Visiting karate master dazzles with his skill

JON HOUZET

KIWI karate master Andre Bertel had fans lining up for autographs and seeking advice after the first day of a two-day Shotokan seminar at the Fish River Sun on Saturday.

Bertel, a 6th dan black belt, impressed Eastern Cape karateka with his knowledge, speed and flexibility at the seminar arranged by Kowie karate instructor Gary Grapentin.

Grapentin said spaces had filled quickly for the seminar to the maximum 100 participants, who included men and women, young and old, from beginners to black belts. Even a disabled man took part.

WORKING UP A SWEAT: Shotokan karate master Andre Bertel from New Zealand, trained 100 Eastern Cape karateka at a two-day seminar at Fish River Sun last weekend Picture: JON HOUZET

Charming and approachable, the 37-year-old Bertel started doing karate when he was five.

“My mother forced me to go and for the first few years I hated it,” he said with a chuckle.

But he kept it up until he started enjoying it.

He said he started in the Shotokan style more by accident than by design, but found it a worthy style to continue with, eventually achieving his black belt in 1986.

By now, Bertel’s black belt is so well-worn it looks white again.

He met the Japanese Shotokan master Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei in 1993 and trained privately with him for 13 years.

“It was highly technical,” he said. “It was focused more on self-defence than for competitions. So it’s not so much sports karate.”

As for any Zen-like wisdom espoused by his mentor, Bertel said: “[Asai] also taught me inner thought and to look out for other people. You have to have the philosophy, but the technique has to back that philosophy. The physical developed the psychological.”

He said unlike some other styles of karate, Shotokan was not religious.

It is a universal style, he said, and he was impressed with the quality of Shotokan karate in Japan.

“I’ve trained with the best from other styles. Different instructors contribute to Shotokan,” he said.

Bertel started a blog and travels the world teaching at karate seminars, having visited England, Western Australia, Italy and Germany within the last year.

He also frequently returns to Japan to do courses and is now invited back as an instructor.

It was his first visit to South Africa.

GETTING THEIR KICKS: Storm Erasmus (left) and Kayleigh Chamberlain of Port Elizabeth practice their sidekicks at a Shotokan karate seminar at Fish River Sun on Saturday Picture: JON HOUZET

At the seminar at Fish River Sun, Bertel focused on shisei (correct posture alignment), koshi no kaiten (hip rotation) and zanshin (achieving stillness and awareness).

“All the moves we did were to achieve this,” he said. “This training enables a person to use every millimetre of the body’s power.”

He said the essence of traditional karate was to finish an opponent in one move, rather than trying to fight it out.

“Everyone can do it. A small woman and a child can practice an open-hand strike to a vital point.”

He said karate built confidence in children and contributed to their development as human beings.

Grapentin said he had found about Bertel from a former student who emigrated to New Zealand.

“I visited his blog site and his karate looked good, so I got into contact with him and we spoke over a couple of months before I invited him to South Africa.”

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