Japanese Origins


Jujutsu is ancient. Originally it was not actually a single martial art, but rather a short hand to refer to any and all Japanese martial arts. Over the generations various grappling and submission martial arts indigenous to Japan were consolidated. Jujutsu has been known under many names, such as Yawara, Tai-jutsu, Kogusoku, Kempo and Hakuda.

The consolidation of Japanese grappling arts into this old style, referred to as Nihon Koryu Jujutsu, was developed during the Muromachi period (1333-1573). It enabled a warrior with little or no armor to defeat a heavily armed and armored warrior, like a Samurai.

Many Jujutsu schools or “ryū” were formed during this time. These different ryū practiced slight variations from each other. Some concentrated more on take downs, some more on striking, some with weapons and some without.

Jujutsu dojos often challenged one another from different ryū, in a kind of ancient MMA challenge fight circuit. These challenge fights support the concept of randori in Jujutsu. Randori means free-style practice, or one-on-one sparring, which is essential to the study Jujutsu. Today sparring in Jiu-Jitsu is called rolling.

Samurai Training


With the effectiveness of Jujutsu undeniable, the Samurai adopted it into their training. In addition other combat skills like horseback riding, archery, and spear and sword fighting, the Samurai practiced old forms of Jujutsu where they deflected and disarmed opponents wielding knives and spears with various throws and holds.

Samurai Jujutsu practitioners further developed the martial art during the bloody and chaotic Sengoku period (1467 – 1603), during which they utilized it on the battlefield in their near-constant fighting with other Samurai clans.

Proficiency in grappling was invaluable when both warriors were thrown from their horses and fighting on the ground.

Jujutsu: the Gentle Art

Japan, Jiu-Jitsu-Kämpfer

The term “jujutsu” was first coined in the 17th century. “Ju,” means “to be gentle”, “to give way”, “to yield”, “to blend” and “jutsu” means “science” or “art.”

Kanō Jigorō, founder of Judo, offered his own translation of jujutsu: “the art of gaining victory by yielding or pliancy.” It being a little long winded, the most common translation has come to be “the gentle art” or “el arte suave.”

Following the Meiji Restoration starting in 1868, Japan was beginning to modernize. There was a cultural split growing in Japanese martial artists.

The traditionalists thought the deadly techniques of the Samurai should be preserved, while the modernists thought traditional martial arts were violent, archaic, barbaric remnants of an uncivilized past.

Judo: the Gentle Way

Kanō Jigorō

The term “judo” was first coined in the 17th century. “Ju,” means “to be gentle” or “to yield”, and “do” means “way.” Judo is “the gentle way,” a less lethal offshoot of Jujutsu. The main difference between the two martial arts can be explained in their names.

A “jutsu” is a technique of martial effectiveness. It is practiced with sparring, and adheres to a warrior mindset. A “do” is a way of spiritual and physical development, and emphasizes kata training over sparring. Judo focuses much more on standing combat, grips, throws, and take downs. Jujutsu focuses on ground fighting, submissions, chokes, and joint locks.

To think that Judo isn’t devastating in combat and that Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t have spiritual and physical development intrinsic to its study would be completely wrong. The difference is nuanced and found in the philosophies of training.

Kanō Jigorō, the founder of Judo and the Kodokan, was a martial arts luminary of his time. As a young man he learned from the old Jujutsu masters as they were dying off. Kanō, along with other luminaries like Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, became the living libraries of Japanese marital arts history.

Kanō codified and standardized the styles and systems of Jujutsu with the formation of the Kodokan, an institute dedicated to the gentle art, founded by Kanō Jigorō in 1882. Out of this emerged Judo: the national sport of Japan.

Styles and systems of all martial arts were codified and standardized with the formation of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai or “Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society” founded in 1895, under the administration of Emperor Meiji. Kanō Jigorō and Morihei Ueshiba were both a part of this organization. Sparring was generally discouraged by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai in favor of individualized training forms called kata.

Jujutsu focuses on live sparring while Judo focuses on kata. Jujutsu was developed during wartime while Judo was developed during peace, modernization, and stability.

The ground focus is what makes Jujutsu so lethal. Over the years this ground focused fighting called kosen, was downplayed in Judo, and so eventually Judo developed into an almost entirely standing and throwing based art, while Jujutsu became much more focused on kosen.