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The Old Samurai Art Of Fighting Without Weapons
Part 1 - Origins

By Jigaro Kano
Translated by Rev. T. Lindsay, April 18, 1888

Submitted by Stan Hart

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of an article originally written by Jigaro Kano, the founder of modern Judo (Jiudo). Part 1 investigates the origin of Jiujutsu (Jujutsu). There is also a glossary provided by Stan Hart, who translated the Japanese Kanji (characters) used in the original text. Part 2 discusses various schools and relates some stories about old Jiujtsu masters. The romanization of Japanese words that appear in this article are based upon the spellings used in England at the time the article was written.

In feudal times in Japan, there were various military arts and exercises by which the Samurai classes were trained and fitted for their special forms of warfare.

Among these was the art of Jiujutsu (1), from which the present Jiudo (2) has sprung up. The word Jiujutsu may be translated freely as the art of gaining victory by yielding or pliancy. Originally, the name seems to have been applied to what may best be described as the art of fighting without weapons, although in some cases short weapons were used against opponents fighting with long weapons.

Although it seems to resemble wrestling, yet it differs materially from wrestling as practiced in England, its main principle being not to match strength against strength, but to gain victory by yielding to strength.

Since the abolition of the feudal system the art has for some time been out of use, but at the present time it has become very popular in Japan, though with some important modifications, as a system of athletics, and its value as a method for physical training has been recognized by the establishment of several schools of Jiujutsu and Jiudo in the capital.

We shall first give an historical sketch of Jiujutsu, giving an account of the various schools to which it has given rise, and revert briefly in the sequel to the form into which it has been developed at the present time. Jiujutsu has been known from feudal times under various names, such as Yawara (3), Taijutsu (4), Kogusoku (5), Kempo (6), and Hakuda (7).

The names Jiujutsu and Yawara were the most widely known and used. In tracing the history of the art we are met at the outset with difficulties which are not uncommon in similar researches, the unreliableness of much of the literature of the art. Printed books on the subject are scarce, and whilst there are innumerable manuscripts belonging to various schools of the arts, many of them are contradictory and unsatisfactory. The originators of new schools seem oftentimes to have made history to suit their own purposes, and thus the material for a consistent and clear account of the origins and rise of Jiujutsu are very scanty. In early times, the knowledge of the history and the art was in the possession of the teachers of the various schools, who handed down information to their pupils as a secret in order to give it a sacred appearance. Moreover, the seclusion of one province from another, as a consequence of the feudal system of Japan, prevented much acquaintance between teachers and pupils of the various schools, and thus contrary and often contradictory accounts of its history were handed down and believed. Further, it is to be noted that the interest of its students was devoted more to the successes in the practice of the art than to knowledge of its rise and progress in the country. Turning to the origin of Jiujutsu, as is to be expected various accounts are given.

In the Bugei Sho-den (8), which is a collection of brief biographies of eminent masters of the different arts of fighting practiced in feudal times, accounts are given of Kogusoku and Ken (9), which is the equivalent to Kempo: these two being distinguished from each other, the former as the art of seizing and the latter as the art of gaining victory by pliancy. The art of Kogusoku is ascribed to Takenouchi, a native of Sakushiu. It is said that in the first year of Tenbun, 1532, a sorcerer came unexpectedly to the house of Takenouchi and taught him five methods of seizing a man; he then went off and he could not tell wither he went. The origin of the art of Ken is stated thus: There came to Japan from China a man named Chingempin, who left that country after the fall of the Ming dynasty, and lived in Kokushoji (a Buddhist temple) in Azabu in Yedo, as Tokyo was then called. There also in the same temple lived three ronins, Fukuno, Isogai and Miura. One day Chingempin told them that in China there was an art of seizing a man, which he had seen himself, practiced, but had not learned its principles. On hearing this, these three men made investigations and afterwards became very skillful.

The origin of Jui, which is equivalent to Jiujutsu, is traced to these three men, from whom it spread throughout the country. In that same account the principles of the art are stated, and the following are three free translations:

1- Not to resist an opponent, but to gain victory by pliancy.
2- Not to aim at frequent victory.
3- Not to be led into scolding (bickering) by keeping the mind (empty) composed and calm.
4- Not to be disturbed by things.
5- Not to be agitated under any emergency, but to be tranquil.

And for all these, rules for respiration are considered important. In the Bujutsu riu soriku (10), a book of biographies of the originators of different schools of the arts of the Japanese warfare, exactly the same account is given to the origin of Kogusoku, and a similar account of Jiujutsu; and it is also stated that the time in which Muira lived was about 1560.

In the Cinomaki, a certificate given by the teachers of the Kito school to their pupils, we find a brief history of the art and its main principles taught by the school. In it, a reference is made to the writing dated the 11th year of the Kuanbun (1671). According to it there was once a man named Fukumo who studied the art of fighting without weapons and so excelled in the art that he defeated people very much stronger than himself. The art did not spread to any great extent; but two of his pupils became especially noted, who were the founders of separate schools, named Miura and Terada.

The art taught by Miura was named Wa (11) (which is the equivalent to Yawara), and the art taught by Terada was named Jui (which is equivalent to Jiujutsu). The date of the period in which Fukuno flourished is not mentioned in the certificate quoted above. But it is seen from the date in another manuscript that it must have been before the eleventh year of Kuanbun (1671). Although the statement refers to an art of seizing a man, what is really there meant, we believe, is an art of kicking and striking an opponent.

The Owari meisho dzue (12) gives an account of Chingempin. According to it Chingempin was a native of Korinken in China, who fled to Japan in order to escape from the troubles at the close of the Ming Dynasty. He was cordially received by the prince of Owari, and there died at the age of 85 in 1671, which is stated to be the date on his tombstone in Kenchuji in Nagoya.

In the same book a passage is quoted from Kenpohisho (13) which relates that when Chingempin lived in Kokushoji in Azabu, the three ronins Fukuno, Isogai and Muira also lived there, and Chingempin told that there was an art of seizing a man and that he had seen it; that it was of such and such nature. Finally these three men after hearing this, investigated the art and as a result, the school of the art Kitoriu was founded.

In a book called the Sen tetsu so dan (14) which may be considered one of the authorities on the subject, it is stated that Chingempin was born probably in the 15th year of Banreki according to Chinese chronology, that is in 1587; that he met at Nagoya a priest named Gensei in the 2nd year of Manji, that is in 1659, with whom he became very intimate. They published some poems under the title Gen Gen Sho Washu. (15)

In another book named Kiyu sho ran (16) it is related that Chingempin came to Japan in the 2nd year of Manji (1659). Again it is generally understood that Shunsui, a famous Chinese scholar, came to Japan on the fall of the Ming dynasty in the 2nd year of Manji (1659).

From these various accounts it seems evident that Chingempin flourished in Japan some time after the second year of Manji, in 1659. So that the statement of the Bujutsu riusoroku that Miura flourished in the time of Eiroku must be discredited. It is evident from the accounts already given that Chingempin flourished at a later period, and that Miura was his contemporary. There are other accounts of the origin of Jiujutsu given by various schools of the art, to which we must now turn.

The account given by the school named Yoshinriu is as follows: This school was begun by Miura Yoshin, a physician of Nagasaki in Hizen. He flourished in the early times of the Tokugawa Shoguns. Believing that many diseases arose from not using mind and body together, he invented some methods of Jiujutsu. Together with his two medical pupils he found 21 ways of seizing an opponent and afterwards found out 51 others.

After his death his pupils founded two separate schools of the art, one of them named his school Yoshinriu, from the Yoshin of his teacher’s name: the other named his school Miurariu, also from his teacher’s name.

The next account is that of a manuscript named Tenjin Shinyoriu Taiiroku. In it there occurs a conversation between Iso Mataemon, the founder of the Tenjin Shinyouriu and Terasaki, one of his pupils. The origin of Jiujutsu is thus related: There once lived in Nagasaki a physician named Akiyama, who went to China to study medicine. He learned the art called Hakuda, which consisted of kicking and striking, differing we note, from Jiujutsu, which is mainly seizing and throwing.

Akiyama learned this Hakuda and 28 ways of recovering a man from apparent death. When he returned to Japan, he began to teach this art, but as he had few methods, his pupils got tired of it, and left him. Akiyama, feeling much grieved on this account, went to the Tenjin shrine in Tsukushi and there worshipped for 100 days. In this place he discovered 303 different methods. What led to this is equally curious. One day during a snow storm he observed a willow tree whose branches were covered in snow. Unlike the pine tree which stood erect and broke before the storm, the willow yielded to the weight of the snow on its branches, but did not break under it. In this way, he reflected, Jiujutsu must be practiced. So he named his school Yoshin-riu, the spirit of the willow tree school.

In the Tairoku it is denied that Chingempin introduced Jiujutsu into Japan, but whilst affirming that Akiyama introduced some features of the art from China, it adds, “is a shame to our country” to ascribe the origin of Jiujutsu to China. In this opinion we ourselves concur. It seems to us that the art is Japanese in origin and development for the following reasons.

1- The art of defense without weapons is common in all countries in a more or less developed state, and in Japan the feudal state would necessarily develop Jiujutsu.

2- The Chinese Kempo and Japanese Jiujutsu differ materially in their methods.

3- The existence of a similar art is referred to, before the time of Chingempin.

4- The unsatisfactoriness of the accounts given of its origin.

5- The existence of Japanese wrestling from the very early times, which in some respects resembles Jiujutsu.

6- As the Chinese arts and Chinese civilization were highly esteemed by the Japanese, in order to give prestige to the art, Jiujutsu may have ascribed to a Chinese origin.

7- In ancient times teachers of the different branches of military arts, such as fencing, using the spear, etc., seem to have practiced this art to some extent.

In support of this position, we remark first that Jiujutsu as practiced in Japan is not known in China. In that country there is the art before referred to called Kempo, and from the account of it in a book named Kikoshinsho (17), it seems to be a method of kicking and striking.

But Jiujutsu involved much more, as been already made clear. Besides, a student in China, according to the books of instruction, is expected to learn and practice the art by himself, whilst in Jiujutsu it is essential that the two men shall practice together.

Even though we admit that Chingempin may have introduced Kempo to Japan, it is extremely difficult to look upon Jiujutsu as in any sense a development of Kempo. Besides, if Chingempin had been skilled in the art, it is almost certain that he would have referred to it in his book of poems which, along with Gensei the priest with whom he became intimate at the castle of Nagoya, they published under their joint names as the Gengenshoashin. Yet there is no reference in any of his writings to the art. Apart from Chingempin, the Japanese could learn something of the art of Kempo as practiced in China from the books named Bubushi (18), Kikoshinsho, etc.

We believe then that Jiujutsu is a Japanese art, which could have been developed to its present perfection without any aid from China, although we admit that Chingempin, or some Chinese book on Kempo may have given a stimulus to its development.

Glossary Of Terms

1. Jiujutsu: (often spelled as jujutsu) Ju, means pliancy, yielding, not soft as sometimes defined. Jutsu (sometimes spelled as jitsu) is not simply art, but more specifically refers to a high level of skill, or to technique.

2.Jiudo: (Judo) Ju, means pliancy, yielding, not soft as sometimes defined. The second character “do” means way or path (as a path toward enlightenment or physical and spiritual development).

3. Yawara: Another term equivalent to “jiu” (or ju). In the text Kano states that the term is one of several that has been used to refer to what people know today as jujutsu.

4.Taijutsu: Body skill or art. In the text Kano states that the term is one of several that has been used to refer to what people know today as jujutsu.

5.Kokusoku: “Ko” means small, “gusoku” means armor. In the text Kano states that the term is one of several that has been used to refer to what people know today as jujutsu.

6. Kempo: (Kenpo) pronounced Quan fa in Mandarin, Chinese. The first character ( either “Kem” or “Ken”) means fist, here meaning unarmed. The second character (“po” or “ho”) means law, way or method. The more accurate and historic meaning is Buddhist doctrine. In the text Kano states that the term is one of several that has been used to refer to what people know today as jujutsu.

7. Hakuda: The first character (Haku) means white, here used as a Buddhist term meaning “without imperfection.” The second character (da) means strike. In the text Kano states that the term is one of several that has been used to refer to what people know today as jujutsu.

8.Bugei Sho-Den: The first character (Bu) means military or martial while the second (gei) means art. Sho-Den means brief history or brief stories. It is a text that is a collection of brief biographies of masters of the different arts practiced in feudal times.

9. Ken: (or Kem) Here means fist or weaponless. In the text Kano states that the term is the equivalent to Kempo and Kogusoku. The two can be distinguished from each other, however. Kempo is an art of gaining victory by pliancy and Kogusoku is an art of seizing.

10. Bujutsu Riu Soroku: the first two characters (Bujutsu) mean high level of military technique, while the third (“riu,” now usually spelled “ryu”) means school or tradition (of teaching). Soroku (4th & 5th characters) mean an official journal of documents. The name refers to a book of biographies of the originators of various schools of the art of Japanese warfare.

11. Wa: Means tranquility or peace. In the text it stated that the term refers to an art taught by Miura which is the equivalent to Yawara.

12. Owari Meisho Dzue: The first two characters (Owari) is the popular name of Nagoya, and its neighboring districts in old Japan. The second two characters (meisho) mean a place of interest, a noted place. The last two characters (zue or dzue) mean a book, with many pictures gathered according to a particular theme.

14. Sen Tetsu So Dan: the first two characters mean a great thinker, a wise man, a sage in ancient times, while the third means a group, or a collection. The 4th character means a story, a tale, or a conversation.

15. Gen Gen Sho Washu: Gen means original, but here I believe Gen Gen (the first two characters) have a relation to Chingempin, Gensei, and Showa. The third and fourth characters mean to sing in harmony, while the last means a collection.

16. Kiyu Sho Ran: The first character (ki) means to be glad or pleased, the second (yu) to play or enjoy while the third and fourth (shoran) means in a moderate manner, used when a person shows his own works to his seniors.

17. Kikoshinsho: The first character (ki) means a logically written historic book, while the second (ko) means the effect after someone does his best or to be effective. The last two characters mean a newly published book.

18. Bubushi: The fist character (bu) means military or martial, the second (bi) means to prepare while the third (shi) means a writing or document (it also means intention, will or aim). This is not a reference to the Okinawan Bubushi which is a collection of martial arts notes on techniques, sayings and observations, but instead refers to a Chinese voluminous publication of many volumes that document military arts of their time.

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About the Contributor:

Stan Hart is a karate and self-defense teacher, lecturer and author with over 40 years of experience. He is also the founder of Hakuda. Over the last 25 years he has traveled extensively within the US and Canada giving seminars on his unique methods of self-defense, including the ancient arts of seizing, body control combined with striking vulnerable parts of the body. He is also a specialist in kata applications. Hart began his teaching in association with the Bucyrus, Ohio YMCA in 1972 a program that is still ongoing. He also instructs Karate Classes at the Marion, Ohio YMCA and is the owner/operator of the Richland Karate Center, Mansfield, Ohio. He is president of the International Hakuda Association that began as the Shurite Kempo Technique Association in 1985. His training has included several styles of karate, jujutsu, kempo and boxing under a number of instructors including: Andrew Akens, San Francisco, Ca; Jerry Banks deceased; Victor Louis, Youngstown, Ohio; and Seiyu Oyata, Kansas City, Mo. For more than 30 years Hart has researched karate, karate kata, special technique, pressure points and various obscure arts. His website is See Hart’s article “Defense Against The Shove” in the Reading Room category “Self-defense.”

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

jujutsu, jiujutsu, judo, jiudo, yawara, taijutsu, kogusoku, kempo, Hakuda, bugei sho-den, ken, jui, bujutsu riu soriku, bujutsu ryu soriku, wa, owari meisho dzue, kenposhisho, sen tatsu so dan, gen gen sho washu, kiyu sho ran, yoshiriu, yoshinryu, tenjin shinyouriu taiiroku, tenjin shonyourryu, tairoku

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