Ju Jutsu (the soft or flexible technique) was in ancient Japan the hand-to-hand combat system of the Samurai clans, a technique developed with the purpose of killing an opponent.
It must be remembered that traditional Ju Jutsu has never been a purely unarmed martial art. There was (and is
still) styles that contained techniques for both unarmed and armed combat, while other styles were strictly specialized in e.g. kansetsu waza (joint breaking techniques) and atemi waza (distraction techniques). For example, a school that completely focused on punching and kicking techniques was Shin Muso Ryu Kenpo (several hundred years before karate).
It is not known for sure when Ju Jutsu originated. It is also difficult to distinguish ancient sumai (the predecessor of sumo wrestling) and Ju Jutsu from each other. Maybe they have both same ancient origin? Sumai had techniques fit for battle.
The most basic and common theory is that the entire history of Budo begins with the legend of the Indian monk Boddhidharma (in Japanese Daruma), who came to China in the 6th century. Boddhidharma was schooled in vajramushti, an Indian fist-fighting system. He became active in the Shaolin Temple and created a fighting system there, with the aim of strengthening the physical health and defense capabilities of the monks. The formal exercise of the martial system was Shih Pa Lohan Sho, the ”18 Hands of Lohan.
During the Middle Ages, a trade exchange began between Japan and China. The fighting system of the monks spread in this way
and was adopted by the samurai. How the spread to Japan took place is uncertain. The question is whether or not the Shaolin techniques actually gained its greatest importance in Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands (perhaps this theory actually applies most to the evolution of karate, at least if you study really old karate kata).
Two common theories are that Ju Jutsu spread:
- With the Chinese Buddhist monk Chin Gempin (1587-1674). He became active in a temple in Edo (Kokushoji) and taught Chinese chuan-fa to three stray samurai, ronin. These ronin then created their own
own styles. One of them was Miura Yojuiemon, the founder of Miura Ryu.
- With the Japanese doctor Akiyama, who in China had learned hakuda (a Buddhist fighting style that contained grappling techniques, punching and kicking techniques) and kappo (resuscitation). He founded Yoshin Ryu in 1671 (”the School of the Willow Heart”). Yoshin, the willow tree, appears in the names of many old styles (Hontai Yoshin Ryu, Miura Yoshin Ryu, Shindo Yoshin Ryu), due to of its softness and yielding to external forces (compare Ju, soft, flexible).
Other theories support that Ju Jutsu is both significantly older and more Japanese than that. It is told in Japanese mythology that the gods Kajima and Kadori used Ju Jutsu-like techniques in punishment.
In the 12th century, yoroi kumi-uchi was practiced, a kind of hand to hand combat technique in armor often supplemented with the use of the knife, tanto. It is possible that Tsutsumi-hozan Ryu, was the first systematized yoroi kumi-uchi school.
A school built on techniques trained in armor and adapted for the battlefield is classified as a
katchu bujutsu ryu.
However, we do know that in 1532 Takeuchi (Takenouchi) founded Takenouchi Ryu Kogusoku, the most certainly oldest Ju
Jutsu school. Takenouchi Ryu was a complete jujutsu system without any Chinese influences. The technique changed due to the use of lighter armor (gusoku). Kogusoku, became the name of the new technique in a light armor combined with the use of the knife, tanto. The style became popular among many samurai and Takeuchi are also usually called ”the father of Ju Jutsu” in Japan.
It was during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1867) that the term Ju Jutsu began to be used. Before that other names were used such as wajutsu (the harmonious, peaceful technique), hade (attack on the body’s vitals
points), shubaku, koppo (the art of breaking bones, ”the spine”), koshi no mawari (around the hips, a type of kogusoku), taijutsu (techniques of the body), torite (catch, grasp the hand), yawara (softness, an older Chinese pronunciation of the kanji character for
JU), kogusoku and yoroi kumi-uchi.
In the long run, there was a period where there was peace. The need for pure battlefield techniques decreased. The schools were developed from having been katchu bujutsu ryu to suhada jujutsu ryuha (training without armor). The dangers were now instead duels, kidnapping attempts and assassinations. The lack of armor also contributed to the training of various types of striking and kicking techniques (atemi waza) gained greater importance. The training was supplemented with pure melee weapons, such as tanto (knife), tetsubo (iron club, ”iron rod”) and various other forms of hibuki (secret, hidden weapons).
During the 17th century, there were over 700 different jujutsu schools in Japan. When the samurai class was abolished at the end of the 1800s century, the schools was dying out. However, some styles were preserved and several other arts were developed from Ju Jutsu, e.g. aikido, judo, wadoryu karate-do.
The name Ju Jutsu is often translated as ”the soft technique”. Jutsu means technique. Ju, on the other hand, can have different meanings;
softness, soft as opposed to hard (as opposed to the sword), noble, gentle and flexible. Flexible is probably the most correct the translation, although soft has become the most widely used.
Ju thus represents a principle, a method in how to using the body as a weapon and a strategy. The most characteristic thing about Ju Jutsu is flexibility, the softness and the compliance to be able to use the opponent’s power and energy against himself with the least amount of force. It is also reflected in Seiryoku, the most fundamental principle in Ju Jutsu, i.e. how to make the best use of power and energy.