The great judoka Kyozo Mifune (1883-1965) wrote that achieving what he termed “free flowing movement” is the true meaning of the “gentle” (or soft) martial arts, of which jiu-jitsu and judo are its strongest representatives.[1] Directly expressed in the morpheme ju (or jiu), literally “gentle” in Japanese, Mifune describes ju as the initial and only knowledge gained from training. Free flowing movement is the aim of years of training because, as he said,

[Ju’s] core is rich and diverse, its value is multifaceted, and its most fundamental aspect    is the unification of the spirit and body. “Ju” is natural and free, without rigidity or hardness, so it cannot be seized or caught. Therefore, anyone who acts contrary to these principles is not virtuous, and can be easily subdued by someone who is in harmony with “ju.”[2]

In his book on Mitsuyo Maeda who was the Japanese immigrant who brought the forerunner martial art of jiu-jitsu to Brazil, the historian Stanlei Virgilio describes the application of the art to broader forms by simply stating, “[jiu-jitsu] is a way (do) of life.”[3]  Ask any practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and they’ll tell you the story of their own epiphanies of jiu.  One of my teammates spoke of the newfound freedom she has in walking to places by herself without fear; another said that he lost 30lbs since he started BJJ – he can walk without getting tired; and another spoke about the fact that he travels a lot for work and whenever he visits a new city – he always has a home in any BJJ gym where they treat him like a “long lost brother.”

Another teammate of mine put it as bluntly as anyone I’ve met. “I spent nine years,” she said, “on therapy for anxiety produced by claustrophobia. I couldn’t stand to sit in traffic, waiting in line, flying. I was a mess. I began to do jiu-jitsu and I am the calmest person around.” When I asked her and others in what manner jiu-jitsu helped, they both pointed to understanding how to make themselves feel safe in small spaces. They simply lift an arm or reposition their body in a more balanced manner, allotting themselves what one called “spaces to breathe” within the crowd.

Broadly speaking, the first epiphany for new practitioners of jiu-jitsu is learning new ways to simply move their own body. It is an awareness of an obviously available, but never realized mobility. Someone is too aggressive and is towering over you? Roll with the force and throw him over your head. Someone is blocking your knee? Swivel your hips, deflecting the direct force. Got a bad back and need to get out of bed? Roll to the side, plant your hand, and press up. Your dog wants to play with you but you don’t want it licking you all over your face? Keep it away with your feet, knees, and elbows. The dog doesn’t care; it’s having fun, and you’re clean. All of these are variations of micro-level epiphanies of daily jiu-jitsu that occur to its practitioners.

It is in the everyday-life that jiu-jitsu finds its full form.  I welcome your own insights to share on this site.

[1] The “hard” martial arts are those that meet force-with-force, like boxing, Muay Thai, karate. The soft arts give-way-to-force.

[2] Kyuzo Mifune, The Canon of Judo: Classic Teachings on Principles and Techniques, 1st ed. (Kodansha International, 2004), 22-23. Literally, ju in Japanese means “gentle” or “gentleness.”

[3] Stanlei Virgilio, Conde Koma: o Invencível Yondan da História, 1st ed. (Átomo, 2002), 73.


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