Unshu & Unsu kata, bunkai & history

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unshu kanji unsu kata

seisho Aragaki unshu
Like most karate kata, Unshu's origins are likely traceable back to China, and in particular for this kata, White Crane martial arts (Sells, Unante; ISBN 0910704961). The most common of today's Unshu versions are often stated to be derived from Aragaki (Arakaki) Seisho who lived in Okinawa from the mid-1800s, to the early 1800s . Interestingly, beyond the Shotokan and Shito-ryu versions, there is radically different kata under the same name. This version is practiced by Okinawan practitioners and is always termed "Aragaki Unshu" rather than just "Unshu". The "Aragaki Unshu" version is significantly different and clearly not a direct map to the Shotokan or Shito-ryu versions. The history is unclear, but the Shotokan version is likely a derivative of the Shito-ryu version, in a similar manner to the heaian kata having been passed to Funakoshi by Mabuni (see Pinan article). Other than the early stage of the "Aragaki Unshu" kata having some similar 4 directional moves, a kake-uke maegeri component and a crescent kick, little else relates to the Shotokan and Shito-ryu kata's sharing the same name (despite some suggesting it may have lead to the Shito-ryu version).

Photo 1: A photograph of Aragaki Seisho, regarded as the key source of this kata in Okinawa. 

Above Kanji: The kanji for Unshu (original name) or Unsu (as termed in Shotokan post 1930). Sample provided by Shodo practitioner Mayuko Sumida of Nagoya Japan. A high resolution, non-copyright image can be downloaded here...



The kanji representing 
Unshu and Unsu, translate to "cloud hand".  The kata is a Naha-te kata, as opposed to a Shuri-te kata. In Shotokan, non-Itosu/Shuri kata such as this Naha-te kata are rare.  At least five common variants/derivatives are seen in the different styles today (with only minor variations across Shito-ryu, particularly relative to the kata embusen [core pattern]). It is regarded as one of the most advanced kata in Shotokan and Shito-ryu and would typically only be used in a belt test if one was going for a rank above sandan (3rd degree).





mabuni shito-ryu bassaidaiPhoto 2: Mabuni Kenwa, Shito-ryu's founder, Mabuni Kenwaappears to be the primary source of its spread outside Okinawa. 

Unshu kata bunkai video
1hr Video Unshu History, Kata & Bunkai 






Video includes Shotokan and 3 Shito-ryu versions of the kata with the above listed bunkai. Different versions of the shito-ryu kata are performed fast and slow at different angles and includes a slow walk through of the pattern. Selected bunkai are referenced to an evidence-based approach related to street, emergency, police & UFC data/statistcs. Provided as revision tool for the Unshu seminars run in early 2015. 


Shihan Jason Armstrong, 7th Dan, is the primary instructor in this video, Sensei Shawn Danaher demonstrates the Shotokan versions of the kata.




Unshu & Unsu Bunkai - a data/evidence based approach:

Given moves in kata have more than one bunkai (stated by a number of masters of karate in the early 1900s; reviewed  in "Seienchin"  ISBN 978-1-4092-3733-4, pages 11-13), a variety of Network instructors have been fine tuning kata bunkai selection by pulling from the traditional pool of karate techniques and overlapping that with at least the following:
  • street fighting data 
  • emergency department data from street fights
  • a technical audit of 50 UFC fights
  • interviews with BJJ/Judo experts
An evidenced-based analysis (driven by data) allows one to create at least the following  4 categories of violence which may be relevant to karate-ka

1. Male-on-male violence
2. Law enforcement (buncer/police) - which has different psychological considerations and physical relaities
3. Female domestic violence
4. Female violence derived related to a stranger attack

The aim is not to get away from classical karate, but given data is 
now available, to find the overlap of techniques which are both classical and practical based on statistics. The concept is represented in the below overlap diagram and is reviewed in detail in the book Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes linked to Karate & Bunkai Selection”. That review process most importantly not only states what is the top 7-8 likely street events that lead to a medically relevant injury, but also which techniques do not. The "what is not practical" according to street data, surprisingly for many karate practitioners, includes a broad range of commonly used kansetsu waza so often displayed by karate-ka in bunkai.

bunkai street fights data

Figure 1: A representation of the overlap zone of the pool of classical karate bunkai techniques with what street data and probabilities indicate actually occur. Taken from page 177 of “Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes linked to Karate & Bunkai Selection”.

Figure 2: Several of the Chinese text derived Bubishi images have overlap with classical Unshu bunkai. This re-enforces a link to the White Crane martial arts and Naha-te.
unshu bubishi bunkai unsu kata

As three examples of some high level data on violence, the differing violence categories have different violence ratios. Therefore a rational exists for technique biases in classes and curriculum design based on the potential need:

1. non-intimate (stranger) based female assaults have a 1:1.5 grappling to strike ratio
2. intimate attackers (husband, date etc.) for female violence, the ratio of strike versus grappling events is 1:1
3. male 9:1 strike to grapple need for injury based outcomes

Furthermore, bunkai sequences should flow with each technique being consistently  applicable to the defender's sex and violence category (outlined  in further detail in the book). For example, one should not create bunkai sequences that begin with a female attack entry (e.g. a single handed wrist grab) and finish with a male oriented technique (e.g. a throw requiring some power). Commonly people mix sex/scenarios in the display of a single bunkai sequence. 

With the above stated, the below bunkai list does not represent one of the four violence categories above (which we advocate for students in the dojo), but rather gives a bunkai set that is relevant to the top 7 techniques which produce medical outcomes in the street (see ISBN 9781471083969 for details) spanning all 4 of the the violence categories i.e. it gives an example of a generalist but street specific curriculum agenda. In summary, the below Unshu & Unsu bunkai list represents and evidenced-based apporach which includes:
  • 11 unique bunkai combinations, 
  • a strike to grappling ratio of 1 to 10 techniques (excluding lapel grabs, it is a 7 to 10 ratio if lapel grabs are included across all moves in the kata if the "preferred list" from the video is used which overlaps classical & practical). 
Of the top 7 events in the street that lead to a medical injury (not listed in this article), each appear in Unshu's "preferred list" from the video the following number of times:
#1 (Most likely street injury event according to stats) – practised 3 times 
#2 – practised 3 times 
#3 – practised 4 times 
#4 – 0 times 
#5 – 0 times
#6 – practised 3 times 
#7 – practised 1 time 

Some Classical & Practical-Classical overlapping Bunkai for Unshu, or Unsu, covered in the video:


    1st unique move:



    2nd unique move (Ippon nukite de nekoashidachi [cat stance])


  • Throat or eye strike, return to cover any returning grab/punch (does not really match any of the top 6 street events other than the head/throat target see bunkai & street fighting statistics). If done with shotokan style circular foot motion, it may well drop the opponents head to chudan height (middle level) to match the kata strike height using the shito-ryu ippon nukite strike . Considered classical and somewhat practical (but the legal implications need to be balanced with a eye attack see “Section C” of The Law & Self Defense Considerations. See Unshu video on this web page at 39mins.


  • If done with shotokan style pistol grip and circular foot motion → inside foot sweep, release from lapel grab (see Unshu video on this web page at 41mins). Maps to a street statistics top 6 event see bunkai & street fighting statistics.


    3rd Unique move:


  • Classic sweeping cover for the 3rd most likely attack 3 according to emergency and police combined data on street fighting statistics  see bunkai & street fighting statistics or see video 39 mins (classical and practical). Can flow from the 2nd unique bunkai as shown in the video.


    4th Unique move:


  • Tani-ha, Shukokai, Hayashi-ha version thrusting kick to the solar plexus/throat for an incoming attacker (defender on the ground). Classified as classical.

  • Mabuni version (seito shito-ryu) thrusting kick to the knee for an incoming attacker from the ground (classical). See video 42mins 25sec


    5th Unique move:


  • Divert a left hand lapel grab, followed by a hook punch (a top 3 street event), where an elbow is delivered mid-stream, after the attacker then completes a 2nd left lapel grab (a component of 2 of the top 3 street combination events see pg 176 of bunkai & street fighting statistics). Strike/sieze the elbow, kick the knee/thigh/stomach, use the right hand to pull the opponent's head down, stay on the outside of the opponent  and deliver a bow to the back of the head. See video on this web page's video at  44mins 20secs (classical and practical).

  • simpler one component bunkai consisting of a groin strike pre-empting an attempted "bear hug/rear grab" as per Bubishi image. See video on this web page's video at  43mins (classical and practical).


6th Unique move:

  • Similarities with Annanko shuto-uke discussed. See Unshu/Unsu video on this web page at  46mins (classical and practical)

    7th Unique move:


  • First block of a rapid 3 mawatte (turning) set → first gedan barai is executed as a “rakka” block (from Mabuni’s “uke no gogen ri”) with a fully locked hip for Tani derived ryu-ha (sub-styles). The following two block-counters involve 45 degree hip blocks (i.e. minimal profile blocks) followed by fully locked gyakuzuki, single hip action (compare single and double hip actions at article: Tani-ha, Shukokai double hip recoil punch). Addresses 3 of the top 7 street fighting stats, see pg 176 of bunkai & street fighting statistics. See Unshu/Unsu video on this web page at  46 min 50 sec (classical and practical)


    8th Unique move:


  • Kake-uke (not kuri-uke as per page 181-184 of bunkai & street fighting statistics) from rear shoulder grab, strike/elbow, seize below elbow, thrust kick, push or grab lapel (depending on distancing requirement), double head punch (with head dropped to chudan height if lapel pull down was used).  Practices offense for 3 of the top 7 street fighting stats, see pg 176 of bunkai & street fighting statistics. See Unshu/Unsu video on this web page at  48 min 45 sec (classical and practical).


    9th Unique move:

  • Shotokan, Tani-ha derived, Shukokai, Hayashi-ha (if the blocks are jodan with a right angledirection arm) → author’s favorite bunkai is based on a classical and practical overlap with a competitive judo/jujitsu/BJJ move. See Video at  50 min 15 sec.

  • Tani, Shito-ryu (if the blocks are chudan).  Lapel push/grab blocked and countered with a groin strike. This bunkai does not match the alternate sided execution in the kata, but the option to adapt sides is consistent with Shito-ryu’s founder, Mabuni Kenwa, writing that kata bunkai does not need to hold to the kata direction/handedness, one should have the freedom to implement either side/hand. Unshu, and Shotokan’s Unsu, being on the most advanced kata would support this. Video at 50 min 15 sec.


    10th Unique move:


  • Tani-ha derived, Shukokai, Hayashi-ha →  crescent kick to block an incoming grab or punch, followed by spinning back kick and drop to remove the head from any possible impacts (classical, not practical)

  • Tani-ha derived, Shukokai, Hayashi-ha → 2 phase approach to seizing an incoming lapel grab (as per 181-184 of bunkai & street fighting statistics), moving to the side to "crescent" kick back of the knee joint, continuing to “aikido style” 3 finger pinning of the attacker to the ground in a arm bar. Classical for male on male violences, practical in law enforcement with 2 people performing the submission, or under the psychological paradigm explained on pages 29, 173, 184, 185, 187 of bunkai & street fighting statistics. See Unshu/Unsu video on this web page at  55 min 50 sec.


    11th Unique move:

  • Mashi-uke style release from grab (variant 1).

  • Mashi-uke  style release from grab with jaw impact and through to ground (variant 2).

    • Male-on-female violence: classical & not practical due to size strength differences. See pages 178-179 of bunkai & street fighting statistics. See Unshu/Unsu video on this web page at 59 min 45 sec.

    • Male-on-male violence: classical, not practical due to start premise. See pages 178-179 of bunkai & street fighting statistics. See Unshu/Unsu video on this web page at 59 min 45 sec.


    11th, 12th and 13th composite moves not unique as covered in earlier parts of the kata.

Of course the above bunkai notes are listed as support/reminders for students that have participated in seminars and read the evidenced-based bunkai and street fighting textbook. However, even for those not familiar with an evidence and violence sub-category based approach, it should create some food for thought on how to go about the process.














Video includes Shotokan and 3 Shito-ryu versions of the kata with the above listed bunkai. Different versions of the shito-ryu kata are performed fast and slow at different angles and includes a slow walk through of the pattern. Selected bunkai are referenced to an evidence-based approach related to street, emergency, police & UFC data/statistcs. Provided as revision tool for the Unshu seminars run in early 2015. 


Shihan Jason Armstrong, 7th Dan, is the primary instructor in this video, Sensei Shawn Danaher demonstrates the Shotokan versions of the kata.








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