Webster's Dictionary defines jujutsu as “an art of weaponless fighting employing holds, throws and paralyzing blows to subdue or disable an opponent.” This is not a bad definition of jujutsu, merely incomplete. To better understand jujutsu, it is necessary to look at its origins and the fundamental principles that underlie this comprehensive fighting system. Jujutsu's origins have been largely lost in Japan's prehistory. Even before the Samurai of ancient Japan existed, jujutsu-like combat forms were being developed and used in combat. The first records of combative grappling can be found shortly before 750 A.D. This is an historical and well-documented fact. Another fact is a samurai was seldom, if ever, without a weapon. That leads to the question of why a group of warriors who were always armed would devote the time and considerable effort and energy to develop a system of purely empty-hand combat. Obviously, they wouldn't. Classical jujutsu maintained a balance of weapon and empty-hand methods with a great deal of overlap and blending. Therefore, jujutsu was designed originally as an auxiliary skill to be used in conjunction with weapon arts, not as a replacement.
Samurai of pre-Tokugawa Japan were required to be adept in a vast range of combat skills. Kyujitsu, kenjutsu, bajutsu, sojutsu and kumi-uchi were among the basics, these being the techniques of the bow and arrow, the sword, horsemanship, the spear and grappling in armor. These skills were part of a vast array of bugei or martial arts, essential to combat in feudal Japan. The term bujutsu also means martial arts but came into use much later and tends to be used today when listing such non-sport arts as kenjutsu, iaijutsu and aikijutsu. Under a daimyo (a regional authority) or within a family clan, instruction was offered to retainers or family members in the weapons and skills of the Samurai as taught by their particular ryu. While ryu is usually translated as school or style, there were often many different arts taught within any one ryu. In order to adequately prepare their members for combat, the ryu instructors would have needed to teach a wide variety of bugei. Most ryu contained some jujutsu methods.
Terminology varied from system to system, taijutsu, wajutsu, torite and yawara being just a few of the names used for various jujutsu-like systems. Regardless of the name used, the underlying principle remained the same with jujutsu being a secondary study and a part of the whole, not separate unto itself. It was not until the Edo period (1603-1868) that jujutsu became a generic term used to describe this wide range of techniques. This period is considered the “Golden Age” of jujutsu, when the major schools flourished and technique was brought to its highest level. With the coming of the Tokugawa shogunate and its control of Japan at the beginning of the 1600's, battlefield combat largely became a thing of the past. As the need for standing armies and the mobility required by war declined, many ryu began to reflect this change. Samurai were able to concentrate on one aspect of combat and attempt to master all aspects of it. As duels to the death were frowned on by the government, the severity of the techniques began to lessen and the ability to control or disable an opponent using non-lethal methods became respected and valued.
During the more than two hundred years of the Tokugawa rule, a general peace existed in Japan. Shut off from the rest of the world and tightly controlled and regulated to the smallest detail, Japanese society was prevented from returning to its former state of civil unrest by a Big Brother government that severely punished nonconformity and political activism. It was during this period that jujutsu reached its zenith and much of what we recognize as jujutsu today was developed.
While the most popular translation of jujutsu remains “the gentle art,” a more apt translation would be "the art of flexible adaptation". jujutsu requires the ability to yield or flow with an attack or offer momentary resistance in order to break the attacker's balance and/or momentum and thereby control, disable, cripple, or kill the opponent. True jujutsu is achieving the maximum effect with the minimum effort.
jujutsu was the first Japanese martial art to be widely recognized in the West. Until the 1950s, jujutsu was the art of choice for law enforcement and military organizations worldwide. It is the confusion of combat systems with martial sports that allowed jujutsu to be superceded by karate, kung fu and tae kwon do in the public eye. Ironically, it is the perception of jujutsu as a sport today that has thrust it back into the public eye. While many jujutsu techniques are used in the cross-style tournaments so popular on pay-per-view TV, the chokes and joint locks seen in the UFC are just scratches on the surface of traditional jujutsu's wealth of knowledge.
Modern jujutsu, with its emphasis on ground fighting, bears slight resemblance to the traditional techniques of kumi-uchi as practiced by the Samurai. Understanding the need to evolve and adapt to meet new and previously unanticipated challenges, Akayama Ryu has kept pace with the times while retaining a connection with the koryu or ancient schools of classical jujutsu. Advanced students learn kata and technique that can be traced back hundreds of years and, while designed to deal with sword and dagger attacks, can easily be applied in a modern setting against contemporary threats.
jujutsu, in its true form, is not a sport. There are no rules, no concept of fair play, no “gentlemen's understanding” in the application of self-defense technique. It is direct and often times brutal. In the event of an attack, the ability to cripple or kill was and is essential. While damage to the opponent can be minimal, the goal is always to do whatever is needed to survive a confrontation. jujutsu is surgical violence in its purest form.
jujutsu was as essential to the Samurai of feudal Japan as the katana. In its classical form, jujutsu was taught in conjunction with other bujutsu such as kenjutsu, sojutsu and tantojutsu. Known by many names, jujutsu-like techniques were found in all comprehensive combat ryu. Whether it was called taijutsu, yawara, kumiuchi or any of the myriad other names, good jujutsu relied on balance, timing, finesse and flexibility rather than size or strength.
Different ryu focused on different aspects of close quarter combat. Some concentrated on throwing while others emphasized strikes or joint locks. There were hundreds of different styles and almost as many theories and applications of combat. During the centuries of almost constant warfare, there was ample opportunity to test out these various approaches. Success was judged by survival.
With the rise of the Tokugawa shogunate and the unification of Japan in the early 1600s, battlefield combat all but ceased and opportunities to test weapon against weapon became rare. Unarmed combat became more common and jujutsu entered its Golden Age. jujutsu techniques began to reflect this change in application and some instructors opened their doors to students from the merchant class. jujutsu was initially a battlefield art, taught as an auxiliary skill with weapons use, primarily the sword. As merchants, or any non-Samurai, were forbidden to carry swords and armor was unnecessary without battles, many changes in technique and application occurred during this time. While this may have increased jujutsu's popularity, it often weakened the ryu due to a watering down of techniques to avoid scaring off potential students.
By the mid 1800s, jujutsu had gained a reputation as an anachronistic bully's art, something people of quality did not study. jujutsu owes much of its survival to Kano and Kodokan Judo. A student of traditional jujutsu from an early age, Kano realized that jujutsu was in danger of being discarded by a Japan eager to embrace all things Western and modern. Drawing heavily from Kito Ryu and Tenshin Shinyo Ryu, Kano developed a budo form of jujutsu in 1882. Emphasizing the principle of Sieryoku Zenyo (maximum efficiency with minimum effort), Kano and his senior students (many already expert in other jujutsu ryu) created the most well-structured martial art ever seen. The yudansha/mudansha ranking system, colored obi, gi and ukemi were all developed and refined by Kodokan Judo.
With the rise of judo, most jujutsu ryu slipped into obscurity and died away. A few, such as Jikishinkage-Ryu, continued to maintain small dojo for family and retainers, but the majority could not exist without a continued influx of students. Seen as archaic and impractical by the public, traditional jujutsu mostly faded away in Japan and was kept alive by Japanese immigrants in Europe, South America, and North America. Except for a very few, the remaining jujutsu ryu observed judo's success and borrowed freely from the Kodokan, evolving and adapting in order to survive and meet changes in society and styles of combat.
As a branch of Jikishinkage-Ryu Aikijujutsu, Akyama-Ryu has a proud heritage. Jikishinkage-Ryu was a traditional bujutsu system developed by the Takikawa clan incorporating the katana, yari, naginata, tanto, yumi, hanbo and jo along with aikijujutsu. The Takikawa family can trace its Samurai heritage back centuries. Few styles have that kind of history and Akayama Ryu is pround to be a part of this lineage. Akayama Ryu acknowledges the contribution of Kodokan Judo and while we still award menkyo for our most senior instructors, we follow the mudansha/yudansha system for all lower ranks. Our ukemi is drawn from judo, Shodokan Aikido, Jikishinkage-Ryu and Mr. Marshall's experience as a Tactical Defense instructor. Our throws, strikes, pins, joint locks and chokes come primarily from Jikishinkage-Ryu but also reflect influence from Shinin-Ryu jujutsu, Shodokan and Tomiki Aikido, judo and Muay Thai. Each technique has been selected and honed to fit the Akayama Ryu style of fighting. Akayama Ryu is and will remain a traditional jujutsu system focusing on self defense, being first and foremost a fighting art. We have gained a reputation as a practical, no-nonsense combat art and it is the duty of all Akayama Ryu sensei and students to promote the ryu in an ethical fashion while maintaining our readiness and ability to defend ourselves and others.
Just how close is Akayama Ryu to the bugei or martial arts training the Samurai received? To be honest, not very close. We live in a different time and have different goals and self-defense needs. A Samurai in a classical bujutsu system or koryu was expected to be proficient with a number of weapons as well as jujutsu. He did not have the luxury of concentrating on only one aspect of the ryu and if he was of low rank, an ashigaru, he probably wasn't given a great deal of advanced training. Taking armor and clothing styles into account, it would have been impractical for him to spend a great deal of time on ground fighting, strikes or chokes.
During the Tokugawa era, Japan was unified and peace existed for almost 250 years. Many bujutsu, or martial arts, changed during this time from being concerned with efficiency to focusing on aesthetic aspects. In other words, looking good became more important than fighting well. Of course, this is not true of all systems, but enough styles were so weakened that it became difficult to find Samurai with more than a rudimentary knowledge of combat.
Japan opened its doors to the West with the Meiji restoration
and bujutsu took a further step into obscurity. Budo, or the martial
way, became fashionable. These systems so stylized the original combat
art that all practicality was lost. Some modified the bujutsu into a
sport while others created a form of “meditation in motion.”
Akayama Ryu retains many of the kata and smaller weapons of the koryu while modifying the techniques to meet new challenges. We are a bujutsu system but, like many styles, have borrowed from the gendai (modern) budo. The gi, dan/kyu ranks, ukemi, most chokes and much of newaza (ground work) are realtively new innovations, most less than 100 years old. Kodokan Judo can be directly linked to many of these advances and Soke Marshall and Shihan Takikawa took advantage of this new information to strengthen Akayama Ryu jujutsu.
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