Across time and cultures, man has developed ways of defending
himself from others and even attacking when necessary.
Japanese Jujitsu is said to have begun in ancient times when
one man killed another by throwing him to the ground and
kicking his ribs in a duel.
The Japanese martial arts went
through various stages of development such as Chikara Kurabe
(strength wrestling), Sumo, Yoroi Kumi Uchi (grappling in
armor), and others. According to legend, in 880 AD Prince
Teijun of the Minamoto clan is said to have begun formal
development of an unarmed system of combat. This system
would later pass through Minamoto Yoshimitsu to become known
as the Daito Ryu Aiki Jujitsu of the Takeda clan (an offshoot
of the Minamoto clan). It was a student of Daito Ryu,
Morihei Ueshiba, that founded Aikido in the 1930s, and his
art remains popular today.
More reliably documented combat systems begin to appear
in the 16th century. In 1532, Hisamori Takeuchi, a skilled
general, systematized his own form of combat called Takeuchi
Ryu. This system contained methods for using the staff,
sword, dagger, and unarmed arts. The Takeuchi Ryu went on to
greatly influence the development of other schools of Jujitsu.
Our own style of jujitsu is an off-shoot of the Yoshin Ryu.
Founded around 1650 by Akiyama Yoshitoki, a Nagasaki physician,
this school is known for its vital point striking, joint locks,
and chokes. It may or may not be that Akiyama visited China to
study martial arts, but it is clear that his medical knowledge
is present in his system. While at a mountain retreat
developing his art further, Akiyama was inspired by watching
the willow trees give way to the building weight of falling
snow and avoid broken branches unlike other types of trees.
This is where the name Yoshin Ryu, “Willow Spirit School,”
In the early 1600s, peace came to Japan, and the Samurai
had more time to develop fighting systems than to actually
use them. At one time, more than 700 documented styles of
Jujitsu existed. Most of these were family arts which
taught the use of battlefield weapons and tactics, as well
as unarmed arts should one be caught without a weapon.
Because of this, many Jujitsu techniques are based on
motions used elsewhere, such as sword techniques.
Then, in 1868, the Samurai were disbanded as a class and
carrying swords was prohibited. This period began the waning
of Jujitsu from popularity. Lower class Samurai, who now
found themselves without an occupation, often misused their
skills to make money. Fights in the streets became common
and Jujitsu fell into disrepute. It is for this reason that
Jigoro Kano established his own system of Jujitsu but called it
Judo—to distinguish it from Jujitsu.
Today in Japan, Jujitsu is rare compared to Judo and Aikido,
as they are formulated for mainstream consumption, and do not
try to preserve battlefield arts.