From New World Encyclopedia
Jūjutsu training at an agricultural school in Japan around 1920

Jujutsu (Japanese: 柔術, jūjutsu; also jujitsu, ju jutsu, ju jitsu, or jiu jitsu) is a traditional Japanese martial art that utilizes a large variety of techniques in defense against an opponent. Jujutsu encompasses a broad range of martial arts styles and techniques. It developed in ancient Japan as a technique to be used on the battlefield in conjunction with a weapon, and was an essential part of samurai training. When the Edo period brought lasting peace to Japan, jujutsu evolved into unarmed combat which could be useful in civilian life.

During the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government sanctioned Jigaro Kano to reform the jutsu schools because so many injuries and fatalities occurred during training. Kano established judo in 1905, but many schools of jujutsu continued to evolve, both in Japan and abroad. Aikido, Karate, Kenpo, Hapkido, Judo, and Sambo all derived from jujutsu.

Jujutsu emphasizes using an attacker’s own force against him to throw him off balance, then immobilizing him. Techniques include blocking, joint lock techniques, strikes, throws and sweeps, as well as grappling skills.


The word “jujutsu” (柔, “ju,” gentle, flexible, or versatile; 術, “jutsu,” art, practice) in Japanese means "gentle (or flexible) art." There are several romanized spellings; jujutsu, the current standard spelling, is derived using the Hepburn romanization system. Before the first half of the twentieth century, however, when Japanese martial arts first became well known in the West, "jiu-jitsu" and then "jujitsu" were preferred, and these earlier spellings are still used in many places. Jiu-Jitsu is the standard spelling in Brazil, Canada, and the United States.

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Jujutsu means "gentle art" and is rooted in the ancient cultural traditions of Japan

The literal translation of the word jūjutsu means "gentle art." In Japan, jujutsu can be used as a broad term encompassing all Japanese martial arts such as jujutsu, judo, and aikido, or it can refer to schools that follow the tenets of old school jujutsu, as opposed to other divergent specializations such as those denoted by the "aiki," karate, or kenpo prefixes. The prefix "ju" in jujutsu means softness, suppleness, or flexibility. Jujutsu techniques are used to react to an opponent’s attack rather than using brute strength to overcome him. A small person may overcome a larger person by means of stratagem and effective technique. The analogy of a bamboo tree, whose flexible trunk bends in high winds to avoid being uprooted, describes how jujutsu conceptualizes the art of fighting.

History of Jujutsu


Fighting forms have existed in Japan for at least a millennium. The first references to such unarmed combat arts can be found in the earliest historical records of Japan, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan), which relate the mythological creation of the country and the establishment of the Imperial family. Sumai (or sumo) no sechie, a rite of the Imperial Court in Nara and Kyoto performed for purposes of divination and to help ensure a bountiful harvest, is also depicted in ancient records and paintings.

A report describes how a warrior, Nomi no Sekuni of Izumo, defeated and killed Tajima no Kehaya in Shimane prefecture in the presence of Emperor Suinin. The techniques used during this encounter included striking, throwing, restraining, and weaponry. According to historical records and densho (transmission scrolls) of the various ryuha (martial traditions), these systems of unarmed combat began to be known as Nihon koryu jūjutsu (Japanese old-style jutsu), during the Muromachi period (1333-1573).

Most of these systems were developed to be used in battle in combination with weapons such as swords and spears. All of these systems, including Kogusoku, yawara, kumiuchi, and hakuda, fall under the general description of Sengoku jūjutsu. Unarmed grappling was only one component of the samurai's training, intended as a last resort when an unarmed or lightly armed warrior had to defend himself in battle against a heavily armed and armored enemy.

During the Meiji Restoration the Japanese government sanctioned Jigaro Kano to reform jutsu schools, where sparring bouts sometimes resulted in serious injury or fatality. The resulting system was coined "Jiu-Do" (“the flexible way”). Many samurai viewed Jiu-Do as a dilution of a pure combat art, but Kano considered that he was organizing what he called “a bag of tricks” around core principles which could also inform the daily life of the modern Japanese people. Some of those who would not accept Kano's new Jiu-Do began teaching jujutsu in the West just when Jiu-Do was taking hold in Japan.


Many gendai (modern) jujutsu systems have direct historical links to ancient martial arts traditions (koryu). Modern jūjutsu traditions were founded after or towards the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868), when more than 2000 schools (ryu) of jūjutsu existed. Most of Japan had been unified under the Tokugawa shogunate and techniques for confronting an armed attacker on the battlefield were no longer needed. Edo jūjutsu schools developed techniques that were useful for unarmed combat in civilian life. Most systems of Edo jujutsu include extensive use of atemi waza (vital-striking technique) which are effective against an opponent dressed in normal street attire. Occasionally, inconspicuous weapons such as tanto (daggers) or tessen (iron fans) were included in the curriculum of Edo jūjutsu.

An unusual series of techniques originally included in both Sengoku (battlefield) and Edo (civilian) jujutsu systems is hojo waza (捕縄術 hojojutsu, nawa jutsu, hayanawa), involving the use of a hojo cord to restrain or strangle an attacker. Tokyo police units still train in their use and continue to carry a hojo cord in addition to handcuffs.

Jujutsu techniques

Demonstration of a jujutsu defense against a knife attack

Japanese jujutsu systems emphasize throwing, immobilizing and pinning, joint-locking, and strangling techniques, compared with other empty-handed fighting systems that use “atemiwaza” (striking techniques) such as punching, striking, and kicking.

Jujutsu is a learned skill or practice. It may take a student more than twenty years to mature and perfect his skills. Jujutsu practitioners use every conceivable technique to win in combat, and train in the use of many potentially fatal moves. Students usually train in a non competitive environment, and are taught break-falling skills to minimize the risk of injury during practice.

Common technical characteristics

Although there is some diversity in the actual look and technique of the various traditional jujutsu systems, there are significant technical similarities. Students learn traditional jujutsu primarily by observation and imitation of the ryu's waza (techniques). Many schools emphasize joint-locking techniques (threatening a joint's integrity by placing pressure on it in a direction contrary to its normal function, or aligning it so that muscular strength cannot be brought to bear) or take-down or throwing techniques.

Atemi” (strikes) are sometimes targeted to a vulnerable area of the body to distract the opponent or break his balance (kuzushi). In some circumstances, jujutsuka generate kuzushi (breaking of balance) by striking one's opponent along his weak line. Other methods of generating kuzushi include grabbing, twisting, or poking areas of the body known as pressure points (areas of the body where nerves are close to the surface of the skin).

Either force is met with force directly, or the force of an attack is used to facilitate a defensive counter attack. (The terms "hard" or "soft" are frequently used to characterize the style of a particular school.) Movements capitalize on an attacker's momentum and openings in order to place a joint in a compromised position or to break balance as preparation for a take-down or throw. The defender's own body is positioned so as to take optimal advantage of the attacker's weaknesses, while simultaneously presenting few openings or weaknesses of its own.

Ko-ryu (old/classic school) is the study of classic combat, including the use of weapons, which was a primary goal of samurai training. Systems of ko-ryu often use an example technique performed by a tori/uke pair to illustrate the body dynamics of combat, as well as training for strength, speed and accuracy. Weapons might include, for example, the roku shaku bo (six-foot staff), hanbo (short staff), katana (long sword), wakizashi or kodachi (short sword), tanto (knife), and jitte (short one hook truncheon, also known as "power of ten hands" weapon, jute).

Derivatives and schools of Jujutsu

Because jujutsu encompasses so many techniques, it has become the foundation for a variety of modern styles and derivations. As each instructor incorporated new techniques and tactics into what was taught to him originally, he could create his own ryu or school. Some of these schools modified the original techniques so much that they no longer considered themselves a style of jujutsu. Examples are present-day aikido; karate; and judo, which came into existence in 1905, when a number of jujutsu schools joined the Kodokan established by Jigaro Kano. A Japanese-based martial system formulated in modern times that is only partially influenced by traditional Nihon jūjutsu, is referred to as goshin (self defense) jujutsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, another divergence of jujutsu, developed a system that has become popular with exponents of modern martial sporting contests, and has dominated televised grappling competitions. It differs from jujutsu in that the exponent will try to block an attack in order to quickly attain a clinch. From the clinch, a takedown is employed in order to turn the contest into a wrestling match.

Martial arts derived from or influenced by jujutsu include Aikijutsu, Aikido, Karate, Kenpo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Hapkido, Judo, Sambo, Kajukenbo, Kapap, Bartitsu, and German Ju-Jutsu.


All Japanese jujutsu have cultural aspects which help give a sense of the traditional character of a school. Students are taught to maintain an atmosphere of courtesy and respect, in which they can cultivate the appropriate kokoro, or "heart." Jujutsuka usually wear a plain white keikogi, often with a dark hakama. There is a lack of ostentatious display, with an attempt to achieve a sense of rustic simplicity. A traditional ranking system is used, with Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, and menkyo kaiden levels, perhaps as a parallel track to the more contemporary and increasingly common dan-i (kyu/dan) ranking. There are no superficial distractions such as tournament trophies, long-term contracts, tags and emblems, or rows of badges.


The philosophy underlying Japanese culture pervades the martial arts. Zen, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism influence both combat strategy and mental attitude. Jujutsu expresses the philosophy of yielding to an opponent's force rather than trying to oppose force with force, manipulating an opponent's attack and controlling his balance. In order to be victorious, a warrior should cultivate three states of mind: An all-encompassing awareness, zanshin ("remaining spirit"), in which the practitioner is ready for anything, at any time; the spontaneity of mushin ("no mind") which allows immediate action without conscious thought; and a state of equanimity or imperturbability known as fudoshin ("immovable mind"). Such mental mastery is possible only after a considerable period of serious and devoted training


Ki is one's inner spirit or energy and is an essential aspect of the Japanese “soft” arts such as judo and aikido. Ki is used in every movement of the human body, and is believed to flow from the seka tanden, or geometric center of the human body, one or two inches below the navel. Many jujutsu techniques have the ability to render this area momentarily useless, creating a disturbance in kuzushi (balance) and allowing the opponent to be thrown down. Some schools of jujutsu emphasize the concept of ki more than others.


Jujutsu techniques have long been the basis for many military unarmed combat techniques. Gendai jūjutsu has gradually been embraced by law enforcement officials worldwide and continues to be the foundation for many specialized systems used by police. Perhaps the most famous of these specialized police systems is the Keisatsujutsu (police art) and Taiho jutsu (arresting art) system formulated and employed by the Tokyo Police Department.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barlow, Mark. Jujutsu: Legacy of the Samurai. Fifth Estate, 2005. ISBN 978-0976823360
  • Johnson, Nathan, and Aidan Trimble. Jujutsu: Essential Tips, Drills, and Combat Techniques. Mason Crest Publishers, 2002. ISBN 978-1590843901
  • Maberry, Jonathan. Ultimate Jujutsu: Principles and Practices. Strider Nolan Publishing, 2002. ISBN 978-1932045062
  • Rahming, D’Arcy. Secrets of Combat Jujutsu, Vol. 1: The Official Textbook of Miyama Ryu. Modern Bu-Jutsu, 2005. ISBN 978-1886219076

External links

All links retrieved December 28, 2023.


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