top of page

Down and Out

The Origins of Jujutsu’s finishing holds

The origins of Jujutsu can be traced way back beyond the 11th century. It is one of the oldest Martial arts in existence. Well over 2500 years old but still exists in some form today. Which is truly amazing.

But the jujutsu that most of us know today is a far cry from the original art.

Samurai Jujutsu in its original battlefield form was to complement weapons skills. The Samurai were master archers as well as expert spear and swordsmen.

When Samurai clashed at close quarters on foot on a battlefield then Katana (long sword), Wakizashi (short sword) and Tanto (knife) were employed to kill the enemy.

At this range grappling techniques in armour were also used (Kumiuchi).

These techniques usually involved trips, sweeps and unbalancing over the leg or hip.

Gripping wasn’t particularly used as armour prevented this. Hooking of the limbs and pushing and pulling were emphasised to put the enemy on the ground to be dispatched with a blade.

Unarmed striking was also at this stage absent as once more it was ineffective against heavy armour.

Gaps in the armour at neck level, armpit and groin enabled a blade to penetrate into vital points at close range such as the carotid (neck), axillary(armpit), and femoral (groin) arteries.

Later when armour was no longer worn unarmed strikes became prevalent to these points bearing the origins in their names such as knife hand strike and spear finger strike.

Tiger claw gouging or ripping to the face leant itself to a Samurai in battle trying to pull away the armoured face mask of an enemy.

At this early stage jujutsu bore little resemblance to what we see today.

Along with grappling techniques were joint locking and joint breaking all executed with the aim to disarm the enemy’s weapon and disable their limbs preventing them from using their own weapons again more so than to control or restrain them.

They were locked into a position of excruciating pain and immobilisation so that they could be dispatched with a blade.

In Japanese jujutsu many of these finishing positions remain today although we may not realise, they are associated with weapon control and weapon usage.

The groundwork locks, hold downs and chokes etc come much later in the evolution of jujutsu/judo.

Going to the ground would be suicidal on a battle field and even today against a multiple attack it would not be a smart thing to do.

The hold downs, pins and immobilisations have over time been adapted by many law enforcement agencies for control and restraint purposes and have taken on another life but the original purposes may not be as well know.

Pinning with the knees was an essential controlling technique to hold an enemy in place to administer a killing stroke with a blade and at the same time disarm their weapon.

Now in law enforcement or security they can be used to aid cuffing a suspect.

Some practitioners of jujutsu may not even realise this fact.

In today’s society of knife culture these techniques still hold up and can be adapted effectively to deal with the threat of edged weapons attack.

Having these pinning and control techniques in your arsenal stop you diving to the floor to submit or subdue an attacker and then leave yourself vulnerable to being kicked, bludgeoned, or stabbed by a third party.

They is a motto which I use in my Combat jujutsu system and it is as follows,

Learn to fight on the floor but do not go to the floor in a fight.

The exceptions to this is if it was unavoidable or it was tactically the correct thing to do.

Many of these techniques pinning and locking techniques are no longer taught or have become lost in the midst of time.

In this day and age now even Brazilian jujutsu which was know for its highly effective ground submissions has mainly become a sport of holding and point scoring where the big percentage of participants have lost the instinct to chase a submission, hunt down a finish and get a tap.

The combative nature of jujutsu is being watered down so the younger person coming into the art would not even be aware of its ‘Martial ‘roots.

Wrist grab techniques can be frowned on today as useless and redundant (tell a female or child that if they are being abducted).

The origins of the wrist being grabbed were employed to stop a sword being drawn.

In that environment grabbing a wrist was essential and a life saver.

The person having their wrist grabbed soon learn how to disengage the grip or execute a lock of their own to be able to free their weapon.

A law enforcement officer would need the same skill snow on the street to stop their wrist being grabbed and their weapon taken from them.

When you understand this so can see the reasoning behind it.

You must appreciate all Martial arts came from the use of weapons.

If we could use weapons legally today, we would surely favour them in the real world over rolling around on the floor looking for an armbar or using a jump spinning back kick.

Martial arts were never intended to be unarmed it became a way of preserving those skills and re packaging when the art of the sword died.

Finally, they were sold to the general public as what we know them as today.

In the Combat jujutsu system, I still preserve its roots but also make it relevant for combative use on today’s streets.

I find it a disappointment that many young people do not seem to see the connection or want to explore it.

Jujutsu for me is not a sport it is a combative art that owes everything to weapons.

I have completed in decent levels of sport jujutsu but for me personally it was like taking the teeth and claws out of the art where there were to many rules and restrictions.

Unarmed Jujutsu only became prevalent in the 17th century were wearing of armour and the sword was abolished.

More striking techniques were introduced from Chinese Kenpo and they were combined with throws, locks, chokes etc.

Many of the strikes were used to distract the attacker to apply a lock or throw others were developed to be finishers in their own right.

So that the art didn’t perish it was re-evented using more unarmed techniques and so it was re-born but when World War 1 and 2 appeared the Marines and Commandos once again learnt the more nefarious techniques of the art to kill the enemy if they did have a weapon.

By the start of the 20th century although the art was still using the name Jujutsu it was now to all intents and purposes Judo.

Throws and groundwork were now more prevalent and the combative side of the art was disappearing.

Having said that certain groups and individuals kept the original art of jujutsu going but it went more underground until a big resurgence in the UK in the late 60’s and then 70’s onward.

The North was the stronghold for this art. Liverpool, Rochdale, Bolton as well as North Wales.

Jujutsu flourished once again as a combative art.

The pins, controls and finishes of Japanese Combative jujutsu are quite unique and still highly relevant today as they were 2500 years ago.

Study the following images to get a better understanding of how these holds were employed and why.

Kevin O’Hagan 8th Dan Japanese Combat Jujutsu.


In many ways almost every Japanese Martial arts style is related to Jujutsu and many other styles are heavily influenced by it.

These include: Brazil Jujutsu took the jujitsu/judo concepts learned from Mitsuyo Maeda and founded an art with a heavy ground emphasis. The guard, or a way to fight off of one's back, is an integral part of the art.

Judo took jujutsu concepts and modified them to the extent that they could become a sport in Japan and worldwide. That sport was named judo. The two arts are extremely similar but have different focuses. Also, jujutsu is more about finishing an attacker in any way possible (which is why it is not a sport).

167 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Lessons learnt in my Martial arts journey

Next year I celebrate 50 years involved in training, competing and coaching in the Martial arts. I have done and seen much from the first time I stepped into a training hall in late 1974. Over that ti

Self defence techniques arethe band aid of Martial arts.

Recently on line I have seen many people discussing the merits of what self defence training is and isn’t. I would like to give you my personal take on what I believe is self- defence training in comp


bottom of page