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Jujutsu (also jujitsu, ju jitsu, ju jutsu, or jiu jitsu; from the Japanese 柔術 jūjutsu "gentle/yielding/compliant Art") is a Japanese martial art.

Some define jujutsu and similar arts rather narrowly as "unarmed" close combat systems used to defeat or control an enemy who is similarly unarmed. Basic methods of attack include hitting or striking, thrusting or punching, kicking, throwing, pinning or immobilizing, strangling, and joint-locking. Great pains were also taken by the bushi (classic warriors) to develop effective methods of defense, including parrying or blocking strikes, thrusts and kicks, receiving throws or joint-locking techniques (i.e., falling safely and knowing how to "blend" to neutralize a technique's effect), releasing oneself from an enemy's grasp, and changing or shifting one's position to evade or neutralize an attack.

From a broader point of view, based on the curricula of many of the classical Japanese arts themselves, however, these arts may perhaps be more accurately defined as unarmed methods of dealing with an enemy who was armed, together with methods of using minor weapons such as the jitte (truncheon; also called jutte), tanto (knife), or kakushi buki (hidden weapons), such as the ryofundo kusari (weighted chain) or the bankokuchoki (a type of knuckle-duster ), to defeat both armed or unarmed opponents.

Furthermore, the term jujutsu was also sometimes used to refer to tactics for infighting used with the warrior's major weapons: katana or tachi (sword), yari (spear), naginata (glaive), and jo (short staff), bo (quaterstaff). These closed combat methods were an important part of the different martial systems that were developed for use on the battlefield. They can be generally characterized as either Sengoku Jidai (Sengoku Period, 1467-1603) katchu bujutsu or yoroi kumiuchi (fighting with weapons or grappling while clad in armor), or Edo Jidai (Edo Period, 1603-1867) suhada bujutsu (fighting while dressed in the normal street clothing of the period, kimono and hakama).


The beginning

Fighting forms have existed in Japan for centuries. The first references to such unarmed combat arts or systems can be found in the earliest purported historical records of Japan, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), which relate the mythological creation of the country and the establishment of the Imperial family. Other glimpses can be found in the older records and pictures depicting sumai (or sumo) no sechie, a rite of the Imperial Court in Nara and Kyoto performed for purposes of divination and to help ensure a bountiful harvest.

There is a famous story of a warrior Nomi no Sekuni of Izumo who defeated and killed Tajima no Kehaya in Shimane prefecture while in the presence of Emperor Suinin. Descriptions of the techniques used during this encounter included striking, throwing, restraining and weaponry. These systems of unarmed combat began to be known as Nihon koryu jujutsu (japanese old-style jujutsu), among other related terms, during the Muromachi period (1333-1573), according to densho (transmission scrolls) of the various ryuha (martial traditions) and historical records.

Most of these were battlefield-based systems to be practiced as companion arts to the more common and vital weapon systems. These fighting arts actually used many different names. Kogusoku, yawara, kumiuchi, and hakuda are just a few, but all of these systems fall under the general description of Sengoku jujutsu. In reality, these grappling systems were not really unarmed systems of combat, but are more accurately described as means whereby an unarmed or lightly armed warrior could defeat a heavily armed and armored enemy on the battlefield.

Methods of combat (as just mentioned above) included striking (kicking, punching), throwing (body throws, joint-lock throws, unbalance throws), restraining (pinning, strangulating, grappling, wrestling) and weaponry. Defensive tactics included blocking, evading, off balancing, blending and escaping. Minor weapons such as the tanto (dagger), ryufundo kusari (weighted chain), jitte (helmet smasher), and kakushi buki (secret or disguised weapons) were almost always included in Sengoku jujutsu.

In later times, other koryu developed into systems more familiar to the practitioners of Nihon jujutsu commonly seen today. These are correctly classified as Edo jujutsu (founded during the edo period): systems generally designed to deal with opponents neither wearing armor nor in a battlefield environment. For this reason, most systems of Edo jujutsu include extensive use of atemi waza (vital-striking technique). These tactics would obviously be of little use against an armored opponent on a battlefield. They would, however, be quite valuable to anyone confronting an enemy or opponent during peacetime dressed in normal street attire. Occasionally, inconspicuous weapons such as tanto (daggers) or tessen (iron fans) were included in the curriculum of Edo jujutsu.

Another seldom seen but interesting historical aside is a series of techniques originally included in both Sengoku and Edo jujutsu systems. Referred to as hojo waza (捕縄術 hojojutsu, nawa jutsu and others), it involves the use of a hojo cord, (sometimes the sageo or tasuke) to restrain or strangle an attacker. These techniques have for the most part faded from use in modern times, but Tokyo police units still train in their use today and continue to carry a hojo cord in addition to handcuffs. The very old Takenouchi Ryu is one of the better-recognized systems that continue extensive training in hojo waza.

Many other legitimate Nihon jujutsu ryu exist but are not considered koryu (ancient traditions). These are called either Gendai jujutsu or modern jujutsu. Modern jujutsu traditions are founded after or towards the end of the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Various traditional ryu and ryuha that are commonly thought of as koryu jujutsu are actually gendai jujutsu. These include Hakko Ryu, Kaze Arashi Ryu , Daito Ryu, and many others. Although modern in formation, gendai jujutsu systems have direct historical links to ancient traditions and are correctly referred to as traditional martial systems or ryu. Their curriculum reflects an obvious bias towards Edo jujutsu systems as opposed to the Sengoku jujutsu systems. The improbability of confronting an armor-clad attacker is the obvious reason for this bias.

Over time, Gendai jujutsu has been embraced by law enforcement officials worldwide and continues to be the foundation for many specialized systems used by police. Perhaps the most famous of these specialized police systems is the Keisatsujutsu (police art) Taiho jutsu (arresting art) system formulated and employed by the Tokyo Police Department.

If a Japanese based martial system is formulated in modern times (post Tokugawa) but is only partially influenced by traditional Nihon jujutsu, it may be correctly referred to as goshin (self defense) jujutsu. Goshin jujutsu is usually formulated outside Japan and may include influences from other martial traditions. The popular Gracie jujutsu system, (heavily influenced by modern judo) and Brazilian jujutsu in general are excellent examples of Goshin Jujutsu.

The development of close combat systems

Regardless of where they live, people spend a great deal of time developing and perfecting methods of using weapons for hunting and fighting. If successful, personal experiences and insights (often gained on the battlefield) help individuals to establish particular "styles," "schools," or "traditions" — in Japanese, the bujutsu ryu-ha.

Compared with the empty-handed fighting arts of neighboring China and Korea, Japanese jujutsu systems place more emphasis on throwing, immobilizing and pinning, jointlocking, and strangling techniques. Atemiwaza (striking techniques) are of secondary importance in most Japanese systems, whereas the Chinese ch'uan-fa (kempo) emphasize punching, striking, and kicking.

It is generally felt that the Japanese systems of hakuda, kempo, and shubaku display some degree of Chinese influence in their particular emphasis on atemiwaza, while systems that are derived from a more purely Japanese source do not show any special preference for such techniques, but will use them as and when appropriate.

The way an opponent is dealt with is also dependent on the philosophy of the teacher with regard to combat. This translates also in different styles or schools of jujutsu. Because in jujutsu every conceivable technique, including biting, hairpulling, eyegouging etc. is allowed (unlike for instance judo, which does not place emphasis on punching or kicking tactics, or karate, which does not emphasize grappling and throwing) practitioners have an unlimited choice of techniques.

Some teachers will favor taking an opponent out as fast and hard as possible, while others will favor taking an opponent down in a controlled way and then keeping them under control with jointlocks. Others, like the Gracie jujutsu system, stress the importance on ground work since most fights end up on the ground anyway, while other teachers find it important to avoid a groundfight at all cost, since it can be very dangerous when faced with multiple opponents.

Although there were and are many ryuha or systems of Japanese jujutsu, there are features that are characteristic of most (if not all) of them. Since there are a number of relatively new martial systems identifying themselves as jujutsu, it is appropriate to look at those characteristics which distinguish a style as traditional Japanese jujutsu.


All Nihon jujutsu have cultural indicators which help give a sense of the traditional character of a school, and include:

  • An atmosphere of courtesy and respect, a context intended to help cultivate the appropriate kokoro, or "heart".
  • The type of gi or training suit worn, which is usually plain white, often with a dark hakama (the most colorful uniform might be plain black or the traditional blue of quilted keikogi; you are not likely to see stars and stripes or camouflage uniforms).
  • Lack of ostentatious display, with an attempt to achieve or express the sense of rustic simplicity (expressed in such concepts as sabi and wabi in Japanese) common in many of Japan's traditional arts.
  • The use of the traditional (e.g., Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, and Menkyo Kaiden levels) ranking system, perhaps as a parallel track to the more contemporary and increasingly common dani (kyu/dan) ranking.
  • There is the lack of tournament trophies, long-term contracts, tags and emblems, rows of badges or any other superficial distractions.

Technical characteristics

Although there is some diversity in the actual look and techniques of the various traditional jujutsu systems, there are significant technical similarities:

  • Students learn traditional jujutsu primarily by observation and imitation as patterned by the ryu's kata (prearranged forms).
  • Most kata emphasize joint-locking techniques, that is threatening a joint's integrity by placing pressure on it in a direction contrary to its normal function, or take-down or throwing techniques, or a combination of take-downs and joint-locks.
  • Very occasionally an atemi (strike) targeted to some particularly vulnerable area will be used to help create kuzushi (break in balance) or otherwise set-up the opponent for a lock, take-down or throw.
  • Force essentially never meets force directly, nor should techniques need to be strong-armed to be effective: rather, there is great emphasis placed on flow (which follows from the art's name, in which ju connotes pliability and suppleness) and technical mastery.
  • Movements tend to emphasize circularity, and capitalize on an attacker's momentum and openings in order to place a joint in a compromised position or to break balance as preparatory for a take-down or throw.
  • The defender's own body is positioned so as to take optimal advantage of the attacker's weaknesses while simultaneously presenting as few openings or weaknesses of its own.
  • The common inclusion in the ryu of cognate weapons training (also using kata as a primary instructional method), stemming from the historical development of jujutsu and other koryu when active battles were waged. Weapons might include, for example, the roku shaku bo (long staff), han bo (short staff), katana (long sword), Wakizashi or kodachi (short sword), and tanto (knife), some of the main repertoire of traditional weaponry.

Philosophical dimensions

Although jujutsu and the ancient arts in general often do not have the suffix -do or "way" to designate them as paths toward spiritual liberation and inner development, there are some philosophical and mental components, which have significance and application in these systems, at least because of their value in developing the actual combat effectiveness of the practitioner.

These include: an all-encompassing awareness, zanshin (literally "remaining spirit"), in which the practitioner is ready for anything, at any time; the spontaneity of mushin (literally "no mind") which allows immediate action without conscious thought; and a state of equanimity or imperturbability known as fudoshin.

Together, these states of mind tremendously strengthen the jujutsu practitioner, allowing him the utmost potential for effective action. Such effectiveness and the technical competence and mental mastery on which it stands, however, is possible only after a considerable period of serious and devoted training.

These various characteristics or components, taken together, largely describe the principal elements of traditional Japanese jujutsu. If most or all of these characteristics are not noticeable in a so-called jujutsu system, then the legitimacy of the system as bona fide Nihon jujutsu would be highly suspect. This is not to say that the system or school in question does not offer a good training program or effective techniques. It simply suggests that such a system may be more accurately labeled with some other term.

Jujutsu as sport

Jujutsu as a competitive sport is somewhat controversial. According to some practitioners, what makes jujutsu jujutsu, is the fact that every conceivable technique to win in combat is allowed - there are no rules or limitations, surviving the fight is what counts.

This includes some very dangerous techniques, such as throwing a person from a standing position while having an arm in a jointlock, which can result in serious injuries. In order to safely compete in jujutsu, rules have to be made and techniques limited. According to many, this takes away the very heart of what jujutsu is. They claim this would turn jujutsu into a combination of judo and karate, while it is so much more.

The most popular competition method is called 'fighting system'. This system consists of one round of combat with different phases. In the first phase, only atemi (striking) are allowed. In the next phase, grappling and throwing are added, but continuing on the ground (newaza) is not allowed. In the last phase, groundfighting is allowed, including chokeholds.

There is only what is called 'half-contact' between opponents, which means it is allowed to actually hit your opponent, but you're not supposed to hit for a knockout (like boxing). Judges award points for techniques used and the fighter with the most points wins.

Another, less known system, is called 'practical'. In this system, 2 defenders will take their places in the center of the mat (tatami), surrounded by 4 attackers, 1 on each corner of the mat. The attackers will choose who and how to attack. A defender can therefore be faced with 0 to 4 opponents. Attacks must be straightforward, without feints. This is also 'half-contact'. Combat is one round of 2 minutes. There are 3 judges who will indicate at the end of the round which defender did the best job of defending himself.

The judges watch not only for effectiveness of individual techniques, but also how the defender keeps oversight and control of the situation when faced with multiple attackers. Taking down one opponent with a difficult technique but leaving yourself open for the other attackers will not score very well, while using a simple one throwing your attacker in the way of the other(s) will.

A third competition method is called 'duo system'. During such a competition, a couple of fighters (same sex or mixed) has to present defences for different predetermined attacks. These defences can be freely chosen and are awarded with points from judges. The attacks are divided into 4 groups of 5 attacks each. The 4 attack groups are gripping, embracing/neck locks, punches/kicks and weapons.

What's in a name?

Jujutsu, jujitsu, jiu jitsu — there are a wide range of spellings used in English for this Japanese martial art. In the native Japanese, jūjutsu is written in kanji (Chinese ideograms) as 柔術, but the romanization of the Japanese word into the English language has been performed several times using several different systems since Japan was forced out of isolation in 1854 by the United States.

Jujutsu, the current standard, is derived using the Hepburn romanization system. Before the first half of the 20th century, however, jiu-jitsu and then jujitsu were preferred. Since this corresponded to a period of time when Japanese martial arts first became widely known of in the West, these earlier spellings are still common in many places, though the romanization of the second kanji as jitsu is unfaithful to the Japanese pronunciation, especially since jujitsu means "military preparedness".

The Chinese character 柔 (Mandarin: ru; Japanese: ) is the same as the first one in 柔道 (Mandarin: rudo; Japanese: judo). The Chinese character 術 (Mandarin: sh; Japanese: jutsu) is the same as the second one in 武術 (Mandarin: wǔsh)

Father of a large family

Because jujutsu is both so encompassing and has its origin hundreds of years ago, it has become the foundation for a variety of styles and derivations today. As each instructor incorporated new techniques and tactics to what was taught to him originally, he could codify and create his own ryu or school. Some of these schools modified the source material so much that they no longer considered themselves a breed of jujutsu. Modern judo is the classic example of an 'art' which was derived from jujutsu but is today distinct. Another layer removed, some popular arts had instructors who studied one of these jujutsu-derivatives and made their own derivative on top. This creates an extensive family of martial arts and sports which can trace their lineage to jujutsu in some part.

Dano Shen Ryu is a jujitsu created by Master Hughes. It is the only school of jujitsu practicing Dharma, the old ways in which self awareness through meditation is an advanced requirement of the instructors. Grand Master Hughes is famous for his Humanitarian work. Dano Shen Ryu is associated with the National Meditation Center for World Peace located in Jacksonville, Texas, USA.

The following are a few different schools of jujitsu:

  • Dano Shen Ryu
  • Araki Ryu Kogusoku
  • Danzan Ryu
  • Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu (sometimes considered distinct, and the ancestor of modern Aikido)
  • Hontai Yoshin Ryu
  • Fudoshin Ryu
  • Hakko Ryu
  • Koppo Ryu
  • Takenouchi Ryu
  • Saigo Ryu Aiki Jujutsu
  • Sekiguchi Shinshin Ryu
  • Shin No Shindo Ryu
  • Sosuishitsu Ryu
  • Takeuchi Ryu
  • Tasumi Ryu Heiho
  • Tenji Shinyo Ryu
  • Yagyu Shingan Ryu
  • Yoshin Ryu

After the transplantation of traditional Japanese jujitsu to the US, many of these more traditional styles underwent a process of adaptation at the hands of their American practitioners, molding the arts of jujitsu to better mesh with American culture in its myriad varieties. There are today many distinctly American styles of jujitsu, a defining characteristic of which is their constant, continued refinement and adaptation at the hands of their advanced practitioners. The following are a few examples.

  • Sanuces Ryu
  • Small Circle Jujitsu
  • Vee-Arnis-Jitsu
  • Yoshitsune Jujitsu

The following martial arts and sports either do not always classify themselves as jujutsu or have founding instructors that studied a derivative of jujutsu.

External links

  • - website containing list of dojos world wide as well as a forum with high dans (within certain organisations) contributing to training tips etc.
  • - website containing information and links to sites relating to the art of ju jitsu.
  • - a traditional jujutsu group in the UK
  • - an organisation of jitsu clubs based mainly in the UK but with international links
  • - a modern style of jujitsu practiced in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City

See also

Last updated: 05-09-2005 12:17:16
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04