Flowchart: How to Choose Your Ultimate Karate Competition Kata

By Jesse | 33 Comments

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.


  1. Seb

    June 18, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I saw one flaw… If you answered “Yes” to “Are you Chuck Norris or his secret twin”, you don’t come to the question “Are you the master of the Universe” with the answers: “Yes/Yes, I’m Chuck Norris” This must be some kind of mistake, right?

    • Boban Alempijevic

      June 18, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Chuck Norris RULEZ!

    • Jesse

      June 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      I thought He-Man was master of the universe? :O

  2. herrle 58

    June 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hihi, like this guideline-idea ;-).
    Like i said before, still cannot believe that a kata has to have:
    80% facing front, 3min, jumps, kodak movements, onelegged poses….and/or be one of the above listed, to score good.
    Show what they want to see!?…this is just pure athlethics. :-( :-( , shame on the judges!

    By the way, has Van Damme ever got anything together except show? :-P

    • Szilard

      June 21, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      Well, Van Damme he has a kata: Gymkata :)
      I have never seen that movie, but I guess he has more karate skills than the cowboy skills of Ronald Reagan or the astronaut and hyperdrive mechanic skills of Peter Mayhew (the guy who who played Chewbacca).

  3. Gary

    June 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Ouch on #10, Jesse-San…..very ouch! So are you suggesting that my students should not compete???

    • Gary

      June 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      I train and teach strictly Wado Ryu and I’ve competed a dozen times with Wado kata, never placing first. I’d rather do the techniques justice than to make it look flashy in hopes of winning. Wado Ryu kata have no unnecessary movements therefore, no need to fix something that isn’t broke. If people train to place first at tournaments and win trophies, that’s their decision. Jesse, you make it seem that Wado Ryu has no business being in a competition, you’ve singled it out, and I’m highly upset with that mindset.

      • herrle 58

        June 19, 2011 at 11:06 am

        Cool don gary, think he just wanted to say wado ryu kata could be a reason for not placing first…like you have expierienced already! In question 11 the winning katas are listed, thats what the judges like!
        Glad that you don`t follow this mainstream and compete with unchanged kata of your style.
        This whole article is ironical, most judges cannot compare balance, effortless control, flow, power and speed of two competitors if they use katas which are rarely shown.

      • Gary

        June 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm

        Geez, just read back my reply. I’m not really that fired up as it seems. :O No hard feelings, Jesse-San. I completely see where you were going with this article. Just got to represent my style, ya dig?

        • Jesse

          June 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm

          I dig, represent yo! Just throw in a smiley now and then ;)

    • Szilard

      June 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

      Yep, that hit close to home for me too. I started in Wado Ryu, and love those kata. Fortunately Wado Kata was made with the goal in mind to learn/teach karate, unfortunately winning a competition is a whole different ballgame.

  4. Vangelis

    June 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Whats wrong with Wado Ryu Kata?Ok no fancy and theatrical as the others but so???

    • Dojorat

      June 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      WKF or otherwise there is a very clear bias towards the Naha-te ryuha for karate kata tournaments. At least that is the way it is here in Okinawa. For some unclear reason, karate tournament judges seem to think that kata of the Naha-te(Goju-ryu etc..) are more impressive to watch. I heard many times over, even from my sensei, that even placing in the top 4 with a Shuri-te(Shorin ryu) kata is an achievement. Nearly 9 times out of 10 the Naha-te schools are in the top 3 places. Even the shorin-ryu people say you it is hard or damn near impossible to place in the top 3 and I have witnessed some shorin-ryu kata that were the very essence of awesome.

      • Vangelis

        June 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm

        Yes I agree with that…

  5. Julia

    June 19, 2011 at 5:39 am

    I cannot tell you how hard I’m laughing right now. Sad thing is, it’s all true. ( or at least most of it….)

  6. Charles-Olivier

    June 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    this is just great jesse, I almost broke my hips laughin’,… thought I think most kata competitors go (almost always) with one of the kata you’ve listed at the end. Someone would made a great difference in compet doin’ one kata that isnt often seen….like ninjushio, chinte etc…(for shotokan guys)not just Unsu. Luca Valdesi made the difference because he was able to introduce Gankaku (which was rare before)in high level compet….

  7. Szilard

    June 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I guess this flow chart is for adult males. In the junior or woman section you can win with a wider variety of kata. Even with something obscure like the Shotokan version of Wankan.

    • Jesse

      June 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      What size competition are we talking here? :O

      • Hanshi Andrew

        June 23, 2011 at 5:31 am

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Shotokan version of Wankan in competition, let alone Matsukaze (Shito-Ryu version of Wankan).

        I agree to Szilard to a certain extent. Women have great intricacy and can make even the simpler katas like Bassai look beautiful, for example, Rika Usami. Atsuko Wakai did one hell of a Kururunfa (another one that I rarely see) and I rarely see males do that one with the same precision as her.

        • Szilard

          June 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm

          Wankan: I have definitely seen it on qualifiers for the national level, a Hungarian guy even won medal with it in 2000 or 2001 in Dallas TX. I think it was the AAKF 2001 Nationals. Now I would look it up, do you know any reliable archive to look up old tournament results?
          Talking about kururunfa, it is a tricky kata, there is a wide variety of expectations about how it should be performed. It is a brave choice for tournament.

    • warrioress

      August 12, 2011 at 12:29 am

      Are you referring to the kata Enpi? OBSCURE?! *screams and faints*

      • warrioress

        September 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm

        Oh and I just remembered: the old name for Empi/Enpi is Wanshu. Wankan is a completely different kata and it IS quite obscure. (phew!)

  8. Raddon

    June 30, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    It’s just trends. Its sad that people almost have to pick certain katas in order to even be looked at, but hey, thats the sport- the key word there being ‘sport’. I don’t think anyone is arguing that solo-kata of any sort (WKF-style or otherwise) can ever represent true martial ability. Even with bunkai (and definately NOT the WKF kind!) it can’t really be shown as it all has to be staged. I just think that seeing as kata competition can never be more than a demonstration of certain martial attributes (correct posture/stance, speed, agility etc) then it may as well evolve the way it has done so that the most visually impressive performance wins. And also, at the end of the day, it IS a sporting event. I doubt Mr Valdesi purports himself to be a master of realistic unarmed combat. Its just another form of athletics/physical expression. And if someone is inspired to take up that over watching TV and eating junk food, then I’m fine with that.

  9. warrioress

    August 12, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Don’t you think it a bit unfair that three of your four winning kata aren’t even practiced in Shotokan? But never mind that now. I hate how so much emphasis is put on some kata because they are visually impressive and as a result suitable for competition. I mean, there are some really rich and instructive kata which are hardly practiced at all in some dojos (e.g. ours) because they are not “competition kata” (tekki/naihanchi for instance) and I hate it! It’s SO not fair! :(

  10. Azlimmi Himzal

    August 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    How totally irreverent…. and with a pinch of truth. I’d like permission to print this one up to put up on my dojo wall…

    • Jesse

      August 16, 2011 at 12:40 am

      Go ahead! ;)

  11. Ben

    July 2, 2012 at 3:43 am

    I had to LOL at this one, even though I read it as a cheeky dig at WKF competition Kata, it smacks of truth at the same time. Even now I think Unsu is barely hanging in there by a thread!

  12. Pat

    October 14, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Sometimes you have to make adjustments to your Kata to keep up with the flashier Kata’s. Traditional vs. traditional is exactly how it should be. However, many forms have been sooo modified you have to make adjustments to keep up with the flash. A few modifications usually are necessary.

  13. Ian

    June 29, 2013 at 4:48 am

    “… at least three minutes long?” LOL … how true.

    It gets worse: recently, I’ve attended tournaments where all the “non-Elite” (ie: non-black-belt) kata divisions performed their katas two at a time. (No, not aka does a kata and then au does a kata … aka and au on the mat doing their kata simultaneously.)

    It very quickly becomes a case of “longest kata wins”. :(

  14. Mihalis

    December 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Whats wrong with Gankaku ? Luca Valdesi is not the only capable of performing this kata….
    I’ve some good places with Gankaku and i’m very satisfied with it. In my opinion,Gankaku, Chinte and even Empi , are a way more beautiful to watch than Suparimpei.

    A proud Shotokan Athlete,

    Michael from Greece

    • Jesse

      December 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      You are entirely correct, Mihalis-san! The problem is, you will undoubtedly be compared to Luca every time you perform it. Better to find something unique for you. Besides, this flowchart was made with humor. Don’t take it too seriously! :)

  15. Mihalis

    December 19, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I forgot to say that i also do chinte and meikyo in finals.
    I’m very good especially in Meikyo.

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