A long while back I was talking to a friend about Yabu no Jion. This friend, in case you’re wondering, is the only other non-Japanese whose ever trained in Tou’on-ryu in Japan (no I’m not talking about someone who hopped on a plane and visited for a week to learn. He actually lived and studied in Japan for several years with Yoshino sensei, one of the few men ever to receive a teaching license from Kanzaki Sensei in Tou’on-ryu). So, it’s quite a rarity for me to be able to talk about the style in-depth with someone whose actually trained in it in Japan.
At any rate, we were chatting about Yabu no Jion which is one of the kata passed down in Tou’on-ryu to Kyoda Juhatsu by Yabu Kentsu. In terms of execution it is about 90% similar to the Hanashiro Chomo version published in the book, Karatedo Taikan (1938). This shouldn’t be too surprising since both Yabu and Hanashiro were students of Matsumura and later Itosu. The last section of the kata however differs and this was what we were chatting about. In the Hanashiro version you perform double punches to the side from horse stance, while in the Yabu version you perform double punches to the side from a forward stance (leading in from cat stance). It’s a seemingly minor difference but the stance changes the function of the technique quite drastically IMHO.
Jion is the the fourth kata taught after Sanchin, Sesan and Sanseru, but this teaching order isn’t written in stone. Oddly, Jion is sometimes looked down upon as a simple kata, but it is exactly this characteristic that makes it such an interesting catalog of effective techniques. Unlike other kata, especially those found in modern Goju-ryu, Jion does not incorporate a lot of locking or throwing techniques, but instead relies heavily on percussive techniques. This is old style Karate/Ti. What do I mean by this? I mean punches are directed to the face along the angle of the jaw with the intent of a knockout. Emphasis is on footwork (tenshin), proper timing and distancing (maai), with a minimum of kicks. IMHO Jion reflects the way fighting can occur on the street.
I’ll give you one example to illustrate this point. Early on in the kata you can see the ‘holding the reins posture’ (Tatzuna no Kamae 手綱の構え) as shown in the photo above of Hanashiro Chomo. Implicit in the name of this Kamae is the idea of controlling the opponent and situation. For example, a simple application could be deflecting a double hand push or lapel grab followed by a kick and punching combination. A more brutal interpretation could be a kin’na or joint manipulation application in which the opponent’s fingers are seized and dislocated, followed-up with a kick and two punches to the head. Either way, its simple and effective.
Regardless of the version of Jion you practice, I hope that you will appreciate this kata for its elegant simplicity. If not, please consider taking another look at it as I think its lessons will become more apparent when examined with fresh eyes.