Chapter 8 The modernisation of jū jutsu

If the quintessential nature of the “waza” of Budō is reduced to the principles within “The Book of Five Rings” in ken jutsu and “The Heavenly Scroll of ki tō ryū” in jū jutsu we arrive at the posture that has no posture, “mu gamae”, or in other words, “shizen hontai” (natural posture). This leads us to the detached heart as a deeper cultivation of “kokoro” (heart), or in other words, “mu shin”. There are several expressions used to describe “mu shin” such as “fu do shin” (不道心), “mu ju shin” (無住心), “ju nan shin” (柔軟心) and “hei jo shin” (平常心). All of these expressions reveal the same heart. Surely, arriving at this state is in accordance with the disciplined training objectives of all religions, old and new, East and West.

As I mentioned before, the special characteristic of Japanese budō is the disciplined training that moves from “waza” to “the way”, and the “heart” that seeks “the way” is the “bushin” (martial heart). It follows, therefore, that by practising “waza” and exhaustively investigating “win/loss principles”, and by accumulating physical knowledge through “shiai”, none of which falls under “bō ryoku” (violent power), the “bu shin” (martial heart) is cultivated. This is also true of learning “mu shin” (detached heart) through “mu gamae”. The following words express the quintessence of old jū jutsu:

(Natural posture is the posture of “mu shin”. To control hard through soft is the principle of “jū” (柔) (yawara).)

The founder of Kodokan jūdō who modernised jū jutsu, Kanō Jigorō shihan (1860-1932), divided this principle into three parts and went to great lengths to explain them so that contemporary society would understand.

The principle of natural posture (concerning posture) – The way of utilising one’s balance to attack or defend in response to unlimited types of attack The principle of softness (concerning the viewpoint of defence) – When confronting the strength of attacks from an opponent, nullifying the effectiveness of that strength with sharp, nimble tai sabaki (body movements) The principle of kuzushi (concerning the viewpoint of attack) – Breaking an opponent’s balance or creating an opportunity by rendering his body momentarily immobile.

Using these principles, Kanō sensei explained each “waza” one by one and taught the correct way to train them through both “kata” and “randori” as a unified practice system.

Ko ryū jū jutsu, having been practised repeatedly through “kata”, was taken straight to the battleground of real fights. Challenges of “shiai” matches were thrown down with no rules. Their only purpose was to be able to objectively reflect on one’s own power. Nowadays, of course, “randori” practice is controlled to ensure safety, and “shiai” can be fought out in the sports arena.

Old jū jutsu existed to force an outcome through strength when the “wa” (和) (harmony) of talking through a problem had broken down. But modern jūdō, through “shiai”, brings together and reflects upon both parties in order for them to progress together by reorganising the “wa” of budō. Kanō shihan said the following regarding the outlook of jūdō:

“Since the main purpose of jū jutsu from ancient times was to determine the victor from the vanquished, it became unsuitable for the post-Restoration era. jūdō, on the other hand, reveals its principles through thorough research into a match and thereby influences reality, and furthermore trains and cultivates the heart along the way (道).” – “Kanō Jigorō” (Kodokan publication, p. 536)

Kanō also explained the educational theory of jūdō from three viewpoints: win-and-loss scenarios; physical education; and cultivation of the spirit (修心法).

Above all, we must admire the pioneering vision of (Kanō) shihan who, at the beginning of the Meiji Era, opened the “way” for a modern jūdō. However, if one reflects on the steps taken over one hundred years of Kodokan jūdō, we can see that although both “nage waza” and “katame waza” have progressed significantly through “randori” practice, the area of techniques that are classified as “atemi waza” and “kansetsu waza” and taught through the practice of “kata” have greatly lagged behind. The reason for this is that “randori” practice and “shiai” practice have become very skilful and have entered the pantheon of combat sports, while the areas of “atemi waza” and “kansetsu waza” that could not flourish within the “randori” practice system were forgotten.

“Kyōgi” (sport) pays close attention to victory within the fixed rules. Thus, “waza” and “attack systems” that fall outside of those rules are disregarded. For example, in the fourth technique of the instructive “nage no kata”23 consisting of fifteen techniques, the strike of an opponent (atemi) is avoided and “waza” is applied. But it is only ever practised as one of a group of techniques (kata): in other words, there is no opportunity to practise these techniques from distance apart through randori.

Kanō shihan explained that by thoroughly investigating the superior schools of ko ryū jū jutsu, the recurring theme that emerged from all jū jutsu “waza” and “fighting systems” was the fundamental principle of “shizentai” described above. This forms the basis of the kihon kōzō of contemporary jūdō. “Atemi waza” and “kansetsu waza” become practical especially when “shizentai” is used as a basic principle. The neglect of “atemi waza” and “kansetsu waza” practice has had a significant negative impact on the way the jūdō kihon kōzō should be practiced, as outlined by Kanō shihan’s explanation.


  1. The nage no kata is the first kata of the seven kata of jūdō. It constitutes the basis of the study of the principles of attack and defence of standing jūdō (nage waza), of kuzushi and tai sabaki.