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Jujutsu & Karate
by Harry Cook

Although it is well known that the striking methods of Okinawan karate were introduced to Japan in the 1920s by teachers such as Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, and Kenwa Mabuni, it is less well known that some of the native Japanese schools of ju-jutsu made extensive use of techniques that may seem at first sight to be typical karate techniques.

For example some of the kicking techniques seen in modern karate were taught in the nineteenth century by ju-jutsu instructors. E.J. Harrison says that he was taught a kind of front kick (mae-geri) when he began training in Japan. He wrote, "On an Atemi chart bequeathed to me by my first Jujutsu.teacher1 of the Tenshin Shinyo-ryu at Yokohama, this spot (Suigetsu-the solar plexus) is described as the most secret of that school. When kicking your opponent in this spot, keep the toes curved and deliver the blow with the ball of the foot."2

Harrison explains that "The method being based upon the assumption that the combatants would be barefooted, the kick is not delivered with the toes, but with the ball of the foot: the kick is given with a swift staccato movement, the foot being withdrawn like lightning after the kick. Constant practice on these lines renders the expert's soles so hard that he can kick not only human flesh but inanimate objects of wood or even stone with comparative impunity. The same teacher Hagiwara would often kick one of the supporting wooden pillars of his small wrestling hall so powerfully as to shake the entire house. Obviously no such result could be achieved by using the toes alone, and equally obviously, a human being kicked with such force, especially in a vital spot, would become totally uninterested in the subsequent proceedings."3

Techniques which are sometimes thought of as modern developments are also in evidence. For example the hook kick or reverse roundhouse kick was taught, or at least demonstrated in Great Britain at the beginning of this century. The strongman and ju-jutsu promoter William Bankier asked Sadakazu Uyenishi of the Tenshin Shindo Ryu to demonstrate a way of defending against a punch. Bankier explained what happened. Bankier writes "Uyenishi, Tani's compatriot, was standing in front of me in the attitude of a boxer. I made a lunge at his face with my left arm. Like a flash he turned a complete pirouette or circle. As the circle is completed his right leg was in the air. It was then brought back with all his power, and met me a crashing blow."4

Striking techniques with the hand were also taught, as well as methods of conditioning the striking areas. Yae Kichi Yabe refers to toughening the edge of the hand when he says "Skill in the use of the 'hand's edge' may be acquired by striking a stick suspended by a cord or one thrown in the air. This practice will also harden the edge of the hand which is essential to the successful application on the "hand's edge."5 W.H. Garrud said in 1914 that "The Japanese always strike with the edge of the hand, and they practice striking a stick or piece of wood for the purpose of making the edge of the hand hard."6

William Bankier also referred to what we would now call a shuto or "knife hand." He observed that "Few people are aware that a blow struck in such a way by a man who has made a speciality of this peculiar form of assault.the knockout blow as we know it is nothing by comparison. A downward cut, such as the Jap is now seen to be delivering across the carotid artery running down the side of the neck, could fell the strongest man, provided it was delivered by one who understood how to do it. This form of striking was used by the Samurai or soldiers of Japan, but has now pretty well died out for want of practice. Some of the Japs who made a study of this sort of thing have been known to actually break very large stones with their bare hand. To such an extent had these men developed the heel or side part of the hand that it became almost as hard as stone, and in many cases death has been known to ensue as the result of one of their terrible blows."7

It is interesting to note that tamashiwari was practiced in Japan well before karate was introduced.

H. Irving Hancock and Katsukuma Higashi showed methods of striking the vital points in their work on Kano, Jiu-Jitsu, first published in 1924. They wrote, "Blows may be struck that will cause insensibility or death. Among Occidental readers there is a notion that, because one who has been killed by a fatal blow can be brought back to life, he was not really killed after all. When a fatal jiu-jitsu blow is struck in the right way, the processes of life are mechanically stopped. It requires the prompt manipulations of kuatsu to set these vital forces at work again by mechanical means, and thus to restore life."At some points that may be struck on the human body, the most skillfully delivered blow will produce only insensibility. At other points a skillfully given blow will cause death, while a lighter blow will cause insensibility. "Much depends upon the way that the blow is given. Much depends also upon the size of the striking surface, Thus, a blow given with the protruding second knuckle of the second finger will cause death if the blow be struck at a deadly point, whereas the blow struck with a clenched fist at the same point would hardly daze the victim. "Deadly blows are generally struck with the second knuckle of the second finger, with the point of the elbow, or with the point of the foot. These blows may be administered, when necessary, while grappling with an adversary."8

H. Irving Hancock demonstrated the use of the knife hand in his book Japanese Physical Training (1903) where he shows a technique almost identical to the application of the knife hand strike found in the Goju Ryu kata Gekkisai dai Ichi, i.e. as a counter-attack to the throat.9 He says that he has used this technique "in earnest with results most satisfactory to himself." In his Jiu Jitsu Combat Tricks (1904) Hancock elaborated on the use of the edge of the hand where it is used to defeat the attacks of a boxer.10

The Tenshin Shinyo Ryu was noted for its expertise in striking methods. E. J. Harrison wrote, "The founder of the Tenshin Shinyo-ryu was Yanagi Sekizai Minamoto-no-Masatari, who was born in Seishin. He was attached to the feudal lord of Kishiu, his original name being Okayama Hochiroji. He acquired an early taste for warlike arts, and on attaining his fifteenth year proceeded to Kyoto, where he studied Ju-Jitsu for six or seven years under Hitosuyanagi Oride, who was a retainer of Lord Hitotsuyanagi and a well-known master of the art. After the death of his teacher he joined one Honma Joyemon, an exponent of the Shinnoshindo-ryu, whose teachings he thoroughly mastered in six years.

This done, he travelled through the country and tried conclusions with different champions, being successful in every encounter. He stayed two or three years at Kusatsu in Joshiu, where he gained many 'disciples' (montei, in Japanese). On one notable occasion, assisted by Nishimura, one of his pupils, he encountered more than a hundred lawless ruffians, whom he put to flight after soundly drubbing them.

"This teacher further elaborated atemi, the art of inducing a state of apparent death or, if necessary, actually slaying an adversary, by kicking and striking certain vital spots in the body; and kwappo, or the art of resuscitation. In the long run he established his school of the Tenshin Shinyo-ryu, and fixed the number of 'te,' or tricks, at one hundred and twenty-four. He again toured the country, improving his art, and finally went to Yedo (now Tokyo), where, after the characteristic and bewildering Japanese fashion, he changed his name to Kuriyama Matayemon and became a retainer of the Tokugawa Government. Later he again changed his name to Iso Matayemon Yanagi Sekizai Minamoto-no-Masatari. His fame continued to spread and the number of his pupils increased to five thousand. I may mention, as an incidental personal detail, that my first introduction to the study of Ju-Jitsu was as a 'disciple' of the Tenshin Shinyo-ryu at Yokohama, where I gained a diploma as shodan, the lowest teaching grade, before entering the Kodokwan (sic) in Tokyo.

"The sceptical West may smile in a superior sort of way when reading the foregoing stories of the prowess of the old-time teachers, but incidents scarcely less remarkable have come under my own personal observation during my residence in Japan, and I am therefore quite prepared to accept them as substantially correct. Here are a few examples, which I noted at the time. Two Kodokwan teachers, Messrs. Yokoyama (now dead) and Mifune, were once assaulted by seventeen coolies in a meat shop-a sort of popular restaurant. Although some of the coolies were armed with knives the gang were dispersed in a twinkling, three of them with broken arms and all with bruised and battered faces. As fast as one of the experts artistically 'downed' his man, the other would pick the victim up like an empty sack and dump him unceremoniously into the street.

The only evidence of the conflict on the side of the two experts took the form of skinned knuckles where the latter had come into contact with the coolies' teeth. On another occasion a celebrated expert fell foul of a coolie in the upper room of a restaurant and promptly threw him downstairs. The coolie returned to the fray with fourteen comrades, but the expert calmly sat at the head of the stairs, and as fast as the coolies came up in single file, owing to the narrowness of the passage, he simply choked them in detail and hurled them down again. In the excitement of the moment he was rather rougher than was strictly necessary, and so broke one man's neck. The rest fled in terror carrying off their dead and wounded."11

A Kodokan 7th dan, Dr. Yasushi Yamada wrote an article on the Important Points About Atemi included in Yamada wrote:

"Every Ju Jutsu School has its secrets, especially concerning the points of Atemi. The historical background of Atemi is therefore very obscure."

One could call Atemi "attacking the most vital points of the enemy when one is unarmed." As in most arts, the origin of Atemi is extremely controversial, and there are many theories. I think that it originated in the reign of the 11th Emperor Suinin, about 50 years B.C.

According to the ancient Ko-Do-Ki, (probably Kojiki) 2,000 years ago, this is how the first Atemi fight took place.

"In July in the seventh year of the reign of Suinin, a trial of strength was arranged in the Court of the Emperor between Nomino Sukune and Tomano Kehaya.

"Sukune had a fair complexion, a powerful frame, and a noble presence, He was 6'-7" tall (2m 00). Kehaya was 7'-2" in height (2m 30), his skin was dark, he had piercing eyes and his hair was close-cropped."

"On the signal being given, the two athletes hurled themselves upon each other with loud cries, separated, then closed again, and clutched each other many times until Sukune, the more cunning of the two, seeing that his opponent was becoming tired and therefore dangerous, struck the latter a violent blow on the chest. Kehaya fell on his back, and when Sukune had kicked him a couple of times, the blood began to pour from his mouth and he expired."

This is the first recorded fight in history in which Atemi was used. Through my enquiries, I discovered that there were 106 Schools of Ju Jutsu in Japan which teach the principles of Atemi, each in a slightly different way; and, if one classifies these methods, there remains a total of 80.

On examination, one notices that they are almost the same as the points of acupuncture, and that they correspond to the 660 places where one plants the needle, that is to say that at all times our entire body is exposed to the art of Atemi.

In attacking, there are 38 methods:

With the use of the fingers 13
With the fist 10
With the ulna border of the hand, the palm, elbow 7
With the foot 5
With the head 3

As each can be applied to right or left, this makes a total of 76, without counting the different variations in the manner of applying the blows.

In striking in Atemi, one must strengthen the mind and the body. Occasionally when the need is great and one's life is in danger, one must use whatever comes to hand in striking at the vital points:with a glass, stick, burning brand, boiling water, etc. the most important point here being to strike only at the vital points.

Here is a list of 80 Atemi points, easily to be found on the anatomical charts in works on acupuncture:

Head 19 points
Neck 9 points
Chest 16 points
Stomach 17 points
Arm 6 points
Leg 13 points

Even after karate became well established in Japan and the West the striking methods taught within ju-jutsu and Judo continued to be taught. The founder of Judo Jigoro Kano included a section on Ate-waza ("The Art of Attacking the Vital Points") in the small book he wrote on Judo (Jujutsu) in 1937. He included methods of striking with the fingertips, the fist, knife hand, elbow, ball of the foot i.e. mae-geri and other kicks including yokogeri and ushirogeri. It seems likely that by this time some of the striking methods taught within Judo were directly influenced by the teachings of Gichin Funakoshi.

Striking techniques and training methods were often included in works on Judo and self defense published in the 1950s, usually within the sections on techniques for striking the vital points or Atemi waza. Hubert Klinger-Klingerstorff, Judo instructor at the University of Vienna, included knife hand strikes (shuto-uchi), spear hand (nukite), and a kind of instep front kick (mae-geri) in his work on Judo published in 1952. He recommends striking sand bags etc. to condition the hands and feet, and describes the how to perform the techniques in terms that a karate-ka would be familiar with.13

E.J. Harrison wrote in 1953 that "Since the methods of Atemiwaza comprise not only hitting vital spots with the fist but poking with the fingers, 'chopping' with the little finger edge of the hand, jabbing with the elbow, battering with the head, jolting with the knee-cap and kicking with the ball of the foot and the heel, it is clear that unlike Randori or Kata, Atemiwaza could not be safely practiced with a human partner or only to a very limited extent. Use is therefore made of rolled straw,14 sand bags, the punching ball or even a wooden wall so as to develop the necessary degree of accuracy and power in applying the various techniques."15

Harry Ewan's Modern Judo and Self-Defence (1957) includes photographs of a female Judo-ka demonstrating a spearhand strike to the eyes, a knee strike to the groin, and a side kick to the knee of an attacker.16

The author points out that in Judo such techniques are known as "atemi.the most deadly of the fighting arts" which can be "traced directly from 'Chinese Boxing' a pastime of China used as self-defence long before the birth of Christ. In atemi an attack on the vital spots of the body to bring about pain, unconsciousness or even death is made. It is vital to appreciate just how powerful a weapon atemi can be, and you must.only resort to these blows when you are really in serious trouble. I can assure you that should you not take very great care you can maim or kill someone.The blows are executed with the edge of the hand, knee, fingers, elbows, fist, heel and sole of foot."17

Pat Butler's Popular Judo (1958) also includes methods of kicking and striking and also a defence against a strangle which resembles movements found in Bassai-dai kata.18

According to M.G. Harvey "All blows of Ate waza must be made as a sharp whip-like or stabbing action, not a ponderous blow. In Japan, serious students of Ate waza and Karate practice the hardening of the foot by kicking the balls of their feet against a wall."19

While the older schools of ju-jutsu continued to teach methods of striking the art of atemi-waza gradually fell into disuse in Judo. This was probably caused by the adoption of Judo as an Olympic sport in the 1960s and the movement away from the idea of Judo as a method of self defence.


1. Ryoshinsai Hagiwara according to The Fighting Spirit of Japan 1913 p 15

2. The Manual of Judo E.J. Harrison W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd, London 1953 p 157

3. Wrestling E.J. Harrison W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd, London 1960 p 78

4. Ju-Jitsu: What it Really Is William Bankier London 1905 pp 126-7

5. A Course of Instruction in Jiu-Jitsu Yae Kichi Yabe Clark, Dudley & Co. 1904 p 588

6. The Complete Jujitsuan W. H. Garrud Methuen & Co. Ltd., London 1919 p 34

7. Ju-Jitsu: What it Really Is William Bankier London 1905 pp 147-150

8. The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu H. Irving Hancock and Katsukuma Higashi G. P. Putnam's Sons London & New York 1931 p 501

9. Japanese Physical Training H. Irving Hancock The Knickerbocker Press G. P. Putnam's Sons London & New York 1903 p 100

10. Jiu Jitsu Combat Tricks H. Irving Hancock 1904 republished by Dragon Associates Inc. California 1997

11. The Art of Ju-Jitsu E. J. Harrison W. Foulsham and Co. London, no date but circa 1946 pp 17-19

12. Judo International Magazine Henri Plee Editions A.M.I. Paris 1950

13. Judo Self-Taught in Pictures Hubert Klinger-Klingerstorff Herbert Jenkins London 1952 pp 156-160

14. "Rolled straw" is probably a translation of "makiwara" which may indicate an influence from karate techniques and methods.

15. The Manual of Judo E.J. Harrison W. Foulsham and Co. Ltd., London 1953 p 153

16. Modern Judo and Self-Defence Harry Ewan Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1957 illustrations 122-124

17. Modern Judo and Self-Defence Harry Ewan Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1957 p 76

18. Popular Judo Pat Butler Thorsens Publishers Ltd., London 1958 pp 66-76

19. Self-Defence by Judo Captain M.G. Harvey Nicholas Kaye Ltd., London 1959 p 52