Unsu , an introduction
A Kata seen as a showcase Tournament Kata, Unsu seems to have become very popular in the last generation of competitors and continued to be very popular in this generation. The dynamic movements allow the practitioner to display lighting fast movements and physical abilities that will bring points in the tournament. Outside fo the tournament arena the Kata is less popular and often not taught in the Dojos.
The Shotokan version of the Kata was adapted at some point to this new idea and difficulty and is not much like other Shotokan Kata. Many schools have all but dropped it from the curriculum for its black belts and many instructors have to turn back to best Karate to even remember the Kata, unless their school is very heavy into sports Karate. This is a shame; while the difficult jump and going to the floor is very physically demanding the rest of the Kata is not and hold many good lessons and drills to improve a persons Karate.
If a student is thinking of undertaking the study of Unsu they should know prior to this selection that Unsu is not just a physically demanding Kata, but also one that will challenge them to learn in abstract and push their mind and body to the limits. I feel that Unsu is best balanced out with studying a completely different Kata, such as Sochin or Meikyo. The slower and more orthodox approaches will help counter the spirited and more complex practice that Unsu has to offer.
History of Unsu
Unsu is another Kata with a bit of a mystery history! This dynamic Kata is said to have roots in the dragon style of Gung fu, but I am not sure how reliable this is. The Kata is often viewed as being the most dynamic and difficult Shotokan Kata and is one of the more favored Kata in tournaments. Unsu represents a unique departure from classic Shotokan Katas. Unsu is highly dynamic and has many difficult terns. Unsu also offers some Unique challenges in counter fighting and despite the well-known detractors it is a very advanced Kata that has many martial lessons. Lessons and exercises that can be used for more than just getting points in a tournament.
Nakayama cautioned people that while this Kata is popular and appealing, one needs to master basics and fundamentals or they will appear to look like " a scarecrow trying to dance". The name cloud hands or cloud in the hand is thought to infer either the feeling of a thunderstorm or the dynamic body movements must resemble a horrible storms energy and calm, then more dynamic energy like passing threw the calm eye of the storm and then re-entering a storm front.
Shito ryu has a version of this Kata, as one would expect. But the Shito Kata lacks the dynamic speed and explosiveness. The shito version also does not have the difficult but exciting 360-degree jump kick in the movements. This Kata was one fo the group of Kata that Shotokan adopted after sending the students from the JKA to meet and train with Mabuni of Shito ryu. Yashitaka Funakoshi and Nakayama then set out to revamp the Kata and to "shotokanize" it.
Apparently Funakoshi did not like this Kata and felt it did not fit the Shuri ryu like Shotokan mold. He felt it was to showy and flashy and in fact did not like the addition of the jump spin at all. His view was that the Kata should be a challenge all students could meet and this Kata did not allow all members to be able to meet the challenges of the jump and the other dynamic movements. He felt that the Kata looked more like gymnastics than Karate with the ground up and the spinning jumps.
One other criticism that came up was the dynamic speed used in the Kata. The explosive speed did not allow for a clear view of techniques being in the Kata, there for it was easy to hide flaws and still look as though you did the Kata well.
It is believed that this Kata came from Arigaki as well. His training Kata are all Chinese influenced. It is unknown if he created this Kata himself or was taught this from another source and passed it on to his students.
While many credit Sisho Aragaki as the creator of the original Unsu, many say it was one of the Kata Wang Ji taught to Bushi Matsurmrua when the martial exchange was occurring. the more accepted version is that Sakayama Matsumura brought the Kata to Okinawa and Arigaki altered it to remove and remodel techniques.
Unsu has become one of the more popular Katas to perform in tournaments. Its dynamic and explosive movements lend it to an exciting performance if done well. One of the most famous instructors to perform this Kata would be Yahara Sensei. The Kata itself is almost synonymous with Yaharas performance at tournaments and his many demonstrations using this Kata.
I can recall learning the Kata for the first time many years ago at a summer camp when Sensei Tammy Dingman (now Tammy Heibert) taught us the Kata. I had seen the Kata only in the Best Karate books and had never really tried to do the Kata on my own. I had just received my shodan and I was learning more and more Kata to add to my training. The Kata was taught in such a way as I was not scared of the Kata at all. It was a very interesting Kata that did not seem to match up with anything I had learned before. The intricate Kata was actually very basic, with the exception of the jump at the end and the ground up kicks, it was very direct and straight forward.
The next time I saw the Kata was Sensei Brian Dingman doing the Kata in the club, and it was smooth and more dynamic than what we were doing in the summer camp. His movements were faster than I had seen and he seemed to defy gravity as he spun in the air and landed like he decided when the gravity would effect him.
I have never practiced this Kata for any reason other than it was interesting. Not being built for the Kata and preferring other forms I had not practiced it in a long time before doing this text. I had to go back into my notes and research and then back to the original sources, Best Karate, and relearn the Kata. I am by no means an expert at this Kata, but after having not done it in some time, I found that I had picked up more knowledge from other Katas that helped me understand this Kata more.
If you select this Kata remember that you must be ready for an extremely athletic Kata that will test you physically and challenge you mentally. It is a hard Kata to master and perhaps one of the most physical forms that Shotokan has to offer. But its basic make up will help you in Kumite and in self defense.