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What is Jujutsu?

What is Jujutsu

Jiujutsu is one of the many spellings of the same martial art, although jujutsu is the preferred spelling. Also spelled as jujitsu, ju-jitsu or jiu-jitsu, it is a martial art.

Jujutsu is a centuries-old system of unarmed combat, formulated and practiced by the Samurai warriors of feudal Japan. Many modern martial arts (Judo, Aikido, Ninjitsu, Hapkido, Kempo, Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and even some systems of Karate) have their roots in Jujitsu. Historically, this art was also known as Taijutsu and Hakuda.

There is no “official” way to spell Jujitsu, and you may find it presented as Jujutsu, Ju-jutsu, Ju-Jitsu, Jiu-Jitsu or Jiu-Jutsu. These are all varied translations of the same word and they are all acceptable. Ju in Japanese means flexible, pliable, or “to give way”; Jitsu means art or practice. Together these words mean “the art of pliability or flexibility”. Jujitsu is often translated to english as “the gentle art”, but this can be misleading as the techniques are not gentle on the attacker. The concept of “gentle” refers more to the fact that the techniques require little strength by the person applying them.

The Samurai were professional soldiers and were trained in the use of many weapons (sword, spear, archery, etc) and methods of combat. An unarmed system was needed in case they ever broke or lost their weapons in the course of battle. Because the samurai were usually dressed in armour, the striking and kicking techniques that are emphasized in other martial arts were of little use in battle. Instead, Jujitsu techniques emphasize joint locking and throwing techniques, often against armed opponents. However, as the use of body armour has diminished during the past century, Jujitsu has evolved to incorporate some striking and kicking techniques back into its vast arsenal.

Typically, Jujutsu techniques favour the use of “soft blocks” which deflect an attack rather than “hard blocks” that are more common in striking arts like Karate and Taekwondo. They also often redirect and return the movement and momentum of an attacker against him/herself and make extensive use of joint locks to control an attacker. Joint locks can then be turned into throws or restraints as determined by the severity of the attack.

Students of Jujutsu learn escapes, evasion, holds, chokes, throws, weapon techniques, striking, kicking, rolling and falling, and ground-fighting (grappling). Jujitsu is not reliant on strength, but relies on balance, speed, and leverage. Jujitsu is a devastating art at its most advanced level and therefore must be practiced with great care and responsibility. Historically, Jujitsu was probably the first Japanese martial art to be introduced in the West, and it was taught to most of the Western world’s special forces troops during World War II.

Jujutsu is an extremely effective self-defense system because of the wide variety of its techniques; a student of Jujitsu will learn joint-locking techniques, throwing techniques, striking and kicking techniques, strangling techniques, ground fighting techniques and techniques for defense against weapons. This wide variety of techniques (particularly controlling techniques – i.e. restraints and take-downs) allow for a flexible response that can be appropriately matched to the level of violence one is confronting. This is a major reason why police and military forces around the world favour Jujutsu techniques.

History of Jujutsu



Fighting forms have existed in Japan for at least a millennium. The first references to such 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, 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.

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. According to historical records and densho (transmission scrolls) of the various ryuha (martial traditions), these systems of unarmed combat began to be known as Nihon koryu jūjutsu (Japanese old-style jutsu), during the Muromachi period (1333-1573).

Most of these systems were developed to be used in battle in combination with weapons such as swords and spears. 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 as a last resort when an unarmed or lightly armed warrior had to defend himself in battle against a heavily armed and armored enemy.

During the Meiji Restoration the Japanese government sanctioned Jigaro Kano to reform jutsu schools, where sparring bouts sometimes resulted in serious injury or fatality. The resulting system was coined “Jiu-Do” (“the flexible way”). Many samurai viewed Jiu-Do as a dilution of a pure combat art, but Kano considered that he was organizing what he called “a bag of tricks” around core principles which could also inform the daily life of the modern Japanese people. Some of those who would not accept Kano’s new Jiu-Do began teaching jujutsu in the West just when Jiu-Do was taking hold in Japan.


Many gendai (modern) jujutsu systems have direct historical links to ancient martial arts traditions (koryu). Modern jūjutsu traditions were founded after or towards the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868), when more than 2000 schools (ryu) of jūjutsu existed. Most of Japan had been unified under the Tokugawa shogunate and techniques for confronting an armed attacker on the battlefield were no longer needed. Edo jūjutsu schools developed techniques that were useful for unarmed combat in civilian life. Most systems of Edo jujutsu include extensive use of atemi waza (vital-striking technique) which are effective against an opponent dressed in normal street attire. Occasionally, inconspicuous weapons such as tanto (daggers) or tessen (iron fans) were included in the curriculum of Edo jūjutsu.

An unusual series of techniques originally included in both Sengoku (battlefield) and Edo (civilian) jujutsu systems is hojo waza (捕縄術 hojojutsu, nawa jutsu, hayanawa), involving the use of a hojo cord to restrain or strangle an attacker. Tokyo police units still train in their use and continue to carry a hojo cord in addition to handcuffs.

Jujutsu techniques

Jujutsu techniques

Japanese jujutsu systems emphasize throwing, immobilizing and pinning, joint-locking, and strangling techniques, compared with other empty-handed fighting systems that use “atemiwaza” (striking techniques) such as punching, striking, and kicking.

Jujutsu is a learned skill or practice. It may take a student more than twenty years to mature and perfect his skills. Jujutsu practitioners use every conceivable technique to win in combat, and train in the use of many potentially fatal moves. Students usually train in a non competitive environment, and are taught break-falling skills to minimize the risk of injury during practice.

Common technical characteristics

Although there is some diversity in the actual look and technique of the various traditional jujutsu systems, there are significant technical similarities. Students learn traditional 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) 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).

Either force is met with force directly, or the force of an attack is used to facilitate a defensive counter attack. (The terms “hard” or “soft” are frequently used to characterize the style of a particular school.) Movements capitalize on an attacker’s momentum and openings in order to place a joint in a compromised position or to break 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.

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 to illustrate the body dynamics of combat, as well as training for strength, speed and accuracy. Weapons might include, for example, the roku shaku bo (six-foot staff), hanbo (short staff), katana (long sword), wakizashi or kodachi (short sword), tanto (knife), and jitte (short one hook truncheon, also known as “power of ten hands” weapon, jute).

Derivatives and schools of Jujutsu

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 are present-day aikido; karate; and judo, which came into existence in 1905, when a number of jujutsu schools joined the Kodokan established by Jigaro Kano. A Japanese-based martial system formulated in modern times that is only partially influenced by traditional Nihon jūjutsu, is referred to as goshin (self defense) jujutsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, another divergence of jujutsu, developed a system that has become popular with exponents of modern martial sporting contests, and has 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.

Martial arts 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 have cultural aspects which help give a sense of the traditional character of a school. Students are taught to maintain an atmosphere of courtesy and respect, in which they can cultivate the appropriate kokoro, or “heart.” Jujutsuka usually wear a plain white keikogi, often with a dark hakama. There is a lack of ostentatious display, with an attempt to achieve a sense of rustic simplicity. A traditional ranking system is used, with Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, and menkyo kaiden levels, perhaps as a parallel track to the more contemporary and increasingly common dan-i (kyu/dan) ranking. There are no superficial distractions such as tournament trophies, long-term contracts, tags and emblems, or rows of badges.


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 force, 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 (“remaining spirit”), in which the practitioner is ready for anything, at any time; the spontaneity of mushin (“no mind”) which allows immediate action without conscious thought; and a state of equanimity or imperturbability known as fudoshin (“immovable mind”). Such mental mastery is possible only after a considerable period of serious and devoted training


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, 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) and allowing the opponent to be thrown down. Some schools of jujutsu emphasize the concept of ki more than others.

Read more What’s The Difference Between Japanese JiuJitsu and Brazilian JiuJitsu?

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