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A Little Bit of History

Jujutsu schools or Jujutsu Ryuha are one of the original martial arts systems of Japan, we all know that. However did you know that some of the early styles where developed as a sort of insurance or back up plan? For example if you are in a battle and you lost your weapon, you would have to resort to hand to hand combat in order to preserve your life or be able to escape.

A long time ago, the Samurai learned and mastered Yari (spear), Katana (sword), Yumi (bow and arrow), and Bajutsu (horse riding) and as a sub martial art, they learned Kumiuch (an unarmed fighting style).

The Samurai formed part of the upper classes of Japan, they are the people who could afford quality crafted weapons and so as well as learning to use the weapons skilfully they developed methods of disarming, striking vital points, joint locks, throwing an opponent, and in certain cases restraining and how to tie someone up ready for holding for ransom.

Some of the Kobudo systems would teach special weapons that would originate from the jobs people did, such as the so-called umagoya sangu, or three tools of the stable. These where a thin knife called a bashin, or a horse needle, used for bleeding horses. Another of the three tools was the hananejibo, a short stick used to control unruly horses by inserting the stick through a ring in the horses nose. The last tool of the stable is the jingama, a kind of sickle for cutting grass for fodder, or for cutting the reins of an opponent’s horse during combat. All three tools could be used as weapons either individually or in combination, fighting methods with bashin, hananejibo and jingama, are still taught in certain lines of the Yagu shingan ryu

The term Kobudo literally means “old martial art”. In actuality, it generally refers to practice and training with hand-held weaponry, sometimes they would be non-bladed.

Other tools / weapons of self defence used in combination or individually are often associated with the Edo-period policemen. Often referred to as torite mitsudogu, meaning the three arresting tools, these include Manriki (a weighted chain), Jujje (an iron truncheon) and the Hananejibo (a short stick) approximately around 30cm to 85cm, depending on personal taste. The stick had a cord passed through a hole located about one or two hands width from the end, this was the forerunner of the metal Naeshi (an iron bar) with a ring at the end to pass the cord through.

Jujutsu was very popular and underwent the most development during the Edo era.

Edo period (1600-1867)

Edo period (EH-dough) 1600-1867. Japan was ruled during this time by the Tokugawa military government.

This was a peaceful time in Japanese history, but as there were still many Samurai, there was a lot of time for them to practice and polish their techniques. But because there were no longer major battles to test a Samurai’s skill, the testing occurred on a much smaller scale and often used unarmed techniques.

Also in this era, citizens were banned from carrying weapons, but they still had to defend themselves against thugs and outlaws, so they had to learn and develop Jujutsu to keep their money and their lives.

The old schools / Ko Budo, developed methods of attack and counter attack adapted from the actions of sword practice, so that the student didn’t have to learn three or four systems, they had set patterns that a student practised over and over again, paying attention to fine detail, hand placement, body weight distribution, etc.

Each pattern would be rehearsed systematically to ensure correct alignment and outcome of the technique, because In a high stress life or death situation the nearest application of the correct technique could be vital.

The original schools where written down and recorded in what became known as Densho to be passed down from one master to the next generation master, they comprised of step by step illustrations of the school patterns, designed to bring about a successful out come when applied at the opportune moment.

Some patterns in the Densho would be written in code that would only be taught to certain members of the family or clan, or from farther to son.

It would be the educated that could understand and record any changes to the patterns, or list any further development or variation found to be useful, this all came at a cost.

I consider myself very lucky to have been trained by a genuine Grand Master of the old Ko-Budo schools, and to have received Densho and qualification in six of the old schools some dating back to the eleventh century.

When most modern martial arts currently practised today are less than one hundred years old.

The Ko Budo systems that I mentioned are over 500 years old, and are the foundation of the newer modern systems, however it would appear that the new system participants are becoming arrogant and conceited towards those that keep the old school.

British Martial Arts

In the UK’s history we obviously had our own martial arts systems, using sword, stick or club, wrestling, boxing, the bill, halberd and spear etc.

You would start your martial career by signing up to a MEISTER, he was the senior instructor, below him would be the PROVOST, below him would be the FREE SCHOLAR, and then at the bottom of the pecking order would be the SCHOLAR.

You started at the bottom and gradually worked your way up, learning each skill set step by step.

Unfortunately unlike the Japanese systems there is very little left to show of this system or the techniques involved.

One of the possible reasons for this may be due to political reform in the mid to late 1500’s Henry the eighth, had a lot to do with the demise of British systems from 1447 to 1505 things changed.

Henry changed the religion of the country, he sacked the monasteries and burnt pretty much all records and books, including our martial heritage. Ironically Henry sponsored some of the old Meister’s and was fond of heraldic jousting, but due to his apparent all out reform of the English church, records and books where destroyed or traded to foreign country's.

Some military information is available, but not much.

Boxing and wrestling systems survived as a sport form, but look now what has happened to Cumberland and West moorland wrestling all but gone, Cornish wrestling the same, there are just a few groups trying to maintain some of the forms.

Social class also paid a part in the development of martial arts, it was only the educated well off who could afford to have their systems recorded.

The common man was un educated unable to read or write so didn’t have any way of preserving a family system except by word of mouth, so if a small war broke out, the family would easily find that the custodian of the system had been killed and the system lost.

In Japan records and long picture scrolls still exist, some are linked to old family names and religious shrines, some have found their way into museums to be kept as cultural and historical items of interest, and just a few are in the hands of true Grand Masters.

Changes to Japanese Martial Arts

Martial arts in Japan went through some interesting changes due to social and political trends, such as the introduction of the gun by the Portuguese traders around 1543, and the reformation of the governing authority of around 1603 with the appointment of Tokugawa Leyasu as shogun, the carrying of some weapons in public where prohibited.

Japan had imported guns from China, but the Portuguese brought the wheel lock gun, this by comparison to the Chinese hand cannon was a more refined tool.

We skip forwards to the American occupation of Japan after world war two.

Martial arts were banned, however some systems went underground and were practised in secret.

Some sport forms such as Judo were allowed to continue in the university’s.

JUDO was the system developed be professor Jigoro Kano, he was born in1860, he graduated with a degree in literature from Tokyo Imperial University in 1881 and took a further degree in philosophy the following year.

He was a prominent figure in the Japanese Olympic movement following the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896. He was the principal of the elite school for peer’s son’s, and later became head of education in the Ministry of Education.

He used his influence to establish Judo as the basis of a revitalized physical education programme in Japan. He was made a peer in 1922, he died returning by sea from a meeting in Cairo of the International Olympic Committee in 1938.

Kano began his study of ju-jutsu as a young man, the old Ju jutsu masters were struggling to earn a living, as there was little interest among the Japanese people during this tidal wave of reform, they appeared to characterize everything Western as desirable, in contrast with the native culture, which was portrayed as old fashioned.

Kano was given Menkyo Kaiden of the Kito Ryu Jujutsu, he also appears to have studied in the Tenshin Shinyo Ryu, the Tenshin school was a comparatively modern offshoot of the Yoshin Ryu which can be traced back to the late 1600’s.

By 1883 Kano opened the first Kodokan for the study of Kano Jujutsu / Judo, he had taken pains to make Judo a safe system, in so doing he discarded all Jujutsu moves he considered dangerous.

It is this altered system that became the foundation of western JIU JITSU.

Difference in Styles

I remember having a conversation with a Judo player he was interested in comparing the differences between Judo and one of the traditional styles that I practice, training was going well and we were enjoying comparing the similarities and differences.

We stopped for a water break, he said “I know Judo is a sport and I can see how the idea could have been developed from one or two of the old schools but to say that this traditional stuff is for fighting In the street, people just don’t fight like that any more”.

I explained that they didn’t fight like that back in the fourteenth or fifteenth century either, I explained that the patterns are templates or blue prints so we can learn progressively how to manipulate an opponent’s balance, take advantage of dissecting angles, distance and timing while learning to maintain our own stability and then overwhelm your opponent.

The old schools provide a strong foundation to build from, you have to learn to walk before you can run.

When you fully understand a pattern or technique you can do henka or variations and because the basic principles are sound tried and tested over generations you can adapt spontaneously to the situation.

If you join the armed forces you have weeks of basic training, they don’t just hand you a gun and ship you off to a battle zone, first they let you strip the gun down and then put it back together again, then they take you down to the ranges and show you how to sight it in, they give you a few rounds of ammunition and show you how to shoot, then they take you to a field with man sized targets, you lie in the shit while someone throws flash bangs around to get you acclimatised to how things may be in battle, BUT NO ONE IS SHOOTING BACK AT YOU YET, the idea is you learn your basic skill set in a reasonably controlled environment, you learn field craft and how to work as a team, step by step progressive training.

This is the same principal as the old schools of Jujutsu, they didn’t give you a razor sharp piece of steel and watch while you cut your own fingers off, that would be counterproductive, no they give you a piece of stick called a Boken first, so the instructor can beat the crap out of you, you learn progressively by your mistakes.

I showed some of the Henka for the patterns that we had looked at that morning just to make sure he fully understood, he said it was magic, well he actually said it was witch craft. Ha.