Due to a variety of factors, such as flexibility and strength, different people may find one kata to be harder than another. Out of the 26 Shotokan katas, 21 katas are considered advanced katas and can be performed by practitioners at World Karate Federation sanctioned events, according to the WKF Competition Rules Book. Among the 21 advanced Shotokan katas, some of the most difficult katas include Unsu, Goju-Shiho-Sho and Kanku-Sho.
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Unsu has been repeatedly performed in the final rounds by world level competitors such as Luca Valdesi and Hoang Ngan Nguyen. To perform a good Unsu, a karate practitioner requires impeccable balance, strength and kime (concentration of power). Unsu is one of the most difficult Shotokan Katas because it contains a difficult jump that requires the practitioner to turn 360 degrees around in the air. Competitive karate practitioners often try to attain a very high jump on this move in competition. Unsu also includes many quick combinations and turns on one leg.
Another difficult Shotokan kata is Godju-Shiho-Sho. Compared to Unsu, Goju Shiho-Sho contains many slower moves that require more grace and quick relaxation, which may be a difficult factor for some practitioners. It is also much longer than Unsu, and although it has more slow movements, it demands a practitioner with good stamina.
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Kanku-Sho is another difficult kata that requires a lot of agility, speed and power. It contains a jump that is similar to the jump in the kata Unsu as well as another jump that is similar to the jump in the kata Enpi. These two jumps add a high degree of difficulty to the kata. In addition, the kata involves fast stance changes and requires the practitioner to rotate in different directions with speed and power.
The last four moves of the kata are Uchi-Uke and Oitsuki Giaku Tsuki. These moves are very basic and require the practitioner to have a high degree of power to maintain the level set by the high degree of difficulty in the preceding moves.
Other Difficult Katas
Bassai-Dai, Bassai-Sho, Jion, Kanku-Dai, Hangetsu, Gankaku, Sochin, Meikyo, Wankan, Jiin, Tekki-Shodan, Tekki-Nidan, Tekki-Sandan, Jitte, Enpi, Godju-Shiho-Dai and Chinte. Bassaid-Dai and Bassai-Sho are the Tekki katas. The Tekki katas are rarely performed in competition, however, because they are very difficult and are often required in black belt gradings. They require a good understanding of hip hop work, hip vibration and wrist rotation.
Katas such as Hangetsu and Sochin contain fewer jumps but require a great display of strength and are usually better suited to people of larger builds. Goju-Shiho-Dai, Chinte, Jiin, Gankaku, Kanku-Dai, Jion, Bassai-Dai and Bassai Sho combine fast and slow moves. They are difficult because they require the practitioner to demonstrate movements with power and precision, both fast and slow. Wankan and Meikiyo are katas that demand a lot of grace and skill.