The History and Style of Japanese Jujutsu

It Is Often Mistaken for Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu
Francois Nel/Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

What is Japanese jujutsu? To understand this martial art, imagine that you were a Samurai during medieval times. That's a big stretch, right? Still, if you were, you would need to know how to use a sword. But what if you didn't have that sword with you and the attack came from someone who did? What would you do then?

Japanese jujutsu or jujitsu, that's what! In other words, you would stop that sword strike from coming by throwing your adversary, pinning him or using a chokehold. By the way, the Samurai used to play for keeps. In other words, they often practiced moves designed to kill their opponents.

While current practitioners don't fight to the death, jujitsu remains a popular form of defense. We'll discuss the facts about this discipline, including its history, goals, and sub-styles.

Jujutsu History

Japanese old style jujutsu, or Nihon koryu jujutsu, dates back to the Muromachi period in Japan between 1333 and 1573. This old style of martial arts training was focused on teaching the unarmed or very lightly armed warrior to fight a heavily armed warrior. This eventually led to the teaching of a significant amount of grappling, throwing, restraining and weaponry skills to Samurai.

The term jujutsu began to take hold in the 17th century. At the time, it described all of the grappling-related disciplines in Japan that were used and taught by the Samurai. The name "jujutsu" means the "art of softness" or "way of yielding." 

Eventually, jujutsu evolved, changing with the times to the Nihon jujutsu seen today. Generally, this more contemporary style is termed Edo jūjutsu, since it was founded during the Edo period. The striking in these styles is not designed to be effective against armor since no one really wears armor anymore. However, it would be effective against a plain-clothed person.

The Characteristics of Jujutsu

Jujutsu is characterized by using an attacker's momentum against him by guiding it in a way that the applier would prefer (and not the attacker). Jujutsu methods include striking, throwing, restraining (pinning and strangling), joint locks, weaponry, and grappling. It is truly best known for its effectiveness against weapons, use of throws and its locks (armbars and wrist locks, for example). 

The Goal of Jujutsu

The goal of jujutsu is simple. Practitioners hope to disable, disarm, or even kill opponents, depending on the situation.

Jujutsu Sub-Styles

There are many schools of Japanese jujutsu. They include older styles such as:

  • Araki-ryu
  • Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu
  • Hontai Yoshin-ryu
  • Kashima Shin-ryū
  • Kukishin-ryū
  • Kyushin Ryu
  • Sekiguchi Shinshin-ryu
  • Sosuishitsu-ryu
  • Takenouchi-ryu
  • Tatsumi-ryu
  • Tenjin Shinyo-ryu
  • Yagyu Shingan Ryu
  • Yoshin Ryu

Here are the more modern schools, sometimes termed self-defense jujutsu schools. They include:

  • Danzan Ryu
  • German Ju-Jutsu
  • Goshin Jujitsu
  • Hakko Ryu
  • Hakko Denshin Ryu
  • Kumite-ryu Jujutsu
  • Miyama Ryu
  • Sanuces Ryu
  • Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu (The Jitsu Foundation)
  • Small Circle JuJitsu
  • World Ju-Jitsu Federation (WJJF)
  • Goshinbudo

Related Arts

In a sense, almost every Japanese martial arts style is related to jujitsu, but some are heavily influenced by it. They include:

  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Helio Gracie of Brazil took the jujitsu/judo concepts he learned from Mitsuyo Maeda and founded an art with a heavy ground emphasis. The guard, or a way to fight off of one's back, is a staple of the art.
  • Judo: Jigoro Kano took jujutsu concepts and modified them to the extent that they could become a sport in Japan and worldwide. That sport was named judo. The two arts are extremely similar but have different focuses. Also, jujutsu is more about ending an attacker's day in any way possible (which is why it is not a sport).