Jujutsu might be translated as flexible or gentle art, however this would not give the true flavor of the word. Rather it is a martial art than emphasizes using an opponents strength against them. A classical maxim states “Ju yoko go o sei suru” which means softness or flexibility overcomes hardness. Jujutsu employs this principle in Nage waza (throws), Kansetsu waza (joint locks), Ne waza (ground techniques), Shime waza (choking techniques) and Kyusho waza (pressure point techniques) to achieve its aims.

Historical Sense of Jujutsu

Jujutsu means flexible art. The art has been part of Japanese history since the country’s mythical creation by the gods, according to Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) and Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters). It was in the Muromachi period, however (1333 – 1568), that jujutsu was systematized and independent ryuha (school or tradition) were established. Prior to this, the bushi trained some jujutsu but were not nearly as skilled in it as with tachi (sword), yari (spear), or naginata (glaive), upon which their lives depended. The arts of jujutsu are not necessarily the soft styles we are often led to believe by the translation of jujutsu to mean “Gentle Art” but rather, most were more like karate in their firmness and use of atemi.

Early on, the term for grappling or unarmed arts, that today would be classified as jujutsu, was: hade, hakuda, jujutsu, and kempo in the Sekiguchi Ryu, Araki Ryu and Seigo Ryu. Takenouchi Ryu and Yagyu Ryu used the terms koppo, kogusoku, and koshi no mawari instead of jujutsu. Tatsumi Ryu and Shosho Ryu called jujutsu kowami, kumiuchi, shubaku, tode and yawara. Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu used Yawaragi, while Yagyu Shingan Ryu used yoroi.

While jujutsu was but a secondary art of the bushi, it was used in both battlefield and civilian situations. In the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period, 1467 – 1568) katchu bujutsu was emphasized; fighting with or without weapons against an opponent in armor. The Edo Jidai (1600 – 1868) emphasized suhada bujutsu; fighting with or without weapons while in street clothes, which were kimono and hakama in those days. The emphasis changed from war arts to civilian self-defense. The bushi on the battlefield were not skilled at controlling an opponent, since the job was to dispatch opponents as quickly and effectively as possible. The later bushi, however, who spent most of their time in town, needed to control unruly opponents without deadly force.

Katchu bujutsu was mainly directed against armed opponents dressed in armor. It often included the use of either one’s own tanto (knife) or yoroidoshi (armor piercing weapon), or grappling with the opponent and using their weapons. These were last-ditch efforts of self-preservation after losing one’s weapon.

Suhada bujutsu are generally close combat systems that used all types of strikes with arms and legs, throws, groundwork, immobilizations, and chokes. Every school did not necessarily do all the above mentioned moves. Hojojutsu (tying up opponent with cord), as well as the use of jutte (one side pronged, sai-like weapon), tessen (iron fan), and kodachi (short sword), were ocassionally taught. Falling and blending were also part of the curriculum.

Development of jujutsu showed less emphasis on the striking techniques than the martial arts of China, due to the effect of the Sengoku Jidai battlefield on Japanese thinking. When fighting against a well-armored, but mobile opponent, strikes and kicks were not particularly effective, while joint manipulations were.  Japanese jujutsu developed into a more well–rounded art than Chinese martial arts and the other arts by which it was influenced.

It is also interesting to note that a more skillful bushi would find it unseemly to use his sword against a foot soldier or commoner, and would resort to his jujutsu training, rather than use his primary weapon – the tachi.

One Jujutsu School’s Development

Tenjin Shinyo Ryu is fairly typical of classical jujutsu schools. It is derived from Yoshin Ryu and Shin no Shinto Ryu. It is noted for its groundwork, joint locks, chokes and pins. It emphasizes attacking the opponents’ weak points.

Jigoro Kano used Tenjin Shinyo Ryu as a primary basis for his judo system. Judo utilizes a variety of throws classified as hip fulcrums, sweeps reaps, projections and various sacrifice throws, to mention some of the major categories. There are also many osae kome (immobilizations) and shime waza in the judo curriculum from Shin no Shinto Ryu.

Akiyama Yoshitoki, a doctor who lived in Nagasaki during the later part of the seventeenth century, founded Yoshin Ryu. While in China learning more medicine, he trained in a Chinese system of martial arts. Upon his return to Japan, he retreated to Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, in present day Fukuoka, for 100 days of meditation and solo training. It is said that he gained profound insight into the martial arts when he noticed how a willow’s branches gave way under the weight of the snow without breaking. He recognized the importance of flexibility in mind, body and waza. He then created some 3,000 techniques and called his school Yoshin Ryu (Willow Tree school).

Shin no Shinto Ryu was created by Yamamoto Tamizaemon Hidehaya, a guard at Osaka castle. He had studied Yoshin Ryu and became very skilled in its execution before creating his own style. Yamamoto simplified the curriculum to 68 waza.

Iso Mataemon Masatari founded Tenjin Shinyo Ryu in the early 1800s. Tenji refers to the divine quality of the art.  Shin is from Shin (in Shin no Shinto Ryu) and Yo is from Yoshin Ryu.  Born in Ise Matsuzaki, in 1787, to a low ranking samurai in the Kishu domain, Iso traveled to Kyoto and began training with Hitotsuyanagi Oribe, a master of Yoshin Ryu. Seven years later, after the death of his teacher, Iso began studying with Homma Jouemon of Shin no Shinto Ryu, a student of the founder. After six years, he received a certificate for his mastery of the principles and waza of the system.

Iso took to traveling around the country training with various teachers and competing in shiai (tournaments), at which it is said he was never defeated. During this time he was also said to come to the aid of men in trouble and once defeated some 100 opponents. This fight emphasized, in Iso’s mind, the effectiveness of atemi waza. He began emphasizing this element to his students, calling it shin no ate, using ones’ natural weapons to strike the anatomically weak points of the body. This larger incorporation of atemi waza in the curriculum led Iso to create his own system. This did not mean he stopped teaching shime waza or kuzushi, but rather he balanced them with atemi waza.

Iso opened a dojo in what is now the Kanda district of Tokyo. Soon after, he was made teacher to the Shogunate’s martial arts training school, which was called the Kobusho. He was an effective and well-liked teacher, who taught some 5,000 students in his 15 years of teaching. Tenjin Shinyo Ryu became the largest jujutsu school in Japan at the time.

It is also of particular interest that across the street from Iso’s dojo was the Gembukan, a kendojo of Chiba Shusaki, a very famous Hokushin Itto Ryu swordsman. The two had a very warm friendship and students trained in both schools without malice or any sense of competition.

Currently there are 124 waza in Shin no Shinto Ryu’s curriculum. There are also five kuden (oral teachings) and a series of randori-ho (free training methods), as well as koppo (resuscitation methods), kenjutsu (sword art) and hojojutsu (restraining/tying art). The student is given the information in a series of nine sets, with emphasis on correct form and avoidance of undue use of strength in the early stages. Next, breathing patterns are emphasized. By the intermediate level, blending and refinement of waza take most of the student’s time as the techniques become more realistic; this is typically after four to seven years of training. At ten years, the student is dealing with multiple attackers and what is felt to be highly combative waza. Learning to “read” the opponents’ intentions is also developed at this time.

Shoshin Ryu of Arizona