Jiu Jitsu, or Jūjutsu (柔術) as called by it’s proper Japanese name is what many think of as a martial arts style which couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, the techniques employed while performing jūjutsu can be traced to the specific combat ryū-ha (schools) that created them. Ninjutsu also contains jūjutsu schools like koppōjutsu.
Definition of Jūjutsu
As a broad term, jūjutsu, was coined in the Edo perioud of Japan, is a way of using the entire body with flexibility and subtle movements which can also be applied to the usage of various weapons. Jūjutsu techniques were also used when striking an enemy wearing armor in a way that wouldn’t cause injury. Each ryū-ha refined it’s own system of strikes and blows and as you can imagine some were well-balanced usages and others not so much. Although weapons were integrated into it’s practice, jūjutsu mainly employes tactics of avoidance, flexibility, movement and positioning to “control” the attacker rather than destroy them. This falls in line with the peaceful theme of the Edo period.
Historically speaking, jūjutsu techniques are deeply embedded in Japan’s history. The Kojiki— Chronicle of Old Facts was written in 712 which tells the story about combat between Takemikazura no Kami and Takeminakata no Kami where they used an old Japanese fighting method called Chikara Kurabe. The Nihon shoki— Historical Chronicles of Japan, 720, is another that tells of the fight between Nomi Nosukene and Taima Nokehaya in front of the Suinin emperor where they also used Chikara Kurabe techniques. These were indeed jūjutsu techniques. The Sumai no sechi was a competition held in the imperial courts and paintings of this competition clearly show jūjutsu techniques used by warriors of that time. Heifuku kumiuchi refers to someone using jūjutsu techniques wearing armor and suhada kumiuchi refers to someone of low wealth who used these techniques on the battlefield without armor.
Uncovering Jūjutsu by ryū-ha
Jūjutsu terminology manifested during the Muromachi period of Japan with the schools of Shoshō-ryū and Takeuchi-ryū being it’s pioneers. Although the ryū-ha may have varied, they all shared a common theme of developing and using a flexible body.
Names of Jūjutsu techniques by name per ryū-ha
- Sekiguchi-ryū, Araki-ryū, and Seigō-ryū ryū-ha used jūjutsu terms like hade, hakuda, jūjutsu, kenpō, and torite.
- Takeuchi-ryu and Yagyu Shingan-ryu ryū-ha used kogusoku, yoroi kumiuchi, koppō, yawara-jutsu, koshi no mawari, and gōhō.
- Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, Tatsumi-ryū, and Shoshō-ryū ryū-ha used torite, wa-jutsu, kowami, kumiuchi, tōde, and shubaku.
We find many variations in the history of jūjutsu but the techniques of all ryū-ha followed three principles. The first is the use of blood control, arterial blows, strikes, and tendon attacks targeting kyūsho. Another uses fewer blows and strikes and the final and highest principle uses no strikes or blows at all. This last principle utilizes complete body mastery and the protection of the body’s centerline seichūsen. Masaaki Hatsumi has also demonstrated these techniques defending attacks using no blows or strikes.
While jūjutsu includes the use of weapons, the ultimate goal was to be able to subdue an opponent without using a weapon and to be able to use these techniques on opponents wearing armor. Some techniques bear Chinese influence as seen in Ryoi Shinto-ryū, Miura-ryū, and Isokai-ryū as these masters learned from Chinese master Chingenpin who arrived in Japan as a translator from 1615-1624.
These techniques all exploit a moment of imbalance while exercising a heavy knowledge of body physics and flexibility. While examining the uses of jūjutsu, it’s important to understand that these are not limited to unarmed combat, jūjutsu also calls for the use of weapons like the kusari fundo, kakushi buki (hidden weapons), jutte, tetsuken (iron fist), bankoku choki (hatchet glove), ken, naginata, bo, and tanto.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, BJJ
Today, if you ask anyone about jūjutsu they will inevitably say jiu jitsu, and in particular BJJ or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Modern BJJ has little relationship to traditional Japanese jūjutsu. It more closely resemble kosen jūdō, a type of jūdō performed on the ground when waza practice failed. Jūdō was created by Jigoro Kanō mainly from Tenshin Shinyo-ryū and Kitō-ryū with a focus on randori (sparring).
Kano’s jūdō reigned supreme until an unknown named Mataemon Tanabe came with a unique style of traditional jūjutsu called Fusen Ryu, created by Takeda Motsuge. After dismantling Kano’s Kodokan organization, Tanabe was invited to teach by Kano. There was one special Kodokan newcomer that would change the game, his name was Mitsuyo Maeda.
Maeda traveled the world and it’s said that he fought in over 1,000 early-MMA-style (no-holds-barred) fights without losing a single fight. Maeda visited Brasil last where he stayed and set up an academy of jiu jitsu in the 1920’s. His student Carlos Gracie soon set up his own academy just five years later. The strategy of modern Brazilian Jiu Jitsu employs techniques that empower smaller or weaker opponents to effectively defend against larger opponents. Leverage is the key to this art. The Gracie’s refined techniques learned from Maeda and intense fighting situations which provided a method of fighting from the ground. One thing is for sure, Gracie Jiu Jitsu is a unique art and it’s influence can be seen in any culture around the world.
Jūjutsu has taken the form of many ryū-ha and techniques and it’s influence reaches to the arts of aikido, bartitsu, hapkido, judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo, Kajukenbo, Krav Maga, Kapap, and Kenpo. It also influenced Okinawan Karate which was influenced by Wado-ryu which was in turn influenced by Shindō Yōshin-ryū jūjutsu. While there are hundreds, if not thousands of different jūjutsu ryū-ha and derivatives, here are some of the more popular ryū-ha from ancient and modern times.
Old-School Jūjutsu Ryū-ha
Hontai Yoshin-ryū (Takagi ryū)
Kashima Shin ryū
Sekiguchi Shinshin ryū
Tenjin Shinyo ryū
Yagyu Shingan ryū
Modern Jūjutsu Ryū-ha
Jigo Tensin ryū
Shorinji Kan Ju Jitsu (The Jitsu Foundation)
Small Circle JuJitsu
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2 thoughts on “History of Jiu Jitsu and Jūjutsu”
Excellent description of the roots of our art! Kudos to the writer. Change: “Today, is you ask anyone about jūjutsu they will inevitably say jiu jitsu” …, to Today, if ….
Thank you for your comment and correction. With so much attention to the details of the Japanese names, some of the more simple English spellings are missed.I’m glad you enjoyed he article. The arts are so separated these days, so it’s good to study how they all relate.