This is a brief examination of the highlights of how jujitsu became the dominant influence of modern self-defense in the West. It is in no way is a complete and comprehensive thesis of the subject matter.
Many people assume the first elements of Asian self-defense that were introduced to the West came via Fairbairn and Sykes in the 1930’s in the form of combatives. However self-defense in the form of Jujitsu was introduced as far back as the 1890’s – karate wasn’t even known in the West until the 1950’s.
In terms of self-defense jujitsu has had more influence in the West than all other Asian martial styles combined. However many people today only associate the term jujitsu with Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ). They don’t realize the expansive Japanese pedigree.
Origins of Jujitsu
According to Japanese records jujitsu was developed during the Sengoku period of the Muromachi era around 1465 AD. It was a grappling style of combat that included: arm bars, throws, sweeps, locks, submissions and a peppering of strikes – not unlike European wrestling in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. There was also strong link to Chinese martial arts as seen with the importation of shinobi (ninjitsu) during the Sendai period.
The first official jujitsu organization was the Takenouchi-ryu style in 1532. Jujitsu eventually evolved into more than 700 schools and systems, each specializing in their own approach. Among those, two schools, the kito-ryu, and tenshin-shinyo-ryu; became the basis of Kano’s modern judo.
Judo and Jujitsu – What’s the Difference?
In 1882, Jigoro Kano, an adept in several jujitsu styles pulled together techniques from several jujitsu systems and eliminated dangerous techniques so that this new style could
be practiced vigorously as a sport – he named it Kodokan judo. In many ways jujitsu and judo were interchangeable, and they weren’t even considered separate disciplines until the late 1920’s.
In the 1890s Kano and several of his students traveled to Europe and the Americas several times to spread this new sport. The creation of judo did not in any way eliminate the huge number of coexisting jujitsu styles that are still practiced today. In a parallel effort Morihei Ueshiba created aikido by synthesizing several jujitsu styles focusing on a heavy emphasis on arm and wrist-locks.
Jujitsu, Judo and BJJ – Definitions
Many people who practice judo and jujitsu still use the terms interchangeably. Jujitsu was the mother art, where all the other styles came from. Even today many people still use the term jujitsu loosely to refer to a fighting style that is based on a form of grappling techniques.
In general the term jujitsu (Japanese jujitsu) refers to the original art before the development of judo. It featured a combination of throwing, pinning, chokes and joint locks, and the emphasis depended on the particular school or style.
Judo refers to the amalgam of several jujitsu styles that Kano created. There is a heavy emphasis on throwing but groundwork is important as well. Until the later part of the 20th century judo was called Kano’s jujitsu. Judo became an Olympic sport in 1964.
Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) is an offshoot of judo but also has elements of jujitsu. The Gracie family developed BJJ by modifying judo / jujitsu to become the world’s most popular martial sport. The emphasis is on groundwork.
Essentially, all jujitsu styles have one thing in common – defeating a larger and stronger opponent with technique.
Jujitsu in England 1900
One of the first references to Asian based self-defense in the West came from Japan. Sadakazu Uyenishi and Yukio Tani were among the first Japanese to teach jujitsu outside of Japan. At age 20 Uyenishi was Invited to London by Edward William Barton-Wright of The Bartitsu Club.
The Baritsu Club was one of England’s earliest martial clubs engaged in teaching cross-training among many martial styles. They taught a suite of martial arts related subjects such as: wrestling, boxing, fencing, stick fencing and jujitsu.
In 1903 Uyenishi established his own school in London, The School of Japanese Self-Defense. In 1905 he wrote the first book of self-defense Text Book of Jujitsu. He also taught at the Aldershot Military School and Shorncliffe Army Camp.
Jujitsu in America 1902
America’s first introduction to Judo was in the late 1879 when President U.S Grant observed a judo demonstration while visiting Japan. Then in 1902, Yoshitsugu Yamashita, one of Kano’s students, traveled to the US and taught judo to Theodore Roosevelt and West Point cadets.
Jujitsu in Germany 1905
Around the same time in Germany, Eric Rahn learned the rudiments of Jujitsu from the growing Japanese community in Berlin. One of his instructors was Higashi, the author of “Complete Kano Jujitsu.” At first Rahn started teaching jujitsu to law enforcement and later at the Military Academy. He also wrote a book in 1932 called: Jujitsu, Die Unsichtbare Waffe (The Invisible Weapon).
Of interest, Martin Vogt a scholar and Jujitsu practitioner at the time noted that many jujitsu moves were comparable to wrestling from Germany’s Medieval period. His evidence was woodblock prints from that era, several from Albrecht Durer.
In 1923 The National Jujitsu Association was formed in Berlin, Germany (Reichsverband fur Jujitsu), and in 1925 the first German Police Championship took place. During the next decades German Jujitsu evolved into a special training program for their elite army troops in WWI and WWII.
Jujitsu in France 1905
France didn’t have any resident Japanese instructors at this time, jujutsu was introduced by three Frenchmen who had studied at Tani’s “Japanese School of Ju-Jitsu” in Oxford St., London. These were Edward Desbonnet, Jean Joseph Renaud and Guy de Montgrilhard, who went under the name Re-Nie, he wrote a book “Les Secrets du Jiu-Jitsu”, (Editions Paclot, Paris, 1905). A simplified form of jujitsu was taught to the French police and military.
Jujitsu in Russia 1915
Jujitsu’s early development in Russia stemmed from the efforts of Vasili Oshchepkove and Viktor Spiridonov to integrate the techniques of judo, jujitsu and other foreign martial arts into a native wrestling style whiche eventually became sambo. Oschepkov taught judo to elite Red Army forces at the Central Red Army House. Vasili Oschepkov was one of the first foreigners to learn judo in Japan and earned his nidan from judo‘s founder, Jigaro Kano.
Jujitsu in Brazil – 1920’s
Mitsuyo Maeda, a prodigy of traditional jujitsu styles and judo, introduced the judo and jujitsu to Brazil after touring and presenting exhibitions throughout the USA, Great Britain, Mexico, Cuba, and Europe. Kano sent him out in 1904 to represent judo. Maeda fought in over 1,000 matches never losing one. Carlos Gracie studied with Maeda for several years before opening his school in 1925.
Jujitsu in Pre-WWII Era
William Fairbairn one of the originators of a self-defense style called Defendu. He worked in Shanghai, China as part of the Municipal Police Force, with his close friend Eric Sykes. It’s often said that his techniques were heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts however that was clearly not the case.
Although he did study numerous martial arts while in China, more significantly he trained in Judo and jujitsu and became a second-degree black belt under Kano. When he returned to England in 1940 he was assigned to teach British Commandos and secret government agencies for the impending war with Germany.
Jujitsu in WWII
In 1942 both Fairbairn and Sykes were in charge of training SOE. Fairbairn was sent to Camp-X in Canada to instruct. During this time the U.S. army and Marines were also taught Close Quarter Combat via the Sykes perspective. Germany had their own version of jujitsu based combatives.
Col. Applegate’s Influence
Applegate, an American colonel trained American soldiers in techniques that were heavily based on Fairbairn’s Defendu. He enhanced the techniques with feedback from his OSS operatives who put his techniques into action during World WarII. In 1943 he wrote the book Kill or Get Killed. Still considered a classic of CQC.
Jujitsu in Post War America – 1950’s
In 1951 USAF General Curtiss LeMay authorized a program to teach his Strategic Air Command (SAC) aircrews “combative measures.” Candidates were selected for and were sent to the Kodokan in Japan. The training included Judo, jujitsu and aikido, which would lead to certifying them to become “combative measures” instructors.
Judo Becomes an official Olympic sport – 1964
In 1964 judo entered the Olympics for the first time. It was held in Japan and the Japanese dominated in all categories except the open division. Anton Geesink, a Dutch judoka won the gold medal.
USA – UFC Debuts – 1993
In 1993, the UFC is launched by Rorian Gracie. In the style of Brazilian Jujitsu, they invited all fighters to take the Gracie Challenge, that is: put up or shut up, and this changed the game.
The UFC (The Ultimate Fighting Championship) had a huge impact in the martial arts world. Here was a jujitsu style, an offshoot of the original Kodokan system that beat all-comers. No longer could people boast about their secret styles and techniques, you now they had to prove it on the mat.
Eventually many fighters started to learn BJJ and the dominance of the Brazilian fighters leveled out. The UFC morphed into a venue for mixed martial arts instead of a showcase for BJJ, however BJJ today is still a major component of MMA.
Modern Army Combatives Program – USA – 1990’s
Sargeant Matt Larsen, a US Marine and Army Ranger is Called “The Father of Modern Combatives.” He studied Asian martial arts while stationed in Asia.
In the 1990’s Larsen was tasked to create the MACP program for 1.2 million soldiers. Having researched what actually happens on the battlefield he realized that H2H engagements only occurred when guns jammed or didn’t fire.
Matt put together a program that was heavily grappling based, jujitsu & BJJ, but never grappling alone – it included grappling with strikes and grappling with weapons. He also encouraged competition so soldiers could develop their skills when fighting against a fully resistant opponent.
BJJ is becoming more popular around the world everyday and martial sports the world and BJJ is a major component of mixed martial arts. Judo is practiced globally and is an Olympic sport. Most defensive styles such as combatives, krav maga, the U.S. army program, and reality based defense systems owe their existence to jujitsu. Classical jujitsu is still being practiced around the world.
Recently Rickson Gracie one of the finest exponents of BJJ lamented that BJJ has lost its element of self-defense by focusing mainly on the sport side.
Additional Comments by Joseph Svinth
Yamashita did not come to the USA until September 1903. Also, he did not teach at US Military Academy. He taught at US Naval Academy, and his students were midshipmen rather than cadets. http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_svinth1_1000.htm
It was Tomita and Maeda who showed judo at USMA, and after Tomita got dumped by the second football player he met (Charles Daly), USMA decided to go instead with catch-as-catch-can, as taught by pro wrestler Tom Jenkins.
In Germany, jujitsu began converting into Kodokan judo during the 1930s, following tours by Kano and Nagaoka. Kano was touring while on Olympic business, whereas Nagaoka was there at the invitation of Goering, in his role as head of the Berlin police. Judo in Germany in that era was closely associated with Germany’s special relationship with Japan, and was popular with the Hitler Youth programs. Obviously, all that got written out, on both sides of the Wall, following WWII…
Taro Miyake was wrestling professionally in france in 1913-1914, but he left for the USA with the outbreak of WWI. There was definitely interest in jujitsu in the Allied militaries during WWI. Following WWI, jujitsu was taught in France mostly for self-defense (see Moise Feldenkrais’s stories about meeting Kano) until 1938, when Kawaishi gave a demo in which uke was a senior Japanese diplomat. http://www.britishpathe.com/video/jujitsu-demonstration-paris
In Imperial Russia, the main interest in jujitsu was George Hackenschmidt and other professional wrestlers. In the USSR, Oshchepkov was definitely the first ethnic Russian to get a Kodokan grading.(He was from islands occupied by Japan, thus his being in Tokyo.) Oshchepkov got his dan-grading in 1913, I think it was, while he was in Tokyo as part of a Russian religious order’s training program. He and EJ Harrison trained together, both in Tokyo and Vladivostok. Anyway, in that paragraph, it should be Jigoro Kano rather than Jigaro, and I’m not sure Oshchepkov actually trained with Kano. Kano was president of the Kodokan, sure, but instruction was done by other people.
Re Maeda, he did lose some matches. Not many, but they are documented. An example? At a tournament in London in February 1908, Maeda lost in the semi-finals to the eventual champion, Jimmy Esson. He wasn’t sent to the USA by Kano. Tomita was sent by Kano, and Tomita took Maeda as his assistant.
For pre-WWII stuff, there is Allan Corstorphin Smith, a Scottish man who got his shodan in Tokyo in 1916, and taught military jujitsu to the US Army in 1918. He stayed in the USA after the war, and also taught judo to New York State Police and various Zionist youth groups. He’s buried on Long Island. Video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnwb8lSilrI . The books are available online. Some background. http://ejmas.com/jnc/jncart_bowen_0603.htm
On the West Coast, you have Risher Thornberry, who taught jujitsu to soldiers at Camp Lewis. He’d learned his jujitsu while living in Nagasaki during the early 1900s. http://ejmas.com/jnc/jncart_henderson_0600.htm
From the 1910s forward, there were all kinds of police forces experimenting with jujitsu, too. For patrol officers, the idea was to reduce reliance on nightsticks, but it was also used to provide training for plainclothesmen and policewomen.
Fairbairn proved more popular with the OSS than the British. For their part, the British were teaching a mixture of Kodokan judo and catch wrestling; the trainers included Stan Bissell, a man who was simultaneously a Budokwai shodan, a member of the British freestyle wrestling team, and a Metro Police trainer.
The SAC program of the 1950s was teaching Kodokan judo, JKA karate, and Tomiki-style aikido. By the end of the decade, though, it was teaching all kinds of Japanese and Korean systems.