Some Identifying Characteristics of Nihon Jujutsu

by Dr. Stephen M. Fabian

Onegaishimasu . . . Arigato gozaimashita .

With these formal expressions of courteous request and gratitude, students of Hontai Yoshin Ryu jujutsu begin and end, respectively, their paired training in jujutsu kata. The words accompany humble bows made from the traditional seiza , a kneeling position in which one's buttocks are firmly settled onto the heels of upturned feet. This exchange is indicative of the nature of Nihon --truly Japanese-- jujutsu.

Traditional jujutsu is a koryu , or ancient style of Japanese martial art. Although there were and are many ryuha or systems of Japanese jujutsu, there are features that are characteristic of most (if not all) of them. Since there seems to be a number of relatively new martial systems identifying themselves as jujutsu these days, it is appropriate to look at those characteristics which distinguish a style as traditional Japanese jujutsu.

All Nihon jujutsu will have a verifiable history and ryu lineage, including a list of past ryu heads or soke . These details are often contained in the system's makimono (scrolls) or are otherwise recorded. (Unfortunately for most Americans, such information is hardly helpful since the script in which it is recorded will be unintelligible.) Other cultural indicators which can help give one a sense of the traditional character of a school include:

Technical characteristics.
Although there is some diversity in the actual look and techniques of the various traditional jujutsu systems, there are significant technical similarities:

Philosophical dimensions.
Although jujutsu and the koryu in general often do not have the suffix -do or "way" to designate them as paths toward spiritual liberation and inner development, there are some philosophical and mental components which have significance and application in these systems at least because of their value in developing the actual combat effectiveness of the practitioner. These include:

Together, these states of mind/being tremendously strengthen the koryu practitioner, allowing him/her the utmost potential for effective action. Such effectiveness and the technical competence and mental mastery on which it stands, however, is possible only after a considerable period of serious and devoted training, a veritable forging of the spirit as expressed in the concept of seishin tanren .

These various characteristics or components, taken together, largely describe the principal elements of traditional Japanese jujutsu. Alerted to them, a student will have some reasonable ability to assess the relative traditional nature and authenticity of a system of jujutsu. If most or all of these characteristics are not noticeable in a so-called jujutsu system, then the legitimacy of the system as bona fide Nihon jujutsu is highly suspect. This is not to say that the system or school in question does not offer a good training program or effective techniques. It simply suggests that such a "jujutsu" school or system may be more accurately labeled with some other term.

Copyright ©1995 & 1996 Dr. Stephen M. Fabian. All rights reserved.

Classical Japanese Martial Arts
Last modified on December 27, 2017
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Classical Japanese Martial Arts