Jiu Jitsu Origin

As to the origin and native land of Jujutsu, there are several opinions, but they are found to be mere assumptions based on narratives relating to the founding of certain schools, or some incidental records or illustrations found in the ancient manuscripts not only in Japan but in China, Persia, Germany, and Egypt. There is no record by which the origins of Jujutsu can be definitely established. It would, however, be rational to assume that ever since the creation, with the instinct of self-preservation, man has had to fight for existence, and was inspired to develop an art or skill to implement the body mechanism for this purpose. In such efforts, the development may have taken various courses according to the condition of life or tribal circumstance, but the object and mechanics of the body being common, the results could not have been so very different from each other. No doubt this is the reason for finding records relating to the practice of arts similar to Jujutsu in various parts of the world, and also for the lack of records of its origins

Jiu-Jitsu, unlike other martial arts, did not evolve from one source or root; instead, it has multiple roots and traveled through many Asian countries before its establishment in Japan

Even though the true origins of Jiu-Jitsu are impossible to accurately establish, elements of the art can be traced back over 5000 years. A Babylonian copper stand, dating from the third Millennium BC, shows two men engaged in a grappling technique found in Jiu-Jitsu. Both men are trying to unbalance each other by controlling the hip


Buddhist monks in Northern India greatly contributed to the early development of martial arts. Bandits constantly assaulted the monks during their long journeys through the interior of India. Buddhist religious and moral values did not encourage the use of weapons, so they were forced to develop an empty hand system of self-defense.

These monks were men of great wisdom who possessed a perfect knowledge of the human body. Consequently, they applied laws of physics such as leverage, momentum, balance, center of gravity, friction, weight transmission, and manipulation of the human anatomy - vital points in order to create a science of self-defense.


Around 230 BC the techniques of Jiu-Jitsu are said to have arrived in Japan. The Nihon Shoki: The Chronicle of Japan, a history compiled by the Imperial command in 720 AD, refers to a tournament called Chikara-Kurabe: the contest of strength, which was held in the 7th year of the Emperor Suinin, 230 BC. Some historians regard this as the beginning of Sumo or Japanese wrestling, which has something in common with jiu-jitsu.

From 230 BC onward, many different martial arts schools were established. Empty hand techniques were incorporated as part of the samurai warriors training during the Heian period (ca. 784 AD). In approximately 880 AD, Prince Teijun Fujiwara, son of emperor Seiwa Fujiwara, established the Aiki-jujutsu.

Even though these historical accounts are difficult to be definitively ascertained, it is a fact that the Japanese were responsible for transforming a combat system into a highly sophisticated martial art called ju-jutsu (jiu-Jitsu), which was developed in Japan during the Feudal period


The period of Japanese history between the 8th and 16th centuries was one of constant civil war, and many systems of jiu-jitsu were utilized, practiced, and perfected on the battlefield. Training was used to overcome armored and armed opponents.

During Feudal times, Jiu-Jitsu was also known as Yawara, Hakuda, Kogusoko, and an assortment of other names.

The earliest recorded use of the word ju-jutsu happened in 1532 and was coined by Hisamori Takenouchi when he officially established the first school (ryu) of jiu-jitsu in Japan.

The history of the art during this time is uncertain because teachers kept everything secret in order not to give their enemies an advantage. However, the evolutionary process of jiu-jitsu at that time was highly realistic since the techniques were constantly tested and perfected in the battlefield. The beginnings of Jiu-Jitsu were in this atmosphere of constant warfare. The warrior caste clearly had a need for some empty-hand techniques because there was always the possibility of losing ones weapon or being caught without one. Thus, even though empty-hand combat was a distinctly secondary skill to an armed warrior, some development of unarmed combative skill occurred in these old Jiu-Jitsu systems. This was the initial seed from which a complete approach to unarmed combat was born.

In approximately 1603, Japan came to a fairly peaceful period following the formation of the Tokugawa military government by Tokugawa Ieyasu. During this time (1603-1868), the feudal civil wars that had plagued Japan for centuries started to disappear. However, following the adage ‘living in peace, but remembering war’; the practice of jujitsu continued to spread. The traditions of classical budo (martial arts) required that everyone should learn a method of self-defense for those situations where weapons could not be used. Universally, these techniques were known as Jujutsu. Forms and techniques displaying weapons skills of fighting began to yield to weaponless styles which incorporated many of the striking and grappling techniques of the older styles. During this time the emphasis in combat instruction changed from battlefield art to personal protection in a civilian setting.

It has been estimated that there were about 725 recorded systems of jujutsu being practiced in Japan during its golden age from 1680 to 1850.

In 1868, the Meiji Restoration of the Emperor replaced the feudal military regime established by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603. During this time the samurai class and its ways were abolished from Japanese society.

Jiu-Jitsu was originally an art designed for warfare, but after the abolition of the Feudal system in Japan, certain modifications needed to be made to the art in order to make it suitable for practice. Even though jiu-jitsu was practiced as a complete method of self-defense, there was a lack of adequate training methods. Techniques were taught almost entirely by Kata. The idea was for two practitioners to have a prearranged sequence of moves they performed on each other without resistance. The main reason for this arrangement was that traditional jujitsu relied heavily on techniques that could not be used in any situation other than an all-out fight for survival. Even though the techniques were deadly, the lack of training with realistic resistance caused practitioners to be highly unprepared for real combat.

During this period the ‘old ways’ were out of fashion and jujutsu was looked down upon. Most instructors were rough men who possessed no formal education.

Without the ability to test and perfect Jiu-Jitsu under the realistic conditions that existed in the battlefield, there was an urgent need for a way to practice the art realistically, which is why Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), an educated man, member of the Japanese Ministry of Culture, and a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, developed his own version of Jiu-Jitsu in the late 1800s, called Kano Jiu-Jitsu or Judo.

Part of Kano’s genius was realizing that being able to practice techniques with full resistance (sparring), even if the techniques are less deadly, results in a more effective style than practicing super deadly techniques only in pre-arranged forms.

Kano was able to prove the effectiveness of his training methods during a challenge match-up between older styles of Jiu-Jitsu and Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) at the Tokyo police headquarters. With its unquestionable success in those fights, Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) was named the national martial art of Japan, thus replacing the old Jiu-Jitsu. It was the official art used by law enforcement in the late 1800s.

Kano was responsible for Jiu-Jitsu regaining its prestige in the Japanese society. As an educated man he emphasized etiquette, discipline, respect and morality as part of training.

Due to Kano’s disciplined, rational and safe teaching methods, students of the Kodokan (Kano’s Judo academy) were able to practice more frequently because they were not always recovering from injuries. This multiplied the amount of training time for students of Kano’s school and drastically increased their abilities. Judo (Kano's version of Jiu-Jitsu) was watered down from the complete form of Jiu-Jitsu, but still contained enough techniques to preserve its effectiveness. Jigoro Kano named his art Kodokan Judo.

In 1900 Jigoro Kano’s school was defeated by a relatively unknown system called Fusen Ryu who professed ground fighting as the most efficient way to control and subdue a bigger and stronger adversary. The Fusen Ryu Jiu-Jitsu fighters were able to submit almost all the kodokan representatives, mostly from the guard position. After this humbling defeat Jigoro kano convinced the leaders of the victorious school to join the Kodokan and incorporate their curriculum into his system. This created a trend towards ground fighting in Japan that lasted several years.

However, in the 1920s, for mysterious reasons, Kano started to de-emphasize groundwork and self defense in Judo and almost exclusively edify throwing techniques. Moreover, the creation of sportive competitions regulated Judo and eventually limited its combat effectiveness.

There is a theory that the sport of Judo was developed with the purpose of hiding the realistic effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu from the western world. The increased immigration of westerners into Japan during the Meiji period caused Jiu-Jitsu masters, who were very secretive with regard to their techniques, to worry about the possibility of westerners, generally bigger and stronger than the Japanese, learning Jiu-Jitsu.

After World War II, many US soldiers, while stationed in Japan, were exposed to the sport of Judo and brought it back to America with them.

When the days of the Samurai came to an end, the gun replaced the sword, and new sportive ways to practice martial arts were developed. Eventually, in Japan many different variations of Jiu-Jitsu took shape, including Karate, Aikido, and Judo. But these arts were missing essential pieces of what the complete art of Jiu-Jitsu originally held.

This created years of confusion in the martial arts community, which movie artist Bruce Lee would later refer to as the ‘classical mess’ Bruce Lee was actually a student of Judo and did many studies of grappling while he was alive. He criticized traditional martial arts as being ineffective, but ironically spread more myths about martial arts through his movies than almost anyone in martial arts history. The more traditional combat schools were simply practicing techniques no longer suitable for modern day combat, and with no way to safely test them, practicing these arts became like swimming without water.


It wasn’t until Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) was introduced to the original Gracie brothers in Brazil that the real art of Jiu-Jitsu would be reborn and perfected. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (practiced as Judo) was introduced in Brazil around 1914 by Mitsuyo Maeda, who was also known as Conde Koma. Maeda was a champion of Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) and a direct student of Kano at the Kodokan in Japan. He was born in 1878 and became a student of Judo (Kano Jiu-Jitsu) in 1897. Maeda trained at the Kodokan during the zenith of its ground fighting days. In the early 1900s he traveled the world as an ambassador of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (judo) and participated in several no holds barred challenge matches in many countries including England, Spain, United States, Cuba, Mexico and finally Brazil.

In 1914, Maeda was given the opportunity to travel to Brazil as part of a large Japanese immigration colony. In the northern state of Par, he befriended Gasto Gracie, an influential businessman, who helped Maeda get established. To show his gratitude, Maeda offered to teach Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) to Gasto’s oldest son, Carlos Gracie. Carlos quickly fell in love with the techniques and philosophy of Jiu-JItsu. He became an avid student for a few years and eventually moved to the Southeast of Brazil where he taught his brothers and established the first Gracie Academy in 1925. Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed due to the wisdom of Carlos and the genius of Helio Gracie. Even without any formal education, Carlos diligently studied, in addition to jiu-jitsu, many different subjects including nutrition, spirituality, exercise and natural hygiene. A philosopher in nature, Carlos was the ‘thinker’ of the family; as a famous journalist of the time would call him and would always provide invaluable advice to his brothers on all areas of life. The combination of his research formed the foundation that Helio used to develop a new style of Jiu-Jitsu.

- With thanks to Valente Brothers www.valentebrothers.com

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