Birth on the Battlefield

(Originally Published at Nzjjf)

Ju Jitsu, also know as Ju Jutsu, Jiu Jitsu, Jitsu, Yawara, and Kumiuchi, was the traditional hand-to-hand martial art practiced by the bushi warrior class of feudal Japan. The first recognisable ju jutsu ryu (or school) was established by Takenouchi Hisamori in the 15th century, but the earliest recordings of the techniques used in ju jitsu date as far back as 711 AD. Some call Ju Jitsu “the grandfather of Japanese martial arts”, because its principles are at the foundation of numerous other styles, Sumo, Aikido, Hapkido and Judo among them.

Essentially, the principles of ju jitsu can be summed up in one phrase — “Ju yoku go o sei suru”, which translated means, “Flexibility masters hardness”. Jujitsu uses the principle of “ju” — flexibility, or yielding — to absorb and redirect attacks rather than opposing them. This is where the name of the art comes from.

The art of Ju Jitsu has many variants and styles, both classical and modern, all of which have tended to explore a different facet of the many techniques available.

Koryu

Koryu literally means “old flow” and is used in Japanese to refer to old styles, schools, or traditions. There are a wide variety of classical schools focusing on different aspects of martial arts, and more information can be found at http://www.koryubooks.com/guide/ryuguide.html.

The types of ryu can be classified as:

  • Battojutsu & Iaijutsu — techniques of drawing the sword; sword-drawing art.
  • Bojutsu & Jojutsu — techniques of staff and stick; staff or stick art.
  • Jujutsu & Kogusoku — techniques of flexibility; grappling art.
  • Kenjutsu — techniques of the sword; swordsmanship.
  • Naginatajutsu — techniques of the glaive; glaive art.
  • Sojutsu — techniques of the spear; spear art.
  • Other weapons of the bushi — chain-and-sickle, truncheon, etc.

Classical traditions (originating before the Meiji Restoration of the 1868) have several defining characteristics. Classical jujutsu is usually practised as sets of prescribed movements called kata. Unlike karate kata, Japanese kata usually involve two people, one attacking, and the other defending. Most techniques were developed for situations where a samurai on the battlefield was separated from his weapons, or occasions where a samurai was attacked by surprise, and did not have time to draw a sword.

Another group of classical techniques were developed for defending a third person from attack (for example, if one’s superior was attacked) in situations where it would be considered impolite to use a weapon.

Many early jujtsu techniques use secret or trick weapons, such as a fan made from solid iron that can be used as a truncheon, or writing implements that contain secret blades. The use of everyday objects, such as pipes or stable tools as weapons was also studied.

There were also schools of jujutsu for commoners, and the art they taught was known as Shomin Yawara. The main difference between jujutsu for Samurai and commoners was that Shomin Yawara was usually a simplified form. Since Samurai were professional warriors they could be expected to devote large amounts of time to learning a technique, whereas commoners with less time needed to learn practical techniques that could be put into use imedialtlyt. Shomin yawara was used by people such as publicans needing to deal with noisy drunks — some things never change!

Some of the best known surviving classical ryu are:

  • Takenouchi Ryu
  • Sekiguchi Ryu
  • Assayama Ichiden Ryu
  • Daito Ryu
  • Hotai Yoshin Ryu
  • Yoshin Ryu
  • Kito Ryu

With the beginning of the Meiji period in 1868 Japan underwent a massive change in outlook: from an isolated feudal nation Japan undertook a massive programme of modernisation that reached into every corner of Japanese life. Ju-Jutsu also underwent a huge transformation long with the rest of Japanese society. This transformation was lead by Professor Jigaro Kano, who developed the style of Kodokan Judo out of jujutsu.

The Modern Art

Many contemporary schools, while recognising their roots in ancient Japan and the traditions of the Samurai, cannot trace a clear lineage to a traditional school. Modern schools also recognise that times have changed, and in order to keep jujitsu useful and practical as a tool for self-defence, have also changed their art. Thus they incorporate defence against modern weapons into their practice and use modern systems of training. The self-defence aspect of modern ju jitsu is emphasised from the very first session, though it takes a while to master! But who knows when a technique you’ve been taught may save your life (or more frequently, your teeth)?

Aiki Jujutsu

Another form of Jujutsu is Aiki Jujutsu. Most Aiki styles are descended from Daito Ryu, and share a lot of techniques with Aikido. The general approach is very flowing, and the emphasis is on using your opponent’s force and momentum against them.

Ju Jitsu as a Sport

Sports Ju Jitsu is the sporting application of modern ju jitsu in a safe format against specific rules and regulations. Some argue that Sports Ju Jitsu, like Judo, bears no resemblance to actual self-defence application of the art, however others say it is useful as a tool in learning and applying Ju Jitsu.

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