Jujutsu: The Evolving Art
Part I - Introduction and Overview
By Tom Ross & Christopher Caile
When most people hear the term jujutsu, they think of an empty handed
method of self-defense whereby a tiny defender neatly dispatches
much larger opponents, both unarmed and armed, with a series of deftly
timed throwing techniques and chops to the body. While this picture is
reminiscent of the Old Joe Jitsu cartoon character, it is a less than
accurate portrayal of the arts this term represents.
In reality jujutsu doesn't really describe a single combat method or
specific art. Instead it is a general term referring to many Japanese
systems of combat that have developed over the course history.
Jujustu systems also often included a variety of small weapons, such
as a short knife, applied against unarmed or armed attackers. Jujutsu's
arsenal, depending on the method and style, included a wide variety of
arm manipulations and joint locks, striking, kicking, kneeing, throwing,
tripping, and incapacitation techniques. Eventually more than 750 schools
of jujutsu were officially documented in Japan each usually stressed several
of these specialties.
In China and elsewhere parallel systems also developed and were incorporated
into many fighting systems. Today the best known term for these is Chin
na (art of seizing, joint manipulation and striking). Throughout Asia
and elsewhere the roots of these type of techniques are as old as man's
need for self-defense. In Japan, however, jujutsu has evolved through
several distinct stages .
During the long periods of Japanese internal warfare up until around
1600, jujutsu techniques were most often used as a useful adjunct to weapons
systems, such as the sword. Later, after 1600, many jujutsu systems (under
many names) developed separately to address the needs of empty hand self-defense.
These systems were separate from the techniques still practiced as part
of the military arts.
In the late 1800's and early 20th Century, derivatives of earlier systems
emerged, such as judo, aikido, and Brazilian jujutsu --- whose primary
focus was spiritual, ethical and personal development in addition to self-defense.
Some of these have, in more modern times, evolved into competition (sports)
The concept of "Ju"
With all this diversity, number and types of jujutsu of systems that
existed or still exist, it helpful to understand their classification
under the term jujitsu by looking at the term itself.
The Japanese have a method of writing known as Kanji. Kanji are characters
(visual images if you prefer) and as such cannot be learned by merely
hearing their pronunciation. They can often be pronounced in several ways
depending on the context. Each has it own meaning and subtle shades of
meaning and thus represents far more than simply sounds, as are found
with letters of the alphabet. By combining the character pronounced "JU"
(which means flexible, pliable, gentle, yielding) with the character pronounced
"JUTSU" (which means technique, or art), we arrive with the
We therefore begin to see jujutsu as meaning "flexible technique",
"gentle art," or "yielding technique," amongst others.
This is a "primary principle" found in a large number of Japanese
martial systems which differ significantly not only in technique but appearance.
But certainly it is not the only principle of these arts.
Jigoro Kano (the founder of judo which was derived from several earlier
jujutsu systems), for example, noted that jujutsu was not an art strictly
comprised of "yielding." Kano would often say:
"The way of gaining victory over an opponent is
not confined to gaining victory by giving way, sometimes an opponent
takes hold of one's wrist, how can someone possibly release himself
without using SOME strength against his opponents? The same thing can
be asked when one is seized around the shoulders from behind by an assailant.
These are forms of direct attack."