A martial art over 2,000 years old. Hundreds of styles exist, but most of them incorporate striking, throwing, fall breaking, and locking. Popular styles include Small Circle Jujitsu, Aiki-Jujitsu, and Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, among others. There is also a sport variation of it, known as Judo. Jujitsu translates into the "gentle" or "soft" art, named so because of its use of energy rather than brute strength. It is also spelled jiu-jitsu, jujutsu, or a variation on any of those.

Jiu-jitsu (also spelled 'ju-jitsu', 'jujitsu' or 'jiu jitsu')1 is one of the earlier Japanese martial arts, and is considered a parent art to judo, karate and aikido -- these arts exhibit traditional jiu-jitsu techniques.

The history of jiu-jitsu is difficult to follow. The first formal school of jiu (gentle) jitsu (art) opened in Japan in 1532 under Tenenuchi Hisamori. At the end of the feudal era, practicing jiu-jitsu (as well as the other martial arts of the Samurai) was forbidden, a ban which was lifted only in the mid-20th century.

Jiu-jitsu was popularized by the appearance of Royce Gracie in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, 1993. The idea of a (relatively) small, quiet Brazilian jiu-jitsu practicioner winning a no-rules, all-style tournament was incredible.

Jiu-jitsu emphasizes chokes, joint manipulations and throws, while maintaining a marked self-defense spin. Grappling is one of the most interesting (and strenuous) aspects of jiu-jitsu. Long-time practicioners often lose sensitivity in commonly-attacked locations (the femoral nerve, for example) or exhibit battle scars like cauliflower ear.

1 Shro0m points out that the kanji for 'gentle' is more commonly transliterated 'juu', and that 'if the nihongo police were here we'd probably call this write-up juujutsu'. I bow to his superior knowledge.

This word is a Japanese term, which refers to the martial art upon which the sport of judo is based.

The two kanji which make up this word are depicted below:


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The first character, which is read "JUU" (like Jew, but longer), happens to also be the first character in the word judo, means "tender", "weak", or "soft". It can also be read "yawara", which is another synonym for judo. Fans of anime may remember a series called Yawara: A Fashionable Judo Girl.


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The second character, which is read "JUTSU" (like Jew-TSOO), means "art" or "skill", and shows up in many terms describing arts or skills. Some common examples are 忍術 nin-jutsu (art of the 忍者 nin-ja), and 美術 bi-jutsu (fine arts).

There seems to be a lot of confusion about how to spell this word. In my opinion, There are three appropriate ways to write this word with roman letters. Thankfully, e2 has standardized on one of them.

  1. jujitsu: Not phonetically correct, but widely accepted, and listed in Webster's.
  2. jujutsu: An alternate spelling, also listed in Webster's
  3. juujutsu: The correct romanization using the Hepburn system. Speakers of English will tend to pronounce this spelling most like the actual Japanese word. Actually, this is not quite the Hepburn system. The real Hepburn system dictated that a circumflex should appear above long vowels, with the exception of 'i', which is doubled. This would be jûjutsu. In practice a macron is more commonly used (jūjutsu). However, it is also common to simply double all vowels, since vowels with macrons and circumflexes are not a part of the ASCII character set.

Jiu-jitsu today has many different guises. The most familiar, through exposure in the UFC and other no holds barred competitions, is Brazilian Jiu jitsu. This however is quite far removed from the traditional roots of jiu-jitsu.

Traditionally Jiu-Jitsu’s place was on the battlefield as a last ditch attempt to stay alive when the warrior or samurai had lost or broken their weapon. Due to the opponent wearing full armor the most vulnerable points of attack were at the joints where armor was less dense (in order to aid articulation of the limbs). Thus the use of joint locking rather than striking developed.

In the height of battle the need for fast and effective techniques was a must and so jiu-jitsu developed along in this vein. As already stated jiu-jitsu exponents utilized formidable joint locks, as well as precision strikes to unprotected area’s and throwing. The emphasis however was on staying upright as going to the ground was an extremely dangerous move. Ground techniques were taught as a backup system incase a person was knocked down but as little amount of time as possible was spent in such a precarious position.

I must point out at this point in my little addition to this great forum, that I do not intend to belittle Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or any other system that places emphasis on fighting at such a range. I am merely expressing the fact that they used ne waza (ground techniques) only as a support range. This still holds true in many styles of jiu-jitsu and for self-defense purposes on today’s street should still be considered as a backup range.

Another main aspect of jiu-jitsu was its integral link with weapons systems. Many of the movements of Jiu-Jitsu developed from the movements used when handling a weapon such as sword or spear and so weapon systems were, and still are a major part of many jiu-jitsu syllabuses. The use of weapons and the unarmed defence from a an assailant using a weapon are very much a part of jiu-jitsu and the neglect of these ranges and techniques is a major blow to the heritage and authenticity of jiu-jitsu.

Later in it’s development jiu-jitsu developed attacks to all areas of the body, obviously for when the opponent was not in armor. Different Ryu (schools/styles) placed greater or lesser emphasis on certain techniques but nearly all Ryu covered most fighting ranges. Jiu-jitsu for that reason is still considered one of the most formidable self-defense systems in existence and one of the most complete systems (given the right ryu).

Ju"jut`su (?), n. Also Ju"jit`su, Jiu"jut`su, Jiu"jit`su. [Jap. jujutsu; ju soft (prob. because no weapons are used) + jutsu art.]


The Japanese art of self-defense without weapons, now widely used as a system of physical training. It depends for its efficiency largely upon the principle of making use of an opponent's strength and weight to disable or injure him, and by applying pressure so that his opposing movement will throw him out of balance, dislocate or break a joint, etc. It opposes knowledge and skill to brute strength, and demands an extensive practical knowledge of human anatomy.


© Webster 1913.

A Brief Background in to the Origins of the Martial art Jiu Jitsu

This summarises a talk I gave on the origins of Ju Jitsu at an English University. As such it was designed as a general overview and to give only the salient points of the political background.
This is what I have summarised after reading through masses of books (many of which with no relevance) so I hope it makes life easier for others who don’t know the subject.

  1. Background in Japanese Martial Tradition
  2. Political Climate
  3. Influences
  4. Modern Day
  5. The two ways I spell the martial art style are: Ju-Jitsu or Jiu-Jitsu, both are correct and mean exactly the same thing so don’t worry if you see the two spellings.


    The methods of combat known as Jiu Jitsu are more than 2000 years old. There have been various references to martial arts of one form or another stretching back throughout the ages in Japanese literature. The older references towards fighting styles are particularly important since they comprise a large section of Japanese mythology. In the Kojiki and Nihongi ancient texts, is the earliest known reference that seems to refer to a Ju-Jitsu based style of fighting. It was said that a warrior named Tatemi Kazuchi threw his opponent “as he were a leaf”. This reference has also been used to justify Sumo wrestling’s tradition, going to show the original roots of both systems are not as distant as some might think.

    Formation of a Martial System

    The modern beginnings of Ju Jitsu can be traced back to the turbulent period of Japanese history between the 8th and 16th Century. Around this time shogunates rose and fell, one person would be in charge of a province, then someone else would take it over; province boundaries also moved in the same way.

    Classical weapon systems were developed on the battlefield as well as close fighting techniques. As can be seen, there were ample opportunities to test out new techniques through the years. What tended to happen in earlier times was a warrior goes out to battle and someone attacks him, he would then by luck or chance come out victorious. When he then returned home, he would think about what it was that gave him the edge over the guy he killed and hence a new technique is born.
    Techniques tended to get passed down through families or close acquaintances and so a body of knowledge would be formed. Different families/ tribes/ provinces may become attacked by outsiders and so if you have an edge you don’t want to give it away. For this reason martial art techniques became very secretive, there were cases of people infiltrating in to another style to try and learn their secrets only to pass back to their master.

    This pattern of practising past techniques and inventing new ones lead to constantly refining of fighting patterns in many different areas. It is due to these differences that there are so many different styles of Ju-Jitsu , each style or ‘Ryu’ would have a head or ‘Soke’ and the founding Soke would name the style.

    Ju-Jitsu Begins

    The first publicly recognised Ju Jitsu ryu was formed in 1532 by Takenouchie Hisamori his teachings centred on the Katana, Wakazashi, jo-staff and were supported by a selection of unarmed techniques. The jo-staff came in to major usage as it was shown that, with good technique a jo could shatter the katana with a side-ways strike. The teachings of Ju-Jitsu became the corner stone of the warrior class that developed which became known as the Samurai.

    The Samurai’s Weapon

    The Katana was the central weapon of choice of the Samurai and was said to embody the Samurai’s spirit. As such the Katana was treated with great reverence at all times, there manufacture was also of great importance and the making of a blade became an art form in itself.
    The Katana was accompanied by a matching Wakazashi (short sword), these formed a pair known as a Daisho. It was considered impolite to wear a Katana inside, but the Wakazashi would always be worn so the Samurai was not defenceless. (Also it's not easy swinging round a 3’ blade in a confined space)

    Classical Weapons

    Other weapons were also fashioned, for instance the Naginata. This was a 3’ blade on the end of a 6’ pole (similar to a medieval pike in some ways). The blade would be made out of a Samurai’s blade that was broken or ‘ruined' in some way. Due to the size of the weapon it became necessary to use it in a sweeping motion, as such if used properly could look very graceful. This was one of the reasons that it became the weapon of warrior women.

    Unarmed Combat Refined

    In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu formed the Tokugawa military government. Thus began the Edo period of Japanese history (1603-1868), during which warring was no longer central to Japanese life. The capital became Tokyo and a police state was enforced

    Ju-Jitsu Banned

    The end of the Edo period was marked by the Meiji Restoration, a civil war broke out that moved power from the Shogun back to the Emperor. Emperor Melse declaring it a criminal offence to practice the old style combative martial arts i.e. all Jitsu styles, decreed by Imperial edict.
    Ironically it was through the support of many Samurai that the Emporer had regained power, only to ban the art that got him there.

    Latter the Americans enforced the martial art ban during the occupation during WW2 to oppress the people, allowing only the police to practise such fighting styles.

    A New Birth

    Some Ju-Jitsu masters continued to practice their art `underground', many moved to different countries where there was no such ban. It was during this oppression that the first Japanese exponents of the art arrived in Britain. By the Mid twentieth century, however, the ban on Jitsu had lifted.

    Present Day

    Some of the currently existing Ju-Jitsu styles practised worldwide are:
    • Kiraku-ryu
    • Takenouchi-ryu
    • Yoshin-Ryu
      (Founder: Akiyama Shirobei Yoshitoki, a Nagasaki physician)
    • Shinnoshindo-ryu
    • Tenshin Shinto-ryu


    • The Art of Ju-Jitsu Prof. Yukio Tani
    • Bo – Karate Weapon of Self Defence Fumio Demura
    • Martial Arts Explorer Future Vision Multimedia
    • The complete book of Martial Arts David Mitchell
    • York University Jitsu web site

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