Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Shodan Requirement: The History of Jujutsu


One of the gradings for shodan in the Jan de Jong jujutsu grading system involves an essay on the history of jujutsu. The idea behind this grading is that an instructor should be able to explain what jujutsu is to others. Does this grading achieve that objective? No.

When I started writing my now shelved book on the jujutsu taught by JDJ, the first chapter was devoted to explaining jujutsu. After many failed attempts, I finally adopted the late and great Donn F. Dreager's approach to explaining jujutsu. He always explained jujutsu in terms of the generic nature of the term, its technical content and history, and the practical application of the philosophical concept of ju. This provides a complete explanation and understanding of jujutsu.

To paraphrase the advertising phrase of the now defunct international accounting firm, Andersons, 'not all jujutsu is the same.' In Legacies of the Sword, Friday explains the importance of understanding the generic nature of a term:

Analysing and explaining the bugei in generic terms is a bit like conceptualising world history, world literature, or world religion in similar fashion. Standing back far enough to examine the phenomenon in toto permits one to describe its outlines, but seeking deeper insights about its essence forces one to grapple with a volume of diversity and detail that quickly becomes overwhelming.

To provide a deeper understanding of jujutsu it is useful to use the 'core of all learning.' The core of all learning is the identification of similarities and differences. There are four proven highly effective ways of identifying similarities and differences: comparison, classification, creating metaphors, and creating analogies. More can be learned about jujutsu by comparing it to different jujutsu systems (see above re the generic nature of the term) and to different martial arts.

The technical content of jujutsu exceeds that of the striking based marital arts. The technical content of striking based martial arts is primarily comprised of percussion techniques, however, jujutsu emphasises those techniques along with throwing, takedown, joint-locking, strangulation, nerve-point, unbalancing, and breakfalling techniques. Friday provides an explanation for this difference in terms of the core of all learning:

To be sure, all such 'martial arts' as forms of single combat, share some commonality of function - but then, so do Chinese t'ai chi ch'uan and U.S. Air Force fighter tactics. They also, as arts developed in neighbouring countries through which individuals - and armies - regularly traveled back and forth, show some degree of cross influence and even some common vocabulary. But the historical purposes they served, and the statuses they assumed in their respective cultures diverged in fundamental ways.

Chinese, Korean, and Okinawan boxing arts represent an independent tradition from the battlefield disciplines developed by Chinese and Korean armies. The latter were warrior arts in the strict sense of the term, but the former had multiple, overlapping personalities: part self-defence, part competitive sport, part performance art, and part regimen for promoting physiological health and longevity. The traditional warrior arts became extinct when modern weapons rendered swords, spears, and halberds obsolete, but the boxing forms survive and prosper. Japan, however, had no counterpart to Chinese boxing - at least not until modern times. The bugei practiced in Japan today descend directly from arts developed for the battlefield. Furthermore, until modern times the Japanese fighting arts were more or less the exclusive property of the samurai, the ruling class throughout the period in which the disciplines matured. Chinese, Okinawan, and Korean boxing forms, by contrast, were created by tradesmen, peasants, ascetics, entertainers, monks, rebels, bandits, and other political have-nots. And, as we shall see later in this study, the special character and status of the Japanese bugei emerged precisely because of their ancestry and parentage.

This conveniently leads into Dreager's third element when explaining jujutsu - history. History looks at the past. What is important in the past that needs to be included when explaining the history of jujutsu? That is a question that I continually came across when attempting to write the abovementioned chapter in the abovementioned book. Eventually I adopted an 'evolutionary' approach. An evolutionary approach looks at the same period as a historical approach but with a clear focus on functionality. The focus is clearly on using the past to explain the present. Why is jujutsu what it is today? What shaped jujutsu? Why is it different to other martial arts? Why is the jujutsu taught by JDJ different to Brazilian Ju Jitsu? These questions are answered directly by adopting an evolutionary approach to explain phenomena of today, in this case jujutsu.

The last of Dreager's elements in explaining jujutsu is the practical application of the principle of ju. All other Japanese martial arts are named after the weapon employed, e.g., kenjutsu (sword art). Jujutsu is named after a philisophical principle. You could argue a tactical principle. The point is to include this element in the explanation of jujutsu for a complete understanding of the subject.

Here I warn against the tendency to 'shoehorn.' Forcing something fit. That was a common feature at the Jan de Jong Self Defence School when using theory to explain practice and when explaining the history or origins of what we teach. Do not shoehorn! Adopt Klein's approach to gaining insight which produces a new and better understanding that transforms the way we understand, think, feel, behave, and want. Ask, 'What's going on here?' when theory and practice do not fit, and then go in search of an answer. No a shoehorn answer but a real answer.

JDJ's grading sheets included recommended texts for his history examination. This is in serious need of updating. Included would be any and all works by Dreager on the Japanese martial arts. Friday (see above) of course. Cameron Hurst III's The Armed Martial Arts of Japan. I am eagerly awaiting his promised follow up text, The Unarmed Martial Arts of Japan. Serge Mol's Classical Fighting Arts of Japan: A Complete Guide to Koryu Jujutsu. In that book, Mol refers to Tsutsumi Ryu and Tsutsumi Hozan Ryu as separate schools and how there are no extant schools of those systems. This is a subject that an instructor following the JDJ tradition should be able to address in an informed and authoritative manner (no shoehorning).

The Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan book series edited by Diane Skoss are also a must read. Nothing by Stephen Turnbull. His samurai history is not samurai history as so much the use of the war tales written hundreds of years after the events they purport to describe.

There is also Giving Up the Gun by Noel Perrin, however, read it with an understanding of the concept of speciation in evolutionary theory. This small book, along with the aforementioned knowledge, supports Friday's explanation of the uniqueness of the Japanese warrior/martial arts.

Finally, William W. Farris's Heavenly Warriors: The Evolution of Japan's Military, 500-1300 and in particular his explanation of the principle of counter response and symmetry. There is an evolutionary ring to that principle that helps explain the continued evolution of all fighting arts. Much of Friday's work on the bugei fits into this discussion.

As I've written in previous posts, JDJ did an amazing job in developing his grading system which is far more comprehensive then any that I have seen, however, it was also only a first attempt. We can build on his work by studying his work and improving on it. We can see further than JDJ by standing on the shoulder's of the giant that he was/is.


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