Article: Both Jujutsu


By Cliff Brunetti

Anyone who has ever heard or read about the martial art of jujutsu has been offered the definition of “gentle art.” Why do they say it is gentle? Why do they say it is an art? Even someone with a cursory knowledge of jujutsu feels it’s anything but gentle, and most jujutsuka take pragmatic considerations well in advance of aesthetics, so where is the art? The “gentle art” definition I’m sure will continue into the future, but I would like to add some refinements and understanding to our definition.

To properly define jujutsu  we have to look first at the written word. When you see the word jujutsu in English or any of the Romance languages that writing is called Romanji. Romanji are Roman letters representing Japanese sounds. Since many words in Japanese are homophones (sounds the same, but means something completely different), we must look not just at the sounds of a word, but at the Kanji – the pictographs that describe words with clarity.

Jujutsu is comprised of two kanji; Ju and Jutsu. The kanji for Ju is:  and is directly translated as “gentleness, softness, adaptability or yielding.” Many feel that the gentleness aspect may perpetuate from our philosophy of not injuring our opponents unnecessarily, but things were not always thus, so I believe gentleness may be an inappropriate translation, unless it is used as a synonym for softness. All in all, Ju appears to be a great word to describe the physical attributes of jujutsu; yielding to strength to gain advantage, adaptability in all circumstances, and softness, as in not using physical strength in its application of techniques.

The kanji for Jutsu is:  and is directly translated as; “the study of,” or “the applied science of.” Jutsu is a kanji that is mostly used in Japan for skills that are applied, contrasted with jitsu: “art” or do: “way” which strongly imply aesthetics or self-actualization. Jutsu is used when the Japanese want to communicate that something is an applied skill, something that is meant to be used, not so much to be enjoyed or to be enlightened with (although those may be by-products of proper training). With both kanji together, Jujutsu can be directly translated as: “the scientific application of yielding, adaptability, and softness.” This definition is perfectly reasonable given our technical knowledge of jujutsu, and it keeps matters fairly simple, but are all what they seem, or is there a key element missing in this definition that limits our jujutsu and damns it to mere physical ability? Perhaps.

The Secret Jujutsu

The Japanese warriors, the originators of jujutsu, have spend centuries using under-the-surface meanings in their language to guard against the unworthy learning their secrets, and I can assure you that what you read or hear is almost never the whole meaning. Direct translations are usually inadequate.

The Japanese language is full of subtle manipulations of words to hide the true meaning so that the uninitiated are left with a perfectly adequate definition, one that satisfies the simple man, but for the man who digs in and studies and practices deeply, the Japanese offer much, much more.

As commonly used, Ju in the martial arts explains the difference between Go: “meeting force with force,” and Ju: “yielding to strength in order to dominate.” Although the Ju of yielding, use in this manner, is a true and accurate representation of the physical strategy, to an Oriental, there is another shade of meaning that is just below the surface, yet is so pervasive as to be inseparable.

Ju  also means “magic,” or “a power that is beyond the normal.” Some may take this Ju to mean occult type powers; clairvoyance, telekinesis, telepathy etc., while some may say it is simply Ki- “the life-force,” which we all have in varying degrees. In either case magic seems to defy rational thought and create strange emotions in us when we view or feel it. Logic, on the other side, forces us to see magic as deceptive tricks, which some times it is. Regardless, I would like to impress upon you that Jujutsu has two related meanings; jujutsu – “the applied science of yielding, adaptability, or softness”  and jujutsu – “the applied science of magic.” There are two jujutsu, and both jujutsu are used in the description of our martial art among the educated Japanese. Yes, they are different kanji, but try to have an in-depth conversation in Japanese on jujutsu where this distinction isn’t smudged. The power that is ascribed to jujutsu borders, if not centers around beyond-normal powers. It is an under-the-surface meaning, and is on purpose.

Magic, as known across all cultures, has been perpetuated by priests, shaman, magicians, witches, and wizards alike to either help people with healing, physical and spiritual concerns or even to control the masses through fear. Power is power and its abuses come in every vocation. The impossible was made possible through the magicians use of their knowledge of herbs, the spirit world, peoples ignorance of science, the mysteries of illusions, the use of superstitions, or through practiced slight-of-hand. Only within the past few centuries has magic been diminished to simple entertainment. Magic can still evoke deep emotions in people from intense fear to gawking wonder. It has always been thus. Magic apparently defies rational explanation, so people assign it otherworldly powers.

So, might the Japanese be implying that we are practicing magic when we do our martial art because our soft and subtle hand movements can be seen as deceptive tricks?

Or do they mean that our martial art is so awesomely powerful it defies rational explanations, so it is magical?

Or is there no connection at all, and our jujutsu is a mere physical ability, period?

Read on and decide.

The Jujutsu/Jujutsu Connection

Every practitioner of a Hakko art (an art based on Hakkoryu Jujutsu), has heard that the founder of Hakkoryu; Yoshiharu Okuyama was a lifelong bujutsuka (bujutsu is the study of the war arts of Japan; archery, spear, sword, knife, stick, hand-to-hand fighting, and others), and everyone had likely read that he was a priest of the Mt. Haguro sect of Shugendo, but what is this all about, what is its influence on our jujutsu? Is there some magical connection there?


Mt.Haguro is one of the three sacred mountains located in the Yamagataprefecture of Japan (Dewa SanZen), a place that became famous for producing the legendary, un-beatable, mountain warrior priests known as “Yamabushi.” In Japan, these Yamabushi were also known as Shugenja – “masters of extreme trials.” The two main sects of Shugendo are Shingon, and Tendai. Yoshiharu Okuyama studied the Tendai, he was of the Mt.Haguro sect. Both Shingon and Tendai share many traits.

You may notice many facets of Shugendo within the Hakko arts and this is not an accident.

Shugendo Ways

The Shugendo espouses “Three Great Pillars” (San-Dai-Kichu);

1st pillar) Sokushin Jobutsu – through the practice of Shugendo, the adepts should be able to realize their place in the world and interact with a unruffled, happy demeanor.

2nd pillar) Sokushin Sokubutsu – realizing the connection between our physical body and that of all creation. Through the powers that the Yamabushi learn, they are commanded to aid in bringing eternal harmony to Japan and indeed the world.

3rd pillar) Sokushin zebutsu – Our mind and body are capable of great manifestations (read: magic) in nature for the good of humanity.

The Shugendo ways are forms of esoteric Buddhism – involved in mysticism and occult sciences. Because of this, Shugendo was at one time outlawed since Japan wanted to portray their country as enlightened and civilized, not backward and superstitious. Shugendo temples were destroyed, burnt to the ground. Japan’s more modern Shinto shrines were placed at, on top of, or instead of, the old Shugendo temples. Very few had survived the cleansing efforts.

The old ways of the Shugenja are taught through experiences, usually harsh ones that wake up the spirit and allow recognition of their place in the universe. Pain, discomfort, and overcoming ones desires are normal practices. This strongly follows Zen. The old Tendai-sect of Shugendo came into favor among the samurai because of this. The old warrior ways became entwined with Shugendo and has become the predominant means of perpetuation.

When the Shugendo’s knowledge is transmitted through the written media (in makimono scrolls), the lessons are transmitted by under-the-surface expressions. The lessons are written clearly in physical terms, yet just under the surface are the deeper meanings within the kanji. This is a common and accepted method of transmission by many Japanese, who felt that if an unworthy person were to read such knowledge they would probably not benefit in the least, but for those who had been through the extreme trials, it was transforming. This reminds me of the many Japanese swords that are mu-mei, meaning, “Without signature.” To the Japanese, if a person who holds such a fine weapon doesn’t realize what he has, then he doesn’t deserve to know. The scrolls, therefore, are able to be read on different levels, according to the understanding of the individual reading them.

The Shugenja practice in seclusion – to not be influenced by the lures of worldly desires. They practice in the mountains – their rough terrain keeping fanciers at a distance, providing many challenges, and giving a powerful presence. They fast, pray, and meditate. They practice magic ( jujutsu), and recite sutras (magical words of power). However, the Shugenja are most widely known for performing all sorts of austere feats of endurance in order to rid themselves of illusion and free themselves of worldly desires that get in the way of achieving harmony with the universe.


Yoshiharu Okuyama, after completing the extreme trials became a Shugendo priest and took the name Ryuho meaning, “the Spine of the Dragon.” This sort of name is not common for ordinary people, but only used by priests. Okuyama, as previously noted, studied the Tendai sect of Shugendo and would rightfully be considered a Yamabushi – mountain ascetic warrior priest.

Wizened old bujutsu masters, before founding their martial art, went through a purification process for their mind and body, went into seclusion, and had an epiphany – sometimes being visited by Tengu (master warriors that dwell in the deep woods or mountains, who interestingly wear the robes of the Yamabushi according to legend). Okuyama-sensei followed these old ways.

When Ryuho Okuyama died, his son Toshio took over the administration of Hakkoryu, and out of respect and remembrance of his father, renamed himself Ryuho.


The pilgrimage to Sanjō-ga-Take
is called OkuGake 奥駈

  Martial talk

It is true that our jujutsu holds some very painful, and pretty magical type touches that cannot be easily understood even by its practitioners, and the reader might well brush off any connection between their physical art, where subtleties in direct manipulation can and do cause a difference between dull pain, and sharp excruciating pain. Yet, with all the technical know-how, you may have the feeling that there are patterns of thought and subtleties of spirit that if focused correctly seem to align all the elements of a technique much differently and much more powerfully than any direct manipulation can. The right feeling is more important than all the small shifts in hand position. Soke Okuyama used to teach this. If you haven’t ever experienced that feeling, next time you work with a training partner in jujutsu, try to discern his spirit. You may not feel anything if you’re not in touch, or your partner may be in a technical mode (which is frequently the case), where they are just going through the motions of a technique. But, if your training partner is operating out of their spirit, I will guarantee you will feel things differently. Many teachers will suppress their spirit so as not to intimidate the junior students, or destroy their spirit, but you must become aware of its potential.

The Hakko Moment

Soke once wrote, “Surely one waza separates life which is short and death which is long.” Seize this moment in magnificence, it is the Hakko moment. To describe this moment, imagine the Yin and Yang symbol. It is round, half of it swirling white, the other half swirling black. The Yin is the white side; negative and weak. The Yang side is black; positive and strong. They are opposites. When a person attacks he can only do so in Yang, but to gather his strength – he must first be in Yin. When sufficient strength has been gathered (mentally, physically, or spiritually) during Yin, he will turn to Yang and be more difficult to overcome. To make a defense work efficiently, we might counter-attack during our opponent’s transition from Yin to Yang – that is, the Hakko moment – the line that separates the dark and the light. You might say, why wait? Well if the person is in Yin, he may have no thought of attacking, so attacking them would be inappropriate. If his spirit can be discerned, or physically he telegraphs his intent, then it would be appropriate to attack while the opponent is still in Yin. However, when a person is in Yang he may be difficult to overcome, so when it becomes apparent that your opponent is gathering strength, we counter-attack before he becomes fully Yang. We counter-attack at the line between Yin and the Yang, dark and light. Interestingly, this line between the light and dark, when applied to a planet or moon, is called a terminator when viewed from the outside, or dawn when viewed from within. I can easily imagine that the rising sun on the Japanese flag is illustrating the Hakko moment. Study these moments in the dojo. Feel your power emanating from your tanden (center) and move. Haragei Josh

Practicing Haragei

You will find the Hakko moment when you are attune to the environment, becoming sensitive to the preparations of your opponent, feeling his spirit welling up – this is Haragei. You feel the ripple in the environment when your opponent’s aggressive thoughts betray him. Use that Hakko moment to balance the situation with peace. You will seem much faster than your opponent, but that is an illusion. His attack follows his spirit, and if you discern his spirit and act, your timing will seem uncanny, even magical.

Our challenge in the jujutsu dojo stems from a tendency to get caught up in the small points of the techniques and miss the power and natural fluid motion that being in the right spirit bring.

The real magic of jujutsu (besides all the cool binds and atemi points) is found in Haragei to exploit the Hakko moment, and with the confident releasing of energy that flows through your body.

Will this Change my Jujutsu?

Your physical techniques won’t change, but the feeling of the techniques and your opponent’s responses to it will change. Likely you will feel much more powerful, thus you might consider relaxing more and using less strength. Your opponent will likely feel a helplessness where his attack can’t possibly be good enough to do any damage and he may give up mentally before he has even begun, or because of the uselessness of his attack, he may become much weaker and slower than he would if he considered that his attack would work.

Both Jujutsu

So, can you practice both jujutsu in the dojo? You bet.

Should jujutsu magic be pursued separately for esoteric powers? I don’t think so, and neither do the Yamabushi. As a matter of fact, if you look across almost any ancient spiritually-guided tradition, the pursuit of magical power is mostly discouraged, since it is a distraction from the real goal of attunement with God, and becomes a source of ego – an obstacle to peace. Our jujutsu is not about divination of the future, moving things with our minds, reading thoughts, or indeed performing tricks of any kind, but rather our magic comes from focused, clear thought, unalterable words, and soft and subtle but powerful manipulations of an attackers body. When viewed from the outside they can be difficult for a layman to rationally explain, thus could be called magic.

Practice both jujutsu subtly, in the background, un-noticed; that, after all is the Hakko-way, the Eighth Light.