Kosuke Nagaki
Assistant Professor
Hyogo Educational University


Under bujutsu, it is basic criterion to question actual fighting performance capabilities as equal to its ability. The goal of this article is to clarify the birth of different jujutsu discipline and its branching out as well as to clarify the path to unification of such disciplines under the efforts of the Kodokan and explain the principle of free competition under the merit system as well as to further contemplate the reasons and meanings of randori.

Birth of different jujutsu disciplines and merit system

The basic forms of jujutsu disciplines were formed in Sengoku Era (between 1477 to 1573) and were further modified in the early stages of the Edo era (between 1600 to 1650). Such form, of disciplines (ryu), included Sekiguchi-ryu Takeuchi-ryu Yoshin-ryu and Kito-ryu and were widely utilized by the different clans the Edo era and were continued to the Meiji era ( around 1868). These disciplines are considered the main original forms of jujutsu. Master Jigoro Kano whom established the Kodokan in 1868, studied Tenshinmayo-ryu and Kito-ryu which are a branch form of the Yoshin-ryu and from these two main disciplines he was able to learn the essence or jujutsu.

Ryu-ha (form of disciplines and group) is a formal organization and its main purpose is to access technique. Conditions for existence of such organizations can be described as: emergence of genius like expert or master, techniques are systematized, practice methods between teacher and student are established. Also the head of such a ryu-ha must obviously be a master in his technique and ability. Where disciples are to be ranked (rank documents issued) the disciples ability were considered first. Other than ability, other considerations were given to age, blood relation, obligation, contribution and donations.

The basis for selection under ability has basically ascended from the prior years or war between the different clans when actual battle did take place and where actual fighting ability was highly regarded as the basis of bujutsu. In addition, the originators of such disciplines as the Sekiguchi-ryu and Takeuchi-ryu as well as the other oriental discipline groups had always traveled throughout the country in search of the best talent and through such actual battles were able to further formalize the ryu-ha involved. As such, ability being the center of focus was natural.

Free competition between the different disciplines (ryu-ha)

Throughout the mid-Edo era, several ryu-ha’s were formed into organizations as well as several branch disciplines. The social dynamics of the time for such an event to take place is said to be the structure of Bakuhan (Shogunate-Clan structure). Under this structure, the clan’s military power was under control and supervision of the shogunate, however such military strengths and methods were kept highly secret. As such, each clan was able to choose the discipline type of the bujutsu form, and the selected discipline was considered as belonging to the clan and not the individual. In addition, agreements of the bujutsu master and the clan were for only one generation and there were no guarantees that the clan would continue to use the same discipline after the agreement was fulfilled. In such conditions it was impossible for one type of discipline to spread throughout the country and for the most part, one clan/one discipline was the norm and this trend spread rapidly. Reportedly, fifty-eight clans and the type of discipline utilized, found that eighty percent of the clans were the sole users of one type of discipline from the sixtyeight types available at the time.

The clan leader obviously searched for a highly skilled master (teacher) for his clan, and the jujutsu master had to market his technique as original and superior to others. It is considered that as a jujutsu-master being contracted by a clan had the most monetary stability and status and such a position was sought out by most jujutsu masters of that time.

From such climates free competition between different disciplines occurred and from the original few types of discipline that were available in the early Edo era (1600-1650), the number grew to approximately 200 discipline types by the end of the Edo era (1800-1868). It is said that over 750 discipline types existed for Kenjutsu (sword display). Reportedly, most of the new disciplines were for one clan only, however, all the new disciplines were bi-products of the original discipline and its influence was obvious. Where they did not give such discipline the original name and rather gave it a name of its own as well as its own structure is an example of the jujutsu climate of the time, where the original discipline was modified due to free will or by necessity.

As a matter of fact, frequently a dissatisfied highly ranked disciple would move away from the original discipline studied and take up a new discipline or make a new discipline and undertake action on his own. Especially during the mid Edo era, there were many jujutsu experts whom would study two or even three types of disciplines.

As for the masters of the several different disciplines, they always attempted to keep their form of discipline (technique and spirit) a secret and would force the discipline to secrecy as not to teach outside the discipline group. However such attempts would be only in form, and were not able to be actually enforced. Even on a personal level, the merit system would be in place and made the free competition flourish further.

Signs of consolidation of disciplines in the later stages of the Edo era

On the other hand, during the mid to late Edo era, known as the “tahei no yo” period, most bujutsu starts to depart from the actual fighting scene and would become more of an art form. Each group started to exemplify the need for spiritual principles, and for a short time enters a more extreme and self-satisfying era where technique based ability was less important.

However, in the later part of the Edo era, due to the threat from overseas and several riots from the farmers, the shogunate itself started to promote bujutsu and the discipline groups would start to reflect its own actual fighting capabilities once again. In such climate, interdiscipline matches would become popular. At the time, the technical contents of the jujutsu disciplines were basically taught and passed on by “Kata” (form). “Kata” was based on actual fighting techniques and were patterned and served well in the teachings between master and disciple. “Kata” utilized were dependent on the level of the disciple and for the advanced a high level “kata” could be taught and the master could know how far the disciple has progressed with this patterned “kata” method. In addition, this method was suited to leave such information to later generations in its original form. However, at times where “beauty” was pursued it became more artificial and this was considered dangerous as it would distance itself from the basic requirement of bujutsu which is actual fighting capability. As such. there were no alternative methods to determine which disciplines were superior other than the inter-discipline matches.

Many of the discipline groups had sworn their students not to engage in fighting with other discipline types. However, this only exemplifies the fact that there was lust for fighting other disciplines among the students. They would like to know their true capability by fighting other discipline groups.

With such events the basic “actual fighting capability” would return in the form of “inter-discipline matches” which fueled the free competition amongst the discipline types of that time. From the viewpoint of “actual fighting capability”, consolidation of the overly fractionalized discipline types can be started to be seen.

Unification by Kodokan

When Kodokan Judo was established in 1877, it was one of the discipline forms in the world of jujutsu. From the end of the Edo era to the early parts of the Meiji era (circa 1850-1880) jujutsu as a whole was suffering. However the main discipline types still remained and the police as well as the town dojos (martial art halls) and schools each taught jujutsu on their own. The Kodokan taught mainly school students through its higher ranking disciples but were still on the level of other discipline groups as an organization. The greatest chance for the Kodokan to establish itself came when the “Dainihon Butokukai” (herein referred to as Butokukai) established in 1890, and its implementation of rules and regulations for the jujutsu matches in 1899 and regulations for “jujutsu-kata” established in 1906. Butokukai was established as the governing body of the different types of bujutsu by high ranking government officials, military personnel and policeman to “maintain the samurai spirit” in the Meiji era and the new government system it brought to that era. The Kodokan was an original member from the era and the commencement of the organization occurred in 1905, Master Kano received the degree of jujutsu master of the governing body after yoshinryu’s Hidemi Tozuka and Shiten-ryu’s Kumon Hoshino. He also acted as committee chairman of regulatory committee for the judging and regulation pursuant to the matches and kata disciplinary. In the committee the main ryu-ha and its masters were present and heated discussions took place but in the end, the methods that the Kodokan had already been utilizing were generally selected.

The main reason behind this is general acceptance was that master Kano was able to theoretically add value to jujutsu in a physical education form. In 1889, master Kano had already lectured on such contents at the Dainihon kyoikukai (Japan education committee) under the title of “Judo and its Educational Value”.

It is also viewed that this lecture was in response to the ministry of education’s adverse recommendation to the physical education board based on its studies of “The appropriateness of bujutsu being an educational material” which concluded that “bujutsu is unsuitable for school education material” in 1883. The lecture is separated into sections such as “Judo Physical Education”, “How to Compete with Judo” and “Judo and Mental (Spiritual) Development”. However, the Judo Physical Education section especially seeks new correlation’s between judo, physiology and safety.

Butokukai from its conception had mainly recruited policeman as members, however after the initial years it changed its direction toward school related personnel. This was an effort to make bujutsu enter into the classes of physical education. In later years, Butokukai established “School of bujutsu” to build a basis for educational personnel. In summary, both the Kodokan and Butokukai were very similar to in its quest for jujutsu to become a modern sport in the new era. As it is well known, Master Kano was not only an established jujutsu expert, but also an elite who lead the educational and cultural changes of that time period. The Butokukai recognize Master Kano as the most appropriate selection to lead. As time progressed other famous jujutsu experts all agreed to master Kano’s thoughts on Judo’s acceptance as a modem physical educational sport and gradually were absorbed and unified under the master’s vision. It can be said that under the stipulations and criterion under the government’s organizing body Butokukai, the Kodokan unified the jujutsu sector of the organization.

Significance of randori under unification

In addition to the ability to stipulate theory, Kodokan judo actually integrates theory with actual performance (actual fighting) and this was its principle point. This is well displayed at the Kodokan’s performance in the “randori method”. Opponents each seeking to make “waza” (technique moves to each other. This randori was also utilized by other jujutsu disciplines but Kano’s theory to randor was “safety”, physical strength development and balanced development” as well as “enticing interest in the student”. It is widely known that even as such. safety was especially prioritized and “atemi (hitting)” and “hand and toes and it joints” as well as “wrist and ankle” targeted “wazas (techniques)” were excluded. If there were a no-rule bujutsu match the loser would either be injured or in the worst case, even die. As such, a no-rule actual fighting would never be accepted in a physical educational structure. (By this stand point, the “kata” formed in the Edo era can be said to be useful.) In the lecture mentioned earlier, “Judo and its Educational Value”, master Kano actually demonstrated in front of the attendees randori utilizing young men and said, “As you can see and understand, it is not dangerous and it is very good exercise for the body, and mind”.

By these methods, the significance of randori is that it enabled the individual to test his actual fighting capabilities and techniques freely. In other words, randori guarantees “freedom” within the stipulated rules. This also has similarities of modern sports and its free competition style which were born and spread throughout the world by England in the later part of the 19th century. As Kangawa expresses “The conception of the Judo physical education method not only adds qualitative properties to jujutsu but also the physical randori method brought judo to the modern sporting competition scene. Hence, the development in Japan and internationalization of the Kodokan can be directly attributed to this reason.” In summary, the unification of the different disciplines were made possible by making jujutsu a free competition sport, based on safety.

In fact, in the multi-discipline jujutsu matches where the Kodokan was competing, the randori really revealed its strength. For example, at the bujutsu competition held at the police headquarters in 1885, it is said that the Kodokan dominated the Tozuka-group Yoshin-ryu who were the main powerhouse at the time. These matches were held to determine the jujutsu master for the police headquarters as well as to determine the real ability of the different discipline types. According to the notes of Hajime Isogai, most of the “wazas” utilized in this tournament were ashibarai, kouchigari, hizaguruma. ouchigari and kaeshi waza, basically known as kowaza (small waza) and this light footed but perfected action dominated the osotogari and newaza utilized by the Tozuka group Yoshin ryu. It proved that not only tenacity but the fast body action and movement is the most required necessity for Kodokan Judo. The fast body action and movement can only be developed through free randori practice and this shows that the Kodokan had already been employing randori in its practice methods at that time.

In the later years, the Kodokan continues to demonstrate its dominance in the bujutsu matches held by the police headquarters, unfortunately the rules of such matches have never been made clear. The rules are clarified for the first time in 1899 when Butokukai rules and regulations are established and with similar stipulations, the Kodokan judo randori matches regulations in 1900. However. due to the matches in 1880. it was decided by either nagewaza (throwing techniques) or newaza (ground work techniques), it can be assumed that the dangerous “atemi waza” as well as the “kansetsu waza” (jointlocking techniques) were already excluded and more emphasis on safety had been in place. It is highly possible that the rules and regulations or modified version of the Kodokan’s randori were utilized for such public matches as safety is the foremost important criteria of such events. As such, since the disciples of the Kodokan were already engaging in randori, they had the distinct advantage.

In this way, not only by theory, but also the randori methods of “actual fighting capability” of the Kodokan gradually gains acceptance and makes further advances to the unification of the jujutsu world.


As explained, the Kodokan’s randori enabled the different types of disciplines to engage in matches and compete when Jujitsu was in its unification period and functionally served a major role. In addition, the basis was “safety”, “enhancement of strength” and “interest” which are values required for modern sports. With randori the free competition principles of judo have been unified and are now spreading its stage to the international community and like other sports, are able to enjoy the everlasting free competition.

However, as we all know, the judo that Master Kano sought does not end with randori. The time has progressed from modern time to post modern and beginning with the financial world, all fields are now moving towards “Competition to Coexistence”. This notion of coexistence is also expressed by Master Kano as “Jita Kyoei” (self/others coexist and flourish) in the judo language form, and this ideology should be utilized in modern judo.


This article was published in December 1998 and distributed by Judo Research and Development Group, Inc., Los Angeles, CA. This web page is provided by, USA. Last modified December 1, 2003.