Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jujutsu - Ancient, Modern, Japanese, Brazilian

What is jujutsu? In the 21st Century, the term "jujutsu" - also sometimes spelled "jujitsu" or "jiu jitsu" has many meanings. The historical roots of the martial art you are studying can have a huge effect on exactly what you practice when you study jujutsu. It's fair to say that there are Japanese jujitsu systems - both ancient and modern - Brazilian jiu jitsu systems, and jujutsu systems that hail from other non-Japanese areas. For a general discussion about jujitsu that is pretty good, take a look at the Wikipedia for jujutsu.

Jujutsu is a Japanese word, so, as you might expect, the original martial art hailed from Japan. The word referred to many old hand-to-hand fighting systems, sometimes called "family" jujutsu systems, that were developed for use in battle when Samurai warriors came to grips with one another. The systems included strikes, throws, joint locks, and pins, and often many lethal techniques. The skills were passed on within a group, kept secret so as not to fall into the hands of enemy warriors. "Ancient jujutsu" or "koryu jujutsu" refers to these old systems.

Modern Japanese jujutsu usually refers to jujutsu systems that arose during or after the Meiji Restoration. They are derived from the older family systems and include many of the same techniques, but are usually more oriented toward physical fitness, self-defense, and character development, and less toward lethality. One of the most prominent modern jujutsu systems was founded by Sato Shizuya of the Kokusai Budoin. It's called Nihon Jujutsu ("Japanese jujutsu") to distinguish it from modern systems created outside of Japan. More information about Nihon Jujutsu can be found on the Nihon Jujutsu website. The founder's dojo is at the American Embassy Housing Compound in Tokyo, and you can visit the website by clicking here.

Brazilian Jujitsu refers to systems of grappling, also descended from Japanese jujutsu, that were synthesized in Brazil. The most famous system was founded by the Gracie family. These systems focused primarily on groundwork (grappling), including pins, immobilizations, chokes, and other submissions. In modern mixed martial arts, striking has been added to the practice, but originally these systems did not emphasize strikes. As a result of their intense focus on groundwork, the Brazilian systems have developed many very effective variations on the skills that had their origins in Japan.

You will also hear about systems called "American Jujitsu," or sometimes "American Goshin-jitsu." These systems can be composed of a variety of techniques, many times including the strikes from karate, savate, or boxing, the throws from judo, and the grappling skills and submissions from Japanese or Brazilian Jujitsu. Unfortunately, the founders of these systems have not always spent enough time learning their craft before creating their own art, but there are some that are exceptionally good, such as the Small Circle Jujitsu of Professor Wally Jay.

At the Japanese Martial Arts Center in Ann Arbor, we focus on Sato Sensei's Nihon Jujutsu. This system is an excellent method for developing physical fitness, self-defense skills, and an internal calmness. The structured, progressive curriculum allows students to focus on techniques that suit their abilities, gradually increasing both the number of skills they know and deepening their knowledge and ability with skills they have previously learned. Our sprung floor takes away much of the concern about falling, and the cooperative attitude of our students helps each person learn safely and quickly. If you are interested in learning one of the most highly regarded modern jujitsu ("Jujutsu") systems in the world, and you live anywhere near Ann Arbor, consider joining the Nihon Jujutsu program at the Japanese Martial Arts Center.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Out in the "real" world, we take great pains to express ourselves. We choose certain clothes, drive a certain make of car, and wear our hair just so. We choose who to spend time with and which shows to watch, and measure ourselves against the social group to which we aspire. In the dojo, however, the opposite is true. While practicing judo, karate, jujutsu, iaido, or kendo, we all wear essentially the same uniform, strive to perform our moves exactly the way Sensei does, and utter the same set expressions during class. Regardless of where we come from, we all aspire to the same goals and admire essentially the same role models.

An interesting thing happens in the dojo, however. Despite the fact that we strip away almost all trappings of individuality, the character of each student is not lost. In fact, the more a student throws himself into his training, more diligently trying to get the techniques exactly right and putting aside all thoughts of self, the more strongly his character shows through. After a lifetime of concentrated training, the elder sensei are not without character, but seem somehow to have more personality and individuality than ever. Along with this, they also have a quiet confidence that most of us would love to possess.

This magic is part of what makes traditional martial arts training so valuable. Stripping away the artificial badges of personality helps to reveal the real person. We express our character instead through words, gestures, and actions, sometimes in very subtle ways. For example, those of us who feel the need to win are more likely to turn a training session into a battle, while those who are content to learn may train more cooperatively. If we always turn a conversation toward ourselves, it may reveal a need for attention. If instead we focus our attention on the needs of others, it may indicate that we are comfortable with ourselves.

Selfless striving for an ideal, under the guidance of a conscientious instructor, has significant effects on the martial arts student when pursued over the long term. We learn over time to harmonize our selfishness (i.e., wanting to be "good" or to get a black belt), with the need for selflessness (training despite pain, fear, or boredom; helping to coach newer students). We also learn that real quality in technique requires consistent practice and concentration, and during those moments when we lose our "selves" (our image of who we should be) in practice, our true selves are evident. With time, we learn to be comfortable with our true selves, and move past the need to wear a self image that may satisfy other social requirements.

Acting from the position of one's true self is very powerful. Because all artificiality is set aside, one's decisions are more accurate, one's reasons for action are more sound, and one's actions are more efficient. One has a better chance for success and happiness when expressing one's true self, though how one defines those terms may change greatly between white belt and black belt.