata should never be grafted/multi-sourced. To reiterate let’s now consider “Why would someone want to graft different ways of doing kihon and kata?”


Here are the main reasons people `graft’:
1.      Their focus is on `performance’ as opposed to seeking effectiveness; thus, they seek to put together the best `moves’ for `display kihon and kata’.

2.      If they find something difficult or awkward grafting on another approach can help them get around the challenge: once again, this is not related to true budo/martial arts—rather, just karate as some form of abstract `art’.

3.      They are not sure about the correct way, so they play around with techniques, learn from books/online resources etcetera (or instructors who have done this). This is a major discrepancy between karate in Japan and the vast majority of karate outside of Japan. Essentially this is the propagation/handing down of ‘guesswork’ (cosmetic karate) as opposed to first-hand knowledge. It is worth noting here that first-hand knowledge always leads one down the path to martial effectiveness in jiyu-kumite and, certainly, beyond the realms of the karate-dojo.

4.      Grafting is also done by instructors who lack first-hand knowledge of budo karatein order to create a vast array of `shallow technical repertoire’. This is literally ornamental karate, which is unambiguously not focused on the technical objectives of budo karate. As I have stated recently, this type of instructor (and these types of organisations) have gained popularity as they offer a fluffy version of karate.

a.      Grafting kihon and kata is actually the ‘main way’. When you see a karateka perform a kata with a mix of techniques (i.e. - JKA, SKIF and sports karate), or someone dropping the traditional mawashi-geri—from their kihon—in favour for a ‘flicky’ one, it is pretty obvious that ‘the performer’ is merely a ‘dancer’ seeking to look prettier. 
b.      More deeply, and as stated before (and as emphasised on the JKA Homepage), “…when kihon, kata and kumite do not form the trinity”with the technical purpose of downing the opponent with a single blow—the technique is shallow. This is actually very easy to see, but many don’t want to as it is `not so fun’ and means that training becomes intense; repetitious; and the levels of danger inevitably increase.

c.       Another obvious way to recognize shallowness is a lack of proper jiyu-kumite (please follow this link if you would like to read more about this: http://andrebertel.blogspot.jp/2015/02/the-criticality-of-jiyu-kumite-in.html). As discussed, extensively in the past, a lack of high quality and challenging jiyu-kumite means `a lack of testing one’s techniques in an open context’.  All kihon, all kata and all forms of yakusoku (prearranged) kumite must lead to effectiveness in a freestyle context.

d    Competition: if done in the budo way like the Japan Karate Association (i.e.  – the J.K.A. tournaments here in Japan, such as prefecture championships and the JKA All Japan's) kata and kumite tournaments can provide a great test of technical depth. However, I’d like to stress here that “games for `points’ cannot achieve this”. The only competitive kumite context—where true karate can be tested and applied—is under shobu ippon rules, as this runs in-line with the maximum of achieving ippon-waza (and the quintessential essence of Traditional Japanese Budo Karate). If you have ever seen the JKA All-Japan Championships compared to other karate tournaments, and you will fully understand what I mean here.

While, I have said that competition is not `absolutely essential’, you will notice that all of the authentic budo karate instructors in the world have all competed in Shobu ippon. Of course, not all are—or have been—`champions’ (or competed at the highest levels), but have tested their techniques in these events. Moreover, many, including myself, have worked in the security industry experiencing numerous violent altercations. In sum, those who haven’t put their bodies on the line either in competition, the experience of fighting in the real world, or both, cannot have anything but shallow karate. This is the nature of beast—the nature of martial arts. Yes, karate is an art, but real karate IS NOT ONLY an ART.

No one here in Japan, who practices budo karate, thinks “I will change my kihon or kata to make it easier for myself” or “I’ll copy and graft on so-and-so’s different way of doing this technique, and this other organisations method of doing this kata (because it looks cool)”. These ideas are `off the radar’ for budo karateka. Why? Because budo karate is not superficial, it relates to jiyu-kumite and self-defence as a whole. Doing `the moves’ is an idea that is really foreign in Japan and pointless—blatantly counterproductive—for those seeking the martial art of karate.

CONCLUSIVE REMARKS: I’d like to conclude by stressing that “knowing what real karate is, in actuality, very simple”. However, it is this very simplicity and tough training that makes it such a difficult martial art to practice properly. This fact, in isolation, is what separates the elite Japanese karateka from the vast majority of non-Japanese practitioners. Kihon and kata aim constantly towards functionality in freestyle: they are not merely ways to `visually impress’ others. Based on this understanding, if one can understand and apply what I’ve written (in this very brief article), one will be on the right path to achieve a high level. In fact, it would not be an understatement to say that they will have an edge. In sum, following this narrow path means that “…the `art’ of karate strictly remains as Budo: as opposed to becoming a superficially `grafted’ performance art”.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan (2015).

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Private lesson for Higo Tyler San

Today, Higo Tyler San visited Aso-shi and had a private lesson. Higo San is a student of Nakamura Shihan at the Shototakuhirokan (which operates as the central branch of JKA in Kumamoto City). The following notes are primarily for him as reference to the points we covered.

Generic focus of the private lesson: The focus of the training was `division of energy in the fundamental techniques’ in order “…to transcend speed and power plateaus and increase elasticity of movement”. To do this, I focused on techniques and sequences from the two kata Higo San is working on: namely, Jion and movements 1-25 of Kanku Dai. We also briefly went over a non-syllabus kata focusing on the points applied in Jion and the first 25 movements of Kanku Dai: this was simply to reinforce the correct use (and division of) chikara no kyojaku. In sum, the critical point was `junansei’.

In particular, the following techniques/sequences were covered:
·         Movement 17 of Jion (chudan oi-zuki (chudan jun-zuki) and hip work with jodan age-uke and chudan gyaku-zuki leading up to it: movements 12-16.
·         Movements 18-21 in Jion (migi sokumen jodan uchi-uke doji ni hidari sokumen gedan-barai turning 270 degrees into migi kokutsu-dachi followed by migi chudan kagi-zuki—via a rightward yori-ashi into kiba-dachi; then hidari sokumen jodan uchi-uke doji migi sokumen gedan-barai—turning into hidari kokutsu-dachi—followed by hidari chudan kagi-zuki coordinated with a leftward yori-ashi to move into kiba-dachi).

·         Movements 22 and 42 in Jion (hidari gedan-barai transitioning into hidari zenkutsu-dachi from kiba-dachi).

·         Movements 26-29 in Jion (migi sokumen jodan uchi-uke doji ni hidari sokumen gedan-barai turning 270 degrees into migi kokutsu-dachi followed by hidari sokumen jodan morote-uke—while moving the right foot to the left and forming heisoku-dachi; then hidari sokumen jodan uchi-uke doji migi sokumen gedan-barai—turning into hidari kokutsu-dachi—followed by migi sokumen jodan morote-uke bring the left foot to the right and, once again, forming heisoku-dachi).

·         As mentioned before, the opening of Kanku-Dai up to movement 25 (saken gedan, uken migi koshi pulling back the lead leg from hidari-ashi-zenkutsu into hidari-ashi-mae renoji-dachi).

·         Special emphasis on movements 16 and 21 of Kanku Dai (in particular, the first two migi shuto jodan sotomawashi-uchi doji ni sasho jodan-uke moving into hidari-ashi-zenkutsu with gyaku-hanmi).

·         I also emphasized fundamental turning in relation to the winding up of ukewaza. Again, this was related back to the utilisation of natural energy and, ultimately, the fine tuning of te-ashi onaji.

Needless to say, other techniques and applications were covered (and ‘physically clarified’ in depth); nevertheless, these are for Higo San for having the spirit to come and train. Higo San, thank you for your friendship through Karate-Do. I wish you—and your lovely family—the utmost best in the future! Of course, you are always most welcome at my private dojo again in the future. Osu, Andre.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, Japan. (2015).

Friday, 13 March 2015

March training regime: 'Marching' towards the JKA Kumamoto Prefecture Championships

Here is my current training regime for March. I hope it finds you well! Osu, André.


(1) Chudan jun-zuki; (2) Jodan jun-zuki; (3) Chudan gyaku-zuki; (4) Jodan gyaku-zuki; (5) Chudan mae-geri keage; (6) Jodan mae-geri keage; (7) Chudan mawashi-geri; (8) Jodan mawashi-geri; (9) Chudan ushiro-geri; (10) Chudan yoko-geri keage; (11) Chudan yoko-geri kekomi; (12) Jodan age-uke kara chudan gyaku-zuki; (13) Chudan soto-uke kara chudan gyaku-zuki; (14) Chudan uchi-uke kara chudan gyaku-zuki; and (15) Chudan shuto-uke kara nukite.

General points of focus: 1-0/ Hiki-te in uke and tsukiwaza in relation to the central axis; and high (and compact) chambering of keriwaza. Prime focus: Chikara no kyojaku.

Repetitions: A minimum of 40 reps of each waza (pertaining to the `Prime focus’ of trying to move as lightly and snappily as possible). If heaviness is felt, I perform more reps until 40 good (light and fast techniques) are completed.

At present my kumite comprises of whatever is practiced at the JKA Kumamoto Chuo Dojo (Shototakuhirokan). At the time of writing this, the focus is still Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi) and Jiyu Ippon Kumite; however, Jiyu Kumite is always the priority.  On a personal level in my kumite practice, I am fostering my deai-waza and impact capacity; in turn, this is relating directly to my execution of kihon and kata (via the aforementioned points of `lightness’ and `snap’).

Reps: Training-wise, completing each form of kumite several times (and alternating partners/standard ’round robin’) is the norm.


Kata training at present has turned towards the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Kumamoto Prefecture Championships next month. The elimination rounds will only require shitei-gata (from Heian Nidan to Tekki Shodan). There will be no sentei-gata round (that is, Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi and Jion). And the final, as always, will be a free-choice kata. Based on this, my kata training is focused on Heian, Tekki, and Gojushiho Dai.

Chance for the 58th JKA All-Japan's... The winner of the prefecture championships gains automatic selection for the 58th JKA All-Japan Championships (Kumamoto-Ken is only allowed one competitor, and inevitably that is the yusho/champion); therefore, in the highly unlikely chance of me winning—due to a number of predetermined factors—I’d be on my way to the National Championships…  Last year, by sheer luck I was jun-yusho (gained second place)…

Kata training schedule: Three days a week – multiple repetitions of Heian Nidan and Heian Sandan; and on alternate days, (the other three days a week) multiple repetitions of Heian Yondan and Heian Godan. Every ‘Heian day’, multiple repetitions of Tekki-Shodan and Gojushiho Dai; and once a week (Tuesday’s): ‘shitei-gata matches’ and Gojushiho-Dai.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi)

During training (this and Last week) at the JKA (Japan Karate Association) Central Kumamoto Dojo—Shototakuhirokan, amongst other things, Nakamura Shihan and Akiyoshi Sensei had us work on Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi). Here is a brief description of this variation of ‘Kihon Ippon Kumite’, which is now required during the JKA Examinations for Sankyu (3rd Kyu Brown Belt) and Nikyu (2nd Kyu Brown Belt). I apologize in advance for not having any pictures from the training; that being said, the simplicity of text—that I have used below—will not require corresponding images (as there is a `general overview’ then `kihon drills’ thoroughly detailing each stimuli and response in this form of Kihon Ippon Kumite).

 An overview of Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi):


1.      The designated attacker steps back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi with hidari gedan-barai. They then announce “jodan” then attack with jodan jun-zuki.

2.      The designated defender responds to the attack by stepping back with the right foot into hidari zenkutsu-dachi, lower the weight/centreline on the spot), and blocking with hidari jodan age-uke.

 NB – steps one and two perfectly resemble kihon ippon kumite.
3.      From here, instead of the defender countering with gyaku-zuki they instead counter with jodan jun-zuki. A kiai is executed on this punch.

4.      The person who initially attacked (the designator attacker) then blocks and counters the designated defenders counterattack. This is done by making a full step rearwards and blocking with jodan age-uke and countering with gyaku-zuki. A kiai applied on the gyaku-zuki.

‘Chudan’ and `Mae-geri’ follow the same pattern: This same pattern is followed with chudan jun-zuki (1. chudan jun-zuki attack; 2. defender blocks with chudan soto-uke; 3. they then counter with chudan jun-zuki; 4. the initial attacker steps back and blocks with chudan soto-uke and counters with gyaku-zuki); and, for the Nikkyu-Shinsa, chudan mae-geri is added (1. mae-geri attack; 2. defender blocks with gedan-barai; 3. they then counter with zenshin mae-geri; 4. the initial attacker steps back and blocks with gedan-barai and counters with gyaku-zuki).

To reiterate, here is the complete exercise broken down into six solo kihon drills:

Please forgive me for the simplicity of this, however, —if you are like me and not so good at karate—“breaking everything down into kihon and `practicing over and over again’ is utterly critical”… My apologies for the height of mundaneness in advance!

Drill one: Step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and execute gedan-barai. Announce “jodan” and attack with jodan jun-zuki. Next step back and block with jodan age-uke and counter with gyaku-zuki applying a kiai. Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill two: From shizentai/hachiji-dachi step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and block with jodan age-uke then counter with jodan jun-zuki (kiai). Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill three: Step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and execute gedan-barai. Announce “chudan” and attack with chudan jun-zuki. Next step back and block with chudan soto-uke and counter with gyaku-zuki applying a kiai. Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill four: From shizentai/hachiji-dachi step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and block with chudan soto-uke then counter with chudan jun-zuki (kiai). Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill five: Step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi with and execute kakiwake geda-barai. Announce “mae-geri” and attack with chudan mae-zuki. Next step back and block with gedan-barai and counter with gyaku-zuki applying a kiai. Repeat on the opposite side.

Drill six: From shizentai/hachiji-dachi step back into hidari zenkutsu-dachi and block with gedan-barai then counter with chudan mae-geri (kiai). Repeat on the opposite side.

In sum, ‘Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi)’ is very simple; nonetheless, it unmistakeably supports to build (and break) some `deeply ingrained’ patterns of fundamental movement; for example, always countering on the spot with a gyaku-zuki. For that reason, the hangeki (counterattacks) with jun-zuki jodan and chudan, and indeed countering with zenshin mae-geri, also develop one’s maai more acutely: as opposed to simply ‘sitting tight’ to counter on the spot. Of course, ‘sitting tight to counter’, in the case of being counterattacked by a well-executed oi-waza, “…will result in being `steam rolled’.” Taken as a whole, Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi) challenges the ingrained habit of the ‘static counter with gyaku-zuki’ and provides a springboard “...to more readily move towards `the midway between jun-zuki and gyaku-zuki’”. Last but not least, it offers a fundamentally-based/introductory means of practicing a `win-win’ situation; that is, to attack whilst “being ready to counter your opponents counterattack”.

 PS – I would like to add here that one must keep in mind `who Kihon Ippon Kumite (Kiri Kaeshi)’ is targeted for’; namely, those testing for Sankyu and Nikyu (4th and 3rd Kyu students respectively). With this in mind, the strict adherence to kihon in this form of kumite readily makes sense: especially pertaining to the development of ‘kime’ amongst ‘kyu grades’ and, indeed, in a testing scenario. Needless to say, this type of practice can, and is, applied in a much more advanced/freestyle way for example in various extensions of jiyu ippon kumite etcetera. All the very best from chilly Japan, Osu! – André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).