'Old' jujutsu

[This page is about traditional Japanese jujutsu and NOT about Brazilian jiu-jitsu. For Brazilian jiu-jitsu see this page ]

Late 19th century in Japan has been time of big and, historically, rapid changes. World of samurai warriors gave up to the ways of modern burgeon life. Rule of sword has been largely ending. Old combat skills that just a half century earlier could promote its master to the top of the social ladder become just a subject of curiosity.

Time of Jujutsu, as Japan has known it, ended and Judo picked the mantle. Origins of jujutsu aren’t too clear and the subject of fierce debates that I’m not qualified to enter. Fist fight was arguably the first mode of inter-humane issue resolution. However, to call fighting methods of prehistoric humans jujutsu is to stretching. As it’s too stretching to call jujutsu the form of very sophisticated accent Egyptian unarmed combat techniques depicted in Beni-Hasan tomb or accent Greek pankration as it depicted in Hellenic historical artifacts (not to mention its modern namesake ).

The most common view is that jujutsu became something self-described somewhat circa 1500 A.C. (it worth to mention that year 1543 brought introduction of the fire arms into Japan by Portuguese). By 1882, the year establishing of Kodokan dojo by Dr. Kano, Japan had about 300 active recognized jujutsu schools. This is actually showing statistical creation of a new sustainable school about every 16 month or so. By some accounts about 10 of them have living descendants nowadays.

This statistic of a new school every 16 month showing interesting picture and saying a lot about what is jujutsu in whole and what it’s about. As every qualified practitioner of martial arts knows, 16 month isn’t enough to gain expert proficiency in any style, and the modes of combat (weaponry, armor, and tactics) not changing that quick even nowadays to justify creation of a new style even in the lifetime of generation of masters. So, what was behind this high fragmentation of jujutsu?

Until Meiji Restoration Japan was a highly fragmented feudal country. Power of the centralized state institutions of Emperor and Shogun was especially limited in internal affairs where daimyos solved there differences by rule of sword. Military technology of the day (even with introduction of matchlock fire arms) heavily relied on superiority in close quarter hand-to-hand combat. In this environment fighting techniques became close guarded family secrets. As a result in the court of each daimyo and samurai clan grew its own school of combat, including its own school (sometimes even more then one – based on noble class structure) of Jujutsu – unarmed hand-to-hand combat. Each school developed on “internal use only” philosophy and, at the best, was known by name outside of its daimyo. Each school purposely projected reputation of the best and fearsome as a part of, how we would call it today, “psychological warfare”.

So, as a rule, the adepts of any jujutsu school never fought each other, but faced fighters from other schools. Today we would call it “asymmetric warfare”.

This nature of asymmetric warfare (in some old Japanese manuscripts pictures depicting elegant noble fighting ugly peasant) remains the key attribute of nowadays jujutsu.

Any book on jujutsu, whenever it was published in 1910th or in 2008, is emphasizing the surprise factor as a key element of the success in applying any technique and using primarily situational approach for technical classification and grouping. All techniques based on asymmetric attacks and not expecting attacker to posses the same technical arsenal and adhere to the same tactical principals as demonstrator (jujutsu master).

Same of those properties are shared by Aikido as well, and therefore Aikido can be seen as a (very independent) branch of modern “traditional” Jujutsu.

All styles of modern “old-school traditional” Jujutsu can be divided to two classes:

1. Descendants of pre-Judo schools.

2. New incarnations of ideas of old Jujutsu in contemporary environment.

The following lists are web based and, by all means, incomplete.

Descendants of pre-Judo schools


  Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu

  Hakkoryu Jujutsu

  Hontai Yoshin-ryu

  Kashima Shin-ryu

  Kukishin-ryu [3]

  Kyushin Ryu

  Sekiguchi Shinshin-ryu




  Tenjin Shinyo-ryu

  Yagyu Shingan Ryu

  Yoshin Ryu

New “old” Jujutsu

  Danzan Ryu

  German Ju-Jutsu

  Goshin Jujitsu

  Hakko Ryu

  Hakko Denshin Ryu

  Hokutoryu jujutsu

  Jukido Jujitsu

  Ketsugo Jujutsu

  Kumite-ryu Jujutsu

  Miyama Ryu

  Sanuces Ryu

  Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu

  Small Circle JuJitsu

  World Ju-Jitsu Federation


The differences between pre-Judo jujutsu and modern jujutsu schools lay in its goals: traditional schools at large pointed to preserving pre-Meiji life style (as it martial arts concern, with minimal adjustment for the modernity) while modern jujutsu trying to solve today’s issues in the arias where modern sport Judo seems not doing well.

The good example of the stanch traditional school is Hakkoryu jujutsu . The authoritarian rule by the founding family and prohibition of cross-training are pointing to the discussed above notion of asymmetric warfare. The only element, that connecting it to Judo, is use of the belt grading system derived from Dr. Kano Judo tradition (even color-coding of the belts has been changed to distance from it).

On the other side of the spectrum are modern Western jujutsu schools. I’m holding book by Kevin Pell , 8th dan founder of Ishin Ryu Ju-Jitsu . This is a nice book that I likely to use to filter down what techniques to teach to my daughter (she, gladly, displays no interest in martial arts, but everyone needs the basic skills). When I’m looking the technical diagrams and discussions in Mr. Pell’s book, two things come to my mind:

1.  It is based on surprise notion of asymmetric warfare and

2.  It looks like “dirty trick” Judo

While my words can be seen as outright dismissal of the idea itself of Western Jujutsu and Ishin Ryu Ju-Jitsu in particular, they are not.

The diversity of jujutsu schools providing fertile ground for further development and serving specific niche needs. In case of Ishin Ryu it looks like its niche is UK police (and related demographics; due to UK police non-armed policy witch makes “bare hand” skills essential for safe performing of regular service duties by majority of force). I would classify those schools as non-competitive combat Judo styles.

Home Judo Styles Kodokan Judo

Share this page:
Found this page interesting? Spread the word. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.