Jujutsu and Taijutsu by Meik Skoss


“The close quarters tactics of the day called for closing
with the enemy, throwing him down, and taking his head.”

Japanese unarmed grappling arts have been around for a very long time. The first references to such unarmed combat arts or systems can be found in the earliest so-called historical records of Japan, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), which relate the mythological creation of the country and the establishment of the Imperial family. Other glimpses can be found in the older records and pictures depicting sumai (or sumo) no sechie, a rite of the Imperial Court in Nara and Kyoto performed for purposes of divination and to help ensure a bountiful harvest. These systems of unarmed combat began to be known as jujutsu, among other related terms, during the Muromachi period (1333-1568), according to densho (transmission scrolls) of the various ryu-ha (martial traditions, “schools”) and historical records.

Some define jujutsu and similar arts rather narrowly as “unarmed” close combat systems used to defeat or control an enemy who is similarly unarmed. Basic methods of attack include hitting or striking, thrusting or punching, kicking, throwing, pinning or immobilizing, strangling, and joint-locking. Great pains were also taken by the bushi (classic warriors) to develop effective methods of defense, including parrying or blocking strikes, thrusts and kicks, receiving throws or joint-locking techniques (i.e., falling safely and knowing how to “blend” to neutralize a technique’s effect), releasing oneself from an enemy’s grasp, and changing or shifting one’s position to evade or neutralize an attack.

From a broader point of view, based on the curricula of many of the classical Japanese arts themselves, however, these arts may perhaps be more accurately defined as unarmed methods of dealing with an enemy who was armed, together with methods of using minor weapons such as the jutte (truncheon), tanto (knife), or kakushi buki (hidden weapons), such as the ryofundo kusari (weighted chain) or the bankokuchoki (a type of knuckle-duster), to defeat both armed or unarmed opponents. Furthermore, the term jujutsu was also sometimes used to refer to tactics for infighting used with the warrior’s major weapons: ken or tachi (sword), yari (spear), naginata (glaive), and bo (staff).

These close combat methods were an important part of the different martial systems that were developed for use on the battlefield. They can be generally characterized as either Sengoku Jidai (Warring States period, 1467-1568) katchu bujutsu or yoroi kumiuchi (fighting with weapons or grappling while clad in armor), or Edo Jidai (Edo period, 1600-1868) suhada bujutsu (fighting while dressed in the normal street clothing of the period, kimono and hakama).

The Names of Unarmed and Close Combat Systems

Although these arts are most commonly referred to under the general rubric of “jujutsu,” there were many different names for these types of techniques and tactics, varying from ryu to ryu. Hade, hakuda, jujutsu, kempo (Sekiguchi-ryu, Araki-ryu, Seigo-ryu), koppo, kogusoku, and koshi no mawari (Takenouchi-ryu and Yagyu Shingan-ryu), kowami, kumiuchi, shubaku, tode, torite, yawara[jutsu] (Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, Tatsumi-ryu and Shosho-ryu), and yoroi kumiuchi (Yagyu Shingan-ryu) are a few of the words that were used over the years. In some traditions, such as the Takenouchi-ryu and Yagyu Shingan-ryu, more than one term was used to refer to separate parts of their curricula. Each of these words denotes systems with different contents or slightly varied technical characteristics.

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