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The History and Origins of Jiu Jitsu: Exploring the Japanese Roots

In the realm of martial arts, there exists a captivating discipline known as Jiu Jitsu, an art form revered globally...

In the realm of martial arts, there exists a captivating discipline known as Jiu Jitsu, an art form revered globally for its profound self-defense methodologies and captivating grappling techniques. While the majority associates Jiu Jitsu with its Brazilian variant, few are aware that this art form's genesis can be traced back to the mystical lands of Japan, unfurling its enigmatic history. Join us on an exploration of the beguiling origins and enthralling past of Jiu Jitsu as it blossomed forth from its Japanese cradle.

The Age of the Samurai: The Birthing Pangs of Jiu Jitsu

In the depths of Japan's feudal epoch, spanning from the twelfth to the nineteenth century, the land was under the dominion of the venerable samurai, the aristocratic caste of warriors. Jiu Jitsu emerged as a strategic system, meticulously crafted to equip these noble warriors with the quintessential arsenal for close-quarters combat, seamlessly adapting to situations where swords were relinquished. With throws, joint locks, strikes, and immobilization techniques at their disposal, Jiu Jitsu unveiled itself as a practical bastion of defense.

The Exotic Dance of Chinese Martial Arts

Whispers of the wind carry tales of Jiu Jitsu's evolutionary roots, entwined with the rich tapestry of ancient Japanese martial arts, infused with a dash of influence from the mystic traditions of Chinese combat. Rumor has it that Jiu Jitsu gleaned wisdom from the ethereal realms of Chinese martial arts, imbibing the essence of Chin Na and Shuai Jiao, bestowing upon it the wisdom of joint manipulation, throws, and groundwork, laying the very bedrock of its techniques.

The Chronicles of Three Historical Traditions

Takenouchi-ryu: Immersed in the annals of time, one discovers the venerable Takenouchi-ryu, a Jiu Jitsu style adorned with the title of one of the most ancient documented forms. It emerged in the twilight of the sixteenth century, embracing a comprehensive array of techniques, encompassing strikes, throws, joint locks, and even the intricacies of weapon mastery. The echoes of Takenouchi-ryu's influence ripple through the veins of modern Jiu Jitsu.

Yoshin-ryu: Unveiling its enigmatic visage in the seventeenth century, Yoshin-ryu Jiu Jitsu wove a mesmerizing tapestry of grace and fluidity, seamlessly redirecting an adversary's energy to one's own advantage. Within its techniques lie the very foundations of utilizing an opponent's force against them, a hallowed principle reverberating within the heart of Jiu Jitsu.

Sekiguchi-ryu: Forging its path amidst the seventeenth-century currents, Sekiguchi-ryu inscribed its name in the annals of Jiu Jitsu, distinct from its contemporaries with its alluring amalgamation of swordsmanship and striking prowess. Practicality became its cornerstone as it honed techniques, tailored to the exigencies of real-life combat, unveiling an unparalleled aspect of Jiu Jitsu's multifaceted nature.

Jiu Jitsu's Influence on Modern Martial Arts

  • Judo: Jigoro Kano, a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, recognized the need for a systematic approach to martial arts education. In the late 19th century, he founded Judo, which retained Jiu Jitsu's core techniques while introducing a standardized curriculum and a competitive aspect.
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: Mitsuyo Maeda, a Judo master, traveled to Brazil in the early 20th century and shared his knowledge with the Gracie family. They adapted Jiu Jitsu to suit their own physical attributes, leading to the development of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). BJJ gained global recognition through its effectiveness in mixed martial arts competitions, revolutionizing ground fighting techniques.

Difference Between Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Fighting Techniques:

Japanese Jiu Jitsu, rooted in ancient Japan, encompasses a broad range of techniques. It incorporates joint locks, strikes, throws, and even weapon-based techniques. The focus lies in efficient self-defense and practical application in real-life combat scenarios.

Conversely, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is renowned for its ground fighting prowess. Emphasizing submissions and positional dominance, it enables a smaller and weaker individual to defend themselves effectively against larger opponents. The art form gained popularity due to its success in mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions.

Belt Ranks:

The belt ranking system in Japanese Jiu Jitsu often follows a different progression compared to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Japanese Jiu Jitsu typically adopts a series of colored belts, progressing from white, blue, purple, brown, and black, signifying their growth in skill and mastery of the art. Each belt represents the practitioner's growth and proficiency in the art, denoting their skill level and experience.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu employs a similar belt system but it places a greater emphasis on ground fighting, submissions, and positional control with white, blue, purple, brown, and black belts, but introduced a unique addition—the black belt with various degrees (stripes) to signify advanced proficiency. 

Gears and Attire:

Both Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners utilize specific gear and attire. Traditional jiu jitsu uniforms, known as Gis, are worn in both styles. These Gis consist of a jacket, pants, and a belt. Rash guards and shorts are commonly used in training and competition to provide comfort and flexibility.

While the basic gear remains similar, slight variations in design and style can be observed. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gis are often tailored to be more fitted, facilitating a closer and tighter grip during ground fighting. In contrast, Japanese Jiu Jitsu Gis may have a looser fit, accommodating a wider range of techniques that involve strikes and throws.

Competition Rules:

The competition rules in Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu differ to some extent. Japanese Jiu Jitsu competitions encompass a broader spectrum of techniques, allowing strikes, throws, joint locks, and chokes. However, these competitions typically prioritize controlled contact and emphasize the art's self-defense aspect.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions focus primarily on ground fighting and submissions, discouraging strikes and techniques that could lead to serious injury. Points are awarded based on positional dominance, successful submissions, and effective technique execution.


Jiu Jitsu's origins lie deeply rooted in Japanese martial arts history, where it evolved as a practical combat system employed by the samurai. Over time, Jiu Jitsu underwent transformations, transitioning from a martial art focused on self-defense to a recreational activity and eventually influencing the development of Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Today, Jiu Jitsu continues to captivate practitioners worldwide, maintaining a profound connection to its Japanese roots while constantly evolving as a dynamic martial art.

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