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There cannot be many in the shotokan karate world who create such divided opinion.
However, those who have experienced his teaching are often keen to learn more as was evidenced by those who travel long distances to train with him again. Of the 50 or so who attended the recent weekend seminar, all the feedback was positive and there have been many requests asking if he is likely to visit us again soon (sadly no).
The critics of Sensei Andre Bertel are almost always those who have never met him. He strives to keep clear of politics and yet at least one organisation in the UK told its members to stay away. This reminds me of a mistake made by the KUGB in 1974, when it banned its members from training with Mr Kanazawa and Mr Kato. It now seems laughable to have given such an instruction. Certainly Mr Kato has always welcomed his IJKA members training with other instructors.
Mr Asai had a only a handful of personal students and his most senior and longest serving was Sensei Koller Bruno. Sensei Bertel was also a long standing student, training with Mr Asai on a regular basis for 13 years and he was awarded the youngest ever 6th Dan. Although Sensei Bertel's knowledge is extensive, he openly admits that there is much more he could have learnt had his Master lived longer and therefore he does not have all of the answers.
I did train with Mr Asai on more than one occasion, observing his incredible demonstrations, but it is only after being taught by Sensei Bertel that I am beginning to understand the main concepts. Andre's chosen profession is that of a teacher and his communication skills are second to none. It is not always easy to make the transformation from hard karate to a more relaxed form, but if you can manage it you will be highly rewarded both in the effectiveness of your karate and your health.For me it is a work in progress.
A point that should not be lost is that Bertel Sensei is passing on what he was taught by the late Asai Sensei. He has not changed anything, although his approach to instruction is his own and it is this great teaching style that is so informative. Asai’s version of Shotokan contradicts what many of us have been taught; it is a different concept. However, there is also a clear message, that this style of karate is not for everyone and it is for each of us to make our choice.
Fortunately for me, Andre Bertel’s recent blog answers the 'big three' questions that have arisen since the England seminar. The blog entry clarifies questions about muchiken, kime and the regular use of oi zuki(when training in pairs). The two-day seminar was just an introduction to Asai-ru Shotokan Karate and it covered the basics. During his stay Sensei Bertel trained at Sensei Ron Bellwood's club on two occasions. On the first occasion, he impressed everyone with his teaching skills. On the second visit he just 'joined the line', but after the formal training he helped with the juniors; coaching and as always was happy to volunteer his time.
The more advanced training during my private sessions focused on kata and the oyo waza. Sensei Andre is very particular about certain details when practicing a kata because it is preparation and practice for practical 'street situation' self defence techniques. Poor kata practice and performance, in the context of learning karate as a martial art, can look quite sharp and superficially good, but the performance is empty when there is no effective application. We practiced kata oyo waza in pairs and this involved very little change from the original kata performance. Ignoring the finer points within the kata often resulted in the defence/attack not working at all when practicing with a 'non co-operative' training partner . The correct technique generally works for you every time providing you can learn to adapt to the position of your 'uchi'.
Of course, it depends what you want from your training. As a young man I started karate to be able to defend myself and to fight better. I lived in Blackpool and during the holiday season 'Glasgow fortnight' it could be a rough place. Those days are long gone and karate for me is now just a good way of keeping fit and forgetting about the gas and electricity bills! However, I do not wish it to be an empty martial art and for me it is important to be learning an effective system of self defence.
Sensei Michael Barr 4th Dan IJKA