History of Traditional Japanese Jujutsu

There are many opinions concerning the origins of Traditional Japanese Jujutsu.


Jū can be translated as meaning: gentle, soft, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding.

Jutsu can be translated as meaning: art or technique.

Thus, jujutsu has the meaning of yielding-art.


Jujutsu's core philosophy is to manipulate the opponent's force against him- or herself, rather than confronting them with one's own force.


Below, you'll be provided with two debate topics to ponder. We look forward to receiving your opinions about them BOTH!


Did the ancient Greeks' boxing, wrestling, and grappling during their Olympics Games in 704 B.C. constitute the true beginning of

the martial arts form now known worldwide as Traditional Japanese Jujutsu?


Some historians claim, yes, while many other traditionalists firmly believe, no.


What's YOUR opinion?


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Did the ancient Japanese implement the true beginning of the martial arts form now known worldwide as Traditional Japanese Jujutsu?


Many traditionalists firmly believe, yes, while some historians claim, no.


What's YOUR opinion?


Please message YOUR opinion to us on our Contact Us page!


Fighting forms have existed in Japan for at least a millennium. The first references to unarmed combat arts can be found in the earliest 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.


Sumai (or sumo) no sechie, is a rite of the Imperial Court in Nara and Kyoto performed for purposes of divination and to help ensure

a bountiful harvest is also depicted in ancient records and paintings.


The written history of Jujutsu first began during the Nara period (710–794 a.d.), combining early forms of Sumo and various Japanese martial arts which were used on the battlefield for close combat. The oldest known styles of Jujutsu are, Shinden Fudo-ryū (1130), Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū (1447), and Takenouchi-ryū, which was founded in 1532.


Many jujutsu forms were extensively taught parrying and counterattacking long weapons such as swords or spears via a dagger or other small weapons, which were in sharp contrast to the neighboring nations of China and Okinawa, whose martial arts forms made greater use of striking techniques. Japanese hand-to-hand combat forms focused heavily upon throwing (including joint-locking throws), immobilizing, joint locks, choking, strangulation, and, to lesser extent, ground fighting.


In the early 17th century, during the Edo period, jujutsu would continue to evolve due to the strict laws which were imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate to reduce war as influenced by the Chinese social philosophy of Neo-Confucianism which was obtained during Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea and spread throughout Japan via scholars such as Fujiwara Seika. During this new ideology, weapons and armor became unused decorative items, so hand-to-hand combat flourished as a form of self-defense, and new techniques were created to adapt to the changing situation of unarmored opponents. This included the additional development of various striking techniques in jujutsu which expanded upon the previously limited striking, which now targeted the vital areas above the shoulders, such as: eyes; throat; and back of the neck. However, toward the 18th century, the number of striking techniques was severely reduced as they were considered less effective and caused an exertion of too much energy; instead, striking in jujutsu primarily became used as a way to distract an opponent or to unbalance them in the lead up to a joint lock, strangle, or throw.


During the same period, the numerous jujutsu schools would challenge each other to duels, which became a popular pastime for warriors under a peaceful unified government. From these challenges, randori (sparring) was created to allow for practice without the risk of breaking the law. Thus, the various styles of each school evolved from combating each other without the intention to kill.


The term jūjutsu was not coined until the 17th century, after which time it became a blanket term for a wide variety of grappling-related disciplines and techniques. Prior to that time, these skills had names such as short sword grappling (kogusoku koshi no mawari), grappling (kumiuchi), body art (taijutsu), softness (yawara), art of harmony (wajutsu, yawarajutsu), catching hand (torite), and even the way of softness (jūdō). Thus,  jūdō was identified as martial arts form as early as 1724, two centuries before Kanō Jigorō founded the modern art of Kodokan judo.


According to historical records and densho (transmission scrolls) of the various ryuha (martial traditions), the systems of unarmed combat which were developed and practiced during the Muromachi period (1333–1573) began to be known as Nihon koryu jūjutsu (Japanese old-style jutsu). The primary martial arts systems practiced were methods for an unarmed or lightly-armed warrior to fight a heavily-armed and armored enemy on the battlefield. In battle, it was often impossible for a samurai to fight utilizing his long katana sword or polearm, and they would, therefore, be forced to rely on their short sword, dagger, or even bare hands. When combating a fully armored opponent, the effective use of such minor weapons necessitated the employment of superior grappling skills. All of these systems, including Kogusoku, yawara, kumiuchi, and hakuda, fall under the general description of Sengoku jūjutsu.


Unarmed grappling was only one component of the samurai's training, intended to be utilized as a last resort when an unarmed or lightly armed warrior had to defend himself in battle against a heavily armed and armored enemy. As a side note, after the twelfth century, the term, Shogun, became widely used to designate the leader of the samurai.


A report describes how a warrior, Nomi no Sekuni of Izumo, defeated and killed Tajima no Kehaya in Shimane prefecture in the presence of Emperor Suinin. The techniques used during this encounter included striking, throwing, restraining, and weaponry.


During the feudal era of Japan, various types of martial arts flourished, known in Japanese under the name of bujutsu. The term jutsu can be translated as method, art, or technique, and the name which each one has is indicative of the mode or weapon with which they are executed. The combat methods which were developed and perfected by Japan's samurai class are very diverse.


Ko-ryu (old/classic school) is the study of classic combat, including the use of weapons, which was a primary goal of samurai training. Systems of ko-ryu often use an example technique performed by a tori/uke (pair of instructors/students) to illustrate the body dynamics of combat, as well as training for strength, speed, and accuracy. Weapons to defend against might include, for example: the roku shaku bo (six-foot staff), hanbo (short staff), katana (long sword), wakizashi or kodachi (short sword), tanto (knife), jitte (short one hook truncheon, also known as power-of-ten-hands-weapon, jute), and various forms of firearms or other modern-day weapons, such as tasers.


Each child who grew up in a samurai family was expected to be a warrior when he grew up. Therefore, much of his childhood was spent practicing different martial arts. A complete samurai would be skilled in the use of the sword (kenjutsu), the bow and arrow (kyujutsu), the spear (sojutsu, yarijutsu), the halberd (naginatajutsu) and, subsequently, the use of firearms (houjutsu). They were instructed and trained in the use of all weapons while riding a horse, as well as being on foot. They were also expected to know how to swim and dive.


There is diversity in the actual look and technique of the various traditional jujutsu systems, with significant technical similarities.


Today, students learn Traditional Japanese Jujutsu primarily by observation and imitation of the ryu's waza (techniques). Many schools emphasize joint-locking techniques (threatening a joint's integrity by placing pressure on it in a direction contrary to its normal function, or aligning it so that muscular strength cannot be brought to bear), or take-down, or throwing techniques.


Atemi (strikes) are sometimes targeted to a vulnerable area of the body to distract the opponent or break his balance (kuzushi). In some circumstances, jujutsuka generate kuzushi (breaking of balance) is accomplished by striking one's opponent along his weak line. Other methods of generating kuzushi include grabbing, twisting, or poking areas of the body known as pressure points (areas of the body where nerves are close to the surface of the skin). The terms hard or soft are frequently used to characterize the style of a particular jujutsu school.


Force can be met either with respondent direct force, or the force of an attack is used to facilitate an immediate defensive counterattack. Traditional Japanese Jujutsu movements are designed to capitalize on an attacker's momentum and openings in order to place a joint in a compromised position or to break their balance as preparation 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 few openings or weaknesses of its own.


Because jujutsu encompasses so many techniques, it has become the foundation for a variety of modern styles and derivations. As each instructor incorporated new techniques and tactics into what was taught to him originally, he could create his own ryu or school. Some of these schools modified the original techniques so much that they no longer considered themselves a style of jujutsu. Examples of this are: Present-day aikido; karate; and judo, which came into existence in 1905, when a number of jujutsu schools joined the Kodokan, as established by Jigaro Kano, which is a Japanese-based martial arts system formulated in modern times, which is only partially influenced by traditional Nihon jūjutsu, and is referred to as goshin (self defense) jujutsu.


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is yet another divergence of jujutsu. It's been developed utilizing a system popular with exponents of modern martial sporting contests and has recently dominated televised grappling competitions. It differs from jujutsu in that the exponent will try to block an attack in order to quickly attain a clinch. From the clinch, a takedown is employed in order to turn the contest into a wrestling match.


Other martial arts forms derived from or influenced by jujutsu include:

Aikijutsu, Aikido, Karate, Kenpo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Hapkido, Judo, Sambo, Kajukenbo, Kapap, Bartitsu, and German Ju-Jutsu.


All Japanese jujutsu martial arts forms have cultural aspects which help give a sense of the traditional character of a school. Students (Jujutsuka) are taught to maintain an atmosphere of courtesy and respect, in which they can cultivate the appropriate kokoro, or heart.


The traditional jujutsu martial arts uniform is a keikogi, which is often shortened to the more popular and common term, gi. The top uniform piece is called the uwagi, which means upper. The pants of the keikogi are called shitabaki, which literally means underpants, or zubon, which means pants or trousers. In Japan, Jujutsuka usually wear their plain white keikogi with a dark hakama, which is a type of traditional Japanese clothing. The hakama design originally stems from the trousers worn by members of the Chinese imperial court in the Sui and Tang dynasties. Hakama worn for martial arts typically has seven deep pleats, two on the back and five on the front and, although they appear balanced, the arrangement of the front pleats (three to the right, two to the left) is asymmetrical.


In an attempt to achieve a sense of rustic simplicity, there is a lack of ostentatious display when it comes to the appearance of a traditional martial arts uniform. A traditional ranking system is used, with Shoden, which literally means beginning degree, being the lowest black belt rank in Japanese martial arts. Chuden, Okuden, and menkyo kaiden levels all represent higher levels of the traditional licensing certifications utilized for sensei (instructor) training purposes. Those levels are similar to a parallel track of the more contemporary and increasingly common dan-i (kyu/dan) belt rankings utilized in many forms of modern-day martial arts. In Traditional Japanese Jujutsu there are no superficial distractions such as tournament trophies, long-term contracts, tags, emblems, or rows of badges. School or organization emblems are an allowed exception.


The philosophy underlying Japanese culture pervades the martial arts. Zen, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism influence both combat strategy and mental attitude. Jujutsu expresses the philosophy of yielding to an opponent's force rather than trying to oppose force with respondent force, thereby manipulating an opponent's attack and controlling his balance. In order to be victorious, a warrior should cultivate three states of mind: An all-encompassing awareness, zanshin or remaining spirit, in which the practitioner is ready for anything, at any time; the spontaneity of mushin or no mind, which allows immediate action without conscious thought; and a state of equanimity or imperturbability known as fudoshin or immovable mind. Such forms of mental mastery are possible only after a considerable period of serious and devoted training utilizing both physical muscle-memory skills and mental-conditioning abilities.


Ki is one's inner spirit or energy and is an essential aspect of the Japanese soft arts, such as judo and aikido. Ki is used in every movement of the human body and is believed to flow from the seka tanden, or geometric center of the human body, which is located one or two inches below the navel. Many jujutsu techniques have the ability to render this area momentarily useless, creating a disturbance in kuzushi (balance) which allows an opponent to be thrown down. Some schools of jujutsu emphasize the concept of ki more than others.


Jujutsu techniques have long been the basis for many military unarmed combat techniques. Gendai jūjutsu has gradually 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) and Taiho jutsu (arresting art) system formulated and employed by the Tokyo Police Department.


There are now many types of sport jujutsu.


The most common version of sport jujutsu is known as JJIF Rules Sport Ju-Jitsu, which is organized by the Ju-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF). The JJIF is a member of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) and is recognized as an official sport of the World Games.


Additional versions of sport jujutsu are currently practiced utilizing three main variants:


1) In Duo (self-defense demonstration), both the tori (attacker) and the uke (defender) come from the same team and demonstrate self-defense techniques. In this variant, there is a version of Duo that can be utilized named, Random Attacks, which focuses on instilling quick reaction times against any given attack by defending and countering. In the Duo variant version, the tori and the uke are also from the same team but here they do not know what the attack will be, which is given privately to the tori by the judges, without the uke's knowledge.


2) The sport category termed Fighting System (Freefighting) is where competitors combine striking, grappling, and submissions under rules which emphasize safety. Many of the potentially dangerous techniques such as scissor takedowns, necklocks and digital choking and locking are prohibited in sport jujutsu. There are a number of other styles of Fighting System sport jujutsu with varying rules.


3) The Japanese/Ne Waza (grappling) is a system in which competitors start standing up and work for a submission. Striking is not allowed.


On April 1, 2021, history was made as the International Olympic Committee announced the inclusion of jiu-jitsu in the 2024 Olympics.  


For years there has been much debate on which ruleset the Olympics would use, should they ever include the gentle art, and who would be the director of the event to ensure the sport’s smooth transition to an Olympic sport.  


Carlos Gracie Jr., the grandson of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu founder Carlos Gracie; head honcho of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), and Gracie Barra will be overseeing the sport’s inclusion.  


Carlos Gracie reports, “We went to great lengths to ensure that our sport would be treated with the respect it deserves. We will be using the current IBJJF no-gi rules with some minor modifications. For starters, open hand slaps will be allowed to simulate reality, as well as low kicks from the standing position. It’ll look a lot like the style of jiu-jitsu that my grandfather promoted all of his life.”


The sport will look similar Combat Jiu-Jitsu with the exception of the low kicks.


There was some concern with the nationalism of Brazilian Jui-jutsu (BJJ), namely that many Brazilians take issue with the term American Jiu-Jitsu, seeing as the style was brought to America by Brazilians. To address this, Carlos Gracie Jr. stated some stipulations.


“Because we wanted to separate our sport in the Olympics from Judo, we are specifying it as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The opening ceremony for each Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu event will include a collective bow to a portrait of Helio Gracie and Carlos Gracie Sr. We will also not be allowing teams that identify their style as American Jiu-Jitsu to participate because they are a threat to the shield of jiu-jitsu.”


So, there you have it!

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Barlow, Mark. Jujutsu: Legacy of the Samurai. Fifth Estate, 2005. ISBN 978-0976823360


Johnson, Nathan, and Aidan Trimble. Jujutsu: Essential Tips, Drills, and Combat Techniques. Mason Crest Publishers, 2002. ISBN 978-1590843901


Maberry, Jonathan. Ultimate Jujutsu: Principles and Practices. Strider Nolan Publishing, 2002. ISBN 978-1932045062


Rahming, D’Arcy. Secrets of Combat Jujutsu, Vol. 1: The Official Textbook of Miyama Ryu. Modern Bu-Jutsu, 2005. ISBN 978-1886219076