What is a Martial Art System? A Definition
Martial art systems are more than simply collections of techniques. For
example, Koryu (ancient) systems have (i) a history and traditions; (ii)
a lineage of Headmasters or Soke; (iii) are internally consistent in
that they have principles that cohere and work together in the
application of strategy, technique and generation of power; (iv) have
specific combat strategies (heiho) that complement their system
principles; (v) have guiding philosophies and an ethical code of
conduct, and (vi) have a system for teaching and transmitting their
deeper levels of knowledge (through shoden, chuden and okuden forms, for
example). So, to be defined as a system an art must possess more than a
list of techniques.
The literature (Cunningham, 1996; Draeger, 1973, 1974; Mol, 2001)
suggests that for a system to be considered "traditional" it must
originate, derive or be embedded in one of the following three
Group (I): Pure Classical Systems
Pure Classical Systems trace their origins in Japan as far back as the
9th or 10th centuries but did not begin to be reliably recorded as
systematized forms until the 15th or 16th centuries. Included among the
earliest systems are Daito Ryu, Takenouchi Ryu, Tagaki Ryu, Tenjin
Shinyo Ryu, Kito Ryu, Sekiguchi Ryu, Seigo Ryu and Yoshin Ryu, among
Group (II): Classical Systems with Hybrid Branches or Derivations
This category includes Pure Classical Systems which underwent various
merging and/or variations/distillations prior to, or after the 1868
Meiji Restoration (which saw the end of the Samurai Era). One example is
Tenjin Shin Yo Ryu which was blended from Yoshin Ryu and Shin No Shindo
Ryu. Thus, included in this category are examples of Classical Hybrid
Systems that underwent further development in the pre Meiji Period as
well as the "modern" era (post 1868).
Group III: Modern Era (Post Meiji) Classically-Based Systems
Modern era classically-based systems were introduced or developed after
1868. Such systems are anchored, or have strong ties and links to one or
more classical systems and traditions (or classical hybrid systems)
through philosophy, principles, etiquette, dress, goals, Japanese
terminology and methods of training and dojo practices. Traditional Judo
(not Olympic or modern competitive judo) can be described as a
classically-based modern era (post Meiji) hybrid martial art whose
origins are primarily Kito Ryu and Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jujutsu. Ueshiba's
Aikido is another such example. We would also add in this group various
Western modern (Gendai) jujutsu systems that attempt to adhere
faithfully to various classical traditions and hybrid forms. These may
also be considered to be traditional systems and fall in Group III of
our classification system.
While the primary focus of all traditional jujutsu systems is combat and
self defense (no rules) we must include the philosophy, principles,
strategy, etiquette, dress, goals, Japanese terminology and methods of
training and dojo practices in order for a system to qualify as
traditional. We see it as a total package that reflects a merging of
technique, strategy and theory/philosophy and traditions. And, because
of the mostly deadly nature of the techniques contained in such jujutsu
systems no sport competition is possible, nor is it encouraged (unless
we are prepared simply to teach only those techniques that are legal in
competition, which ultimately leads to the deterioration of the original
Some Modern Applications
In the modern era (post 1868), and especially after World War II,
traditional jujutsu systems have inspired and/or given rise to a number
of modern derivatives whose primary focus is competition, self defense,
modern day combat, and the like (see diagram). These forms of
application are not to be viewed as traditional jujutsu systems because
in their application they include only a portion of the parent system,
or systems, that they come from. They are to be viewed as pieces of a
larger picture. If they eventually grow and develop into "total
packages" that are internally consistent they may be eventually viewed
as "systems", complete unto themselves. However, such systems are not to
be confused with traditional jujutsu systems which seek to adhere to
their articulated philosophy, strategies, Japanese terminology, dress,
and the like, as we've identified below in our list of Eight Major
Characteristics of Traditional Systems. This of course does not make
such modern applications less valuable or worthy of study. On the
contrary, they are designed to reach specific objectives and address
specific goals such as handgun disarming, developing competitors,
self-defense and the like. These are valuable skills and objectives and
serve important needs for society. We just can't call them traditional
Jujitsu (note spelling) for combat, sport and self defense has clearly
defined short term practical purposes (e.g., handgun disarming
techniques for police officers) and is often taught in modules of short
duration (3-12 weeks, for example). In sport jujitsu the training period
and competitive life of the athlete may last several years, but even
this phase comes to an end when the athlete's competition days are over.
Either way the path is a very short one, and the goals are practical and
narrowly defined (e.g., competition and winning medals and trophies).
Traditional systems, on the other hand, are seen as lifelong paths of
study whose goals go well beyond combative, sport or self- defense
applications. In addition to combat and self defense such paths stress
personal growth, the development of personal insights and
understandings, the activation of inner sources of power (e.g.,
psychological empowerment) the development of self discipline, honor,
rectitude and loyalty, and the perfection of character.
Below, we list eight major defining characteristics of traditional
Eight Major Characteristics of Traditional Systems
1. They fall under one of the three categories stated earlier in this
is, they are pure classical systems; they are classical hybrids or they
2. They have clear or at least identifiable lineages.
3. They possess a history and traditions. These include the use of
For example, practitioners of traditional systems practice in what they
call dojo, not gyms or studios; teachers in traditional systems are
called Sensei, not Coach; techniques are referred to by their names in
Japanese to maintain and convey as much of the original intent as
possible. This may also include such details as the spelling of their
systems with a "u", not an "i" as in "jujutsu" and not jujitsu, ju-jitsu
or jiu-jitsu. In fact, today most traditional systems spell their name
with a "u" and this is also seen in bujutsu, kenjutsu, ninjutsu and
4. Traditional systems have clearly defined philosophies, dojo practices
and etiquette. For example, jujutsuka in such systems dress in a manner
that reflects their Japanese origins and/or traditions (no fancy patches
or advertising logos on their gi, and for males, the wearing of t-shirts
under the gi is not permitted). Jujutsuka in traditional systems
typically wear only one or two patches (and some systems have no patches
at all) that help identify their system/organization and/or possibly a
licensing designation (e.g., a menkyo patch). Traditional jujutsuka
always wear zori to and from the mat out of respect for the dojo and for
their fellow practitioners.
5. They employ traditional principles in the practice and execution of
technique and strategy. These include the study of concepts such as ma-ai,
irimi, sen, heiho, and others.
6. They promote and license their jujutsuka in a manner consistent with
their origins and/or traditions. That is, some employ the Renshi, Kyoshi
or Hanshi system in combination with or without modern2 conventional
ranking systems (kyu and dan grades); others also license their
practitioners using the menkyo system in combination with modern
7. Traditional systems possess a theoretical/philosophical/technical and
contained in written transmissions (Densho) that are handed down from
Soke to Soke. In the modern era we no longer employ scrolls unless we
practice one of the original pre-Meiji Classical Ryuha (or their
classically-derived hybrids) which have been handed down from one Soke
to another. However, modern day classically-based systems, if they are
to be defined as traditional in nature, also possess modern day Densho
which lay out the theoretical, philosophical and technical foundations
of a system. These may be located on websites, in books and in various
other modern day data storage and retrieval formats.
8. Traditional systems serve as lifelong paths that, in addition to
combative skills and
strategies, stress higher goals and values (e.g., honor, responsibility,
rectitude, loyalty and the perfection of character) and aim to take the
student beyond the skills and techniques of fighting. The long term
goals of such lifelong paths therefore require a long term commitment to
the art and its ways and practices. Typically, practitioners of
traditional systems stay in the art for most of their lives while
participants in sport jujitsu (as is also the case with modern sport
judo) often quit when they are no longer able to compete.
In summary, for a jujutsu system to be considered "traditional" it must
originate, derive or be embedded in one of the following three
(i) Pure Classical Systems.
(ii) Classical Hybrid Systems.
(iii) Classically Based Systems.
Further, classical jujutsu systems comprise more than a collection of
techniques and fighting strategies. Traditional systems possess
theoretical, philosophical and strategic foundations which are handed
down from Soke to Soke and serve as the guiding and strategic principles
of the system. Therefore, we do not consider modern jujitsu derivations
that focus solely on sport, defense or combat applications as
traditional jujutsu systems even though their techniques may derive from
traditional systems, because they are often devoid of a classical
guiding philosophy, theory or principles.
For comments, feedback or just plain criticism, you
can reach me at: email@example.com
Cunningham, S. The Root Arts of Judo. <http://unm.wsrjj.org/roots.htm>,
Draeger, D. F. Classical Budo: The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan
(Vol II). New York, Weatherhill, 1973.
Draeger, D. F. Modern Bujutsu & Budo: The Martial Arts and Ways of
Japan (Vol III). Tokyo, Weatherhill, 1974
Henshall, K. G. A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters. Tokyo,
Lowry, D. In the Dojo: A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the
Japanese Martial Arts. Boston: Weatherhill, 2006.
Lowry, D. Bokken: Art of the Japanese sword. Ohara, Back Belt
Mol, S. Classical Fighting Arts of Japan: A complete Guide to Koryu
Jujutsu. Tokyo, Kodansha, 2001
Musashi, M. Book of Five Rings. New York, Overlook Press, 1974
Skoss, M. Jujutsu and Taijutsu. <htttp://www.koryu.com/library/mskoss8.html>,
Watson, B. N. The Father of Judo: A biography of Jigoro Kano.
Tokyo, Kodansha, 2000.
Yoshikawa, E. Musashi. Tokyo, Kodansha, 1995. Translated by Charles S.
Terry, p. 595
1 Most traditional systems (though not all; see Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, for
example) spell jujutsu with a "u" and not an "i". In this paper we
adhere to this distinction and use the term jujitsu when referring to
sport jujitsu, self defense or combat jujitsu applications. In this
regard we adhere to the Romaji classification for the romanization of
the Japanese language which specifies that jutsu means art while jitsu
means truth (see Henshall).
2 It should be noted that pre-Meiji systems did not use the modern
conventional ranking system of kyu and dan grades.
• The senior author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Acknowledgment: We wish to thank Carl Hayes and Ben Bergwerf for
valuable suggestions and comments.
V5.0, February 7, 2010
Andrew Yiannakis, Ph.D.
Founder and Soke, Wa Shin Ryu Jujutsu
Research Professor, University of New Mexico
7th Dan Jujutsu (USJJF)
6th Dan Judo (USJJF)
Linda Yiannakis, M.S.
4th Dan Traditional Kodokan Judo (USJJF)
4th Dan Jujutsu (USJJF)
Copyright (C) 1995, 2000, 2009 by Andrew Yiannakis, Ph.D.