Jujitsu “vs” Weapons

It’s interesting to see the joy in modern practitioners re-discovering the armed element within jiujitsu – perhaps not understanding that it’s always been there.


Many – most? – modern jiujitsuka (practitioners of jiujitsu) practice unarmed, but for perhaps occasionally including the few canned self defense moves for defending against weapons.

Others bring experience in other arts which emphasize or contain armed elements, especially with edged weapons. Both can foster an understanding that places weapons’ discipline as discrete from the practice of jiujitsu.

This has not been the case historically.

Modern Brazilian jiujitsu derived directly from Kodokan Judo, which in turn came from classical Japanese jujutsu, which Jigoro Kano, the founder of 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 may not be aware of these earlier practices whence the art’s technical ancestry evolved. 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, they may perhaps be more accurately defined as unarmed methods of dealing with an enemy who is 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).”**

Individual schools – called ryu – even had different terms for different portions of their curriculae, which included applications for armored grappling, prisoner taking (against armed adversaries), asymmetric encounters (ambush and surprise attacks, including being attacked when having fallen down, or being served tea or food, or when sleeping), and 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 survival in armed environments (AE), often under extreme circumstances, including for capture and restraint of enemies and criminals.


Densho Photo 003.gif

Densho Photo 001

Weapons were always a factor in the early schools: whether fighting with your own weapons, transitioning to shorter weapons, taking your enemy’s weapon, using the enemy’s weapon against him (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, the curriculum for small weapons was one and the same with the grappling method – 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 everyday clothing – albeit still within an armed society.

Some schools dropped armored practice altogether, while others codified it in their teachings even as the emphasis in regular training changed. For example, the art in which Kano received license, and based much of his Judo on, was the Kito-ryu, which 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 focus on unarmed techniques grew, as did 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 loinclothes or short pants which were later lengthened) and ranking by colored belts.


Still, even the Kodokan retained aspects of armed defense, relegated now to the practice of formal kata as opposed to freestyle fighting. Kano was working on that, too, though (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 against weapons, which appear very much like the kinds of things in books on turn of the 20th century “Jiu-Jitsu,” published by both Japanese and western authors.

At it’s birth, jiujitsu was not an “unarmed” art practiced for self defense and combat sport. Jiujitsu WITH Weapons is in the very DNA of this amazing combative method. Reverse-engineering the weapons back in – and in a manner more conducive to grappling – takes but a little knowledge and experience. When we forget our history we miss the amazing depth in this incredible art that really is the greatest and most diverse system of personal combat ever devised.


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

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


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