Jujitsu “versus” Weapons



Many modern jiujitsuka (practitioners of jiujitsu) have experience in other arts prior to or alongside their study of “the Flexible Art.” Some, as Stephan Kesting notes in the video above, came from a Jeet Kune Do/Inosanto Academy background*,  which often means experience in Silat and Filipino arts, among others. Those arts either emphasize or contain armed elements, especially edged weapons, and though at times do include some grappling, these armed methods are usually considered in contradistinction to jiujitsu.

Since martial background informs one’s understanding of armed environments, when the weapons based environment is conceived and practiced primarily as a discrete, dueling-oriented discipline, it can foster a relationship that places weapons’ discipline as versus or distinct from the practice of jiujitsu…

This has not historically been the case.

By now most jiujitsuka are certainly aware (or will by now grudgingly admit…) that modern Brazilian jiujitsu came directly from Kodokan Judo, which in turn came from classical Japanese jujutsu, which Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo, described thusly in 1887:

“In feudal times in Japan, there were various military arts and exercises which the samurai classes were trained and fitted for their special form of warfare. Amongst these was the art of jujutsu, from which the present judo has sprung up. The word jujutsu may be translated freely as “the art of gaining victory by yielding or pliancy.” Originally, the name seems to have been applied to what may best be described as the art of fighting without weapons, although in some cases short weapons were used against opponents fighting with long weapons. Although it seems to resemble wrestling, yet it differs materially from wrestling as practiced in England, its main principle being not to match strength with strength, but to gain victory by yielding to strength.” (**)

Modern jiujitsuka, however, may not be aware of these earlier combative practices whence their art’s technical ancestry derived. Meik Skoss, practitioner and researcher of classical Japanese martial traditions, offered this in an essay on Jujutsu and Taijutsu at Koryu.Com:

“Some define jujutsu and similar arts rather narrowly as “unarmed” close combat systems used to defeat or control an enemy who is similarly unarmed…

From a broader point of view, based on the curricula of many of the classical Japanese arts themselves, however, these arts may perhaps be more accurately defined as unarmed methods of dealing with an enemy who was armed, together with methods of using minor weapons such as the jutte (truncheon), tanto (knife), or kakushi buki (hidden weapons), such as the ryofundo kusari (weighted chain) or the bankokuchoki (a type of knuckle-duster), to defeat both armed or unarmed opponents. Furthermore, the term jujutsu was also sometimes used to refer to tactics for infighting used with the warrior’s major weapons: ken or tachi (sword), yari (spear), naginata(glaive), and bo (staff).”***

Further, particular schools (ryu) even had different terms for different portions of their close combat curriculae, which may have included armored grappling, seizing and prisoner taking methods, asymmetric encounters (ambush and surprise attacks by either side, including being attacked when having fallen down, or being served tea or food, or even when sleeping), combat transitions when a weapon was broken or dropped,  and more. Even the sword drawing art of iaijutsu contained many grappling elements from the knees and while standing.

These types of grappling were intended for combat survival in extreme circumstances, as well as for capture and restraint of enemies and criminals.


Densho Photo 003.gif

Densho Photo 001

Weapons were always a factor in the early schools: there are methods for fighting with your own weapons, transitioning to shorter weapons, taking your enemy’s weapon, using the enemy’s weapon against them (for example pinning them using their own sword or scabbard, or partially drawing their sword and cutting them with the blade), and other opportunistic tactics. In some schools, grappling was the curriculum for small weapons – in other words, it was the basis from which weapons such as shortswords, dagger, “fist load” weapons, and the like were used.




This is kogusoku (think grappling with shorter weapons) from the Tennen Rishin-ryu. From 1:26 you will see some throws which most modern jiujitsuka should be familiar with. Note that these are done with shortsword vs. longsword. This is a demonstration of formal kata – in this case think the 18th century equivalent of “Gracie Self Defense.”


Over time, these pre-jiujitsu arts changed. There was less need for armored battle tactics and more for self defense skills in regular clothing – though still within an armed society. Some schools dropped armored practice altogether, while others codified it within their scrolls even as the emphasis in regular training changed. For example, the art in which Kano received license was Kito ryu, and based much of his Judo on, started as an aggressive armored battlefield grappling system.

Kito Ryu Kata 003


The term jujutsu came to be used only later. With it an increasing emphasis on unarmed techniques grew, and a focus on competitive unarmed grappling matches between different schools – matches which existed long before the Kodokan was formed.


With the Kodokan (eventually) came greater standardization in teaching and practice, and even uniforms (the early short sleeves and short pants which were later lengthened) and ranking by colored belts.


Still, even the Kodokan retained aspects of armed defense, now relegated to the practice of formal kata as opposed to freestyle fighting – though Kano was working on that, too, (i.e. live weapons and grappling practice) based on his diaries. Due to its own unique development, none of the weapons based practice appears to have been transmitted to Brazilian jiujitsu, though that art has its own self defense versus weapons.

Still, we should not lose sight of the fact that jiujitsu was not always an “unarmed” art, practiced mainly for physical culture and competitive or unarmed defensive purposes. Quite the opposite, and jiujitsu WITH Weapons is in the very DNA of this amazing combative art. When we forget this history – our history – or revise it so that it comes instead from Indian monks and not an armed and armored warrior class – we miss the amazing depth of this incredible art that – and here I agree with Kesting – really is the greatest and most diverse system of personal combat ever devised.


*Dan Inosanto is an incredible martial artist and very welcoming human being. Arguably it was his interest, influence, and openness toward other arts that was a key factor in the Gracie family, Gracie Jiujitsu, and Brazilian jiujitsu as a whole gaining a foothold in the U.S.

** Jigoro Kano and T. Lindsay, Jujutsu and the Origins of Judo, 1887.

*** Meik Skoss, Jujutsu and Taijutsu, Koryu.com.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s