There are many variations of the art, which leads to a diversity of approaches. Jujutsu schools (ryū) may utilize all forms of grappling techniques to some degree (i.e. throwing, trapping, joint locks, holds, gouging, biting, disengagements, striking, and kicking). In addition to jujutsu, many schools teach the use of weapons.
Today, jujutsu is practiced both as it was hundreds of years ago, but also in modified forms for sport practice. Derived sports forms include the Olympic sport and martial art of judo, which was developed from several traditional styles of jujutsu by Kano Jigoro in the late 19th century; and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which was—in turn—derived from earlier versions (pre-World War II) of Kodokan judo.
Jujutsu was first developed by the Samurai. The term "jūjutsu" was not coined until the 17th century, after which time it became a blanket term for a wide variety of grappling-related disciplines. Prior to that time, these skills had names such as "short sword grappling" (小具足腰之廻, kogusoku koshi no mawari), "grappling" (組討 or 組打, kumiuchi), "body art" (体術, taijutsu), "softness" (柔 or 和, yawara), "art of harmony" (和術, wajutsu, yawarajutsu), "catching hand" (捕手, torite), and even the "way of softness" (柔道, jūdō) (as early as 1724, almost two centuries before Kano Jigoro founded the modern art of Kodokan Judo).
Today, the systems of unarmed combat that were developed and practiced during the Muromachi period (1333–1573) are referred to collectively as Japanese old-style jujutsu (日本古流柔術, Nihon koryū jūjutsu). At this period in history, the systems practiced were not systems of unarmed combat, but rather means for an unarmed or lightly armed warrior to fight a heavily armed and armored enemy on the battlefield. In battle, it was often not possible for a samurai to use his long sword, and would therefore be forced to rely on his short sword, dagger, or bare hands. When fully armored, the effective use of such "minor" weapons necessitated the employment of grappling skills.
Methods of combat (as just mentioned above) included striking (kicking and punching), throwing (body throws, joint-lock throws, unbalance throws), restraining (pinning, strangulating, grappling, wrestling) and weaponry. Defensive tactics included blocking, evading, off-balancing, blending and escaping. Minor weapons such as the tanto (knife), ryofundo kusari (weighted chain), kabuto wari (helmet smasher), and kakushi buki (secret or disguised weapons) were almost always included in Sengoku jujutsu.
Another seldom-seen historical side is a series of techniques originally included in both Sengoku and Edo jujutsu systems. Referred to as hojo waza (捕縄術 hojojutsu, torinawa jutsu, nawa jutsu, hayanawa and others), it involves the use of a hojo cord, (sometimes the sageo or tasuke) to restrain or strangle an attacker. These techniques have for the most part faded from use in modern times, but Tokyo police units still train in their use and continue to carry a hojo cord in addition to handcuffs. The very old Takenouchi-ryu is one of the better-recognized systems that continue extensive training in hojo waza. Since the establishment of the Meiji period with the abolishment of the Samurai and the wearing of swords, the ancient tradition of Yagyu Shingan Ryu (Sendai & Edo lines) has focused much towards the jujutsu (Yawara) contained in its syllabus.
Many other legitimate Nihon jujutsu ryu exist but are not considered koryu (ancient traditions). These are called either Gendai Jujutsu or modern jujutsu. Modern jujutsu traditions were founded after or towards the end of the Tokugawa period (1868), when more than 2000 schools (ryu) of jūjutsu existed. Various traditional ryu and ryuha that are commonly thought of as koryu jujutsu are actually gendai jūjutsu. Although modern in formation, very few gendai jujutsu systems have direct historical links to ancient traditions and are incorrectly referred to as traditional martial systems or ryu. Their curriculum reflects an obvious bias towards Edo jūjutsu systems as opposed to the Sengoku jūjutsu systems. The improbability of confronting an armor-clad attacker is the reason for this bias.
Over time, Gendai jujutsu has been embraced by law enforcement officials worldwide and continues to be the foundation for many specialized systems used by police. Perhaps the most famous of these specialized police systems is the Keisatsujutsu (police art) Taiho jutsu (arresting art) system formulated and employed by the Tokyo Police Department.
If a Japanese based martial system is formulated in modern times (post Tokugawa) but is only partially influenced by traditional Nihon jujutsu, it may be correctly referred to as goshin (self defense) jujutsu. Goshin jujutsu is usually formulated outside Japan and may include influences from other martial traditions. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which was developed from judo, but with greater emphasis on ground grappling (ne waza), is an excellent example of Goshin Jujutsu.
Jujutsu techniques have been the basis for many military unarmed combat techniques (including British/US/Russian special forces and SO1 police units) for many years.
There are many forms of sport jujutsu, the original and most popular being judo, now an Olympic sport. One of the most common is mixed-style competitions, where competitors apply a variety of strikes, throws, and holds to score points. There are also kata competitions, where competitors of the same style perform techniques and are judged on their performance. There are also freestyle competitions, where competitors take turns attacking each other, and the defender is judged on performance.
The Japanese systems of hakuda, kenpo, and shubaku display some degree of Chinese influence in their emphasis on atemi-waza. In comparison, systems that derive more directly from Japanese sources show less preference for such techniques. However, a few jujutsu schools likely have some Chinese influence in their development. Jujutsu ryu vary widely in their techniques, and many do include significant emphasis on striking techniques, though in some styles only as set-ups for their grappling techniques.
In jujutsu, practitioners train in the use of many potentially fatal moves. However, because students mostly train in a non-competitive environment, risk is minimized. Students are taught break falling skills to allow them to safely practice otherwise dangerous throws.
In jujutsu, there are five main sectors ("arts") of training. The first, the Art of Blocking, is used to defend against attacks. The second, the Art of the Fulcrum Throw, is employed in modern judo. The third, the Art of the Non-fulcrum Throw is employed through throws that involve little or no contact with the opponent. The fourth, the Art of Escaping (Hakko-Dori), is very crucial in many styles of Jujutsu. The fifth is the Art of Striking (Atemi-Waza).
The word Jujutsu can be broken down into two parts. "Ju" is a concept. The idea behind this meaning of Ju is "to be gentle", "to give way", "to yield", "to blend", "to move out of harm's way". "Jutsu" is the principle or "the action" part of Ju-Jutsu. In Japanese this word means science or art.
As a "soft" art, jujitsu systems generally employ the principles of balance, leverage, and momentum to overcome opponents. This is in contrast to "hard" systems (for example, some styles of karate or taekwondo) that tend to emphasize developing power, strength, and speed. Although there is some diversity in the actual look and techniques of the various traditional jujutsu systems, there are significant technical similarities common to all schools:
Students learn traditional jujutsu primarily by observation and imitation of the ryu's waza.
The unarmed waza of most schools emphasize joint-locking techniques (kansetsu waza), that is, threatening a joint's integrity by placing pressure on it in a direction contrary to its normal function, aligning it so that muscular strength cannot be brought to bear, take-down or throwing techniques, or a combination of take-downs and joint-locks.
Sometimes, atemi (strikes) are targeted to some vulnerable area of the body; this is an aspect of kuzushi, the art of breaking balance as a set-up for a lock, take-down or throw.
Movements tend to capitalize on an attacker's momentum and openings in order to place a joint in a compromised position or to break their balance as preparation for a take-down or throw.
The defender's own body is positioned so as to take optimal advantage of the attacker's weaknesses while simultaneously presenting few openings or weaknesses of its own.
Weapons training was a primary goal of Samurai training. Koryu (old/classic) schools typically include the use of weapons. Weapons might include the roku shaku bo (six-foot staff), hanbo (three-foot staff), katana (sword), wakizashi or kodachi (short sword), tanto (knife), or jutte (short one hook truncheon).
Circa 1600 AD there were over 2000 ryu of jujutsu in Japan and there were common features that characterized most of them. The technical characteristics varied from school to school. Many of the generalizations noted above do not hold true for some schools of jujutsu. Old schools of Japanese jujutsu include:
Yagyu Shingan Ryu
Some schools went on to diverge into present day Karate and Aiki styles. The last Japanese divergence occurred in 1905 when a number of jujutsu schools joined the Kodokan. The syllabi of those schools was unified under Kano Jigoro to form Judo
After the transplantation of traditional Japanese jujutsu to the West, many of these more traditional styles underwent a process of adaptation at the hands of Western practitioners, molding the art of jujutsu to suit western culture in its myriad varieties. There are today many distinctly westernized styles of jujutsu, that stick to their Japanese roots to varying degrees.
There are a number of relatively new martial systems identifying themselves as jujutsu. Since they are created in modern (gendai) times, they are often referred to as gendai jujutsu.
Some of the largest post-reformation (founded post 1905) jujutsu schools include (but are certainly not limited to these in that there are hundreds (possibly thousands), of new branches of "jujutsu"):
Hakko Denshin Ryu
Purple Dragon Don Jitsu Ryu System
Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu (The Jitsu Foundation)
Small Circle JuJitsu
World Ju-Jitsu Federation (WJJF)
Sport Jujutsu comes in two main variants: Duo(self-defense demonstration) where both the tori(attacker) and the uke(defender) come from the same team and demonstrate self defense techniques, and Fighting System(freefighting) where competitors combine striking, grappling and submissions under rules which emphasise safety. Many of the potentially dangerous techniques such as scissor takedowns, necklocks and digital choking and locking are prohibited in Sport Jujitsu. There are a number of other styles of sport jujutsu with varying rules.
Some define jujitsu and similar arts rather narrowly as "unarmed" close combat systems used to defeat or control an enemy who is similarly unarmed. Basic methods of attack include hitting or striking, thrusting or punching, kicking, throwing, pinning or immobilizing, strangling, and joint-locking. Great pains were also taken by the bushi (classic warriors) to develop effective methods of defense, including parrying or blocking strikes, thrusts and kicks, receiving throws or joint-locking techniques (i.e., falling safely and knowing how to "blend" to neutralize a technique's effect), releasing oneself from an enemy's grasp, and changing or shifting one's position to evade or neutralize an attack. As jujutsu is a collective term, some schools or ryu adopted the principle of ju more than others.
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; also called jitte), 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: katana or tachi (sword), yari (spear), naginata (glaive), and jo (short staff), bo (quarterstaff). These close combat methods were an important part of the different martial systems that were developed for use on the battlefield. They can be generally characterized as either Sengoku Jidai (Sengoku Period, 1467- 1603) katchu bujutsu or yoroi kumiuchi (fighting with weapons or grappling while clad in armor), or Edo Jidai (Edo Period, 1603- 1867) suhada bujutsu (fighting while dressed in the normal street clothing of the period, kimono and hakama).
The Chinese character 柔 (Mandarin: róu; Japanese: jū; Korean: yū) is the same as the first one in 柔道/judo (Mandarin: róudào; Japanese: jūdō; Korean: Yudo). The Chinese character 術 (Mandarin: shù; Japanese: jutsu; Korean: sul) is the same as the second one in 武術 (Mandarin: wǔshù; Japanese: bujutsu; Korean: musul)
All Japanese jujutsu schools have cultural indicators that help give a sense of the traditional character of the school.
The type of keikogi or training suit worn, which is usually plain white, often with a dark hakama (the most colorful uniform might be plain black or the traditional blue of quilted keikogi).
Lack of ostentatious display, with an attempt to achieve or express the sense of rustic simplicity (expressed in such concepts as wabi-sabi in Japanese) common in many of Japan's traditional arts.
The use of the traditional (e.g., Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, Kirigami and menkyo kaiden levels) ranking system, perhaps as a parallel track to the more contemporary and increasingly common dan-i (kyu/dan) ranking.
Japanese culture and religion have become intertwined into the martial arts. Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism and Confucian philosophy co-exist in Japan, and people generally mix and match to suit. This reflects the variety of outlook one finds in the different schools.
Jujutsu expresses the philosophy of yielding to an opponent's force rather than trying to oppose force with force. Manipulating an opponent's attack using his force and direction allows jujutsuka to control the balance of their opponent and hence prevent the opponent from resisting the counter attack.
The Japanese have characterised states of mind that a warrior should be able to adopt in combat to facilitate victory. These include: an all-encompassing awareness, zanshin (literally "remaining spirit"), in which the practitioner is ready for anything, at any time; the spontaneity of mushin (literally "no mind") which allows immediate action without conscious thought; and a state of equanimity or imperturbability known as fudoshin (literally "immovable mind").