Author: Bret Gordon
With the craze of MMA, everyone is talking about "Jiu Jitsu." It has become a household word and synonymous with skilled ground fighting. A "Jiu Jitsu" purple belt is often said to be more skilled at fighting than masters of any other martial art as "proven" by the system's dominance in the cage. I think this heightened interest in Jujutsu is great! Unfortunately, most people's only experience with or knowledge of the gentle art comes by way of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Don't get me wrong. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has forced a lot of practitioners to step up their game. They have exposed an area of training often neglected by mainstream Western martial artists. Its masters have refined grappling and ground fighting to a science and are amazingly skilled at their craft. However, ground fighting is not the only thing offered by the comprehensive style of Jujutsu. Before I get into the extent of what may possibly be the most scientifically advanced hand-to-hand combat system, let's discuss the etymology of the word Jujutsu and why any other spelling of the word is simply incorrect when referring to the style.
A style is a family of systems that share a common technical emphasis. Jujutsu is a style that encompasses numerous systems, both koryu (founded pre-1868) and gendai (modern), that feature an array of joint locks, manipulations, chokes, strangulations, throws and yes, ground fighting. It was the unarmed fighting method of the samurai class, with each clan having their own particular ryu or system. Other names for jujutsu include yawara and kogusoku. In older systems, striking is usually limited due to the ryu's origins as a battlefield art therefore your opponent would likely be wearing armor. After the Meiji Restoration, we see striking vital targets take more prominence as the armor is shed, and strikes are often used to set up the desired lock or throw in addition to creating bodily damage in their own right.
As Jujutsu spread across the world, people naturally began to write about it in their native language instead of kanji. This was done phonetically by trying to match the right combination of letters to create the proper sound of the word. Broken down, jujutsu is two separate characters in kanji. The first character, 柔, is pronounced like "jew" and the second, 術, is pronounced like "jitsu" or "jitz" so naturally, it was first written as jiyu jitsu. Later on, the "y" was deemed unnecessary and the widely accepted spelling became jiu jitsu. In Europe, the spelling ju-jitsu was also adopted. However, writing it phonetically with the second character as "jitsu" disregards the Hepburn romanization system of transcribing the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet.
The Hepburn romanization system is named after James Curtis Hepburn who used the system in his third edition of his Japanese-to-English dictionary, published in 1887. The revised edition by Romaji-Hirome-Kai in 1908 is called "standard style romanization" and is currently used in Japan as well as the Hepburn system. In the second character, 術, the "u" is pronounced as a short vowel (uh). When spoken quickly, it often gets shortened even more to an "i" which let to the phonetic spelling of jitsu. However, by following both the Hepburn and standard style romanization systems, both clearly define the proper Latin alphabet spelling of 術 is jutsu. As I said previously, the first character, 柔, is pronounced like "jew" or "joo." Therefore, jiu is a distortion of the pronunciation and a long "u," also written as "ū" is most appropriate.
Nevertheless, with the popularity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu throughout the mainstream population, the spelling of "Jiu Jitsu" will never cease. As a Japanese practitioner, I have come to terms with this. Just know that when I say Jujutsu, I am referring to the family of Japanese martial arts that focus on unarmed combat and emphasis the "soft" techniques of joint locks, manipulations and throws over the "hard" karate-like striking. When I use "Jiu Jitsu," I always preface it with "Brazilian" as to be clear I am referring to the specific system of grappling and ground fighting popularized by the Gracie family of Brazil.
Stay tuned for part 2 when I discuss why jujutsu may possibly be the most scientifically advanced style of unarmed combat...
This article was originally published on the US Association of Martial Arts blog. To view the original article, please click here.
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The articles posted here have been shared from the US Association of Martial Arts website, run by our headmaster Bret Gordon, for their relevance to Aiki Jujutsu. For more of his writings, please click here.