First let’s talk about the words Jitsu vs. Jutsu
Jitsu is a Kanji that is used as “honesty” or “truth” — such as “jitsu-wa” (“to tell the truth”). Jutsu is the Kanji used for “use of technique” or “means” or “method.”
The Hirigana for “ju” kanji is written “Ji-Yu” and pronounced “Ju” and means “gentle” or “supple.”
Thus JuJutsu means the Gentle Method while JuJitsu means the True Technique or Method of Light.
When one consides what “do” means (way, Tao), a Jitsu is a very appropriate alternative to a Do when the skills taught and used are part of a way rather than “just” applications. Consider the Dojo Kun: To be faithful in seeking the truth (or To be faithful in seeking a true way). Jitsu describes such an art very well.
Now, onto the discussion of Do vs Jitsu
Iain Abernethy presently holds the rank of 4th Dan and is a senior instructor for the British Karate-Do Chojinkai, an A-class E.K.G.B Kata Judge and is author of Karate’s Grappling Methods.
In this article I’d like to briefly discuss the concepts of ‘jitsu’ and ‘Do’. The meaning of the word ‘jitsu’ is ‘Science’ or ‘Method’. In martial arts, the term ‘jitsu’ is used in reference to the techniques and strategies used in real combat. The word ‘Do’ means ‘The Way’. In martial arts terms, the suffix ‘Do’ is used to infer that the focus of training is predominately upon the development of the practitioner’s character. Hence, ‘Karate-jitsu’ could be thought of as the application of karate in real situations, and ‘Karate-Do’ would be the practice of karate in order to develop the character of its participants.
In recent times, the term ‘Karate-Do’ has become associated with ineffective karate that makes little or no attempt to utilise the highly effective methods recorded within the karate katas. In fact, practitioners of Karate-Do are now often belittled as deluded individuals practising an ineffective children’s art. On the other side of the argument, those who tag themselves as practitioners of Karate-jitsu are often viewed as dangerous psychotics who revel in violence. I find this trend most worrying, as I believe that both views are extremely limited and damaging to karate as a whole. It is my view that true karate should be both ‘jitsu’ and ‘Do’. I also believe that the two approaches are in no way mutually exclusive and do in fact depend upon each other!
Practising just the combative aspects of karate (jitsu) would mean that we are only concerned with the development of effective fighters and that we care little about the characters of those that we train. Would it be OK to teach fighting skills to an individual with a violent nature? Would it be OK to foster those violent attitudes if it meant the individual could be a more effective fighter? What if that individual used their skills on the weak, the elderly, or their spouse? Would that be OK, because they practice ‘jitsu’ and are hence only concerned with the winning of fights, whomever they are against? If the only concern of ‘jitsu’ is to win fights, then surely using karate for criminal acts is OK, so long as you win? To my mind – and the mind of any decent human being – it is obviously not OK for karate to be used in this way. From the earliest records we have, the enhancement of the moral character of a student has always been a key part of karate. Take a look at the Bubishi; there is certainly a lot of instruction on how to incapacitate an opponent in combat. However, there is also a great deal of instruction on etiquette and the correct behaviour that should be exhibited by a martial artist.
But what about a pure ‘Do’ approach? Obviously you are no longer concerned with how effective a fighter you are (which is a dubious position for any martial artist to take!). Your only concern is the bettering of yourself as an individual. How is this to be achieved exactly? By the repeated practice of kata? By entering tournaments? By passing your gradings? I’m sure we all know plenty of people who have done all of the above, but still aren’t kind and benevolent human beings. To truly better yourself, I believe that you need to be fully aware of all your weaknesses, and then work to eradicate them. I remain unconvinced that turning up to the club twice a week, learning a few physical moves, working up a sweat and then going home, will in anyway bring these weaknesses to the surface. So what will?
In the book, ‘Karate: Beginner to Black Belt’, H.D. Plee (who was the pioneer of karate in Europe) wrote, “One must not loose sight of the fact that Karate is “all-in” fighting. Everything is allowed … This is why Karate is based on blows delivered with the hand, the foot, the head or the knee. Equally permissible are stragulations, throwing techniques and locks. This is one of the fascinating things about Karate; this sensation of mastery over effective techniques brings an inner peace and calm…” The idea that realistic training can develop an individual is also echoed in many of the writings of other karate greats. In ‘Karate-Do Nyumon’ Gichin Funakoshi wrote, “One whose spirit and mental strength have been strengthened by sparring with a never-say-die attitude should find no challenge too great to handle. One who has undergone long years of physical pain and mental agony to learn one punch, one kick, should be able to face any task, no matter how difficult, and carry it through to the end. A person like this can truly be said to have learned karate.” By engaging in arduous, austere and realistic training, our mental and physical weaknesses are forced to the surface, such that they can be confronted. If you can overcome the fear generated by sparring, then you should be able to override the exact same emotion when it prevents you from pursuing your dreams. If you have the discipline to endure the demands of training, then you should also be able to endure difficult times in your life outside the dojo. If you are able to keep control of your temper during sparring, then you should also be able to control any potential outbursts that could harm your relationships with others. If you can face the most feared opponent in the dojo, then you should also be able to stand up for both yourself and others in the event of an injustice. However, if the training is not stressful enough, it is unlikely to stimulate any developments in character, simply because your character is unlikely to be tested to a sufficient degree. Realistic training (jitsu) will force all your weaknesses to the surface. A good Sensei will then help you to overcome those weaknesses, such that you not only become a better fighter, but also a better human being (Do). ‘jitsu’ is the foundation upon which ‘Do’ is built! To simply concern yourself with fighting, and nothing else, will prevent you from progressing to the higher levels of training. To ignore ‘jitsu’ and attempt to progress to ‘Do’ is a futile endeavour as you have no foundation upon which to build. How can you progress beyond the combative aspects of training when you have never faced them? It is my belief that true karate is learning the ‘jitsu’ to such a level that it progresses to become ‘Do’.
You could argue why continue onto ‘Do,’ if all you want are effective fighting skills? Obviously that is a decision for you to make. However, when I look at what I have learnt throughout my years in karate, is it the knowledge of kicks, punches, locks, chokes etc. that is the most valuable to me? Or is it the friends I have made? The confidence that I have acquired? Or the greater degree of control I have over potentially destructive emotions like envy, anger and fear? I’d have to say that the effects that karate has had on my character are of greater value to me than its fighting techniques.
You’d be wise to avoid the ‘jitsu’ / ‘Do’ debate and the attempts at classification it encourages. True karate should be both ‘jitsu’ and ‘Do’. We should certainly practice and apply the art practically, and in its entirety, such that we possess the skills needed to defend ourselves in real situations (jitsu). We should also ensure that we endeavour to learn more about our strengths and weaknesses via the nature of such training. We can then use that knowledge to develop ourselves as individuals, to better equip ourselves to help others, and to help us pursue our dreams and lead the lives we want to live (Do)