Skip to main content

Explaining Jujutsu to other Budoka - Why Jujutsu is Different to Many Other Arts

When I started Jujutsu in 1992, there wasn’t an easy way to find out what other people actually did in terms of martial arts, especially from the comfort of one’s favourite chair.  Books on the subject, much like today, were either quite general, too specific or a loose collection of drivel that relied on the cover and title to get you in (clickbait for books – readbait?) and best left on the shelf altogether.

This is one of the reasons for this blog – I try to give Jujutsu people a small insight into what other people do – and it is for this reason there are not all that many articles purely on Jujutsu on a blog called Jujutsukan.

Strangely enough, Jujutsu people are at an advantage over many others when it comes to understanding what other people do – because what other people do is a lot more uniform than what comes under the umbrella term of Jujutsu (especially in terms of Japanese arts).

If someone tells you that they do Judo, BJJ, Kendo or the like you can immediately have a reasonable picture in mind of what it is they do, although I would still caution that even with the plethora of information available nowadays you can never be entirely sure you have the right end of the stick (or Jo, or Shinai etc) unless you have done a bit of it.

I recall very early on being worried by a certain phrase some instructors would use – a ‘Karate style attack’.  This meant you should launch a punch with a really wide stance, and when this was avoided your legs were there for the sweeping.  Even though I was just a teenager it niggled me, and when I got a bit older, I joined a reputable Karate club just around the corner that had lunchtime classes.

It turned out that the Karate style attack wasn’t delivered on its own by someone, nor someone who could not move like a well-trained Karate man.

Our impressions of what other people do can totally miss the mark or, indeed, they can narrowly miss the mark but still be fundamentally flawed.

This brings me to Jujutsu.  When you tell someone you do Jujutsu what do you think is their impression of what you do?  Many Jujutsu people seem to find it hard to understand how different other schools of Jujutsu can be, so how can someone from a much more unified background be expected to appreciate what it is you may do?

Here I would like to go through some general items to help those who don’t do Jujutsu understand what that can (and can't) entail.

Jujutsu is not Brazillian Jiujitsu

For the last 10 years or so, the first thing one needs to clarify nowadays is that I don’t mean BJJ.  I myself often open with the term Japanese Jujutsu so save having to do this, however, my contemporaries refuse to do this as they believe it is akin to saying ATM machine.

Jujutsu, Jiujutsu, Jujitsu, Jiujitsu – it’s all the same

All of these are exactly the same.  The older words used to try and impart the pronunciation in the way they are spelt.  The correct way is to use Jujutsu.  Really, we should write Brazilian Jujutsu – but nobody does and it doesn’t really matter.

Jujutsu is not (or should not be like) Judo

Many Budo people seem to think Jujutsu is a lot like Judo.  I presume this comes about from the creation ‘mythos’ surrounding Judo.  Judo is one of Jujutsu’s many children however they should not have very much in common for one extremely important reason:

Jujutsu IS NOT Unarmed Combat

This is a key factor – you cannot approach a knife fight like a Judo match.  Translating Jujutsu as unarmed combat is entirely incorrect.  One assumes at least the opponent, if not both of you, are armed.

Jujutsu is a Complete, Reverse Side

There is an impression people have whereby someone fights with the spear using the art of the spear, fights with the sword using the art of the sword, and fights at close quarters using Jujutsu.  This compartmentalisation is somewhat incorrect – in my opinion it comes from the specific nature of modern Budo.

Many arts of Jujutsu are Sogobujutsu – complete arts 

If you think of Ju and Go being Yin and Yang, the typical, positive, initiating way of doing things is what is contained in most arts whereas the atypical, negative, receiving way of doing things is the realm of Jujutsu.

In the case of the sword for example, Jujutsu would concentrate on clinch to grapple, half-swording, dagger or short sword and pirate style ‘dirty’ moves with a little bit of cut and thrust – it is a complimentary way of doing things no matter what the main weapon.

It is not as simple as Koryu or Gendai

Often people break Jujutsu into Koryu and Gendai groups – Koryu schools being those codified prior to the restoration of the emperor Meiji in 1868, Gendai schools being those codified after.

This is seen as important as those codified prior to the restoration were therefore codified during the feudal (samurai) era.

This breakdown does not really cover the full gambit of where schools of Jujutsu fit.  It is very hard to explain to someone who is used to modern Budo just how different schools of Jujutsu tend to be – if you YouTube ‘Jujutsu’ you won’t have any idea what it is that someone does.

Koryu are not all the same

Prior to 1868 Jujutsu wasn’t simply Jujutsu.  Japan had effectively been at peace for 250 years.  Some Koryu date to when Japan wasn’t at peace.  Some are versions created in what could only be described as a total vacuum.  Schools related to different classes of samurai, or to different jobs that they performed.  The school of Jujutsu relevant to a low-class samurai with a job as a policeman at the end of the Edo period was probably a lot different to that of a high-ranking warrior 250 years prior.

To my mind something isn’t defined as worthwhile or useless based on its age.  The most important consideration should probably be efficacy.  Koryu should not be disregarded or admired purely on age.

Gendai arts are not all the same

When the samurai era came to an end there were still tough people in Japan and they went out and proved it to the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for better or worse.  Those people still needed to fight and still needed Jujutsu – but they needed it to be relevant.

Until the line in the sand in 1868, probably not as relevant to active martial artists then as now, arts underwent revision, change, expansion, contraction – new versions came into existence and old ones disappeared.  This was simply normal.

This process has continued in Jujutsu, which puts it at odds with many modern Budo which have ceased high speed evolution.

As Jujutsu left Japan at various stages, for various reasons, travelling all around the world and being of use to people wherever it went a myriad of lines exist.  Police and law enforcement, military and paramilitary, civilian self-defence – Jujutsu’s plan B when you are outgunned nature is still quite relevant.

It is so relevant in fact that in times and places where no Jujutsu is available people have attempted to reconstitute it from some of its children, such as Judo and Aikido, often mixing in some other ingredients such as Karate, Boxing or Filipino arts (with varying degrees of success), creating many lines of reengineered Jujutsu.

Jujutsu grades are not uniform, and often seen as unimportant within many parts of the community

With so many schools (and by schools, I mean Ryuha not Dojo) of Jujutsu there is no ultimate body for the award and recognition of grades.  This is very difficult for some Budoka to understand.  If someone has an 8th Dan in Kendo you can be sure they have reached a certain level.  In Jujutsu an 8th Dan is no guarantee of high quality and a 1st Dan could be anything from and advanced beginner to an expert.  Many schools do not have all that many Dan grades.

The best Jujutsu practitioner I know, after 26 years, is currently a 2nd Dan (I’ll let everyone I know who has a 2nd Dan in something work out if it is them).

So, what is it that you actually do?

 I’ve used up a lot of white space telling you what Jujutsu isn’t.  I hope from the above it is clear it is impossible to give someone a general picture of Jujutsu as different schools are essentially different martial arts.

The sort of things we do (and by we, I mean my particular Ryuha, not an exhaustive list)
Falling – yes
Striking – yes
Standing grappling - yes
Takedowns – yes
Throws – yes
Joint manipulations – yes
Sacrifice throws – yes
Ground fighting – yes
Arresting – yes

With these weapons/against these weapons/with some of these weapons against some of these weapons:
Baton/tanbo/jitte – yes
Knife – yes
Chain – yes
Sticks/staffs of various lengths – yes
Sword/short sword/both swords – yes
Firearms – yes
Mysterious feats of Ki or no touch knockouts? – NO
Do you have something to do with Ninjas? - NO

I can give you a list of the sorts of things that are contained in my Ryuha, but if you haven’t done it yourself how can you have any more clue than I did when being told of the Karate style attack?  Just because I say ‘yeah we do that’ doesn’t tell you much about how we do it or if we do it well, you just have a more detailed wrong impression.

There is no going back out

One of the things I am worst at when it comes to other arts is going backwards.  That is because in Jujutsu once you go in there is not really a plan to go back out.  When people say how my weight is forward, I agree and say ‘I fight like a drunk’ – which is often taken as a joke but not untrue.  I am going to use this to try and explain again how Jujutsu differs from what I would call conventional arts – and I am going to use roulette to help me.

The conventional art is about being better – fitter, stronger, better trained and with superior equipment.  Let us say, from the Jujutsu point of view, that this our opponent – a key assumption to understanding the rationale of some aspects of Jujutsu.

To quote Gen. Patton “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his” - we have no intention of matching skill to see who is better – the odds are against us but we still want to prevail.

Our opponent then is like the house in roulette – they have a statistical advantage.  It is to their advantage, therefore, to have several engagements due to the fact that as time goes on, they are more and more likely to prevail – each engagement the stronger opponent has is detrimental to we the weaker party.

Let us assume that we the weaker party have a 33% chance of prevailing on paper, using conventional tactics.  The probability of us prevailing on the first engagement is ~0.33.  On the second engagement it is 0.33 * 0.33 or ~0.11.  On the third engagement our probability has fallen to ~0.03 (and the house is therefore at ~0.99).

I don’t like the sound of that at all.

I would usually increase the probability of the weaker party to account for using unconventional tactics and simply wanting to foil the opponent’s first attack, but let us keep it at 0.33.

If I make it into my unconventional range, where I have an advantage, on the first engagement then my probability was ~0.33.  That is eleven times better than going to the third engagement.

So, the weaker party wants to limit the number of engagements as much as possible – on the single combat scale this is staying out of range and getting in on the first try.  For the conventional fighter then, who hopes to have an advantage, the idea is to keep a distance that affords more engagements by stopping the entry to a different range.

The conventional fighter, therefore, likes lineal movement, attack and retreat, and initiating – with footwork to match.  The unconventional fighter, conversely, likes lateral movement, dodge and counter, and receiving – with footwork to match.

In my Ryuha, the first of the above statements is the long sword, and the second the short sword.  To have both of those things at your disposal (the dream!) is called Nito.  Nito in this case does not only apply to swords but to everything. It is having these two broad methods at your disposal and using them correctly.


Jujutsu is complicated - perhaps that is the best way to answer when someone asks you what you do.  I seem to remember that is what my teach did quite a lot.

Popular posts from this blog

Spear (Yari) in Owari Kan Ryu 尾張貫流 (Kudayari & others)

Owari Kan ryū is known for its use of the kuda-yari (tube spear). The e (shaft) is run through a kuda (metal pipe) that’s in the front hand of the practitioner.  Interestingly the school’s students start training by doing shiai (competition) and only after considerable training they learn the school's kata (forms). Most classical schools that practice shiai do so after learning kata. Thrusting using the kuda. Cross-stepping.                           Thrusting attack with kuda. Wide stance.   Shiai. Shiai using a spear with a cross piece. The original demonstration from which these stills were taken is here:

The Structure of the Tenshinshoden Katori Shinto Ryu Syllabus

It should be noted that the current head, Otake Risuke, has commented that not all of the parts of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu survive.  I recall his comments in various documentaries that Archery was once a component, and only some of the spear survives. Through various sources, mostly Otake's book, I have put together this brief outline of their syllabus, however I have little idea of the exact stage each is taught except that I believe the students start with Omote no Tachi.  I will use this as the basis for further posts and may add to it over time. I believe their are important implications when Otake says that one of the main reasons for training all the weapons is to train the swordsman against them. Note in this section in brackets are my own comments and should therefore not be relied upon, those from the written work of Otake are clearly marked. Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu -Kenjutsu (Otake lists Tachi, Ryuto and Kodachi under Kenjustsu) --Tachi (Use of the singl

Kendo Shinai Weights & Measures

As a note the recommended length and weight for shinai are: - Women 38 inches 440 grams. - Men 39 inches 510 grams. The Wikipedia shinai page lists the following tables: Regulations In  kendo  competitions that follow the FIK rules, there are regulated weights and lengths for the use of  shinai .  Table A. FIK Specifications for competition use of one Shinai (Itto). Specification Gender Junior High School (12–15 yrs) Senior High School (15–18 yrs) University students and Adults (18yrs+) Maximum length Male & female 114cm 117cm 120cm Minimum weight Male 440g 480g 510g Female 400g 420g 440g Minimum diameter of sakigawa Male 25mm 26mm 26mm Female 24mm 25mm 25mm Minimum length of sakigawa Male and Female 50mm 50mm 50mm Shinai  are weighed complete with leather fittings, but without  tsuba  or  tsuba-dome . The full length is measured. Maximum diameter of the  tsuba  is 9cm. Table B. FIK Specifications for competition use of two Shinai (Nito). Specification Gender Daito (long shinai) Sh