Sunday, 26 August 2007

Five months today!

Oh yes... And I was just reminded by Mizuho that we've been back in Japan for five months today! Doesn't time fly! A quick hello, big "osu", and thumbs up to all my karate students and friends in New Zealand (and around the world). I hope you are all enjoying the blog ;-)

Just remember, there are now 38 posts/articles on here, so be sure to have a look through them all! I sincerely hope that this little site helps you, on your karate journey.

Happy training everyone!

P.S - I've taken the weekend off training, to soak up some Kyushu sun, and get some long awaited R'n'R. In saying that I will certainly do some stretching to loosen up. My self-training schedule will be changing this Saturday (September 1st), so when time permits, I will update you with my new 'core regime', in the coming week.

© André Bertel, Japan

Memorial Training Report

On August the 15th, like so many karateka around the world, I completed 'special training' in memory of Asai Tetsuhiko. Many people have asked me what I did as one of his direct pupils, so here is a brief report and some photos. For me, the memorial trainings were a great opportunity to reflect on what Asai Sensei personally taught me. Also, to remember 'What Karate Is'! In Asai Sensei's own words, just prior to his passing in 2006, he stated. "Karate is defined by how much a man physically trains himself." I believe we should all endeavour to follow Sensei's disciplined example, and if we do not, how can we claim to be karateka? The answer is simple, we cannot! OSU, Andre.

AUGUST 15, 2007

Session One
In the tradition of Asai Sensei, I completed my first memorial training in the very early morning. This began with 20 minutes of mokuso, followed by Asai Sensei’s typical junansei-renshu. Included in this softness training were the kihoyuragiso drills, and the complete Kihoken kata (issei, nisei and sansei combined), focusing on the harmony of correct breathing, and soft movement. I then worked on Asai Sensei’s tokui-waza, muchiken (whip fist), namely snapping techniques with shuto, haito, haishu, teisho and ganken. I progressed on to keri-waza from standing, and seated positions (applying the principles of muchiken to all of the leg techniques). To conclude there was another period of meditation, in remembrance of Sensei.

Session Two
Beginning with a simple bow, the second session addressed snapping all of my kihon, utilising ‘natural energy’ by ‘training until failure’. This included Asai Sensei’s unique approach, in the training of the core foundational techniques. That is, kihon-waza with pivots, spins, reverse spins, jumping, and the diverse combinations of these. This period of my training was undoubtedly ‘the most intense’ planned for the day, but ended up being highly enlightening, revealing some unnecessary muscle power, hidden within some of my techniques (especially when fatigue set in). The formal exercise portion of the session was dedicated to Asai Sensei’s three favourite ‘Shotokan-ryu’ kata; Tekki-nidan, Enpi and Nijushiho; and his three favourite ‘Asai-ryuha’ kata; Kakuyoku (Kakuyoku-nidan), Rakuyo, and Hushu (Kaze no te). Each kata was repeated three times. To wrap up this training, I ended with a vigorous blast of the foundational techniques, no doubt ‘physically influenced’ by earlier kihon of the session (which seemingly took all of my energy); 1000 gyaku zuki (500 with each hand), and 1000 mae geri (500 each leg). Again the focus was on snapping the techniques, as opposed to using muscular power. Even though I was completely worn out, particularly from the final burst of front snap kicks, I decided to end, by pushing my spirit, with an "extra".., Sensei’s ‘machine gun’ choku zuki from kiba dachi, until total failure. Asai Sensei always reserved this, for the end of his open seminar sessions, to ‘burn out’ your muscles, so you had to punch with snap/joint power. My body shut down, after just over a minute of 'zapping out' punches, where I ended with ten single ‘perfect’ choku zuki. When I say perfect, I'm really meaning ‘the feeling of perfection’, as I could not use any of my muscle power. The session ended with a simple bow, and then a road trip, which I will briefly explain from now...

Trip to Jumonjibaru Observatory
We travelled to Kyushu’s famous onsen city Beppu, to visit the Jumonjibaru Observatory. It is here that you can see Ehime on Shikoku island, where Asai Sensei was born. The weather was fantastic, and the view was just as great. My legs during the drive were so cramped from training, that I could barely stand when we finally got to the lookout, so a relaxing onsen was certainly tempting! But of course it was impossible, as I needed to complete my final session! In saying that, the breathtaking view was worth the trip. It was highly appropriate to see Shikoku from 'our' island, on the first anniversary of Sensei's passing.

Session Three
In the final session I completed all 89 kata, in a continuous relaxed fashion, with my mind on sensei’s coaching. This was really a warm down session, and a time for me to reflect on Asai Sensei’s karate advice, and other more personal memories. Upon the completion of all of the kata, I recited the dojo-kun in seiza, and had a period of ten minutes silence, in memory of Sensei.

This concluded my memorial for Asai Sensei. It certainly brought back many wonderful memories, and some ' very intense training memories' as well. Ironically, for those of you who don’t know, the day Sensei died was 61st Anniversary, of Japan surrendering in WWII. The first anniversary of Asai Sensei's passing, therefore marked 62 years, since World War 2 ended.

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Wednesday, 15 August 2007


On this very day, August 15th, last year, we lost Asai Tetsuhiko, who in my opinion, was the World's Greatest karate exponent.

As my karate teacher and friend, I miss Tetsuhiko Asai dearly. Today, like many people across the world, I'll complete a special memorial training. I’m still deeply saddened by Asai Sensei’s passing, not just today, but everytime I sit in seiza. Seiza and mokuso, since this day, last year, really have taken a new meaning for me. Sensei had such a deep, and positive influence on my life. Words truly cannot express my gratitude to him, for taking me under his wing as a personal student, and giving me great care. I feel extremely blessed to have crossed paths with Tetsuhiko Asai, through this art we call karate-do. I will always keep Asai Sensei’s memory in my heart, and I'll continue to follow his karate way, throughout my life.


If you have not read my interviews with Asai Sensei, or simply want to read them again today, in memory of him, here are the links:

(1) Asai Sensei's las international interview: ;

(2) Asai Sensei's first interview in New Zealand: ;

(3) Asai Sensei's second interview in New Zealand


Here is a miniture gallery, of some of my personal pictures with Sensei. Besides being my karate teacher, Asai Sensei really became like a father figure to me, in my personal life.

Click the following link to see Asai Sensei's Television New Zealand Interview:
Asai Sensei is survived by his daughter Hoshimi and wife Keiko in Tokyo. My thoughts and prayers go especially to them on this day.


© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Monday, 13 August 2007

Asai Sensei - The Professional Artist???

In the lead up to Tetsuhiko Asai Memorial Day, I thought I'd share a little of Sensei's humour with you.


Over the years, Asai Sensei did many protraits of me on napkins, paper and plastic bags, you name it! So, I thought I'd share, my three favourites with you (the better looking ones...). This was one of his trademark gags, alongside "Do you like to gamble?", dodgy fortune telling, teleportation, rapid scissor jabbing (between your fingers spread on a table), and "look over there it's Count Dracula!".

One jestful claim Asai Sensei made was "You name it, I am a professional!". Apparently his professions included: surfing; swimming (please refer to his Takusoku swimming story:; singing his favourite English songs 'Just Walking In The Rain' and 'Don't Worry Be Happy'; skate boarding and anything balancing on wheels; snooker; driving (he was 'very proud' of having his gold Japanese drivers license, for no traffic offenses. However he wasn't driving for years); skiing (he regularly claimed to be better than Nakayama Sensei); hot air ballooning, and of course art! In particular doing 'life like' potraits... (the proof of this is below).

Everytime Sensei made these claims, with that little smirk on his face, I would say "Sensei, how do you make the time for all these endeavors, run your companies, and do so much karate? He claimed "Very easy! Teleportation made it possible!"

Sensei had such a wonderful sense of humour! I hope you get a laugh from these potraits, as he would want you to! And if he was still here, and detected your amusement, he'd most certainly draw you next!

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Tetsuhiko Asai - Legendary Karate Master

Just added to YouTube, is the complilation video, made for the Asai Sensei's Public Funeral. It has been uploaded in three parts. The links for each part, are below.

It features extensive footage from the 1970's JKA 8mm series (Legend), and Asai Sensei's two 'Karate-Do' tapes. In addition to these clips, there is various amateur footage from seminars, demonstrations, and the like.
I was really buzzed that Hoshimi Asai used six clips, from my TVNZ enbu with Sensei, in the production. That was a obviously great honour for me! They are featured within the opening medley of footage (in PART ONE).

All in all, this is a fantastic tribute to Asai Sensei. So be sure to check them out.

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Bunkai centric training

The Bunkai Fad

The ‘kata application’ or ‘bunkai (analysis) fad’ has been around for just over 10 years, in mainstream Shotokan. Unfortunately, I can honestly say, from what I have experienced, it is something that, in general, I do not wish to be associated with. Here is the justification for my stance:

From my experience, just like the 'pressure point obsessed people', the majority of the karateka who are ‘bunkai-centric’, are pretty much all theory. They cannot perform good kihon (that is, with good form, powerful and street effective) against an uncooperative opponent. Essentially they have no base to apply their waza. In my mind, without a high level, and ongoing development, of one’s foundational techniques, nothing can work. This is why I say; “’A person with all the answers, yet cannot impress me with their kihon, simply doesn’t have my attention”. Away from high-class technical performance, it is quite interesting that so many bunkai-centric people, who claim ‘combat effectiveness’, haven’t experienced many (if any) real fights in their adulthood. The source of such people’s high focus on bunkai, is usually to bring themselves out of the ashes. Their karate is technically substandard, so they like to vocalise things like; “I have the code for unlocking the secrets in the kata.” Bottom line, if they can’t do, “high class kihon”, there is no way they can apply, even the most basic karate waza (let alone the often 'flash' oyo-jutsu, they propogate).

So where does that put me?
Well, as I stated in my Jiyu kumite must be 'specific article, I admit to being bunkai-centric, via my heavy focus on kata application (for self-defence). However, the application training I have in my regime is literally street effective ("field tested" in numerous private security jobs, in my past life). Nowadays, my students and I completely discard all fighting principles, which we cannot use universally. When kata is taught correctly, it is karate's most effective self-defence training method. When I say 'the most effective’, I'm referring to the third level. Let me expand on this (and if you haven't already, please refer to my views on kata, and 'partner drills' in the article: Oyo-jutsu: Is kata an effective training method for self-defense?).

The three levels of kata analysis/application
The first level of kata application is direct. That is, pretty much the style of 'analysis' demonstrated in ‘Best Karate’ series by Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei (kick, punch, strike and literally block). According to Asai Sensei, this training merely helps beginners to learn the kata sequence, like gohon and kihon ippon kumite for basics. The second level includes relatively street effective techniques. This level, for the most part, often still requires a co-operative partner. The third level is based on application principles. These are the ‘real applications’, which I refer to as 'street tactics' (as they work regardless of the situation). All of these applications are street practical 'finishing techniques', suitable for military/martial CQB (Close Quarter Battle).

Karate trained incorporating the perfection of waza, and this third level of karate application, establishes what one seriously trains, as 'bujutsu-karate'. This karate transcends style, which Asai Sensei advocated.

In my opinion, it is combatively more effective to be kihon-centric, if one does not include 'third level' application training (in their daily karate regime). In saying that, being kihon-centric, will never result in a 'complete martial art' for self-defence. This training as propogated by the mainstream organisations has undeniably 'sportified' the kata, rendering it useless for self-defence.

I'd like to thank my karate student, and dear friend, Tony Petronlli (3rd Dan) for modeling the bunkai-jutsu, in the pictures featured here. Tony is a first class karateka, following karate as 'bujutsu', as a opposed to sports. Tony was my Best Man at our Wedding, and possesses practical karate waza, which completely adhere to the fundamentals of Shotokan-Ryu. Ironically, in these photos, we are demonstrating the 'First Level' of applications. As explained in this article, these are 'partner complient' or 'stylistic bunkai' to teach the basic form of the kata (in the initial stage of learning). The kata photographically demonstated in this article is Kaminari-arashi (Thunderous Storm).

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

Friday, 10 August 2007

Some kyogi kumite clips of me on YouTube

If you haven't seen these on YouTube, here are two clips of me competing. Although not the best, they are certainly better than nothing! Hopefully, as time goes by, my karate students, can help me to transfer all of my competition videos, over to DVD. In doing so, I'll most certainly upload more footage.

The first clip is seven seconds of footage titled, 'Shotokan Karate 101: Basic Ashi Barai'. This clip features one of my tokui-renzokuwaza, and may be useful (fun) for shobu-ippon newbies. In this case, you can clearly see, as I move in, I merely slip the opponents punches, as they have no potential. Prior to this, my mawashi geri feint draws the opponents COG high. The important point, in this particular ashi-barai, is slipping around the 'outside' of the opponents punch. This basic angle 'off the line', allows the sweep to take out both legs, via the 'scissors action', of the upper and lower body. This 'mock' tactic is one I reserved, for fighting kyu grades, or dan karateka with poor basics. I do not recommend 'openly' entering ma'ai, like in this footage (with no kamae), against any opponent, with average skill or better.

In the second video clip (titled 'Ippon-waza'), I am fighting my friend Phil Wilson, who recently got to the top 16, at the JKS World Cup in Okinawa. Here again, in this clip, I feint, then simultaneously slip my opponents attempted punch, and go for ashi-barai. In the process, Philip snatches my dogi with his punching hand. I capitalized on Phil's natural response, by turning, and immediately launching a jodan punch. This technique is clearly a finisher in a real fight, and therefore an 'Ippon'. If I had not 'tensed' to 'put the breaks on', serious damage would have been done. Although not the best example, it certainly demonstrates 'what a real ippon' is. There is no second chance.


Am I anti sports karate?
I decided to upload this post, to give a positive reflection in my blog, for those interested in competition kumite. What I am trying to make clear, to all visitors to this blog, is that "I'm not 'completely anti' sports karate". As I've publicly stated numerous occassions, tournaments can be beneficial, if used as motivational tool for increased training (frequency and intensity). It certainly worked well for me, throughout my teens and 20's.


Taking a dive, or staying down to win: A credit to Philip Willson
Sadly, when I was competing, the tactics of karateka 'taking a dive' and 'staying down', became commonplace, in the tournament arena. I cannot count the number of matches I "lost" by hansoku (disqualification), due to my 'shameful' opponents pretending to be unconscious. I'd like to give credit to Phil Willson, in the 'Ippon-waza' clip, as he didn't resort to a 'Hollywood' tactic to win by hansoku. Instead, he demonstrated the true karate spirit of 'never giving up'. He may have missed the Academy Award for Best Actor, but certainly gets the 'People's Choice' award!


Even though kyogi-karate is no longer on my training agenda, I appreciate the lessons it taught me (and the motivation it ignited). More than that, I enjoyed the cameradarie of such events, especially at national level, where it was a chance to catch up with friends. One thing I learned was that 'competitions and competition results, do not determine a better karateka', only the level of ones kihon does.

I hope everyone enjoys the clips! Regards, Andre
© André Bertel, Japan 2007