Is Japanese Jujutsu Different From Jujitsu or Jiu Jitsu?

Many people wonder if Japanese Jujutsu is different from jujitsu, or jiu jitsu. You may have seen just about all of these different spellings at one time or another.

Jujitsu
Ju Jitsu
Jiujitsu
Jiu Jitsu
Jiujutsu
Jujutsu
Jujitso
Ju-jitsu
Jiujuiutsu
Jiu-jitsu

You may be wondering if there is something different about each of them, if they are different forms of the art, or if there are really that many ways to spell it. Well, they aren't different, it's really just different ways to spell the same thing. But, that doesn't mean all of these spellings are correct. I have used all of these spellings throughout this website, only to show that they are all the same thing, and to make those who use any particular spelling comfortable with the information I have been presenting.

I am no doubt about to put some people off by narrowing the focus of the discussion, but I feel it is necessary to establish the correct spelling of jujutsu so that I may be at least somewhat consistent in the other discussions that are presented. It will make my presentations on such things as the "History of Japanese Martial Arts" (click here to read it), not only easier for me, but also for the reader who may be confused by a constant switching of terms.

If you are presently studying and practicing jujutsu, I am not saying in any way that because you spell the word differently, it means you are not practicing the true art, or that you are not practicing it correctly. One has nothing to do with the other. I am simply making a statement of fact about the spelling of a word, in an effort to clear up one single item of misunderstanding among those who may not be familiar with the nuances of Japanese-English transliteration.


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Problems of Translation

There is always the possibility of making mistakes when languages are translated. Common items and concepts such as fire, rain, jump, and sleep, can usually be translated, both written and spoken, without much difficulty. However, when dealing with a word such as jujutsu that has no direct translation to the other language, you inevitably end up with misunderstandings, even though the common practice was usually to keep the native word if you couldn't come up with a good English substitute. A perfect example of this translation problem is in the Japanese word most commonly known in English as "Jujitsu".

The first English speaking people to visit Japan were surely overwhelmed by culture shock. However, they made a valiant effort to bring back word of everything they encountered. As could be expected, not everything they learned could be easily expressed in English. What about this interesting activity the Japanese called "Jujitsu" (at least, that's what they thought it was called)? It was a method of fighting, to be sure. But it was a specific form of fighting they had never seen before.

It was a lot like wrestling, but then, it was different than wrestling. So, they couldn’t call it wrestling. It had elements of boxing, but it certainly wasn't boxing. Since they couldn’t come up with an English word to describe it, they simply kept the Japanese word; Jujitsu! You would think that would simplify the process, right? Not really…

The biggest problem translating from Japanese to English, is the fact that you are going from a language written in ideograms, to one written with an alphabet. Translation, or transliteration in this case, relies solely on phonetics, making misspellings an all too common problem. Why?

Some sounds used in other languages like Japanese are simply not used in English; just as there are no "L" or "V" sounds in Japanese. All we can do is to use "approximations" based on similar sounds (sounds like...; or rhymes with...). That is why there are so many different spellings of Jujutsu. Different people "interpreted" the sounds differently, and wrote it down based on what they thought they heard.

For example: Let's say you were in Texas and asked someone what they were driving. For the sake of argument we'll say it's not a pickup truck, even though we're in Texas. Our subject smiles and gleefully replies, "Why it's my new core!" (More than likely, he also made it a two-syllable word: co-wer.)

Now you get in your car and drive to Boston, where you ask someone the same question. If they don't just ignore you, what do they reply? "What, this piece o' junk? It's one sarry excuse of a caaa, let me tell ya!"

Now you can see why it is easy to get misspellings of words when you can only go by what it sounds like the person is saying. At the time, there was no reference material with which to verify the correct spelling of any Japanese words translated into English. Nor was there any way to accurately record the proper pronunciation of sounds unfamiliar to the English language.

Most Western (and Japanese) practitioners of what is called (or most commonly spelled as) Ju-jitsu, agree that the true name of the art is accurately represented by the two Japanese characters (kanji) shown below, and roughly translated, means "Gentle Art". We will deal with the meaning in another discussion, but let's look first at spelling and pronunciation.


Correct Spelling

Modern understanding of the nuances of language translation has improved greatly since the first contact between English and Japanese speaking people. We now know that the accurate spelling of these characters are jujutsu


Jjujutsu, and
jujutsu


Jutsu.


Not JIU and not JITSU.

That combination of kanji characters therefore makes the word: Jjujutsujutsu (jujutsu). That's just a fact!

Now that we have clarified the spelling issue, we still have the problem of pronunciation. As I have said, there are variations in the sounds used in languages that often pose problems in trying to properly pronounce foreign words. Such is the case with the pronunciation of Jjujutsujutsu.

First, notice the macron (bar) over the "u" in "Jjujutsu", indicating that it is not the typical English pronunciation of the vowel. Just as these symbols are used in a dictionary to clarify proper pronunciation, the macron is used here to indicate specifically how a native speaker of Japanese would pronounce the word for the particular kanji character.

In this case, the proper Japanese pronunciation is an elongated "u", or more specifically, "u-u", as if repeating the "u" a second time. You might say it is truly a "double-u" (w). Of course, it would make no sense to write it "Jw", or even "Juu", so it is written "Jjujutsu", with the macron.

Aikijutsu

[Side Note: Based on its name, "double-u", and the shape of the character "w", one could logically assume that centuries ago, this "u-u" sound used in Japanese was the same exact pronunciation used for the English "w", but let's not get side-tracked.]

The closest approximation to the Japanese "jujutsu", or "u-u", would be the sound of the "oo", as in "cool". Unfortunately, many interpreted the "jujutsu" to be the same as the English pronunciation of a "long u", resulting in a sound like the "u" in "unit", making Jjujutsu rhyme with few, leading to jiu. (or it could be jew-jitsu, the Hebrew martial art.) but as we now know, that’s just wrong.

The second kanji character has been determined to have the spelling (and pronunciation) of "Jutsu". Notice there is no macron over this “u”, so it does not carry the same sound as the “jujutsu” in “Jjujutsu”. As we have seen (or heard), the double “u” is longer than our “u”, but, the single “u” is actually shorter (that is, more abrupt) than ours. We would typically pronounce the “u” in a word like this as the “u” in “cut”, but this sound is much too gutteral for the correct Japanese pronunciation, and should be closer to the “u” in “put”. However, the short Japanese “u” is very abrupt, making it sound almost like an “i”, as in “hit”. That is where we got “Jitsu”.

So, to be as clear as is humanly possible, the correct, or at least closest, pronunciation is “Jujitsu”, but the correct spelling is still “Jujutsu”. This may still seem confusing, but if you think about it, there are thousands of more confusing spelling/pronunciation problems in the English language than this. [We will run into a similar problem when we discuss "Kempo vs. Kenpo", but we will save that discussion for later.]


Alphabets and Ideograms

Finally, it should be stated that ignorance of the usage of ideograms (Japanese/Chinese kanji) as a written language has led to the improper usage of the hyphen within the various spellings of the word. The concept of placing two or more representational characters together to form a new word or idea, is no different than stringing letters of an alphabet together to form new words. We don't write "w-o-r-d-s" on a page, neither do the Japanese use hyphens to connect multiple kanji together to form words.

The error comes from the idea that kanji characters (unlike letters) are “words unto themselves”. That is true, but just because you can sometimes better designate a concept in English using two words, such as "self-defense" instead of “selfdefense”, doesn't mean you always put a hyphen between words used together to form new words. "Foresight" is not "fore-sight", and "backward" is not "back-ward". So, it is not necessary, in fact, it is incorrect, to put a hyphen between kanji characters used to form a singular new word. Therefore (not there-fore), the hyphen should not be used in the translated word, either! Nor, is it proper to separate the characters as two words, as in Ju Jutsu. It’s one word!

So, where do we stand in this convoluted explanation of Japanese-English translation?

[What is the word for the "study of words"? "Entomology". No, I'm sorry. That's the study of worms!]

Based on modern translations, the absolute correct English spelling of the Japanese word we translate to mean "Gentle Art", is "Jjujutsujutsu", and the closest approximate pronunciation would be "Jjujutsujitsu". You can continue to spell or pronounce it any way you please, I'm simply pointing out the facts.

We know that it is one word, not two. Therefore any spelling that contains a space or a hyphen, such as ju-jitsu or jiu jitsu, is just plain wrong!

We know that spellings that don't even come close to the proper pronunciation, such as jujitso or jiujuiutsu, are wrong.


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Acceptable Variations

That still leaves us with a few possibilities. I would normally be absolute in my conclusions, but in this case, I am going to give everyone some "wriggle room" as far as spelling goes.

The reason is, even though the absolute correct spelling we have already determined to be:

Jjujutsujutsu...

The problem is, in writing the English language, "jujutsu" is not a common character to be found on the typical keyboard. While it is true that the modern computer makes it relatively simple to add this character, as I have done here, it is still not the way we normally write in English. Therefore we have no choice but to modify the spelling to simply "jujutsu".

Also, since the phonetic spelling of "jujitsu" has been in constant usage since the word was introduced to the English language centuries ago, it has become "grandfathered in" as they say, to the point of inclusion in the American dictionary as an acceptable alternate spelling of the word jujutsu.

[I don't have a British, Canadian, or Australian dictionary, so I can't speak for what may or may not be included there. I have been told that "Jiujitsu" is an acceptable European spelling, but I am not in Europe, so I have to go by what Webster tells me is correct. As far as I am concerned, it is not correct.]

Here is the real test. If you go to Japan and ask someone for information on either jujutsu, or jujitsu, they will understand what you mean and tell you what you want to know, or point you in the right direction. However, if you ask for “jiu jitsu”, you will probably be met with a blank stare or laughter. But, most likely they will hand you a glass of fruit juice.




Now that you know how to pronounce Jujutsu, perhaps you would like to learn how to do it. Click on this link for more infromation.

Self-Defense Weapons - Find out why Self-defense weapons and protective devices are not nearly as effective as Jujutsu.

The Best Martial Art - Choosing the Best Martial Art for Self Defense. Japanese Jujutsu is the best martial art for self defense. Choosing a martial art can be confusing. So don't waste your time on different types of martial arts. Find out why jujutsu is the world's most effective martial art!

Martial Arts Schools - Budoshin Jujutsu Schools Budoshin Jujutsu Schools (Dojo) are the very best martial arts schools you can find. These martial arts schools offer more than most jujutsu schools; they provide complete martial arts instruction.

The Old Schools - Learn About Traditional Japanese Martial Art Schools Traditional Japanese Jujutsu continues to be taught in jujutsu schools around the world. Many have continued to advance the study of the art of jujutsu to meet the changing needs and threats of modern society.


References:

The Kanji Dictionary; jujutsu.

Henshall, A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, jujutsu, #1363 & #708.

Directory organized by subject, including Jujutsu.

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