Recently I was on a security team for a well known organization, during which, I was positioned by another guard who asked me if I could explain the effectiveness of Jiu Jitsu in a street application with one or potentially more attackers. Since his question carried a deal of respect and humility I obliged. I would come to learn that since he came from a Muay Thai background, striking made the most sense especially with multiple opponents. He was also an imaginably larger gentleman with years of experience within the industry as well as possibly the art of Thai boxing.
I started by asking him what he knew about Jiu Jitsu. His answer told me that he had done some research as he responded by saying “It seems like it has a lot to do with manipulating your opponent by way of joint locks, holds and pins”. A very good answer as experienced practitioners will understand. So I began to probe a little deeper by asking if he was familiar with the origins of Jiu Jitsu. He responded with something along the lines of “the gracie family etc”. It then became clear that he was not fully aware of the Japanese origin of the term Jiu Jitsu so I began to explain that “Jiu” was the western impression of “Jū”, the Japanese word for “soft and yielding or gentle” and “Jitsu” represented the collection of techniques much like the word “waza” in “Ju-do” (nage-waza for throwing techniques and ne-waza for ground techniques), Jū again being the same root word for Jiu Jitsu and dō representing way of life as you may have heard before. The significance of this is great because the conceptual understanding of Jiu Jitsu is something that is often misinterpreted or misunderstood.
It is important to know that Jiu Jitsu’s original intention was for a samurai to defend themselves in close quarter combat often without a katana. The significance of this is twofold. One is that at its core Jiu Jitsu is in an method of applying factors of leverage, technique and timing to gain the upper hand in combat. Second is that the individuals responsible for creating Jiu Jitsu were Martial Artists who sought to add any advantage to their arsenal they could, not just striking or grappling but really any skillset (including training the mind) that contributed to victory in combat with certain forms of Jiu Jitsu including using traps or nets to capture the enemy. I find knowledge of this to be paramount for any practitioner’s journey in order for them to recognize that Jiu Jitsu is a way of solving problems, and the more skilled a Jiu Jitsu fighter is, the easier and less violently he or she can solve the problems being dealt to him or her. Mercy was after all a tenet of Bushido which meant that when death of the enemy was necessary it should always be dealt as swiftly and painlessly as possible. In your daily Jiu Jitsu training you will notice that with high level players there is much less damage dealt than when compared to the beginners.
Where much of the confusion lies is that the sport of BJJ often comes to represent Jiu Jitsu as a whole. Beneath the surface of labels such as Jiu Jitsu, submission grappling, wrestling or karate there is a wealth of knowledge in all fighting aspects that a true Martial Artist aims to unite. While there are reasons especially for an aging fighter to train almost exclusively in BJJ, the idea of Jiu Jitsu is to use leverage to gain the upper hand. This idea is one of the most critical points to understand as a Martial Artist as it provides a great deal of fluidity for any context, as every fighter should look to gain the upper hand. While the individual’s goal (mma fighter, bouncer, grappler) will determine the regiment, the mindset is akin to that of one of Martial Arts pioneers, Bruce Lee who said “adapt what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is specifically your own”. The true essence of Jiu Jitsu, as stated by Jigoro Kano, is “maximum efficiency and maximum effectiveness”.