Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Book Review

Mention the words “Jiu-Jitsu”, and you are sure to evoke images of contestants grappling on the mat, or of MMA bouts filled with ground fighting. While Jiu-Jitsu and, in particular, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, are very popular today as combative sports and (to a lesser extent) self defense systems, the parent martial art of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is less known among the general public.

If you have an interest in the martial art of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, Darrel Craig’s book with the straight-forward title “Japanese Jiu-jitsu: Secret Techniques of Self-Defense,” provides an excellent synopsis. The book offers a historical overview of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, as well as significant details on the principals and techniques of this interesting martial art.


Background on Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (also spelled Jiujitsu and Jujutsu) is a close-quarter-combat martial arts system that has been used as far back as the Japanese samurai of feudal Japan (and possibly earlier). While the art is thought to be of Chinese origin, it is uniquely Japanese.

(A quick side comment: I can see some of our newer karate students in our Carmel Valley dojo reading this blog and wondering “but wait, isn’t Karate a Japanese martial art?” the answer is “not really.” Karate is in fact an Okinawan martial art, which only appeared in Japan in the early 20th century. Although Okinawa in modern history has been part of Japan, Okinawan, also called the Ryukyu Kingdom, was in fact a separate country until it was annexed by Japan in 1868. For more information about the origins of karate read here.)

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is a complete martial arts system. In other words, like Okinawan Karate, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu includes striking and grappling techniques, and addresses both stand-up and ground fighting. Sensei Craig’s book does an excellent job of outlining those elements.

Due to Japanese Jiu-Jitsu’s long history, there have been many versions of this art. The book “Japanese Jiu-jitsu: Secret Techniques of Self-Defense” mostly covers the Taiho-jutsu version of the art. Taiho-jutsu is a version of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, which the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (Keishicho) developed in the 1920’s for the purpose of training its elite policemen (similar to Special Weapons and Tactics units – SWAT teams – in modern day police forces). This particular form of Jiu-Jitsu drew techniques from several old Jiu-Jitsu schools, as well as from aikijitsu, kendo and more contemporary Judo. Taiho-jutsu retains not just self-defense techniques, but also techniques that law enforcement officers may use for arresting and for apprehension. Whereas, over time Judo became mostly a combative sport art, Taiho-Jutsu Jiu-Jitsu retained its practical uses in self-defense and in policing.

Similar to the study of Okinawan Karate, with which students our martial arts classes in San Diego [link to home page] are familiar, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu includes both technical (“external”) and deeper (“internal”) principals. Sensei Craig describes this as the “rice bowl” art:

“When one trains with a professional teacher in the art, he can easily copy the movements. But merely to copy the movements is only part of the art; some teachers in Japan call this outward motion ‘rice bowl art.’”

And talking about the deeper aspects of the art of Jiu-Jitsu, Sensei Craig quotes the 1899 book Budo Hiketsu-Ailino Jutsu (The Secret of Budo):

“The most profound and mysterious art in the world in the art of aiki. This is the secret principle of all the martial art in Japan. One who masters it can be an unparalleled martial genius.“

Of course, this is the same concept as what are colloquially called today external martial arts and internal martial arts. Like Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, the arts of Okinawan Karate and combative Tai Chi also employ teachings that straddle both “internal” and “external” martial arts concepts. The beginning of one’s training focuses initially on external aspects, and over time, the student is taught, and develops, a good understanding of the internal concept. The understanding of the internal aspects of the art, is usually associated with a leap in the student’s performance.

By the way, if you are interested in the background of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, and the relationship between Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (JJJ) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), read this.

Self Defense

The bulk of the book “Japanese Jiu-Jitsu” is dedicated to detailed description of techniques. Those techniques fall into several categories:

  • Escapes from grabs and holds (which Sensei Craig calls “self defense techniques”).
  • Throwing techniques (Nage waza). Those include a great nugget of advice from Sensei Craig:

“the hips determine he movement of both feet; the head determines the movement of both hands. When you are throwing, you must never look at the uke after the throw starts; rather look immediately to where you’re going to throw.”

  • Striking techniques (Atemi waza). You will enjoy Sensei Craig’s discussion of vital points. As Okianwan Karate, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu focuses on attacking weak points of the human body.

Note that “Japanese Jiu-Jitsu” is not a martial arts “how to” picture book. If you do not have prior experience with joint locks, grappling and striking you will have a very hard time learning those from the book. Experienced martial artists, on the other hand, should be able to follow most of the book’s explanations.

Sensei Craig’s written explanations make frequent reference to the Happo No Kuzushi chart, to help orient the reader. Happo No Kuzushi is also called “eight directions of unbalancing.” In short, these are the four cardinal directions (front, back, right and left) and the four ordinal directions (front/right, front/left, back/right and back/left), as shown in the chart below:

happo-no-kuzushio-chartIf you are intent on learning any of the techniques in the book, do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the directions and numberings in the Happo No Kuzushi chart. It will make your life much easier.

Law Enforcement and Other Topics

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu” also covers three topics especially dedicated to law enforcement applications (remember that Taiho-Jutsu Jiu-Jitsu originates from use in the Japanese police):

  • “Come along” joint locking techniques (Kansetsu waza). Those are especially useful in subduing opponent without causing them great bodily harm, and in moving suspects (e.g., by law enforcement or even by you restaurant or bar bouncers folks out there.)
  • Gun takeaways and counters
  • Hoju-Jutso – the use of rope for self defense and for arresting suspects

Lastly, the book covers some use of weapons (Kobudo) such as the Kubotan / Yawari (short baton) and the jo (4 foot staff).


Kubotan Self Defense Weapon

Closing Comments

A feature of the book that I found endearing is the hand-drawn illustrations for partner drills and techniques. These illustrations are made in a style that is reminiscent of the hand-drawn illustrations of the ancient Chinese work on martial arts philosophy, strategy, medicine and technique – the Bubishi. That’s a really nice touch! (BTW, if you are interested in the Bubishi, I highly recommend Pat McCarthy’s translation “Bubishi, the Classical Manual of Combat.”)


It is a bit odd that for a book that focuses on Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, which is predominantly a martial arts in which fighting is conducted from a standing position, the cover photo shows two martial artist grappling on the ground in modern gis (uniform). I am really not sure why this cover photo was picked, as it is disconnected from the content of the book. While the book covers a few ground fighting techniques, ground fighting is really not a focus of the book “Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.


In closing, “Japanese Jiu-jitsu: Secret Techniques of Self-Defense” is a great book on the history, principals and techniques of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. No martial arts book can be a substitute for a competent instructor, and, “Japanese Jiu-Jitsu” is really not intended to be a martial arts instruction manual. Still, if you are an experienced martial artist, you will probably be able to pick up on the technical teachings in the book.


Footnote: “Japanese Jiu-jitsu: Secret Techniques of Self-Defense” was previously published in 1995 as “Japan’s Ultimate Martial Art.

Brian is a life-long martial artist, athlete, and serial entrepreneur. He teaches martial arts and self defense to adult and teen students in San Diego, at the Full Potential Martial Arts dojo in Carmel Valley.

3 comments on “Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Book Review
  1. Collette T. says:

    Great review of the book Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Thanks!

  2. How usefull would you say the kuzushi chart Reference (and kuzushi general) would be for sorting out slow Learning?

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