A Willow in a Snowstorm (Jujutsu and the Transcendence of Violence)

Does your jujutsu (jiu-jitsu) propagate violence or transcend it?

Dwayne Bowie using crooked guard as a way to circumvent direct forces, placing him at a superior angle of attack.

The Japanese word jujutsu (柔術) is often thought to translate as ‘gentle art.’ Gentle implies a lack of force or lack of strength. Anyone who has ever done any form of jujutsu knows that there is nothing gentle about being thrown, pinned, joint-locked, or choked. In truth, the first character in the word jujutsu, ju (柔), means something closer to supple, yielding, or pliable. This is different than gentle.

The way a loving mother places a sleeping baby into a crib is gentle. A feather floating aimlessly on the breeze is gentle. Jujutsu is not like this. Borrowing from the origin story of Yoshin-ryu, jujutsu is more similar to what happens to a willow tree when snow lands on its branches. The willow gives way to the snow until the weight becomes too much to bear. Instead of snapping, the willow’s branches simply allow the snow to fall off and then they bounce back to their original shape.

The willow is supple and pliable, but it is not gentle. Its response to the snow is at first yielding, but the willow becomes quickly and unpredictably violent at exactly the right moment. The willow is not rigid, resisting the snow with all its might. If it did that, its branches would eventually break because that which is rigid is also brittle. The willow is strong precisely because it is pliable and gives way under pressure, but only just enough, and it never give up its integrity.

In other words, jujutsu is the martial study of methods for winning a battle by not directly opposing force. Instead, jujutsu yields to force, and, at exactly the moment when the enemy feels strongest, shifts violently to a more advantageous angle, attacking where the enemy is weak and without defense. In this way, jujutsu’s effectiveness is not in its opposition to violence. Resistance begets resistance. Jujutsu is actually a means for transcending violence so as to win the battle unopposed.

Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body, Severna Park’s Holistic Chamber of Commerce, and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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