One thing I've done over the past several years is to take one kata and work on it with as much focus as I can for a few months during the summer. This has been a fruitful practice. Over the past few years I've concentrated on Tekki Shodan, Hangetsu, Empi and Bassai Sho kata. I'm not great at any of them, but I think I have a deeper understanding of the forms now than I did before embarking on each years' kata project.
This summer instead of taking a kata I like and working on it for a couple of months I'm forcing myself to review a form I really don't like very much at all, but which is a standard and essential Shotokan karate form, Jion kata. Jion, named after a Buddhist temple, means goodness or peacefulness. It is one of the "big four" of Shotokan kata along with Empi, Bassai Dai and Kanku Dai. Most karateka learn it at the brown belt level and it is one of the required kata in Shotokan karate for black belt. I learned Jion sometime back in the mid to late nineties and I've practiced it sporadically ever since. Honestly, I've neglected it ever since. I've never liked it very much. It has always seemed to me to be repetitive, choppy and plodding. It doesn't have the flow or quickness of Empi, the power of Bassai Dai or the complexity and variety of Kanku Dai. On Rob Redmond's controversial old karate website, 24fightingchickens, he panned the kata and received widespread approbation. I, however, pretty much agreed with him.
However, Jion is an old kata supposedly brought from China to Okinawa or based on Chinese techniques. Versions are practiced in Shorin ryu and Shito ryu, styles that are contemporaneous with the founding of Shotokan, and in Wado ryu and Tang Soo Do, styles that are derived from Shotokan. In Karate-do Kyohan, Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi's master text, he writes, [the movements in Jion kata] "have been designed to provide an ingenious combination of techniques involving the lower, middle and upper levels, thus allowing a very interesting range of possibilities. Those who wish to study karate must seek such points in the kata and work to appreciate them." He concludes his comments on Jion kata stating, "Such forms as Empi, Gankaku, and the present one, Jion, are fine forms, taking on ever more meaning the longer they are practiced." I guess Rob Redmond and I should shut our gobs and just practice the darned form.
So, that's what I aim to do - practice Jion for the next few months. If anyone wants to join a gasping, out of breath middle-aged man sweating through some esoteric exercises in my backyard or at our dojo-space in the Keith Anderson building you're welcome to join me. For a little inspiration I'll leave you with a link to a real expert demonstrating Jion kata. Here is Aragaki Misako Sensei of the Japan Karate Association, performing Jion kata at a very high standard at the JKA Hombu in Tokyo: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hz-riFkJy18.