Friday, July 30, 2010

Back in the Saddle- Andre Bertel Inspires Ibusuki Sensei's Return!

Well Yuko and I are already getting excited about this- Ibusuki Sensei, 80 years young, has decided to start teaching again tomorrow and we just can't wait!

This is a long post, so bear with me. I have only just started collecting my thoughts on a number of issues after a long break, so I am breaching many themes that I will attempt to come back and revisit in more logical and digestible forms later. But I am having so much fun at the prospect of returning to training...

First of all, for those of you who don't know and care about these things, Ibusuki Sensei is one of the very few living Karateka who was taught by Gichin Funakoshi.

In Ibusuki Sensei's case it was at the (then) famous Waseda University Karate Club, one of the elite clubs that formed the early hubs of Shotokan Karate before the war. In the post-war chaos, the university clubs played a key role in maintaining a network of sempai and kohai in loose alliances that was the reality of Shotokan Karate before the JKA took over. As for Ibusuki Sensei himself, he rose to become captain of Waseda Karate Club, then after a few years, "retired," built a business, got rich, and then was invited back to Karate by Nakayama Sensei, who personally taught him the "JKA 26" Kata. After teaching off and on in the JKA, Ibusuki "retired" again, until Yahara Sensei (they are old friends) invited him back to teach at the KWF, so people could get a flavor of what Funakoshi Sensei's Shotokan Karate was like. Then last year Ibusuki Sensei retired again on doctors orders to take it easy for a while.

So what's tempted Ibusuki Sensei out of retirement again? Well, to cut a long story short- two words:

In the video Andre Bertel Sensei posted, you can't actually see Ibusuki Sensei, who came to teach the second session on Sunday. But he was there on the second day and he was so impressed by Andre he said that he'd like to come back to teaching again!

With so many people out there with moderate, sometimes very moderate, sometimes ok Karate passing themselves off as "Japan trained" or "Shihan" (a word that is rarely used by real Japanese instructors, the vast majority of whom are fine with plain old "Sensei," including YS) it's difficult to get a sense of really how great Andre Bertel's Karate is. I am afraid that while my own Karate is a very poor shodan level, I know what I like.

So I view Karate in terms of how it measures up to the standards of my main teachers- those being in date order: Richard Amos Sensei, (briefly, for one year, Koike Yutaka Sensei): the wonderful, wonderful Kawasaki Norio Sensei (Ibuki Tawara Sensei as partner) Otsuka Masamichi Sensei, Ibuki Tawara Sensei, and last but definitely not least of course Isaka Akihito and Yahara Mikio Senseis. I've also been taught by Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei- now that was just magic!- Abe Keigo Sensei and once, memorably, by Tamon Pemba Sensei, although he mainly seemed interested in beating my rear leg with a shinai ;-).

Having spent four years week in, week out in the KWF black belt class with YS breathing down my neck, and I mean literally, scary, like feeling you are the Turkey and tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I just about managed to struggle to be able to cope with some basic elements of Karate.

"Haita!!!!" (for all you IS students out there!)

So Yuko and I were intrigued when Andre Bertel Sensei said he would like to come up and "train with us" in our private sessions in Shibuya this January. As Ibusuki Sensei was feeling a lot better for six months rest, we decided to ask him if he was interested in watching. He said "yes," and also invited some good friends- Nick and Takane, Scott, Pieter "I bring screwdriver" Van Wyk along for the ride. We figured any person willing to pay to come up to "train with us" deserved a turn out.

So how does Andre's Karate measure up? Well, let me put it this way. In a word, it's awesome. Takes your breath away!

To say we were impressed would be the understatement of my 12-year Karate career (still wobbling down the track while the rest have already packed up and headed for the bar). We were shocked by just how good Andre is. His Karate is brimming with power and energy and danger. Andre has what I would call the Yahara factor- when he puts on a dogi, you can sort of feel that "brimming over" energy that's inspiring. You could call him a walking, talking Karate weapon.

On the other hand, Andre is a gentleman, although it's plain that he doesn't suffer fools and frauds lightly, as I have noticed on his recent Facebook forays ;-).

Andre's long experience of teaching all-comers and running successful dojos means that he has the ability that some Japanese teachers don't have, and that's what I would call multitasking.

By way of background, I used to go off translating for YS on foreign seminars, and he'd have the same problem time and time again. The local Karate organization would be looking for insights into Unsu or something, but YS would take one look at the Karate and realize you had "5th dans" with kyu level kihon. So there is a lot of misunderstanding out there with Japanese Sensei teaching abroad when the Japanese Sensei spends a lot of time on kihon. It's because he's instantly understood that the local Karate organization is doing what YS calls "copy Karate." Which is a polite way of saying their Karate is crap. Unfortunately foreigners who have quid pro quo kodans, which I will call KKs (Kitanai Kodans) and run their local Karate empires based on money don't like this, so they tend to invite Japanese Sensei over who will give them what they want, not what they need.

Andre, however, obviously has that ability to be able to recognize what different people need and tailor his approach accordingly. So you have a highly intelligent teacher who actually has killer Karate. It's enough to make you weep! Thank the Karate Lord that such people exist! Of course, KWF has its own home-grown talent in the younger generation- for example the magnificent Bryan Dukas Sensei, who I would say is the Yahara Karate equivalent to Andre's Asai Karate. And then the KWF has its latest weapon waiting in the wings, Ibuki Tawara! It is said that Ibuki Tawara is developing Monster Karate. Clearly in terms of magnificent Yahara Karate Dukas and Tawara Senseis are the guys to watch! Dukas Sensei is also one of the few elite Senseis who can walk the walk who also understand IS karate too. Great!!!

Anyway, back to Andre and Ibusuki Senseis. When he came to teach us, he thought he might run through some Asai Sensei moves and Asai-Ryu kata.

All I can say that it was just magnificent- eye opening stuff. It was so good it still makes me laugh thinking about it now. In terms of lesson dynamics, we found Andre teaching logically and systematically in an intelligent and positive fashion, meeting the needs of people in various stages of their Karate careers and skill and ability levels. In reality, this means that Andre could teach Asai-Ryu Shotokan Karate to Nick at 3-dan level (Nick is talented and has physical ability) and Paul at Donkey Shodan (Paul has no talent and no physical ability, but has doryoku) and we all felt we got something out of it. Behind that, he was dynamic, inspiring, funny, self-deprecating, scary and FUN.

On one basic level, what I am trying to say is can Andre walk the walk as well as talk the talk. The answer is a gigantic


that should be placed in bloody great monumental stone blocks the ancient Egyptians used to build the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The other point is though as Ibusuki Sensei was watching the second session, I could see the old glitter coming back to his eyes. The thing was that much of Asai Sensei's fluid and whipping and snapping, sabaki and kaiten waza are much closer in philosophy to the Shotokan that Ibusuki Sensei remembers before Nakayama Sensei and the JKA started getting all rigid on just about everything. When Ibusuki Sensei taught following Andre's morning session, you could see that there was very much a meeting of minds, especially in terms of fluid motion, whipping and snap, short range fighting and sabaki. Afterwards we all went out for a meal and Ibusuki Sensei told us that he thought Andre had the best Karate he'd seen in 20 years.

Ibusuki Sensei's Return
Privately, Ibusuki Sensei said that after seeing Andre, he'd like to start teaching again. This was three or four months ago, and Yuko and I had to do several other important things before we could get back to Shibuya and re-establish our schedule here. It looks like Ibusuki Sensei will be looking at teaching at least once or twice a month, and more like weekly if he can, so we'll keep you posted.

I do hope to offer some insights into the teaching and approach of this magnificent gentleman going forward, for the record, and for posterity, before this particular part of living Karate history moves on. I hope this blog will be of interest to some of you.

Paul (and Yuko).

1 comment:

Denni said...

I couldn't agree more about André Sensei's karate, & his teaching.
I recently moved cities, & after going to a local dojo... it really stood out just how lucky I'd been to have André as my teacher for over 10 years.