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Traditional Japanese Jujutsu History

The art of jujitsu (also known as jiu-jitsu, ju-jutsu, tai-jutsu, yawara and yawara-ge) has its roots in feudal Japan and is based on the principle that the soft conquers the hard.


It was developed alongside other disciplines such as archery and swordsmanship and was a way a samurai  warrior could defend himself against an opponent with a weapon in full armour, even if he himself was disarmed.

Ancient samurai

samurai warriors grappling.jpeg

The Development of Jujitsu


The first recognised school (Ryu) that taught only jujitsu moves opened in 1532, founded by Master Takenouchi Hisamori. The Takenouchi-Ryu taught the art of seizing (Kogusoku) and though it was different from the style as it is taught today, it is usually considered to be the foundation of the modern art.


The art of jujitsu developed further from the 17th century when many samurai warriors were no longer able to make an income from war as the country had begun a period of prolonged civil rest, known as the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Swords and other weapons were banned for all but the samurai so martial arts schools that taught unarmed combat techniques grew in popularity throughout the period.


Chin Genpin, a priest from China who emigrated to Japan, was an important figure in the development of jujitsu. He began teaching kicking and striking techniques derived from kung fu at the Kokushij Temple in Tokyo, where amongst his students were three ronin (masterless samurai), Fukuno Schichiroemon, Yoshin Miura and Isogai, all of whom founded their own schools.


Jujitsu developed into a more systematic art form under these and other masters during this time and at the height of early jujitsu practice, the country had over seven hundred Ryu.

Jujitsu in the Modern Era


From 1868, power shifted in Japan from the shogun to the emperor in what became known as the Meiji Restoration and an Imperial ordinance from 1871 meant that many aspects of samurai culture were banned, including the practice of martial arts.


The few masters that continued the teaching of jujitsu during the latter half of the 19th century either moved away from the country or were forced to train in secret, passing their knowledge on to a single or select group of trusted students.


In the early 20th century, the world of jujitsu split when many of the schools merged with the new martial art, judo (the gentle way), created by Jigoro Kano. Judo took many of the less dangerous jujitsu moves and was adapted for a more modern way of fighting, with greater emphasis on the sport and exercise elements of the martial arts. 


Around the same time, Morehei Uyeshiba created the art of aikido (the way of harmonious spirit), basing his new system on a different set of jujitsu techniques, in particular the wrist and arm locks. 


Under the American occupation of Japan after the Second World War, many styles of fighting were again banned because of their potential link with militarism. This lasted until 1951, when the occupation ended and the art of jujitsu began to flourish once more in its country of origin, as well as a number of other countries around the world.


Jigoro Kano

Further Reading

Abramovitch, D. [Internet]. 1999. Stanford Jujitsu Club. Stanford University. Available from: [Accessed August 27, 2013].


A History of Jitsu. [Internet]. 2013. The University of Bristol. Available from: [Accessed August 24, 2013].


Helm, D. [Internet]. 2010. The rise and fall of Jujitsu before the Imperial ordinance of 1871. The United States Ju-Jitsu Federation. Available from [Accessed August 25, 2013].



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