What Is Jiu-Jitsu?

Jiu-Jitsu, or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, is an ancient martial art that serves as the basis for many current martial arts techniques. For example, judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are both direct descendants of this defense technique.  Here’s more about this historic fighting technique made popular by the Samurai.

History of Jiu-Jitsu


Thanks to Factinate for the image.

According to bloodyelbow.com, jiu-jitsu was created around the ninth century in the area that is now Japan. At the time, there were many kingdoms. Combat between the kingdoms was through mercenaries, who fought with the promise of elevated social status in exchange for victory. Soon, several kingdoms had an elevated class of warriors, known as Samurai.

Over time, smaller kingdoms were absorbed. Thus, larger armies formed, and the number of Samurai increased. In addition to increasing numbers, the Samurai increased their skills. In the beginning, these men were archers on horseback. Over time, they became warriors known for their sword skills.

By the 1100s, Samurai were the ruling class in Japan. They ate the food other people grew in exchange for the protection they offered the kingdom. When the Samurai had sons, they sent them to school to learn fighting technique. Because of the demand, many academies opened to train these young men.

According to bloodyelbow.com, here’s what the young men learned:

“Jujitsu developed as an unarmed martial art in a culture where basically everyone was armed, so the first goal was to deal with an attacker’s weapon. Samurai would train to defend against swords, spears or knives. While strikes targeting the eyes, nose, groin and other vital points were incorporated, striking was not the focus of Jujitsu because Samurai armor would negate their effectiveness.”

From the mid-1400s until the mid-1600s, the kingdoms waged war against each other. They say necessity is the mother of all inventions, and this held true on the battlefield. The Samurai adapted their traditional techniques however necessary to win a fight. This led to new techniques and the use of new weapons like short knives.


Eventually, everyone unified to become Japan, and the fighting ceased. However, the different kingdoms adapted jiu-jitsu in different ways. This is why instruction varies.

For example, if you were studying jiu-jitsu from an area where the instructors felt it would be most advantageous to know how to disarm an attacker with a knife, you would learn that skill. Meanwhile, at another academy, you might learn how to disarm and attack someone with a chain. It all depends on which particular school of jiu-jitsu you are studying as to what your focus is.

Regardless of your school, one basic principle is taught throughout. Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that teaches an unarmed person to disarm and fight off attackers.


When you go to jiu-jitsu class, you wear a white jacket and pants called a gi with a colored belt that indicates your rank. This is very similar to other martial arts like karate, taekwondo, and (of course) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The belt progression is (from beginner to expert):

  • white,
  • yellow,
  • orange,
  • green,
  • blue,
  • purple,
  • brown, and
  • black.

In your class, you can expect to practice techniques both by yourself and with a partner. The technique practice might be very similar to that of karate and tae kwon do. Partner work may include blocks, throws, joint locks, and choke holds. This serves as a better practice for what you will actually need to do if you’re trying to disarm an attacker.

Find Jiu-Jitsu Near You

Since so many other martial arts practices have adopted parts of jiu-jitsu, it’s not really practiced in the West anymore. Instead, it has become a sort of catch-all phrase to describe a Japanese-based method of self-defense that is not karate, taekwondo, judo, or any other specific martial art.

This is normally the part of my article where I would tell you to take to Google and talk to your friends. Well, whenever I Google “jiu-jitsu,” it gives me information on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. As we both know, that’s not quite the same thing. Instead, you may want to search “Japanese Jiu-Jitsu” or “traditional jiu-jitsu.”

Good luck. I hope that works.

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Have you practiced jiu-jitsu? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.