What is Jiu Jitsu?

Jiu Jitsu is the unarmed martial art of the medieval warriors of Japan - the Samurai. To understand the history of Jiu Jitsu is to first understand the history of the Samurai. It is based on a system of locking, throwing and striking techniques that enables even a large and/or armed attacker to be default with quickly and effectively.

Whilst the literal translation of ‘jiu jitsu’ is typically taken as ‘gentle art’, anyone who has seen it might be surprised by the translation. In fact it is more accurately ‘yielding art’ whereby the an assailant’s attacks are used against them.

The Samurai who developed the art were men of noble families and were somewhat akin to the knights of Europe. Each Samurai was a military man which meant that he must study the art(s) of war. This in turn led to each family developing its own particular style of fighting. These styles were based around the weapons of the era - swords, polearms, staff and bo. Supplementary arts were also developed - horse riding was very important (joba jitsu) and killing was not always desired leading to arts like hojo jitsu (restraints with rope).

This was of course how Jiu Jitsu came to be created. Jiu Jitsu was developed from many of the more weapon oriented arts drawing upon thrusting, cutting and importantly disarming and restraining techniques. The art of Jiu Jitsu was developed so that a Samurai who found himself without his weapon(s) could still defend himself effectively. Jiu Jitsu was the battle field art of unarmed combat.

As well as the majority of the armed arts, Jiu Jitsu is also believed to owe many of its fundamentals to influence from the Chinese martial arts, though the style is typically not as flowing and quick as the Chinese arts (which are believed to have been derived from even earlier martial arts from India). This is probably because as well as carrying weapons the Samurai also wore armour into battle. Thus Jiu Jitsu is an art that was compatible with fighting in armour and against armoured opponents. This caused the development of Jiu Jitsu to include locking, throwing and pinning techniques as well as the more common place kicking and striking techniques of other martial arts.

Jiu Jitsu was heavily refined over the years and through a survival of the fittest process techniques were refined and improved upon. Several traditional schools survive to this day, but many more have died out and many others find that they are not a “pure” style, but a hybrid or evolutionary one like Shorinji Kan.

Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu

Like many of today’s martial arts, the style of Shorinji Kan is one that has resulted from a blending of many other martial arts and the personal experience of several great teachers. Whilst the style is continually evolving, the core art was introduced in the UK in 1967 by a man called Brian Graham.

Graham developed the style of Shorinji Kan primarily from his study of Jiu Jitsu in Australia with a man called Matthew Komp. However Graham of course added his own interpretation to the style, and the influence of a Korean (hapkido) instructor from whom Graham managed to learn some powerful wrist-locking techniques. As well as Jiu Jitsu, Graham also studied Judo under the instruction of Komp as at this time Jiu Jitsu was not a legal form of martial art in Australia. Anyone familiar with the style of Shorinji Kan will undoubtedly recognise the strong influence that Kodokan Judo has had upon the style - or more likely on Komp’s style of Jiu Jitsu.

Matthew Komp was a German who had studied martial arts for many years before he moved to Footscray, near Melbourne, in the 1950’s. It was here that he began his instruction of Brian Graham in the gentle art. Komp’s style of Jiu Jitsu is yet another amalgamation of martial schools and styles, but the most quoted influence on Komp’s style is that of ‘Shorinji Kempo Jiu Jitsu’ as taught by Ryukyu Myura. Komp was also undoubtedly influenced by Judo as well since he readily accepted this as part of his student’s teachings in the martial arts.

Ryukyu Myura was famously the head instructor for the Tokyo police unarmed combat training, and had of course studied a range of martial arts. Shorinji Kempo, Judo and an amalgamation of several styles of Jiu Jitsu seem to have been the basis for the Shorinji Kempo Jiu Jitsu martial art taught by Myura. Myura’s experiences in the Police will also have had a great deal of influence on the development of the style.

Judo was of course developed by Jigoro Kano from various styles of Jiu Jitsu and Shorinji Kempo by Doshin So (under whom Myura studied) which was derived from Shaolin temple boxing… and so the roots spread deeper and deeper. The modern style cannot accurately be traced much further than this as the records are scarce and more numerous, suffice to say there is a healthy link back to the origins of Jiu Jitsu.

Brian Graham is Shorinji Kan’s founding father, but as well as roots, the style continues to branch out as Graham’s teachings of the late sixties onwards spread.

One of Graham’s first students was a young man called Peter Farrar. After studying with Graham, Farrar began instructing a Jiu Jitsu club at Plymouth polytechnic. His students then went on to open their own clubs teaching Shorinji Kan across the length and breadth of the country. After a few years the administration behind the style grew so much that the National Samurai Jiu Jitsu Association was created.

At the beginning of the 1990’s the association evolved into two organisations. The Jitsu Foundation retained the administration of the style, whilst Studio 3 became involved in running non-jitsu courses for things such as violence awareness and non-aversive behaviour management.

Farrar directed The Jitsu Foundation until his untimely death in 1997 when a he lost his fight against cancer. By this time the number of clubs had grown massively throughout the UK and had firm roots in various countries around the globe.

Brian Graham himself sadly died passed away on the 15th of June 2005 but not before he had seen his student’s organisation grow to become the largest Jiu Jitsu style (measured by number of students) in the UK.

The style continues to grow and there are well over 100 clubs throughout the world. The clubs continue to grow in size and number year by year.

New styles of martial arts are developing all the time, and the style of Aiuchi Jitsu is one particular style that has strong links to Shorinji Kan as many of its founders were students of Graham and Farrar.

The Jiu Jitsu Foundation

Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu is governed by The Jiu Jitsu Foundation (formerly the Jitsu Foundation, TJF) based in the United Kingdom.

The Jiu Jitsu Foundation has a national and in some cases international responsibility for a variety of Jitsu related activities:

  • Maintaining the quality of the jiu jitsu that is taught through the continual personal development of the instructors and students.
  • The licensing of students and the mandating of instructors.
  • Organising (inter-)national events and competitions.

For many years TJF was lead by an individual with the support of a group of senior instructors known as the Tertiary Board. These days the number of senior instructors has grown along with the number of jitsuka studying Jitsu and now TJF is run by a board of instructors with particular instructors taking responsibility for particular areas of development of TJF and Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu.