Journal of Combative Sport, Aug 2002

American Wrestling vs. Jujitsu

By H. F. Leonard, Instructor in Wrestling at the New York Athletic Club, and K. Higashi, Instructor of Jujitsu

This article originally appeared in the May 1905 issue of The Cosmopolitan. All spellings and name orders appear as published in the original text. Richard Bowen, Jan de Jong, Graham Noble, Robert W. Smith, and the New York University Archives contributed information that was used in the notes, which were prepared by Joseph R. Svinth.

Copyright © EJMAS 2002. All rights reserved.

"I say with emphasis and without qualification that I have been unable to find anything in jujitsu which is not known to Western wrestling. So far as I can see, jujitsu is nothing more than an Oriental form of wrestling. It is a boast of the exploiters of jujitsu that through it any weakling could render helpless even a well-trained athlete, and that, too, without inflicting any injury whatever upon the victim. It would be an entertaining day in my life indeed were I to see such a feat accomplished." – Statement by Mr. Leonard after exhibition by Mr. Higashi.

"American wrestlers are strong – much stronger than any of us pretend to be in muscular strength. After all, however, wrestling is wrestling. Against jujitsu it is mere child’s-play. I have met a number of Western wrestlers, and they are as helpless as babes against the art of jujitsu. And no one versed in the art of jujitsu is mad enough to expect anything else." – Statement by Mr. Higashi after exhibition by Mr. Leonard.

"Mr. Leonard, Mr. Higashi," said the seeker for a solution of the mystery of the difference between jujitsu and wrestling.

Fig 1

The young master of jujitsu rose; he measured scarce five feet four, and you could see at a glance that the author of his being had a keen eye to the economy of space; in the physical making of him compactness rather than weight was emphasized. The hand he shook in friendly greeting belonged to one every inch of whose body seemed to say to you, "By these signs shall ye know wherein a strong man is enshrined."

"What are the objects of wrestling?" the person who acted as a sort of master of the ceremonies asked of its exponent, preliminary to the exhibition which was to take place. To which Mr. Leonard replied:

"To make a man healthy – and in making his body healthy, the mental conditions are improved at the same time – to develop to the highest possible point his muscular strength, to teach him how to use it in a physical contest properly and to the best advantage against his opponent, to increase the steadiness of his nerves, to sharpen the keenness of his vision and to teach him to read with despatch and accuracy, almost by instinct, the many and rapidly shifting conditions of the minds of men called moods – these are some of the main objects of wrestling."

"And what is jujitsu?"

Mr. Higashi – "What we always keep in view as the end and aim of the art of jujitsu is quite distinct from wrestling. To be sure, all that has just been mentioned is the goal toward which one aspect of jujitsu training also strives. But there are three stages in jujitsu. [EN1] Between the first and wrestling there is not much difference. Wrestling, both in Nippon and in the West, has the distinct ends in view that you have just described: it forms a distinct program of gymnastics in itself; it is not a part of something else – a means to an end. With jujitsu, the holds and tricks of wrestling are an elementary step to lead a man to something else. Naturally you have developed to a greater extant than we have done in the first and elementary stage of jujitsu, and to a higher state of perfection, those holds and tricks which are confined to wrestling. Whoever would understand the true meaning of the art of jujitsu must always keep this in mind – that the end of jujitsu is self defense. The science and practice of jujitsu both end in discovering and attaining as effective and relatively perfect a means of self-defense as possible under all manners of attacks.

"In jujitsu training many conditions are imposed upon us which are out of place with any other athletic sports. When you are attacked on the street, for instance, you would rarely find yourself or the assailant stripped to the skin, and so we require the students of jujitsu to go through their exercises in their street costume, and those of us who can hardly afford to spoil a suit every time we come upon the training mat wear these jackets and girdles, which would take the place, to all practical purposes, of the street costumes of Tokyo. This also is the reason why in jujitsu we do not put a fence about the style of tricks and attacks and call any of them foul. When you are abroad at night – and on such occasions it is that a training in jujitsu is most likely to serve you – you can hardly dictate the manner of attack to a thug. If effective as a method of self-defense at all, jujitsu must train persons to be prepared for all imaginable methods of attack and assault.

"There are one hundred and sixty ‘hands,’ or tricks, in the three departments of jujitsu. Besides these, and outranking them all, there are ten tricks which are so secret that they are almost sacred to the devotees of jujitsu. They are usually handed down from one master to another, much after the manner of family secrets. Now, a large majority of all these are considered foul in wrestling."

Mr. Leonard – "But the dangerous tricks and holds which you speak of as being ruled out in our wrestling are, I am certain, thoroughly well known to all wrestlers worth the name in this country. And as for the claim of jujitsu in regard to its secret tricks, I have never seen them demonstrated against a thoroughly trained wrestler. [EN2] I am not afraid of spooks, nor of the miracles attributed to the masters of jujitsu. And I am happy to say that I am in a position to afford my statement something a little more solid than mere words."

Mr. Higashi – "First, let me continue. Jujitsu is neither a sport nor a pastime; instead of on a mat, or in a sanded circle, as with wrestling, its arena is wherever an attack awaits you. As a matter of fact, the purely gymnastic feature of jujitsu is of a late development. Some two hundred years ago in the city of Kyoto, there lived a master of jujitsu called Suzuki. There he opened a training hall; and history points to that as the beginning of scientific jujitsu in Nippon. [EN3] In his days, he taught and practiced only those tricks, or hands, which are now called serious tricks. He and his school confined themselves to the first or the final stage of the three divisions of jujitsu known at the present day. Samurai went abroad with their two swords at their belts, in those days, and the Kyoto master used to train his men with the two swords at their belts. When you were seized from behind and a pair of powerful arms held your weapons against your body so that you could not draw them, he taught a trick which would set them at liberty.

"Judo – as jujitsu is oftener called at home – spread all over the country; at Kumamoto was Hoshino, and at Kagoshima, Tsutsumi was the acknowledged master. And Tsutsumi, the Kagoshima master, was the first who extended the sphere of judo and included therein many gymnastic exercises. And those holds and tricks which he taught have been from his day called the simple tricks. Mr. Kano, who is at the head of the Kano school of Tokyo to-day, took up judo where Tsutsumi left off, and added a number of exercises. These largely form the simple tricks of the third department of judo.

"As you see, then, judo as it exists in Nippon to-day has three stages of development. It starts with the third, or the elementary stage, with simple gymnastic exercises. Between these simple tricks and the holds in wrestling there is a good deal of resemblance. Only, these simple tricks are a means to an end; they are modified to serve the specific end of self-defense, and under somewhat different circumstances than those of wrestling. Moreover, these simple tricks are always arranged with an eye to their serving as preliminary steps to the serious tricks. When meeting a wrestler on a mat, a jujitsu-shi always employs all these simple tricks, and also some of the simple tricks belonging to the second division of judo. And in this department, there are only fifty tricks, whereas you have in Western wrestling some two hundred different holds. To sum up, the end and aim of judo is, as I have tried to emphasize, self-defense. With the simple tricks of the third division, it is practically impossible to overcome an American wrestler, as he is usually much superior in strength."

Mr. Leonard – "As I understand it, then, the purely athletic, or gymnastic, holds which jujitsu teaches are in no wise different, in general, from the holds known to an ordinary wrestler, and it is only by its mysterious ‘secret tricks’ that jujitsu claims to be able to work its wonders. But if the aim and end of jujitsu is wholly self-defense, and no means are held to be too unfair to be employed, why should jujitsu concern itself with athletics at all? I should very much like to see an exhibition of these mysterious powers. Can you not illustrate to me how these tricks are done?

Mr. Higashi – "That would be impossible without incurring danger, which I am unwilling to do. A friend of mine once broke the arm of a student at an American college, and was in much danger of arrest. I do not care to run a similar risk. But I may explain that the most essential element in the make-up of a good jujitsu master is the mind. Will-power is the faculty of the mind that plays the most prominent part in the art of judo. Then, nerves the center of equilibrium of which, so to speak, can hardly be shaken. Then, a pretty good knowledge of anatomy. After that, all is practice. Unlike wrestling, weight does not count in judo. In fact, in a number of cases it would be easier to train a weak man to master judo than a strong one. A man naturally strong in muscular powers will, consciously or unconsciously, rely much upon his mere strength. In judo, it is essential that one learn to utilize the strength of his opponent against himself. The first thing which we try to teach is to attain as perfect a state of bodily passivity as possible. And this is the reason why in so many cases women are better candidates for the mastery of judo than men. [EN4] Another thing we try to teach is how to fall upon hard ground or a floor without hurting oneself. A drunkard who falls from a height is rarely seriously injured; you know the reason of course; the degree of hurt is in proportion to the resistance offered by the system. If one could learn to make oneself perfectly passive, one would seldom get hurt. A number of masters of judo can break a pretty thick piece of marble tablet with a blow dealt by the edge of their open hands. It is not the strength that breaks the tablet; it is the rapidity of the motion. A judo master ought to be able – I do not say every time, but nine times out of ten – to break the wrist of a boxer, for example, with the edge of his open hand when the fist flies toward him. [EN5]

"As I have said, the number of tricks is comparatively small; it is not so hard to learn them. It is not quite so simple, however, to train your eye and muscle to the proper speed. The rest is largely psychical."

Mr. Leonard – "Does hypnotism play any part in the advanced stage of jujitsu?"

Mr. Higashi – "Not as such – that is to say, hypnotic influence as such has no place in the science of judo. Nevertheless, I might say that hypnotism in a modified form certainly exists in judo. Judo believes in the mastery of one mind over another in a contest. I can quite understand how it is that to the Western eye, a number of feats of judo must appear little short of miraculous."

Mr. Leonard – "I have never seen any of those feats. Can you tell us some of those which are rather commonly practised? I should be rather interested to see some of these modern miracles."

Mr. Higashi – "Take, for example, this case. If you or any one else would bring here two poles of bamboo and let them be put upon the floor closely together, I would pillow my neck upon them in such a manner that the two poles would support the nape of my neck. After that, two more poles of bamboo might be brought and laid upon my throat in such a way that the poles would sandwich my neck both from the front and on the back. A pair of strong pieces of rope might then be taken and tied on either end of the bamboo poles, and rather forcibly, too. My neck would be, naturally, compressed by this tightening. You might then place yourself with all your weight on the bamboo poles on one side of my neck, and you might ask one of your friends to do the same on the other side. These things done, all that I should ask you is to give me a signal and a second later I shall be out of the tight hugging of the poles. [EN6] The neck is a rather important portion of the body, and all sorts of exercises are devised for its protection.

"Another thing: In Nippon our exercise-rooms are covered with padded mats, six feet by three in size. If a man happened to be sitting in one of these mat-covered rooms with me, and it pleased his fancy to attack me, I could make one of the mats rise from the floor and fight for me against my opponent. I would simply kick one end of the mat between my opponent and myself, and send it flying at him so that the edge would catch him in the abdomen or his face or by the legs, as the case may be."

Mr. Leonard – "I have heard it said that you can, through jujitsu, kill a man and then bring him back again to life at your pleasure."

Mr. Higashi – "Oh, yes, you are speaking of katsu. [EN7] There are three principal katsu – no-katsu, kin-katsu and shime-katsu, according to the location where the reviving blow should be dealt, and also according to the manner of bringing the unconscious back to life. Judo has no ambition to compete with professional men of medicine. Sometimes one form of katsu is much more effective and much simpler than any means that medicine knows. Breaking an opponent’s arms, neck, back, legs, are some of the objects to which a large number of the tricks of judo are devoted. But the serious tricks almost altogether affect the very life of a man. Not to every one, however, are given the secrets of serious tricks. Before a man can receive them from his instructor, he must first of all prove to his satisfaction that he is a gentleman. No master of judo for one moment thinks of so rash a thing as teaching the serious tricks to one of his pupils who has not time and time again proved that he can command his temper under mercilessly trying conditions."

Mr. Leonard – "At about what age is the training of a young man in judo begun in your country?"

Mr. Higashi – "At an early age; seven or eight years. [EN8] Preliminary trainings in judo are arranged in eight grades [kyu]. There are few exceptional cases in which a beginner may successfully climb up the eight within one year. After passing the first grade, only then can he be said to have begun to understand something of the art of judo. He then joins a class of beginners called shodan. It is a far cry from this stage of his attainment to the mastery of judo. It is the beginning of serious work; in the shodan stage a man usually learns the price which one must pay to become the master of his body. I suppose you do not commence the training in wrestling quite so early as that?"

Mr. Leonard – "No, we wait until they are older. Some boys are more mature at sixteen than others at eighteen. But seventeen is a good age; usually it is at about that age that American boys take whole-heartedly to the training and sport of wrestling, as well as to a number of other games. Is it absolutely imperative that one should begin as early as seven years of age in order to become a master of judo?"

Mr. Higashi – "It is better that a man should begin his schooling as early as possible. It is not absolutely essential, however."

Mr. Leonard – "If a man of, say, twenty-five or thirty years of age, one hundred and ten pounds in weight, of sedentary habits and delicate constitution, were to come to you to receive your instruction, would you be able to train him so that he would find it an easy matter to defend himself against the attacks of a man of, say, over two hundred pounds, powerfully built and well versed in the art of Western wrestling?"

Mr. Higashi – "Certainly. If the man happened to be a gentleman to the core, sober and sane in temper and high in principle, and if I only could be assured of this fact from the start, so that I should be in a position to entrust to his hands the secrets of serious tricks, six months would be ample time for him to become able to meet a man of twice his weight and three times his muscular strength and overcome him under all circumstances." [EN9]

Mr. Leonard – "You interest me, but I am not convinced. Will you now show me some of the holds and tricks of jujitsu? Afterward I will show you some of the principal holds of wrestling. The serious tricks and the psychology I should be especially glad to have an illustration of, if that could be done."

Mr. Higashi – "As I said, that cannot be done except at a risk which I am not willing to take. I can, however, show you some holds by which we overcome an opponent. By this hold (see Figure 2) I might break your arm over my left leg, gripping you rigidly to the floor by my right hand on your neck. Is it not so?" [EN10]

fig 2

Mr. Leonard – "I doubt if you could get such a hold on a scientific wrestler. One of the cardinal principles of our wrestling is to keep the arms bent while in action, and this would make it very difficult for you to secure the hold you have on the left arm. The throat hold could easily be broken by turning to the left."

Mr. Higashi – "That is a matter of opinion, and you might be able to break the hold, but I am sure I should break your arm."

Mr. Leonard – "I think I can show you a trick worth two of that. I have you on the floor, on your knees (Figure 3). I fling my left arm about your neck, grip it with my right hand, and choke you. That is called a back strangle hold; it is one of the most brutal known to wrestling. Here is another. You are still on your knees. I force you flat on your face (Figure 4), and with a half-Nelson on the leg, which renders you helpless, I strain your knee and break your ankle."

Fig 3

Fig 4

Mr. Higashi – "Very well. Here is how I can throw you over my back, heavily, stunning you" (Figure 5).

Fig 5

Mr. Leonard – "Quite right. That is a hip-lock, well known to American wrestlers. [EN11] And here (Figure 6) is a head-lock, by which an opponent can be thrown to the floor with such force as to end the contest. Let me show you the octus (Figure 7). The punishment of this hold is effected by jouncing an opponent and forcing his own weight upon his neck. Another effective hold popular with wrestlers is the bar-hammer lock and half-Nelson (Figure 1), got by forcing the hammer-lock with the right hand. In this position, either the arm will be broken or the shoulder dislocated."

Fig 6

Fig 7

Mr. Higashi – "I will show you another way in which I might throw you" (Figure 8).

Fig 8

Mr. Leonard – "The elbow-and-leg hold. We also practise it. It is a good hold."

Mr. Higashi – "Here is another way (Figure 9) in which jujitsu teaches us to throw an opponent."

Fig 9

Mr. Leonard – "Yes: that hold was early used by American wrestlers. We call it the buttock."

Mr. Higashi – "Let me show how I might break your leg if I were on the floor and you about to spring on me (Figure 10). By a quick jerk forward of your right foot with my right leg, and a hard drive of my left against your knee, the weight of your body would be sufficient to snap your leg at the knee." [EN12]

Fig 10

Mr. Leonard – "I can hardly imagine such a result."

Mr. Higashi – "Another way I might break your arm is in this fashion" (Figure 11). [EN13]

Fig 11

Mr. Leonard – "That position, it seems to me, would be almost impossible to secure. I do not see how a strong arm could be bent back so as to injure it. You Japanese are clever and scientific; you evidently have the quality of muscle, upon which both you and we put no little emphasis. But I have yet to see anything that you can show me which we could not match here in America, and in some respects improve upon."

Mr. Higashi – "But I cannot show you our serious tricks."

Mr. Leonard – "Ah!" [EN14]


EN1. "The first part," said Higashi elsewhere, "is a preparation for the second, which is harder and embraces some very serious tricks; the third part consists of tricks which are all deadly. In it the pupil is taught how to break the arm, back, neck, leg, heel, knee, thigh, etc." Since broken arms and heels are rarely fatal, and as it requires industrial accidents to break femurs, "deadly" would be better rendered as "capable of causing incapacitating injuries." The quote comes from "Wonderful Jiu-Jitsu" by Katsukuma Higashi in The Independent, 58 (Feb. 9, 1905), 320-321. Additional descriptions of Higashi’s methods can be found in the New York University newspaper (The Triangle, Jan. 19, 1905, and Jan. 24, 1905) and Outing ("The Fearful Art of Jiu Jitsu" by Robert Edgren, 44 (Dec. 1905), 322-328).

EN2. While Higashi appeared in many public exhibitions during late 1904 and early 1905, his opponents included a university athletic director, a football player, and a weightlifting bicycle cop. Thus Leonard’s cynicism.

EN3. This describes the history of Higashi’s own system rather than the history of jujutsu.

EN4. As Higashi was helping journalist Irving Hancock write a book called The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905), this statement was probably an advertisement for Hancock’s Physical Training for Women by Japanese Methods (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904).

EN5. Higashi’s arm-breaking statistic sounds exaggerated. Bare-knuckle boxers were more likely to break their own thumbs than opponents’ forearms, and the famous karateka Shigeru Egami reported breaking only one forearm during forty-odd years of trying.

EN6. Many Japanese strongmen did this trick. For additional examples, see E.W. Barton-Wright’s "Ju-jitsu and Ju-dô," Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, 5 (1902), 261-264, and E.J. Harrison’s article in Judo, Jan. 1946, 38-39. A more realistic time for escape was 20-30 seconds.

EN7. The word katsu means "life." Also known as kappo, katsu is better translated as "resuscitating using pressure at certain points."

EN8. This statement is idiosyncratic. In Jiu-Jutsu or Jiu-Do, Selection from Kodokwan Method (Cleveland, OH: Rikko Art Company, 1918), K. Yamanaka wrote that while modified forms of judo and jujutsu are suitable "even for young children whose bodies are still unformed" (page 11), "the best age for beginning the practice of Jiu-Jutsu is between the age of seventeen and twenty-five" (page 44).

EN9. This exaggerated claim was probably meant to elicit support for Higashi’s ambition of arranging a match with heavyweight boxing champion Jim Jeffries. For what it’s worth, Jeffries declined Higashi’s offer, saying, "I’d be a nice one if I should hit a little fellow like that." (New York World, Mar. 27, 1905, 8)

EN10. Most Kodokan judoka would use the lapels and choke.

EN11. This technique is not standard in Kodokan judo. It appears to combine kubinage (neck) and o-koshi-waza (big hip-throw).

EN12. Although this technique is banned in contest judo, it is often taught in self-defense classes. Higashi overestimates its practical value.

EN13. The equivalent move from judo is ude hishigi juji-gatame (cross armlock).

EN14. "Ah!" indeed: The US lightweight wrestling champion George Bothner beat Higashi in three straight falls during their match in New York in April 1905. Bothner’s trainers included J.J. O’Brien, the man who introduced President Theodore Roosevelt to jujutsu in 1902.

JCS Aug 2002