Major Principles and Attributes Of Traditional, and Traditionally-Based Jujutsu Systems 

Andrew Yiannakis, Ph.D.
8th Dan Jujutsu, 6th Dan Judo
Research Professor
University of New Mexico
Chair,  Traditional Jujutsu Division of USJJF

Major principles and attributes of traditional, and traditionally-based jujutsu systems include:

  1. The extensive use of Japanese terminology in the dojo.
  2. The use of traditional Ways and Practices (e.g., etiquette, attire and other protocols) in the dojo.
  3. The study and practice of Jujutsu as a combat art, which includes BOTH offensive and defensive techniques, strategies and tactics. Most Western, or Westernized systems focus primarily on self defense,  and many also stress competition for medals and trophies.
  4. Finally,  genuine Japanese or Japanese-based systems include both offense and defense in equal measure. Such an emphasis serves to characterize the combat origins (Koryu Bujutsu) of many traditional systems.
  5. The inclusion of talks and lectures in the dojo that speak to principles, history, philosophy, and the like. In Traditional Systems that stress the Budo aspects of the art this is considered quite normal. A big proponent of this approach was  Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.
  6. The wearing of proper attire on the mat. This may include a hakama (in some systems), where appropriate, and the avoidance of numerous patches that serve to advertise commercial interests  (a System Patch and a patch denoting a Teaching License are acceptable). For men,  the wearing of a shirt under the gi is NOT acceptable while on the mat. In genuine Japanese Systems, proper attire for training on the mat forbids the wearing of a t-shirt under the gi.  This is a key differentiating surface characteristic between genuine Japanese systems (and Japanese-based ones) and their various Western Jujitsu/Jiu Jitsu manifestations (note spelling).
  7. The practice of the highest levels of hygiene, and the wearing of zori from the dressing room to the edge of the mat,  are a major requirement in traditional systems. Also,  the wearing of a clean gi is of paramount importance in the dojo.
  8. In traditional Japanese systems, the correct spelling is Jujutsu. This is based on the Romanization of the Japanese language (Romaji), the system adopted by all Japanese martial arts including Jujutsu, Judo, Aikido, Ninjutsu, Bujutsu, Karate,  Jojutsu,  Goshin Jutsu,  and Kenjutsu, among many others. In Romaji “Jutsu”  means art or craft. “Jitsu” actually means reality or truth. Therefore, a system that claims to be Japanese-based (or authentic Japanese) and spells its art as Jujitsu, or Jiu Jitsu,  is to be considered suspect and is clearly not a genuine Japanese-based art but,  most likely,  a Western,  or Westernized adaptation or invention. Romaji was initially developed in the latter part of the 16th century and officially adopted by the Japanese Government in the early 1950s.

For beginners in search of a jujutsu dojo to study in, I propose the following categorization as indicated below. This categorization  explains  what the different spellings actually mean, and the type of jujutsu/jujitsu/jiu jitsu they practice.

(i) Jujutsu:

The correct spelling for genuine Japanese,  or Japanese-based systems. Jujutsu stresses both offense and defense, character development and the acquisition of Japanese Ways and Practices. This spelling is based on Romaji, a system used by all genuine Japanese, or Japanese-based systems.

(ii) Jujitsu:

The commonly used term for Western, or Westernized systems that are, to a

greater or lesser degree,  disconnected from genuine Japanese Ways & Practices. Their primary emphasis tends to be mostly self defense, while some also include sport competition.

(iii) Jiu Jitsu:

A term coined in Brazil that refers to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  This is mostly a wrestling-type art that incorporates a number of jujitsu skills  and techniques that are legal in sport competition. Primary emphasis is sport competition,  although some Jiu Jitsu systems also include self defense (e.g., Machado Jiu Jitsu).

  1. In traditional systems, while sparring is strongly encouraged/required in training, competition for medals and trophies is NOT. Combat systems don’t adapt well to competition rules, and training for competition must, of necessity, focus on teaching only those techniques that are legal and safe in such a context. As a consequence, in Sport Jujitsu/Jiu Jitsu, for example, combat techniques are rarely taught and, as a result,  these often wither away and die.
  2. Kata and set routines are an essential component of all Traditional Jujutsu Systems. Kata and set routines introduce and reinforce the application of key principles and, as such, they are an essential aspect of teaching offense and defense safely. Kata and set routines,  however, are ONLY a starting point because effective self defense and combat training require much more. See item 10 below:
  3. Bunkai (fighting applications). To truly prepare students for both offense and defense,  instructors initially employ Kata as a foundation, before moving into fighting applications and/or set routines,  under more realistic conditions. This is where the real training for combat and self defense begins to take shape. Fighting applications build on most of the principles found in Kata, and apply these in both offense/self defense contexts under more realistic conditions.
  4. Traditional Jujutsu (most systems but not all) is mostly an Internal Art that is grounded in several key principles. These principles include:

(i) The activation and application of internal energy (Ki)

(ii)  The use of the Principles of Deception (Damashi)

(iii)  The use of improvisation (Principles of Sokkyo)

(iv)  The application of multiple internal and external sources of energy (Principles of Shuchu Ryoku)

(v) The joining (and re-direction) of own energy with that of the assailant (Principles of  Aiki)

(vi)  The development and application of breath power (Principles of Kiai)

(vii) The development of a strong fighting spirit (Principles of Shin)

(viii)  The application of the Principles of Kuzushi, especially to Rikiten (lit. breaking  point).

The term Kuzushi1 actually means to “destroy” or to “pull down”. In the martial arts we use the tem to refer to the process of off-balancing an assailant in order to gain a more advantageous position when applying a technique. The fact is that a person who is off-balanced simply can’t resist, or fight back, as effectively.

There are two ways to apply Kuzushi. The former, which requires the use of muscle, strength, speed and force is associated with External Systems and is often employed by street fighters and sport competitors. This is not a method that I recommend because such an approach relies on strength, as in meeting force with force. Instead, Kuzushi in Internal Systems is achieved using more subtle methods that rely on deception, action and reaction, joining and re-directing of energy,   improvisation on the fly (Sokkyo), and the simultaneous combined application of multiple sources of energy which we call Shuchu Ryoku (focused power).

An aspect of Kuzushi which is not often discussed is the principle of Rikiten (breaking point). Rikiten is often difficult to achieve by using muscle, strength and force because the assailant (Uke, in this case) is often aware of what’s going on and is then able to resist. In External Systems such resistance is often dealt with by forcing Uke into some degree of off-balancing, before applying a technique, such as a throw, to take him/her down. In Internal Systems, however, off-balancing is easier to achieve because Uke is often “tricked” into an off-balanced position. The application of Shuchu Ryoku then takes Uke to Rikiten, and the final technique simply overwhelms him with the application of multiple sources of energy.

Thus, our ultimate goal in Traditional Jujutsu is to execute technique with fluency, timing, coordination, control, AND relative ease, by using mostly internal principles to achieve Kuzushi.

  1. Sen Sen No Sen: Taking the initiative and controlling Uke. This is accomplished by setting up Uke and luring them into attacking. The key component of Sen Sen No Sen, however, is the fact that Uke is manipulated and controlled by Tori into believing that a real opportunity for attack actually exists. It doesn’t! This principle is based on another form of deception (Damashi) whose purpose is to “trick” Uke into making a false move. Such a move places Uke in a weakened position which opens him/her up to an effective counter attack by Tori. This is an advanced principle most often taught, and employed, in Internal Systems (as in Traditional Jujutsu) in order to achieve psychological, and physical off-balancing, before applying an actual technique, or techniques, against Uke.
  1. Traditional Jujutsu Systems, in addition to stressing both offense and defense, also serve as vehicles for character development, and for the acquisition of broader goals that focus on mutual welfare and benefit. Thus, as Budo Systems, they are also about the perfection of character, the development of social responsibility, loyalty, honor, self control,  and personal empowerment, among others.
  2. Traditional Jujutsu Systems are mostly an outgrowth of earlier systems (mostly Bujutsu Systems that focused exclusively on battlefield combat skills) from both the Early Classical Period (circa 900-1602), and the Late Classical Period (circa 1603-1868). However, we see evidence of the transition from Bujutsu styles to Budo forms of Jujutsu as early as 1860, if not slightly earlier, so we may safely assign the date of the emergence of Traditional Jujutsu Systems to about this time (late 1850 or early 1860, that is). Also, we may assert with some degree of confidence that by about 1930 (give or take), Traditional Budo-style Jujutsu Systems had established a secure foothold in Japan, and even began to spread to other countries (e.g., Europe and the United States, among others).

Of note is the fact that by 1882 Jigoro Kano’s early Judo and Morihei Ueshiba’s Aikido (developed mostly from Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu in the early 1920s), were among the first Japanese arts to reflect such a transition from Bujutsu to Budo, and the incorporation of key Internal Principles.

Both educational,  social  and especially political considerations made such a shift (from Bujutsu to Budo,  that is) a necessity during this period in the latter part of the 19th century,  and systems that accomplished this transition successfully were able to survive and grow. However, many Koryu Bujutsu Systems (old battlefield combat arts) failed to adapt, and either faded away or “retreated” to obscurity in small family dojos around Japan.

The traditions and techniques embodied in such Koryu Bujutsu Systems (and some Budo systems as well) are celebrated in Japan today in annually-held festivals and battle recreations. Such festivals keep alive and help promote many of the old fighting ways of Japan.

1 Internal Systems also employ various psychological techniques to deceive the assailant/enemy before setting them up for attacks and counter-attacks. These are discussed in greater detail elsewhere by the author in his book, “Jujutsu: Traditions, Ways & Modern Practices” (2017)

V4.1, September 29, 2018