Chapter 2 The transition of jū jutsu and its modernisation

Techniques that aim to investigate the limits of the human body are not only found in budō. Other skills such as ball skills, and skills for land – such as running and jumping – and water – such as swimming and diving – all progress through trial and error. Experts, masters and champions are people who have shown due diligence in their perseverance over many months and years of training. There is also a huge variety of individualistic and idiosyncratic practice methods. It is clear that, in whatever practice method one excels, real power can be objectified through sport. Budō is no different in this respect.

It is the case that, compared with other activities, budō differs for historical and developmental reasons. Ball skills were contrived from pastimes as games and, in simpler times (before the Industrial Revolution), land- and water-based skills were practically contrived as measures for labour. Those people who excelled in these skills had a higher standing in life, and likewise, budō had its own examples of superior individuals. Because the content of budō skills possessed the potential for real danger, however, a problem remained. In order to increase the effectiveness of dealing with conflict wherever it occurred, techniques that had the power to injure or kill on the “jō” (the battlefield) were highly praised.

If we look at the historical development of budō we can see that, according to the vicissitudes of the period and the lifestyle, the type and content of budō continually changed.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”

With the coming of the Edo Shogunate (military government) at the beginning of the 17th century, a long period of warring tentatively came to a full stop. Both ken jutsu and jū jutsu turned their attention toward self-defence skills in a new period of relative peace. That is to say, techniques continued to be refined for fights between civilians rather than between soldiers in armour. It is said that ken jutsu had within it “iai” (later explained on p. 25) and jū jutsu possessed “i ho” (grappling) – in other words, suwari waza to develop12. Furthermore, the relative merits of bu jutsu were shifting markedly. Former bu jutsu, which had victory on the battleground as its highest tenet, became budō, which had refinement of its warriors as its highest tenet. The outlook of disciplined training in budō changed from “waza” to “dō” (the way/road).

This “way” was bushidō, with the basis of its belief system embedded in Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism and the like. The influence of this refinement also manifest itself in technical skills. In ken jutsu this ideal appears in the expression “mu tō” (no sword) from the “shin kage ryū hei hō ten sho” (Scroll of shin kage ryū Strategy), and in jū jutsu this ideal appears in the expression “ware ga jitsu ni korosu nashi” (“In reality I will not kill”) from “yō shin ryū kaku go no maki” (Scroll of yo shin ryū Resolution), as well as in the expression “naguranai, nagurasenai; kerarenai, kerasenai; kiranai, kirasenai” (“Do not hit, do not be hit; Do not kick, do not be kicked; Do not cut, do not be cut”) from the “dai tō ryū aiki jū jutsu no kuchi zute” (Oral Tradition of dai tō ryū aiki jū jutsu).

In other words, negating the characteristic of causing injury and death, the “waza” of “taosu” (takedowns) and “osaeru” (pins) were greatly advanced. Simultaneously, because budō was at a crossroads concerning life and death, the strength of conviction to negate fear of death was emphasised. Also, because the restrictive nature of the feudal system meant techniques were kept as close secrets, there was considerable confrontation and division between the many “ryū ha” (schools).

That said, with the dawning of the Meiji Restoration (1868), the nature of budō underwent further significant alterations. The pioneer who brought to life the modernisation of the bu jutsu of the ryū ha schools of feudal society and introduced it into the education of the modern era was Kanō shihan. The modernisation of traditional bu jutsu included the classification of the best of the “waza” from various ryū ha schools organised in such a way as to allow shiai as sport that was satisfactory as a system of fighting. Also, this modernisation was in concert with the current educational doctrine, investigating philosophically and logically the conflicting faith and belief systems of the old ways, basing its investigation on the ideals of Confucianism, Buddhism and Shinto, and constructing a “way” to educate the general population.

Kanō shihan explained that “because jū jutsu had fighting skills from olden times whose primary concern was victory and defeat, it was no longer consistent with the times post Meiji Restoration. jūdō reveals the underlying principles of victory and defeat through exhaustive research, and those principles exert influence over the fighting skills, and furthermore, through the “way” of these principles, jūdō becomes the method of cultivating the “kokoro” (heart).” (“Kanō Jigorō”, Kodokan publication, p. 536)

The fact that jū jutsu had as its main concern victory and defeat, meant that in reality its primary purpose was only to win. Furthermore, because its “waza” possessed dangerous characteristics causing injury or death, it was no longer suitable for the present times. However, jūdō that “reveals the underlying principles of victory and defeat through exhaustive research” and reveals a deep significance within them, creates a “michi” (road/way) for the wider population. So, as a system of practice that exhaustively investigates “the principles of victory and defeat”, the two methods of “randori” and “kata” as a unified system should not be abandoned but diligently explained.

  1. Quarrels at this time would often start between two people kneeling on the ground – seiza.