Jujutsu first began during the Sengoku period of the Muromachi period in 1532 and was founded by Takenouchi Hisamori, a military tactician and lord from Mimasaka Province. Takenouchi combined various Japanese martial arts which were used on the battlefield for close combat in situations where weapons were ineffective. In contrast to the neighbouring nations of China and Okinawa whose martial arts were centered around striking techniques, Japanese hand to hand combat forms focused heavily upon throwing, immobilising, joint-locks and choking as striking techniques were ineffective towards someone wearing armour on the battlefield. The original forms of jujutsu such as Takenouchi-ry also extensively taught parrying and counterattacking long weapons such as swords or spears via a dagger or other small weapon. In the early 17th century during the Edo period, jujutsu would continue to evolve due to the strict laws which were imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate to reduce war as influenced by the Chinese social philosophy of Neo-Confucianism which was obtained during Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea and spread throughout Japan via scholars such as Fujiwara Seika. During this new ideology weapons and armor became unused decorative items, so hand to hand combat flourished as a form of self-defense and new techniques were created to adapt to the changing situation of unarmored opponents. This included the development of various striking techniques in jujutsu which expanded upon the limited striking previously found in jujutsu which targeted vital areas above the shoulders such as the eyes, throat and back of the neck. However towards the 18th century the number of striking techniques was severely reduced as they were considered less effective and exert too much energy; instead striking in jujutsu primarily became used as a way to distract your opponent or to unbalance them in lead up to a joint-lock, strangle or throw. During the same period the numerous jujutsu schools would challenge each other to duels which became a popular pastime for warriors under a peaceful unified government, from these challenges randori was created to practice without risk of breaking the law and the various styles of each school evolved from combating each other without intention to kill.
The term jujutsu was not coined until the 17th century, after which time it became a blanket term for a wide variety of grappling-related disciplines and techniques. Prior to that time, these skills had names such as “short sword grappling” (kogusoku koshi no mawari), “grappling” ( kumiuchi), “body art” (taijutsu), “softness” (yawara), “art of harmony” (wajutsu, yawarajutsu), “catching hand” (torite), and even the “way of softness” (as early as 1724, almost two centuries before Kan Jigor founded the modern art of Kodokan Judo).
Today, the systems of unarmed combat that were developed and practiced during the Muromachi period (1333–1573) are referred to collectively as Japanese old-style jujutsu (Nihon kory jujutsu). At this period in history, the systems practiced were not systems of unarmed combat, but rather means for an unarmed or lightly armed warrior to fight a heavily armed and armored enemy on the battlefield. In battle, it was often impossible for a samurai to use his long sword, and would therefore be forced to rely on his short sword, dagger, or bare hands. When fully armored, the effective use of such “minor” weapons necessitated the employment of grappling skills.
Methods of combat (as mentioned above) included striking (kicking and punching), throwing (body throws, joint-lock throws, unbalance throws), restraining (pinning, strangling, grappling, wrestling) and weaponry. Defensive tactics included blocking, evading, off-balancing, blending and escaping. Minor weapons such as the tanto (knife), ryofundo kusari (weighted chain), kabuto wari (helmet smasher), and kakushi buki (secret or disguised weapons) were almost always included in Sengoku jujutsu.
In later times, other koryu developed into systems more familiar to the practitioners of Nihon jujutsu commonly seen today. These are correctly classified as Edo jujutsu (founded during the Edo period): they are generally designed to deal with opponents neither wearing armor nor in a battlefield environment. Most systems of Edo jujutsu include extensive use of atemi waza (vital-striking technique), which would be of little use against an armored opponent on a battlefield. They would, however, be quite valuable in confronting an enemy or opponent during peacetime dressed in normal street attire (referred to as “suhada bujutsu”). Occasionally, inconspicuous weapons such as tanto (daggers) or tessen (iron fans) were included in the curriculum of Edo jujutsu.
Another seldom-seen historical side is a series of techniques originally included in both Sengoku and Edo jujutsu systems. Referred to as hojo waza (hojojutsu, torinawa jutsu, nawa jutsu, hayanawa and others), it involves the use of a hojo cord, (sometimes the sageo or tasuke) to restrain or strangle an attacker. These techniques have for the most part faded from use in modern times, but Tokyo police units still train in their use and continue to carry a hojo cord in addition to handcuffs. The very old Takenouchi-ryu is one of the better-recognized systems that continue extensive training in hojo waza. Since the establishment of the Meiji period with the abolishment of the Samurai and the wearing of swords, the ancient tradition of Yagyu Shingan Ryu (Sendai and Edo lines) has focused much towards the jujutsu (Yawara) contained in its syllabus.
Many other legitimate Nihon jujutsu ryu exist but are not considered koryu (ancient traditions). These are called either Gendai Jujutsu or modern jujutsu. Modern jujutsu traditions were founded after or towards the end of the Tokugawa period (1868), when more than 2000 schools (ryu) of jujutsu existed. Various traditional ryu and ryuha that are commonly thought of as koryu jujutsu are actually gendai jujutsu. Although modern in formation, very few gendai jujutsu systems have direct historical links to ancient traditions and are incorrectly referred to as traditional martial systems or ryu. Their curriculum reflects an obvious bias towards Edo jujutsu systems as opposed to the Sengoku jujutsu systems. The improbability of confronting an armor-clad attacker is the reason for this bias.
Over time, Gendai jujutsu has been embraced by law enforcement officials worldwide and continues to be the foundation for many specialized systems used by police. Perhaps the most famous of these specialized police systems is the Keisatsujutsu (police art) Taiho jutsu (arresting art) system formulated and employed by the Tokyo Police Department.
Jujutsu techniques have been the basis for many military unarmed combat techniques (including British/US/Russian special forces and SO1 police units) for many years.
There are many forms of sport jujutsu, the original and most popular being judo, now an Olympic sport. One of the most common is mixed-style competitions, where competitors apply a variety of strikes, throws, and holds to score points. There are also kata competitions, where competitors of the same style perform techniques and are judged on their performance. There are also freestyle competitions, where competitors take turns attacking each other, and the defender is judged on performance. Another more recent form of competition growing much more popular in Europe is the Random Attack form of competition, which is similar to Randori but more formalized.