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
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) forms.
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."
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