Jujutsu, meaning "gentle/yielding/compliant art", is a Japanese martial art whose central ethos is to yield to the force provided by an opponent's attack in order to apply counter techniques. There are many variations of the art which leads to a diversity of approaches. Jujutsu schools (ryū) may utilize all techniques to some degree (i.e. throwing, trapping, locking, holding down, grappling, gouging, biting, disengagements, striking, and kicking). Generally jujutsu schools make limited use of strikes since they were predominantly developed in feudal Japan under the auspices of the samurai warrior class. The techniques evolved to become effective against armed opponents wearing bamboo body amour to protect vital parts of the face, throat, and body. In addition to jujutsu, many schools taught the use of weapons.
Jujutsu has been in existence for over 700 years. In that time it has developed into over 900 distinct ryu and many of these have changed and developed, moving on from their original historical battlefield role (While some have not, see koryu). As such, the origin and development of Jujutsu are two separate things.
Fighting forms have existed in Japan for centuries. The first references to unarmed combat arts or systems is in the earliest purported 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. Other glimpses can be found in the older records and pictures depicting 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.
There is a famous story of a warrior Nomi no Sekuni of Izumo who defeated and killed Tajima no Kehaya in Shimane prefecture while in the presence of Emperor Suinin. Descriptions of the techniques used during this encounter include striking, throwing, restraining and weaponry.
These systems of unarmed combat began to be known as Nihon koryu jūjutsu (Japanese old-style jutsu), among other related terms, during the Muromachi period (1333-1573), according to densho (transmission scrolls) of the various ryuha (martial traditions) and historical records. Most of these were battlefield systems to be used with the more common and vital weapon systems. These fighting arts had various names, including kogusoku, yawara, kumiuchi, and hakuda, all under the general description of Sengoku jūjutsu. They were not systems of unarmed combat, but means for an unarmed or lightly armed warrior to fight a heavily armed and armored enemy on the battlefield. Ideally, the samurai would be armed and would not need to rely on them.
Methods of combat (as just mentioned above) included striking (kicking and punching), throwing (body throws, joint-lock throws, unbalance throws), restraining (pinning, strangulating, grappling, wrestling) and weaponry. Defensive tactics included blocking, evading, off-balancing, blending and escaping. Minor weapons such as the tanto (dagger), ryufundo kusari (weighted chain), kabuto wari (helmet smasher), and kakushi buki (secret or disguised weapons) were almost always included in Sengoku jujutsu.
In later times, other koryu developed into systems more familiar to the practitioners of Nihon jujutsu commonly seen today. These are correctly classified as Edo jūjutsu (founded during the edo period): they are generally designed to deal with opponents neither wearing armor nor in a battlefield environment. Most systems of Edo jujutsu include extensive use of atemi waza (vital-striking technique), which would be of little use against an armored opponent on a battlefield. They would, however, be quite valuable in confronting an enemy or opponent during peacetime dressed in normal street attire. Occasionally, inconspicuous weapons such as tanto (daggers) or tessen (iron fans) were included in the curriculum of Edo jūjutsu.
Another seldom seen historical aside is a series of techniques originally included in both Sengoku and Edo jujutsu systems. Referred to as hojo waza (捕縄術 hojojutsu, nawa jutsu, hayanawa and others), it involves the use of a hojo cord, (sometimes the sageo or tasuke) to restrain or strangle an attacker. These techniques have for the most part faded from use in modern times, but Tokyo police units still train in their use and continue to carry a hojo cord in addition to handcuffs. The very old Takenouchi-ryu is one of the better-recognized systems that continue extensive training in hojo waza.
Many other legitimate Nihon jujutsu ryu exist but are not considered koryu (ancient traditions). These are called either Gendai jūjutsu or modern jujutsu. Modern jūjutsu traditions were founded after or towards the end of the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), when more than 2000 schools (ryu) of jūjutsu existed. Various traditional ryu and ryuha that are commonly thought of as koryu jujutsu are actually gendai jūjutsu. Although modern in formation, gendai jujutsu systems have direct historical links to ancient traditions and are correctly referred to as traditional martial systems or ryu. Their curriculum reflects an obvious bias towards Edo jūjutsu systems as opposed to the Sengoku jūjutsu systems. The improbability of confronting an armor-clad attacker is the reason for this bias.
Over time, Gendai jujutsu has 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) Taiho jutsu (arresting art) system formulated and employed by the Tokyo Police Department.
If a Japanese based martial system is formulated in modern times (post Tokugawa) but is only partially influenced by traditional Nihon jujutsu, it may be correctly referred to as goshin (self defense) jujutsu. Goshin jujutsu is usually formulated outside Japan and may include influences from other martial traditions. The popular Gracie Ju Jitsu system, (heavily influenced by modern judo) and Brazilian Ju Jitsu in general are excellent examples of Goshin Jujutsu.
Jujutsu techniques have been the basis for many military unarmed combat techniques (including British/US/Russian special forces and SO1 police units) for many years.
There are many forms of sport jujutsu. One of the most common is mixed-style competitions, where competitors apply a variety of strikes, throws, and holds to score points. There are also kata competitions, where competitors of the same style perform techniques and are judged on their performance. There are also freestyle competitions, where competitors take turns attacking each other, and the defender is judged on performance.
Although there is some diversity in the actual look and techniques 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.
The unarmed waza of most schools emphasize joint-locking techniques, that is, threatening a joint's integrity by placing pressure on it in a direction contrary to its normal function, aligning it so that muscular strength cannot be brought to bear, take-down or throwing techniques, or a combination of take-downs and joint-locks.
Sometimes atemi (strikes) are targeted to some vulnerable area of the body; this is an aspect of kuzushi, the art of breaking balance as a set-up for a lock, take-down or throw.
Movements tend to capitalize on an attacker's momentum and openings in order to place a joint in a compromised position or to break their 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.
Weapons training was a primary goal of Samurai training. Koryu (old/classic) schools typically include the use of weapons. Weapons might include the roku shaku bo (six-foot staff), hanbo (three-foot staff), katana (long sword), wakizashi or kodachi (short sword), tanto (knife), or jitte (short one hook truncheon).
Training in Depth
The wide variety of schools and governing bodies in Jujutsu make it nearly impossible to generalise as to the quality or type of training an individual will receive at any give school.