JUJUTSU AND GENDAI RYU
Sensei St. Hilaire
Gendai Budō means “modern martial arts”
in Japanese, and is often used to refer to Japanese martial arts that were formed after 1868 (the Meiji Restoration) (or 1876
when samurai could no longer wear swords). But the meaning of Gendai Budo is
deeper, as are most meanings in the Japanese culture. More precisely they refer
to martial ways such as Aikido, Judo, Iaido, Kendo, Kyudo and the like, which are forms derived from older, combat-oriented
arts. In these arts, modified versions of combat techniques are practiced with
the intent of using them for personal spiritual advancement, or the perfection of self, the study of universal principles,
and the overall betterment of society. This name – Gendai Budo, has its
place in the categorization of Japanese martial arts. However, I believe the
term is being used incorrectly as a “blanket” term for all Japanese
martial arts developed after 1868.
There has been a tendency over the last
few decades to lump bujutsu into these two distinct categories – Koryu and Gendai Ryu (or Gendai Budo), based on an
arbitrary date, before which a bujutsu is considered an “ancient” ryu, and after which a “modern”
ryu. Sometimes this distinction holds either a positive or negative connotation
to those who understand these terms. Some are of the school of thought that Koryu preserve the “true” nature of
the Japanese martial arts, whereas the Gendai ryu have spawned from these “original” arts and are somehow either
a “sport” version (indicating they are not as useful in combat) or are a watered-down version of the original
used for the esoteric reasons mentioned. In some cases this may be true, but
in many it is not. I contend that with my own art of Jujutsu – the term
Gendai Ryu or Gendai Budo cannot be used with validity.
For a moment, let me philisophically discuss
the “date line” assigned to delineate Ko from Gendai ryu. How can one rightly say that something before a certain
date is ancient in a universe where (at least in our perception) time moves forward in a linear fashion? If a martial ryu such as Tenjin Shinyo-Ryu Jujutsu or Hokushin Itto-Ryu Kenjutsu were formed in the 1830’s
– a mere 30 years or so before the magical 1868 cutoff for Koryu – how are they more ancient (to those who originally
established that date) than a ryu such as Shizenki-Ryu Jujutsu (1920), Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu (1925) or even Miyama-Ryu Jujutsu
(1964) when we look at those ryu from the year 2006? In 1868, some of those koryu
were only 30 years old, whereas Ryu considered Gendai Ryu have been around for more than 80 years when considered from my
own relative place in time.
Jujutsu (and other Japanese martial arts)
have been developing along a continuum, which is still ongoing. There may be
ancient forms of Jujutsu, but there are no modern forms, because the term modern refers to a period of time that will –
at some time in the future – be ancient. Even in “ancient”
times, ryu formed along that continuum. Takenouchi-ryu (1532), Tatsumi-ryu (ca. 1550), Araki-ryu
(ca. 1573), Yagyu Shingan-ryu
(early 1600s), Sekiguchi Shinshin-ryu (ca. 1640), Sekiguchi Shinshin-ryu
(ca. 1640), Sosuishitsu-ryu (ca. 1650), Hontai Yoshin-ryu
(ca. 1660), Tenjin Shinyo-ryu
(ca. 1830) are examples of the development of Ryu along that continuum. This development did not recognize the 1868 or 1876 dates. Neither
did they recognize the borders of their towns, provinces, or country. Continuing
past the late 1800’s, Jujutsu continued to develop new Ryu and Ryuha
and moved from Japan to other countries, where
even more Ryu were developed.
Jujutsu was originally developed as an unarmed (or lightly armed) fighting
method for the warriors of Japan. It was a secondary fighting method to the blade weapons of the Japanese military and police. When the time came that swords were outlawed and firearms replaced them as primary
weapons, soldiers and citizens still needed an unarmed method of self defense. The
techniques of Jujutsu were still valid for that purpose, and that need has never gone away.
It is a general need of all men and women to be able to defend themselves, their loved ones and their property from
those who wish to harm. So, Jujutsu continued along that continuum, oblivious
of verbal categorizations and historical distinctions.
Very valid and effective Jujutsu ryu have been
formed since the Meiji Restoration both inside and outside of Japan. They
continue to have many of the characteristics of the traditional combat martial art ryu.
First, we must understand what a Ryu is. Ryu – in Japanese – roughly means “to flow” – as in how a river flows. This represents the flow of thought, theory, and concepts from one person to another. (The concept does not only apply to the martial arts, but to the teaching and passing
along of artistic knowledge or knowledge in general.) When concerning the martial
arts, it means the flow of martial knowledge from one generation to the next. Of
course, this implies that there are multiple generations who see the knowledge as worthy to pass along without much change.
In order to follow the traditional model, a Ryu
should also have these characteristics:
· The knowledge must be passed from a master teacher to students – one of who will become the
next master teacher and pass the knowledge onto a new generation. This is called
Jikiden in Japanese.
· The technical material cannot be a copy of material from another ryu with
only a few added or deleted techniques. It may, however be
a unique combination of techniques from several different Ryu that work in an integrated
· The Ryu should be based on a unique set of concepts or movements.
· The Ryu should have a clear beginning and founder(s).
· The Ryu should have a standardized set of techniques and concepts that
define requirements for advancement.
· The Ryu must certify certain/license certain students as teachers. Only those licensed teachers are allowed to pass on the Ryu’s
· A Ryu typically has unique traditions which it passes from generation
· A Ryu must be generational. In
other words, there must be generations (at least two after the founder) that recognize the Ryu,
practice and teach the standardized curriculum, license teachers under the Ryu name, and recognize
Thus said, it must also be realized that the characteristics of a valid
“ancient” ryu are looser than one might think when we delve carefully into the written
history of those ryu. On average, a completely new
Ryu was formed about every 20 to 30 years, and Ryuha (branches of
a Ryu practicing the Ryu’s techniques and recognizing the Ryu’s hierarchy, but with a leader who has a different “spin” on things) formed even
Essentially, every twenty to thirty years, a master teacher of a ryu would come along with ideas and concepts which were self discovered and different. These methods often were a combination of techniques and concepts from several other ryu. For whatever reason - he thought his combination and integration of training methods
and techniques were better than any one established ryu. This master teacher also attracted followers
to his school who were not interested in doing it “the old way.” Some masters exemplified the austere silent martial
arts master. Some masters were flamboyant and brash. Some taught through demonstration, some were prolific writers and illustrators and explainers. Some passed on knowledge to a few chosen students. Some had
large schools. Either way, with time students became teachers who taught their students about a founder
and a Ryu name, and thus an accepted Ryu was formed.
As an example of the continued valid formation of Ryu,
let me list a few of the many that have developed during the last century:
· Shizenki-Ryu – Kenwi
Tasuki – 1920
· Danzan-Ryu – Seishiro
Okazaki – 1925
· Gracie Jiu-Jitsu – Carlos/Helio Gracie
– early 1930’s
· Sambo – Oshchepkov
& Spiridonov – 1938
· Hakko-Ryu – Okuyama Yoshiji
· Kokushi-Ryu – Nobuyoshi Higashi
· Ketsugo-Ryu – Harold Brosious – 1951
· Vee-Jitsu-Ryu – Florendo
Visitacion – 1955
· Sanuces-Ryu – Moses Powell
· Krav Maga
– Imi Lichtenfeld – early 1960’s
· ZenBudo-Ryu – Duke Moore –
· Fuji-Ryu – Philip Scrima – 1964
· Miyama-Ryu – Antonio Pereira – 1964
· Kamishin-Ryu – Albert Church
· Akayama-Ryu – Alexander Marshall
· Seibukan-Ryu – Julio Toribio – 1993
There are certainly other ryu that have developed
in various countries of the world over the last 100 years, and we will see new ryu develop and
be recognized over the next 100 and into the future.
As you can see, this traditional method is still at work today. Jujutsu continues along the path it always has. New threats
demand new methods of defense. Study of the sciences refine and improve training
methods and technical ability. Enlightened masters come along and people follow them. Some of these masters will call their
style by a name which reflects something of meaning to them and their students. As
throughout history, many Ryu will last a few years, maybe a few decades or so, and die out. Some will last for multiple generations and spawn other ryu
and ryuha. It is the way it has always been and the
way it will always be. If this is the case (and I contend it is), then the term Gendai will never
apply to Jujutsu.
© 2013, Avelino R. Mayoral