Jujutsu in itself is an umbrella term used to describe a number of different fighting styles originating from Japan. It is not correct therefore to say Jujutsu is this, or Jujutsu is that, as different schools of Jujutsu will differ greatly in their approach to fighting.
There are nowadays many schools of fighting who use the term Jujutsu, or often Jiu Jitsu or Ju Jitsu, however beyond an initial look, these schools are very different in nature.
We now also have Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which is very popular, but also very different to the martial art we study in our Dojo.
This brief introduction to Jujutsu is written in relation to Nihon (Japanese) Jujutsu, and then more specifically our school of Jujutsu, Motoha Yoshin Ryu. Any differences should be seen exactly as that, differences, and not thought of in terms of right or wrong.
The word Jujutsu is made up of two characters;
Ju 柔 - Supple, Gentle, Flexible
Jutsu 術 - Method, Art
Jujutsu therefore is a term used to describe individual schools of Japanese Martial Arts, or Ryu (流) that have a common theme of not opposing force but finding a way to go with it and take control.
An important fact, often overlooked when discussing Jujutsu is that Japan went through some very different historical periods, which would have affected the martial arts of the time. This means that even when speaking purely in terms of old schools of Jujutsu or Koryu as they are referred to, things are not clear cut.
Much of the Koryu we have access to today originated in the Mid to Late Edo period. The Edo period ran from 1603 to 1867. During this period the country was under the control of the Tokagawa Shogunate, and relatively peaceful from a battle or war perspective, however Samurai still had to be able to protect themselves or be able to attack in everyday situations.
Prior to this was the Sengoku period, which was a time of constant conflict and civil war, meaning fighting systems of the time had to deal with armour and actual fighting in battle, while Samurai still had to protect themselves or attack in the above everyday scenarios.
The result, speaking in general terms, is that systems developed during the Sengoku period, or in the very early Edo period are likely to be more warlike in nature, with this focus shifting more to self protection and individual fighting as you move further into Edo.
The commonly used phrase of 'Battlefield Art' is therefore not always accurate when discussing Jujutsu, even Koryu. Some schools were certainly designed with this in mind, however others were designed for use within palaces, towns, tea-houses, all depending on where practitioners were likely to be, what caste they were, and what they were likely to be doing.
We also see as we move further into Edo period martial arts the increased focus on Do (道) or Way.
Here we have a Samurai warrior class, who's very existence revolved around gaining honour in battle, with no wars or battles to fight... The focus therefore shifted from learning the practical methods of fighting to be honed in battle and attain glory, to maintaining honour through self improvement in the martial arts, working to perfect every aspect of their practice beyond the mere practical application to harmonise body and spirit.
It can be quite difficult to find Nihon Jujutsu in the UK. Much harder than an initial internet search would have you believe.
Many of the Jujutsu schools here in the UK have actually been created here, and bear little to no resemblance to Nihon Jujutsu beyond superficial elements, and no valid connections to Japan.
Much of the early Jujutsu in the UK, and therefore the roots of many schools operating now, came from early Judo training, at that time still referred to as Jujutsu. This has over time been supplemented with techniques from Aikido, Karate, and other martial arts to form a collection of techniques which is now generally considered to be, and recognised as Jujutsu here in the West.
For the purpose of this write up, I will refer to this type of martial art as Western Jujutsu, however please note that it is unlikely these systems would be considered to be or called Jujutsu in Japan, they would most likely be referred to as Goshinjutsu, denoting a method of self protection.
This is not an indication of the quality of these Western Jujutsu schools, or their effectiveness, but as we are talking about Nihon Jujutsu, it's important to know whether that is in fact is what you are looking at.
Most schools using the term Jujutsu or one of the above variants, even of Western origin, use Japanese names for their systems, Japanese words to describe techniques, Japanese titles for their instructors, and also apply a degree of Japanese style etiquette.
Often this comes from the strong influence of Judo, Aikido and Karate on Western Jujutsu mentioned above, so is by no means an indication of the school's heritage or confirmation of any Japanese link.
In addition to the above, we have to recognise that there are also instructors out there who intentionally mislead their students into believing they are learning something authentic, when in truth they are not. Often these instructors will have inflated grades and fancy Japanese titles. This is difficult for beginners to notice and can go on for some time before they realise the fraud, by which time a large amount of time and usually money have been spent.
For anyone looking specifically for authentic Japanese Jujutsu, especially Koryu, you should always check the lineage of the school. and the credentials of the Instructor. Where Japanese links are claimed, can they be verified? Internet searches will not always give you the answers, but may be a good place to start, Instructors will usually be happy to discuss this with you, and should be able to show you documentation highlighting rank and/or giving them authorisation to teach the claimed school.
Motoha Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu belongs to the Hontai Yoshin Ryu Takagi Ryu lineage, with the founder Takagi Oriemon born in the early 1600's, which (as above) can lead to some big differences in focus when we look at fighting, even with other Koryu from different era due to the changing times, environments and use.
Jujutsu is often referred to as 'Unarmed Fighting of the Samurai' however we do not use this description. Samurai were virtually always armed, therefore Jujutsu has to be able to deal with the threats associated with this, while also allowing the practitioner to execute techniques while wearing weapons themselves, or even enable them to use their own weapons.
Jujutsu as we consider it is a method of total body fighting, using everything at your disposal to overcome your enemy, including strikes, joint manipulation, throws, chokes, strangles and even weapons, but without the need to pit strength against strength, or force against force...
Mindset is of equal, if not more importance, as it is this that will often dictate success or failure, regardless of physical prowess or technical ability.
We have a saying in our school from the 14th Soke, Ishiya Takeo Masatsugu "Soft on the outside, hard on the inside" which highlights this point, while you are not relying on physical strength to defeat your opponent, inside your resolve and determination must be as hard as steel.
To the left is a piece of Shodo (Japanese Calligraphy) hand written as a gift by one of the students of our dojo. This reads as Ju No Seigo, Softness Can Overcome Strength. This saying perfectly embodies the supple nature of Jujutsu.
This supple nature is further emphasised in the Yoshin (揚心) schools, with Yoshin referring to the Spirit of the Willow Tree, bending in the wind, or flexing under weight, able to weather heavy storms better than some of their rigid counterparts which may snap or blow down.
Yoboku wa tsuyoku, Takagi ga oreruzoyo
(a willow tree is flexible, but a tall tree can be broken)
This is a perfect fighting style for anyone, big, small, male, female. Any who learn our principles and techniques will truly be able to manipulate and overcome bigger, stronger, attackers.
Jujutsu is generally taught and learned through the practice of Kata, which are formalised fight sequences designed to transmit the system, but unlike the solo Kata often seen in Okinawan Karate, Chinese Kung Fu, or similar martial arts, Jujutsu Kata are paired (or even have multiple enemies at higher levels) with both parties having clearly defined roles and points of focus.
Pictured here is an example of kata practice in our children's class, with our Dojo Cho taking ukemi for his daughter
The purpose of Kata is to transmit the key principles, mindset and techniques of the school to students in a safe way. This is very important as many of the techniques practiced are designed to seriously injure or even kill your opponent, Kata should include correct focus on how to safely receive these techniques, and even counter them.
The formality of Kata in fact helps to train the mind to deal with necessary violence. Koryu Jujutsu originated in a time when violence, killing and death were an accepted way of life for Samurai. Armed with the now infamously renowned Daisho or pair of swords, long and short, and often other weapons secreted in clothing, and prepared to use them in a heartbeat, a constant state of awareness and readiness (Zanshin) partnered with a strong resolve (Fudoshin) to do what was required without hesitation, was essential for survival.
Many people from Gendai martial arts, see Kata as outdated or ineffective for combat, however this opinion clearly shows that such people do not understand Kata and it's real purpose as a learning tool. Likewise many Koryu or traditional martial arts instructors will adhere rigidly to Kata to the exclusion of all else, which again can highlight a lack of understanding of the true purpose, but as above this may differ from school to school.
In our Dojo we practice a mixture of Kata and Application, believing both to be essential parts of the whole. Kata to transmit the system and polish correct technique, Application to learn how the techniques and principles apply to actual fighting.
This connection is missing in many schools and even other arts, often lost through long periods of peace, where training Kata has become more focused on Embu or demonstration than fighting, or Application has become competition or sport based, but both of these are very different to the actual fighting the schools were designed for. Even where schools claim to be focused on 'Self Defence' this is still not the same as real life fighting.
We are very lucky to have an authentic source for our Budo, in Motoha Yoshin Ryu we have multiple opportunities to learn from Soke across Europe and the UK each year, as well as being able to visit his Dojo in Japan. Soke also visits local branches while travelling, and has even visited our small dojo in Farnham. (Soke is pictured here in our Farnham Dojo, during a visit in 2016)
How long does it take to get to black belt?
Shodan is the first grade where a black belt is worn, however timescales on reaching this can vary, some people never make it, others very quickly.
Please note that for us, 'black belt' does not mean expert, as in some schools of martial arts. While a fantastic achievement for anyone, Shodan is like the first rung on the ladder, when you officially become a student of the Ryu.
In most cases, with regular training, you should have attained the relevant level of skill in no more than 2-3 years, but everyone is different, and training in this art should be a personal journey.
I've never practiced martial arts before, is that ok?
Of course, our Dojo caters for beginners, through to advanced students.
Do you do ground fighting?
We have elements of ground fighting in our school, however we do not practice the competition based ground work you would find in something like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Is Jujutsu good for fitness, cardio?
Any physical activity can help fitness levels, however that is not our main focus.
Is this an Aiki style of Jujutsu?
No, however there are some similarities.
Can I train in Japan?
Yes, this can be arranged for dedicated students.
Is Jujutsu good for self defence?
This depends on how you define self defence. This school is focused on overall fighting ability, so I believe the answer to be Yes, however we do not specifically train for self defence scenarios.