Teaching Grappling: The Combat Way

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

Many people are interested in teaching grappling skills, but too many of them have only a peripheral knowledge of grappling skill and that from the perspective of sport Judo, which taught techniques developed only for sport, not intended for combat. Now I am sure this supposition needs to be explained from a historical point of view, and the answer is actually quit simple.

Jujutsu

          Jujutsu, which has become the generic term for empty hand fighting skills in Japan, is a term believed to have been coined around the sixteenth century, but actually subsumes quite a few fighting arts. Those arts which came under the generic term Jujutsu included; Kempo, Torite, Yawara, Kogusoku, Koshimawari, Wajutsu, Kumiuchi, Taijutsu, and many others.

          Most of these fighting arts were looked upon as auxiliary to the weapon arts. What this meant was that primary training was given to the weapons skills and the empty hand training was designed to back up the weapons, not as an art practiced only by itself. On the other hand, the weapon skills were in need of support for those times when a weapon was broken or simply knocked out of the hands.

          What has confused most people is that since Judo has laying techniques and Kodokan is based on Jujutsu, so it is supposed that Jujutsu has a set of laying down skills. But remember the cause of Jujutsu; it was an art used to back up weapon arts, such as; Naginata jutsu (halberd art), Yari jutsu (spear art), and Ken jutsu (sword art).

          Ask yourself what would happen to a warrior who was facing an opponent on a battlefield, surrounded by enemy soldiers, trying to kill anyone wearing your uniform. Picture that you are engaged in a struggle with an enemy soldier and fall to the ground locked in an embrace over a sword, you having lost yours. Now you could lock the person up and seek to hold them on the ground, but then one of the enemy warriors would run you through with a spear, slice you with a halberd, or remove your head with a sword.

          It is obvious, just by putting the Japanese grappling art in context, taking it out of the realm of sports, that laying around in a battle could not possibly be an effective form of fighting. Where then did Kodokan Judo’s grappling skills come from and why were they practiced as a laying down fighting method?

Kodokan verses Fusen Ryu

          The answer lies in history. It seems that in 1900, the Kodokan, had made quite a reputation for itself by matching against other Jujutsu Dojo in a type of Randori Shiai, free play competition, winning with standing throwing techniques primarily. Much of the reputation was made by the standing throwing skills of Shiro Saigo, a practitioner of Oshikiuchi, the art of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu.

          But then in 1900, the Kodokan matched itself against the Fusen Ryu. At that time Judo did not have Ne Waza, laying techniques, instead they fought standing up, as Kano had been taught in both the Tenshin Shinyo Ryu and Kito Ryu systems he studied. Both Kito Ryu and Tenshin Shinyo Ryu had excellent striking skills and effective throws, since they were created by actual Samurai. Kito Ryu was known primarily for it’s body throws, while Tenshin Shinyo Ryu was famous for it’s immobilizations, very similar to those which are utilized by Aikido today. Pins as applied in these ancient systems were combat oriented, designed to immobilize a sword wielding opponent, and setting them up for either being dispatched with a blade or tied up with Hojojutsu.

          When Kodokan Judo faced off against the Fusen Ryu Jujutsu, the Jujutsuka realized that there was no way they could defeat the Kodokan Judoka on an even footing in a regular standing Randori, thus they decided to use a very sneaky tactic. According to one source, when the Kodokan men and the Fusen Ryu men squared off, the Jujutsuka immediately laid down on the ground. The Kodokan men didn’t know what to do, then the Fusen Ryu practitioners took them to the ground and used chokes and ground joint lock to win the matches. This was the first real loss that the Kodokan had known in eight years.

          Kano took this to mean that if they were going to continue matching other Jujutsu schools they needed a full range of laying techniques. Thus with friends of other Jujutsu systems, among them being Fusen Ryu practitioners, Kano over the next six years formulated the Ne Waza of Kodokan Judo which included three divisions; Katame Waza (locking techniques), Shime Waza (choking techniques), and Osae Waza (holding techniques).

          Many of these techniques, while originally designed for combat, were so highly modified for sporting events, that they no longer retained their original combat significance. In some cases the moves have no immediate combat significance outside of the sporting arena.

          Due to the Randori Shiai competitions between Judo and Jujutsu schools, the standing and laying techniques became well known throughout the Oriental world. As the arts spread beyond Japan, especially during the early 1900s, Judo and Jujutsu practitioners popularized their arts by taking on all comers in sideshows or at theaters. This led to the idea of trying out the skills in a wrestling challenge as being a way of testing ones skill and creating interest in the art. Yet many of the skills used in these events were designed only for ‘friendly’ competition and not intended for life and death battle on the battlefield or even for self defense on the street. Many of these skills are only good for civilized competition, even when it is extremely brutal.

Combat Grappling Skills

          What then are the combat grappling skills? First of all, there are throws. The idea of throwing, combat skills, is to injure the opponent when they hit the ground or to set them up for a finishing move, which was usually designed to break a limb or damage a joint. Throws were designed to be done standing, though there developed a set of throws that took advantage of an opponent making you fall, which you then turned into a throw which hurled them to the ground as well. These were counter throws or methods of taking a slip of the foot and turning it from a simple fall to the ground into a throw. In example, if a person is trying to throw an opponent with an Ukiotoshi, floating drop, but slips and begins to fall, they can change the standing throw into an Ukiwaza, floating technique, which throws the assailant in the same way, but as the defender falls to the ground.

          Second there are joint techniques, which generally attack the wrist, shoulder, or elbow. There are some designed to attack the knee, though these are less joint locks, though there are a few, and more low kicks intended to collapsed the knee or shatter the joint. Once again, these were intended for use standing.

          Finally, there are chokes of three types. The first type attacks the air supply by collapsing the windpipe. These chokes were not originally designed to be applied gently, so that they cause a person to capitulate in competition. They were designed to be slammed on, many times causing severe damage, which would kill their opponent quickly.

          The second type of choke was a blood strangle. This was a movement intended to angularly apply pressure to the carotid arteries. By cutting off the blood to the brain an opponent can be rendered unconscious in just five seconds. But once again, these were developed for fighting in actual combat and death can result from a blood choke in just seven seconds.

          Finally, there is one more type of choke, but which uses the alternate meaning of Shime, the Japanese word normally translated strangle, but which can also mean, wring. This final division deals with breaking the neck of an opponent. Some of the most ancient methods were designed to utilize the helmet to aid in breaking the neck of an opponent in armor. But there were many developed during the Tokugawa and Meiji eras, which were intended to be used on the necks of opponents in normal clothing.

          Once again note, for combat, these can be applied standing. One does not have to go to the ground to apply a choke or hold it long enough to be effective. Neck breaking techniques are probably more effective from the standing position than a laying one. This is combat not sport.

          These then were the original grappling skills of the Orient. Foremost were the throws, then joint locks, and finally chokes. But the main difference, between sport techniques and original combat skills, was the purpose. Combat skills are designed to cause damage and leave a warrior on his/her feet to be able to continue fighting.

Complete Martial Arts

          One more aspect does need to be mentioned at this point. In the fighting arts of the Orient, there was never a one dimensional martial art. What this means is that while Jujutsu is normally thought of as a grappling art, traditional Ryu also contained complete methods of striking with both hands and feet. These striking techniques also include elbows and knees. By the same vein, Karate was never a striking art only, but had a full range of grappling skills.

          Due to the emphasis on sport techniques, and the rules which allow for safe competition, Judo removed all strikes so that a safe grappling match could be engaged in, just as Karate took away most grappling skills so that a safe sparring match could be held. Both the predecessor to Judo, which of course is Jujutsu, and that of Karate, the ancient art of Bushi Te, held full range of striking and grappling techniques.

          If a Jujutsu system states that their striking skills are used only to sit up throws or other grappling methods, then they are more of a Judo system and not actually Jujutsu at all. One has but to study the history of Jujutsu and find out that strikes used in the ancient art were extremely sophisticated and effective.

Strikes of Jujutsu

          Strikes were of two major types in Jujutsu. Against an unarmored opponent the strikes were devastating and could end a fight with just one hit. Though the Jujutsuka was always ready to follow up a hit with a grappling skill, just in case it was ineffective or missed its intended vital point.

          The second type of strike was designed for use against an armored opponent and was more of a push to achieve Kuzushi, breaking the balance of the assailant, to set up a grappling technique. It is believed that this type of ability was what has been misinterpreted in modern times as ineffective punching skills, but they were actually designed for use against armor, when an actual hit could not possibly have effect.

Genuine Self Defense

          To teach real combat grappling, is to teach effective standing skills which can be used in genuine self defense. Real grappling starts with strikes, according to the leading Jujutsu masters of the past generation, most prominent of them being James Masayoshi Mitose of Kosho Ryu Kempo Jujutsu. Second, the actual grappling skills are throws, joint attacks, and chokes, all of which should be learned in a standing manner first. Third, going to the ground should be a last option and good grappling skills are intended to extricate the defended from a ground situation and allow them to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

          There are those who say that grappling skills need to be taught properly and this is correct. But teaching these skills correctly does not mean teaching the sport techniques to people and allowing them to believe they are actual combat skills. For the most part, grappling skills for combat are done standing on the feet. When one must go to the ground, good grappling skills get you back on your feet as quickly as possible. This is the method of combat grappling, found in the ancient fighting skills of Jujutsu and Bushi Te, still maintained by many traditional self defense teachers. If you want to learn true grappling, make sure it is designed for what you want. If you want to participate in a sport, learn the game and learn it well, but if you want real grappling skill, learn from a self defense specialist in the Japanese or Okinawan martial arts.

          Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei is all about teaching the genuine skills of self defense. Grappling is a part of the overall curriculum, dealing with the Kempo of old, as well as, the auxiliary arts of Jujutsu, Aikijujutsu, and Karatejutsu. All of the grappling skills are self defense oriented, not geared for sport play.



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