Old School Jujutsu vs Modern Submission Grappling

Old Shool Jujutsu vs Modern Submission Grappling

By Kevin O'Hagan - 7th Dan Masters grade Combat Jujutsu

How does modern day grappling methods stack up against the ‘Old School’ traditional systems? Is one better than the other or just different? What do each emphasis and how does their training differ? These are all interesting questions and worthwhile examining.

Old School Origins of Grappling

Firstly it is worth realising that the modern grappling systems owe much to the ancient ones. Without the old school methods there would be no new school methods. We should pay great respect to the traditional methods but also not live in the past. Everything evolves otherwise we would as human beings would still be swimming in the sea, riding horses and carts instead of cars, or going into war with a blunderbuss or flintlock instead of the hi-tech weaponary of today.

But the modern submission grappler needs to appreciate the fact that the rear naked choke, straight arm bar and Achilles leg lock have been around many centuries, maybe even longer.

4000 year sculptures of wrestlers performing throws, trips and holds can be seen on the walls of tombs in Egypt. Also in 648 BC the Greeks were training in Pankration, a vicious and deadly early form of what could be described as the origins of modern day MMA.

In feudal Japan from 1467-1573 the Samurai Warriors were using the skills of Jujutsu on the battlefields in life or death combat. Late 1800 to early 1900 century saw the rise of ‘catch as can’ and freestyle wrestling, which used along with standard arm locks, leg locks, chokes, vicious neck cranks, spinal twists, gouges and rips.

Modern Origins of Grappling

A lot of modern day submission wrestling owes its techniques to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ descended from Pre-World War 2 Judo, which in turn was heavily influenced by classical Japanese Jujutsu.

The influence of BJJ in submission wrestling and indeed MMA can be seen by the positions and submissions they will use. The most common are the fantastic use of the ‘guard’ position and the favourite finishes of arm bars and triangle leg chokes.

Other systems have also left an impression. Free style and Greco-Roman wrestling for their takedowns and throws .Sambo has used its many leg locks to great effective. Japanese Shooto and Catch as Can wrestling have incorporated many of their punishing cranks, joint twists and stretches.

How Modern Submission Wrestling is trained

Submission Wrestling is usual trained by drilling techniques and then ‘rolling‘ with a partner and putting their training and knowledge into real practice. Nothing is based on theory it is pressure tested. When a submission is applied the opponent will ‘tap out’ to signal defeat.
In training you can get back up and resume or in a real match, bout or fight that will signal
the end of the contest.

Some submission wrestling bouts will take on the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu rules of scoring points for position and control but the standard format is winning by tap out or verbal submission.
The emphasis on these contests is to win with skill, superior techniques and achieving the submission. When the tap out comes the attacker will instantly (in most cases) release the hold. Bad injuries are rare and the mind-set and rules are totally geared to sport and sportsmanship.

Submission wrestling and its like is a great way to test your skills in a tough but controlled environment. Those looking to up the ante will normally progress into MMA where there is a greater intensity because of the striking aspect which is allowed.

How Old School Jujutsu was trained

Unarmed combat was just part of traditional Japanese Jujutsu. The samurai where first and foremost masters of the sword. It was their life’s blood. In battle the Katana (long sword) was their weapon of choice, followed by the shorter Wakizashi and finally the Tanto (knife).They also learnt a host of other weaponry. Unarmed Jujutsu techniques were either used in tandem with weapons or as a last resort if the weapons were not available.

Early forms of Jujutsu were then called Kumiuchi or grappling in armour. This could be a difficult thing to do and the priority for the Samurai was to trip or throw their enemy to the ground to finish them with a weapon or deliver killing bare handed strikes. Imagine our Military troops today grappling in full kit, with a Bergen on their back. This would be cumbersome and limit their choice of fighting techniques. No flying arm bars here! 

Grappling on the ground was nearly nonexistent. For one thing rolling around on the ground in real combat can get you killed and two - a full set of armour would impede any ground grappling technique. How fast would you be able to get to your feet again?  

Strikes and chokes were used to exposed parts of the body that was not covered by armour. Hence many open handed strikes to get into hard to hit areas and chokes hit the windpipe in preference to strangles to the carotid arteries.

The job of the Samurai was to kill not get their enemy to tap out. Their mindset and approach to training was totally different to today’s modern sporting grappler.
This is why strikes and pressure point gouges were used in conjunction with grappling locks and holds. The holds mostly became joint breaks and limb destructions.

Jujutsu was taught with a partner in katas or pre-arranged drills, due to the dangerous nature of the techniques. If you look at the long list of techniques banned from sport grappling and MMA, those were the main techniques of traditional Jujutsu and still are.

Differences of technique application

As mentioned previously the aims of the old school and new school grappler are different and that can reflect in the technique application.

In modern grappling matches the rear naked choke has proved a fight finisher over and over. In real world combat that stands true too. But remember for the Samurai being on the floor with his back exposed to a second person possibly stabbing him with a blade was not the best tactic.

You would have found them dropping the attacker to a seated position to finish a choke or kneel on their spine to do it, hence being able to get up quickly and also view other threats. Many Jujutsu locks were executed with an attacker grounded and the other kneeling on their necks or bodies to control and finish them. The classic straight arm bar from the floor, seen often in modern grappling, was rarely used because of the fear of being stabbed whilst lying on the ground. 

These tactics lend well to real world combat and self defence today. Today’s grappler work the guard lying on their backs, again not a great position for the Samurai in armour but as anti-rape defence techniques for females then guard training is absolutely essential.

In the competitive arena of say BJJ guard tactics are great to work and use. In MMA the guard is not quite some potent as you still can pick up a lot damage from strikes. In the pavement arena it is a risky and dangerous position to court as your ‘go to’ technique.
In real world combat it would be suicidal. Staying on your feet in mass attack whether it be on the battlefields or the streets is essential and your first priority.

I like to use the motto ‘Learn to fight from the floor but don’t go to the floor to fight’.
Today’s modern grappler is fond of saying 90% of fights end up on the ground which may be true but remember nearly a 100% start standing.

Traditional Jujustu's transition into Judo

As feudal times ended many Jujutsu systems disappeared or went underground. Westernized Japan didn't want to teach these warfare arts any longer and Jujutsu made a transition finally into Judo although it kept its name for some whilst during the transition.
Many early 20th century texts carried the name Jujutsu but where all but really by then Judo.

The more combative techniques were missing. This not to say Judo cannot be an effective form of self-defense but the main emphasis was on sport and its approach is totally different.

Authentic Japanese Jujutsu re-appeared in the UK in the late 60’s and early 70’s under notable masters such as Robert Clark and Richard Morris. They re-introduced the full combat elements of Traditional Jujutsu but now in a more modern context. They kept traditional values and etiquette but also embraced the self-defense needs of the’ Modern Warrior’, who was no longer fighting fellow Samurai on horseback.

In time others took this concept further in the ‘Goshin’ or modern systems of Jujutsu and this is where in the early 80’s I started by Jujutsu journey.

Strategic Differences between Traditional Jujustu and Modern Day Grappling

For the ancient schools or Ryu of Jujutsu their techniques were ferociously guarded and secret. Remember these techniques would be used in life or death circumstances so they
did not want to share them with others. Mixed training and exchange of techniques were unheard of back then. This 'clannish' type behaviour is which I believe the Traditional Martial Artists derived from.

Modern day grapplers are very open minded and like to travel and train at different clubs and exchange techniques and ideas. Their attitude is very different, as is their approach to their training. Their training is about accumulating as much knowledge from as many sources as possible to improve their technique and win their bouts. Their outlook is not life and death. 

In Conclusion 

I personally over the years have been on both sides of the fence. I embrace the new but also respect where it all originated from. Without the old Masters we would not have the new Masters. It’s as simple as that. Everything was new once.

We have to evolve. Your training methods might change but a lot of the technique is the same. You can’t re-event the wheel.

I feel we can learn from both schools. They both have much to offer depending on what your needs are. It is great to have a sense of lineage back through history with the techniques you are learning but also it is good to be making history yourself as we take our Martial arts training forward - making it applicable to day and not some antiqued thing that no longer stands the test of time.

Enjoy the past history but embrace the change. I know if I didn't adapt over my 40 years in the Martial arts I would not still be teaching and training today.

About the Author:

Kevin O'Hagan has been training and teaching Martial Arts for 37 years at present. He holds the rank of 7th Dan Full Master’s level in Combat Ju Jutsu. He also holds black belt ranks in Japanese Jujutsu and Karate Jutsu.  

He is a senior self protection instructor with the British Combat Association and was recently inducted into Martial arts illustrated magazine ‘Hall of fame’. 


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