Chapter 7 Ko ryū jū jutsu

Jū jutsu is a part of bu jutsu, but it possesses an independent quality which sets it apart within bu jutsu. I would like to explain this point from an historical and practical perspective. As already stated, bu jutsu, accommodating as it did any attack from an opponent, employed “sen no kokoro” (先の心) as the oneness of attack and defence. We can broadly divide bu jutsu techniques into two categories:

  1. Techniques for defence
  2. Techniques for attacking

In the first instance, in order to defend, bu jutsu did not enquire into the essence of defence, but devised methods for a complete defence against all opponents and any dangerous attacks. In this sense, ken jutsu defended the body with a sword against all attacks. Sō jutsu used the spear, jūte jutsu used the jūte, and with these weapons defended the body. Jū jutsu, on the other hand, possessing no weapon, devised methods of complete defence with empty hands. In other words, it used sharp and nimble movements (i dō ryoku)19 as the front line of defence.

In the second instance, techniques that were intended for attack were named according to the weapon and “waza” used. If one used the sword, spear or jute, these were called ken jutsu, sō jutsu and jūte jutsu, respectively. In the case of being empty handed, if “punches, strikes and kicks were mainly employed then the terms “karate” or “kempō” were used. Where takedowns, “taoshi”, and pins, “osae”, were central to the techniques then the term jū jutsu was used.

As previously mentioned, the progression of methods for techniques that went from those that “killed” by “cutting” to those that “did not kill” by taking grip and “controlling” also offered provision for when there was no weapon available. Furthermore, this became the highest tenet for the bushi “武士” (warrior). The strength of will to show self-control due to an awareness of respect for life greatly increased.

The intention of bu ryoku to “suppress bō ryoku without injury to life” was a skilful pursuit. The term jū jutsu came into common parlance at the beginning of the Edo period, but its origins can be seen in the Samurai Sumo of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and even further back in time to Sumo demonstrations at the court banquets of the Heian period (794-1185). Jū jutsu has been known by many names: “kumi uchi” (組討); “ko ma soku” (小真足); “koshi mawari” (腰廻り); “tai jutsu” (体術); “hō shu” (捕手); “haku cho” (白打); “ken pō” (拳法); and “yawara” (柔), to name but a few. However, jū (yawara) or jū jutsu were predominantly used and were thought of as generic terms. In the “Preface of sekiguchi shin shin ryū ju” in the eighth year of the Kanei period20 (1631) the founder Sekiguchi Jushin21 wrote the following:

“Formerly, in accordance with my station, I practised “東武” (Eastern bu). At that time, there were some who called it “jū”.

Jū jutsu was given many names, its “waza” content diversified and there were many separate ryū ha schools which pitted themselves against each other. Attacks progressed from those practised while wearing rigid armour to those wearing lightweight, unrestrictive civilian clothes, and changed in character into goshin bu jutsu, in line with changes to everyday life. Furthermore, the word “jū” is said to have been taken from the expression “to control hardness with softness (柔)” in a Chinese military book “The Three Strategies”. We can go yet further back in time to Lao Tsu22, before the second half of the fifth century, who held this ideal as a fundamental principle. In “Lau Tsu”, chapter 78, appears the following verse:

“There is nothing softer under heaven than water. But it is not possible to attack water with strength or hardness. Water can neither be defeated with strength nor hardness.

To win with the strength of softness is to win with the hardness of soft; the world knows this, but few people do it.”

Whilst avoiding the strength of an opponent’s attack, if a chance presents itself, jū jutsu “waza” which wins through the strength of softness possesses the meaning described by the following expression:

“Water takes on the form of square or circular containers”.

Water changes according to the shape of its environment. Also, at times when still water becomes a raging torrent and rushes forwards, it crashes over rocks and high dwellings alike. Ken jutsu and sō jutsu get their names from the equipment they use, but jū jutsu, with its foundation in using empty hands and having no equipment, is so called because its “waza” has at its core this nature. The expression “softness controls hardness” does not only have the meaning of diminutive strength overcoming awesome strength. It is also the meaning given to bu jutsu that, with soft open hands, suppresses hard attacks such as punches, strikes and kicks, and even attacks with swords or spears.


  1. i dō ryoku is the power of correct movement (shizentai) and is key to all aikidō waza.

  2. Kanei period 1624-1643.

  3. See “People” in the Appendices.

  4. The founder of Taoism.