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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Unsu is a beautiful kata, and is one of the more athletically challenging of the Shotokan Kata. Despite its modern popularity, this kata is in fact one of the oldest in the Shotokan Syllabus. Translated to mean ‘Cloud hands’, this kata of Chinese origins, is one of true connections to the earth.

There are many theories concerning this kata, with many going as far as to say that the opening sequence highlighting the rise of the sun along the horizon, the keiko uchi represent thunderbolts from the heavens and the jump symbolising a hurricane. Whether you subscribe to these theories or not, you cannot deny the brilliance of this kata, which involves seemingly simple movements, which tend to hide a secret intent.

This kata has many wonderful techniques, and strategies, employing examples of defence from the floor, and using the springiness of a jump to generate power and defeat the opponent. Using the floor in this kata is a fundamental aspect that in many ways makes this kata different from all the others. Many katas use a drop to the floor, but no other kata uses the floor in the way that Unsu does. Through studying this kata, you learn to fight from a disadvantage, and you learn how to fight in a way that helps you get to your feet.

Apart from the more athletic elements of the kata, this kata employs strategies and clever tact. One such example is the use of the faint, before you drive in with a gedan attack. Through studying this kata, you can learn skills that can be applied to self-defence and competition kumite. This kata instils the notion of how surprise is an effective tool in defence, and through studying this kata, you become a more rounded karateka.

Master Nakayama warned however that you would look like ‘A scarecrow trying to dance" unless the Heian kata, Kanku-dai, Empi and Jion were first mastered.