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The History of Jitsu

Literally, Jiu Jitsu is the technique or art (jutsu) of suppleness, flexibility and gentleness. Judo founder Jigoro Kano traced the art’s emergence to the period between 1600 and 1650. In its golden age, late 17th to mid 19th century, more than 700 jujitsu systems appeared in Japan. Among those mentioned prominently in martial arts chronicles are: Tenjin-Shinyo-ryu, Takenouchi ryu, Sousuishitsu ryu, the Kito ryu (relevant to us) and the Sekiguchi-ryu. Many other ancient and reputable schools, such as the Yagyu-Shingan ryu or the Date clan and the Juki ryu or Sawa Dochi, are listed within the doctrine of jujitsu.

The vital issue in jujitsu was effectiveness in combat. Methods were tested in duels and public competitions among members of various schools. These encounters were frequently lethal. Such testing not only improved weapons and ways of employing them, but established the reputations of the survivors.

Jujitsu techniques include kicking, striking, kneeing, throwing, choking, joint locking, holding, and tying, as well as use of certain weapons. Most systems emphasised only one or two major techniques. Jujutsu was always a secondary method of combat to the warrior, since he relied so heavily on his sword.

Although Jujutsu techniques are initially learned individually, in a static position, the essence of Jujutsu is the ability to move from technique to another, or a second or even a third as needed – and as quickly and as often as necessary to control an attacker. Since each system emphasises only a few major techniques (or waza), the principle behind each technique can be applied in numerous situations, not just in the manner in which it is learned in a certain technique. Each technique, in fact, is designed to illustrate and teach a specific principle.

In 1905 the majority of the old schools merged with Kano’s school, the famed Kodokan. The schools of aiki-jutsu, however, did not join Kano’s movement toward synthesis in jutsu arts. Today, as in the past, they remain independent in matters of organisation and public affiliation, although instructional exchanges are taking place with increasing regularity.

No one is completely sure of the true routes of Jiu-Jitsu, however below is information on some styles around at the beginning of the 20th century.


Ancient system of combat based on jujutsu; founded by Shinra SaburoYoshimitsu during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1336) in Japan. Also known as aiki-jujutsu, it is the art from which aikido has developed.

Sometime during the 13th century, a school existed to the north of Mt. Fuji that specialised in the teaching of aiki-jutsu. It was kept secret except to a few disciples, for the most part Japanese nobles of ancient lineage. This art had originated from Kenjutsu.

The term aiki, like ju, indicates a principle, a way of using the body as a weapon of combat. The method of aiki is to use the the co-coordinated power of ki in harmony with the circumstances of combat; by blending one’s strategy with an opponent’s, to attain full control over him and over the encounter.


School of aiki-jutsu (harmony art). In late 19th century Japan, Sokaku Takeda, 32nd in line of the Takeda family, revived the family’s system of Daito-ryu aiki-jutsu. After travelling throughout Japan to teach his system he opened a school at Hokkaido. Renamed Daitokan by his son Tokimune Takeda, it continues to operate. Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba studied here.

Daito-ryu Aiki-jutsu

One of the earliest known Japanese disciplines to supplement weapons techniques with empty-hand combat methods, the Daito-ryu was a renowned school of aiki-jutsu. According to modern sources, the instructional manuscripts of certain secret martial arts, compiled during the feudal era, refer to the aiki-jutsu practised by this school as dating to the Kamakura period. Daito-ryu was reportedly founded by Minamoto Yoshimitsu (d. 1120), better known in several Japanese epics as Yoshitsune. The art was practised by members of the Minamoto clan for several centuries before being inherited by the Takeda family, part of the military clan of the Aizu. (However, the specific doctrine of aikido, a modern derivative of aiki-jutsu links the origin of Daito-ryu to the sixth son of Emperor Seiwa, Prince Sadasumi, who lived in the 9th century.) Yoshimitsu, a brilliant tactician was knowledgeable in many martial arts. He is said to have improved and extended aiki-jutsu. He realised that a warrior’s hands and wrists, uncovered and unprotected as they were, could be especially vulnerable, and he therefore developed techniques to be applied against these points. It is thought he called his system Daito-ryu Aiki-jutsu after his estate, Daito.

Yoshimitsu’s son, Yoshikiyo, also an accomplished warrior, enlarged the system’s number of techniques. During his lifetime the family’s name was said to have been changed to Takeda. The system developed further, but continued to be kept exclusively within the family and among a small number of trusted retainers. After the family moved to Aizu in the late 14th century, the name Aizu-todome was attached to this style.

How the concept of ai (harmony) was actually embodied in the ancient techniques of Daito-ryu aiki-jutsu is not known. The fluid beauty and efficiency of this system, however, are still evident in modern interpretations of technique.


A form of jujutsu developed by Tatsu Tanaka, who opened a dojo in Tokyo in 1952. Finding classical jujutsu unsuited to his tastes, he decided to modernise the system by eliminating injurious techniques. Kicking and striking techniques were removed, as was leg tripping, and emphasis placed on atemi-waza (vital point techniques), kansetsu-waza (locking techniques), and nage-waza (throwing techniques). Tanaka’s main purpose is to promote good health through vigorous exercise and proper knowledge of self-defence. There are some 150 basic techniques in Goshinjutsu.


A style of jujutsu founded on June 1, 1941 by Ryuho Okuyama in Japan. It is designed to handle attacks by applying pressure on the body’s keiraku (meridians) to cause intense but non-damaging pain and thus destroy the attacker’s will to continue. The aim of Hakko-ryu technique is to neutralise, control and discourage an attacker with techniques that employ minimal strength yet generate maximum efficiency. Okuyama created his system upon the belief that the successful application of technique versus the application of physical strength could overcome attacks in a self-defence context. The ability to neutralise and control both the attacker and the situation is the hallmark of Hakko-ryu jujutsu, which translates as “school of the eighth light”.

Hakko-ryu techniques are taught in two basic ways: suwari-waza (kneeling) and tachi-waza (standing). The former teaches the student to master the hand techniques predominant in this style; in the latter, the student integrates the hand technique with footwork and tai-sabaki (body movement). Here, tensing and the use of power are discouraged in favour of suppleness and flexibility. The principle behind each technique compensates for power. Hakko-ryu does not teach specific techniques and defences for a myriad of possible attacks, but instead a thorough mastery of the principles upon which the techniques are based.