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Got “Jiu”? What is the “Jiu” in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

While teaching the standup throws portion of a class at Gracie Barra I was trying to communicate to the class ( largely made up of white belts ) the idea of using your opponent’s momentum to set up the opponent for the throw. I paused and asked the class “Does anybody here know what the “jiu” in jiu-jitsu stands for?” Several sets of shoulders shrugged and blank stares were the response. I saw that I needed to explain further.

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mullen_article5.1_July2014First of all, let’s break up the two words: “jiu” means “gentleness” or “giving way”; the meaning of “jitsu” is “art, practice”. The part we are interested in is the concept of “ju / jiu”. The founder of judo, Dr. Jigoro Kano wrote in his book “Kodokan Judo” (and I can not improve upon his definition) so let us listen to Kano as he explains:

“Jujutsu may be translated as “the gentle art,” judo as “the Way of gentleness,” with the implication of first giving way to ultimately gain victory. 

To understand what is meant by gentleness or giving way, let us say a man is standing before me whose strength is ten, and that my own strength is but seven. If he pushes me as hard as he can, I am sure to be pushed back or knocked down, even if I resist with all my might. This is opposing strength with strength. But if instead of opposing him I give way to the extent he has pushed, withdrawing my body and maintaining my balance, my opponent will lose his balance. Weakened by his awkward position, he will be unable to use all his strength. It will have fallen to three. Because I retain my balance, my strength remains at seven. Now I am stronger than my opponent and can defeat him by using only half my strength, keeping the other half available for some other purpose. Even if you are stronger than your opponent, it is better first to give way. By doing so you conserve energy while exhausting your opponent.

This is but one example of how you can defeat an opponent by giving way. 
It was because so many techniques made use of this principle that the art was named jujutsu.”

In an interview, world class competitor Ryan Hall said “Jiu-jitsu is not a collection of techniques or moves. It is HOW TO MOVE.” What Ryan was communicating was the underlying use of the principle of “giving way” that makes bjj so effective as a fighting sport and art. We tend to focus on specific techniques or positions as the most important part of bjj training – and they ARE important – but in focusing too closely upon finding the perfect move for a situation – we may overlook the idea that it is HOW it is applied that is the ‘secret’ of jiu-jitsu.

mullen_article5_July2014Let’s look at an example I observed in a tournament recently: I saw a pair of highly skilled and conditioned bluebelts start a match. One of the competitors pulled guard and the top competitor attempted to pass to the left with a knee cut guard pass. The competitor on the bottom defended well and the two became locked in a struggle to see who could overcome the other’s leverages and grips. The entire duration of the match elapsed without either having attempted any other technique!

Now, on the surface they were using bjj techniques. However, there was little evidence of using the principle of “ju”. Instead of trying to find an easier way around, the top competitor tried to force his pressure in the same direction and directly opposed the force of the bottom.

Jigoro Kano, observing the match, may have coached the guard passer to first try his pass to the left and cause his opponent to direct all of his defense (grips, angles, posture) in that specific direction. Once the bottom competitor had fully committed his mental intention and physical defense – the passer may have suddenly switched to the opposite direction and run around unopposed to his opponent’s back.

Simply by being flexible tactically and changing direction to the opponent’s weak side – the opponent’s defense may be overcome with far less need of muscular strength and speed.

The last story I’d like to share was something one of my old bjj instructors said in class. We watched a titanic struggle where one student had unsuccessfully tried to attack the other with a kimura for several minutes in the match. Unable to break the opponent’s defensive grip, he returned to the instructor and asked what else could he have done to get the kimura? Was there a grip break he needed? Did he need to spend more time on weights and get stronger? The instructor slowly shook his head “You can not keep trying to walk through a wall!” He mimicked banging his head against an immovable wall, “You have to look for another way,..look for a window on the other side!” The frustrated student, realizing the point, understood his mistake. The kimura works, but he was not using the principle of “ju” to make the kimura effective.

The next time you are stuck in a position, instead of trying to walk through that wall, utilize the concept of “ju” and look for an easier route. Jigoro Kano would nod in approval!

Credits: Mark Mullen 
GB Black belt from Gracie Barra Calgary, Canada
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ

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