Ju Jitsu > history


Ju-Jitsu (or Ju-Jutsu) is the ancient martial art of the Samurai. Traces of its existence appear for the first time more than 2500 years ago in Japan, making it one of the oldest known martial arts. It is mentioned in Japanese mythology: they say that the gods Kashima and Katori used Ju-Jitsu against the inhabitants of an eastern region as a punishment for their criminal activity.
The philosophy of Ju-Jitsu was first influenced by the Asian continent during the eastern Chou era in China (770-256 B.C.), a period during which the techniques of combat were practiced hand-to-hand. When the sportive form of the Chikara Kurabe appeared in Japan in 230 B.C., many of its techniques and combat strategies were included in military training. Since 230 B.C. many schools of combat have been formed, which have trained able warriors. In 525 A.D., Boddhidharma, a Buddhist monk, traveled from India to China, visiting the Shaolin monastery. Soon, he integrated Chinese Kempo with his experience in Yoga, forming the Shaolin Chuan Fa.
In prehistoric Japan, the use of the blade is earlier than the elaboration of writing, which only came in 600 AD as a result of a spiritual impulse: the introduction of Buddhism, imported from China, which caused long battles between powerful families such as the Soga, the Monobe and the Nakatomi. The latter, in support of the Shinto religion, claimed the traditional conception of the state, while the Soga (even without being fully aware) with the defense of Buddhism aimed at establishing a state with central government, following the example of China. With the triumph of Soga there was the complete affirmation of the Buddhism and the turning point in transforming Japan into a centralized empire. Links with China became closer, the Shaolin influenced the Japanese martial art with the knowledge of striking techniques on nervous centers.
During the Heian period (794-1185 A.D.) there is evidence that, together with traditional weapons, hand-to-hand combat techniques were practiced as a part of the training of Samurai warriors. This process of centralization of power proved impossible in this period because of the rise of several powerful military families. In fact, the continuous transfer of land and property rights to the Buddhist monasteries and to the aristocratic families had facilitated the formation of large estates which, in turn, had caused the birth of semi-autonomous armed groups. Della presenza di tali milizie approfittarono alcune famiglie di lontana ascendenza imperiale per formare veri e propri eserciti. Once the Fujiwara had fallen, it was the Minamoto who took the reins of power beating their Taira rivals after a series of epic battles culminating in the famous naval battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185. This date marked the beginning of the Kamakura era (1185-1333). The victor established a military government and took the title of Shogun. The office of Shogun was not in contrast with the figure of the Emperor, even if the real power will remain in the hands of the Shogun until the Meiji imperial restoration of 1868. The rise of local powers forced a skillful game of alliances with the strongest Daimyo (feudal lords).
In 1274 and 1281, several local feudal lords strenuously defended themselves from the invasion attempts of Kublai Khan who sent the Mongols, without success, to conquer the archipelago.
Up until 1600, Japan saw repeated dynastic battles for succession to the throne and to the shogunate, continued attempts by the Shogun to centralize the power against the growing influence of the feudal lords. Basically, it was a devastating period of civil wars for the rise to power that persisted for centuries.
In such a scenario it was inevitable that the arts of combat develop quickly and to the best of their ability. Many combat techniques were studied, practiced and improved on the battlefield and they evolved in a sort of natural selection. The form of training aimed to prepare the Samurai against opponents armed and protected by armor, therefore numerous techniques were created and mastered for both armed (kobudo) and unarmed combat. The Samurai carried with him the spear, the bow, the halberd and other weapons, though the central nucleus of his armor was always made up of the inseparable katana (sword). The sword, in fact, perfectly incarnated the Samurai’s ethic and his spirit. Samurai fighting required courage because one fought short-range and it demanded an ability that the other social classes did not possess.
The foundation of a formal Ju-Jitsu art is often attributed to Takenuchi Hisamori through the creation of his school in 1532, where he taught both armed and unarmed combat techniques.
In 1559 a Chinese monk, Chin Gen Pinh, came to Japan with his knowledge and experience of Kempo (“Chinese hand”) that was adopted in part by the school of Ju-Jitsu, as were other styles originating from China and Korea.
The 16th century brought about a profound change in the structures of the country with the development of private commerce in almost the whole Asian area, the birth of free cities, the arrival of westerners introducing firearms and Christianity, the reunification of the country under a military dictatorship and the first attempt at a pan Asiatic political expansionism. The initiator of the reunification of Japan was Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), a small daimyo of the central provinces, soon joined by Toyotomi Hidetoshi (1536-1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) to form the triad to whom Japan owes its unification. Tokugawa Ieyasu became, upon the death of Hideyoshi, one of the most powerful feudal lords of the country and obtained absolute dominion by overcoming the other united daimyo at Sekigahara (1601). In 1603 he legitimized this power by assuming for himself and for his descendants the title of Shogun. Thus began the era entitled, rightly, Tokugawa (or Edo, from the name of the capital, today called Tokyo) that endured for over two and a half centuries (1600-1868).
The State was reorganized according to criteria inspired by the neo-Confucian thought of Chu Hsi and all of the social classes were subjected to strict controls. The rigidity of the internal system was accompanied by a total closure toward the outside, a closure that blocked commerce and brought about the prohibition and persecution of Christianity. For about 200 years, the country experienced relative peace and prosperity.
During this period the feudal wars, the civil wars, the uneasy feelings and the most intimate emotions that had for centuries afflicted Japan began to disappear. The lack of wars implied that there was no longer the need to combat to kill one’s enemies, therefore the numerous schools of combat created by the Ronin (Samurai without masters) refined their techniques, perfecting pressure moves and blocks that permitted easy control of the adversary without the need to kill or maim him. The object of the techniques moved toward hand-to-hand combat forms and as a whole they were recognized everywhere as Ju-Jitsu.
At the beginning of the 19th century, for internal reasons and due to international pressure, the Japanese system entered into a crisis culminated in 1853 by the arrival of Commodore Perry, bearer of the American request for political openness. In a climate of great political uncertainty, the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed (1854), which opened to American ships the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate. Similar treaties followed with Great Britain, Russia, France and Holland. This brought about a period of strong internal tension and in 1867 the nationalist forces obtained the surrender of the last Shogun and the ultimate fall of the military government. Therefore, after centuries, the effective power returned to the hands of the emperor, in the person of Mutsuhito. Many Samurai had sustained the Shogun during the war and therefore lost their place and honor when the power was restored to the hands of the emperor.
An imperial law was introduced banning the practice of Ju-Jitsu and prohibiting the Samurai to carry weapons in public. In 1882 Jigoro Kano used his knowledge and experience in Ju-Jitsu to create a sportive discipline called Judo, based on projection and ground combat. In 1925 Ueshiba Morihei, a Master of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujitsu, concentrating on pressure moves, created that which is now known as Aikido. Nevertheless, a few Masters of Ju-Jitsu continued to train in secret or emigrated to other countries. During this time, Ju-Jitsu was almost lost. It was during this time of oppression that the first representatives of this Art arrived in Great Britain.
The ban on Ju-Jitsu was only revoked in Japan toward the middle of the 20th century, permitting free practice. Ju-Jitsu has become the base for other more recent martial arts and translated it means “art of elasticity” (Ju = elasticity, it is the flexible force that one bends to resist; Jitsu = technique, art) because one apparently bends under the force of the adversary, but only to control and direct this force against him. It is an art where techniques of striking pressure points, kicks, projections, ground combat, blocks and articulate pressure are combined to neutralize an aggressor with ease. It has been said that attacking an expert in Ju-Jitsu is equal to attack oneself.

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