The Gentle Art?

If you’ve ever iced a sore joint or bruise after a BJJ training session you may have said to yourself “I thought jiu-jitsu was supposed to be the gentle art!”

Judo, which shares the same prefix “ju” is also a so called the “gentle” art. But after being tossed to the tatami repeatedly by a judo black belt you will wonder how anyone could consider this a gentle art! I’ve heard judo described jokingly as “hitting your opponent with the earth”.

So how did it get the term gentle art?

The word Ju (or Jiu) denotes giving way. The underlying concept behind both judo and BJJ (and Aikido) is not opposing the force of the opponent. There are numerous metaphors for this concept but perhaps Jigoro Kano put it best.

The major difference between Kodokan Judo and classical or combat Ju Jutsu is the elevation of an art to a principle based on the principle of the maximum efficient use of mind and body incorporating the concept of “Ju.” Jigoro Kano explained “Ju” in his book: “What then does this ‘gentleness’ or ‘giving way’ really mean? To answer this question let us suppose that we estimate the strength of a man in units of one. Let us say that the strength of a man standing in front of me is represented by ten units, whereas my strength, less than his, is represented by seven units. Now, if he pushes me with all his force, I shall certainly be pushed back or thrown down, even if I use all my strength against his. But if, instead of opposing him, I were to give way to his strength by withdrawing my body just as much as he had pushed, taking care at the same time to keep my balance, then he would naturally lean forward and thus lose his balance.

In this new position, he may become so weak, not in his actual physical strength but because of his awkward position, as to have his strength represented for the moment by only three units instead of his normal ten. But meanwhile, I, by keeping my balance, retain my full strength, as originally represented by seven units. Here then, I am momentarily in a superior position, and I can defeat my opponent by using only half of my strength, that is half of my seven units, or three and one-half, against his three. This leaves one-half of my strength available for my purpose. If I had greater strength than my opponent, I could of course push him back. But even if I wished to, and had the power to do so, it would still be better for me first to give way, because by so doing, I should have greatly saved my energy and exhausted my opponent’s.

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Thus we can see the idea behind that old saying about the old master defeating larger opponents “by using their own power against them.” It is not only the fiction of martial arts myth.

The second reason that BJJ may be referred to as a gentle art is its emphasis on submission over strikes. Using the strikes of boxing or Muay Thai to subdue an opponent will cause physical damage.

Jiu-jitsu allows the opponent the option to tap in submission and emerge from a fight relatively unharmed.


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