Jiu-jitsu (djoo djitsoo) can be translated as the ‘gentle art’ (ju or jiu = gentle, soft, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding; jitsu = art or technique). The word ‘gentle’ is not about the force or effectiveness of the sport, but represents the way a jiu-jitsuka uses the force of her/his opponent to bring the opponent to submission. This is different from for example karate, where the karateka would block an attack and respond with a punch or kick. This can be seen as a ‘hard’ defensive technique. A jiu-jitsuka would try to use the energy of the attack of the opponent and use it against the opponent. If a jiu-jitsuka is pushed, she/he can use the forward energy of the opponent to throw her/him. Instead of using force to resist the push, the jiu-jitsuka will go with the flow of the movement of the opponent after which she/he can neutralise the opponent by using throws, locks or atemi (kicks and punches).
The origins of jiu-jitsu are unclear. A lot of jiu-jitsuka consider it a true japanese martial art. However, jiu-jitsu might have its roots in China. The samurai practiced jiu-jitsu so they could still fight when they were disarmed. When the feudal system was abolished, the jiu-jitsu schools did not get any funding anymore. In order to get money, the masters had to teach jiu-jitsu to citizens who were not of the samurai class. This is how jiu-jitsu could spread to the rest of the world. Some other forms of self-defence and martial arts, like judo and aikido, are derived from jiu-jitsu.
There are a lot of legends about the history and origins of jiu-jitsu. One of the most popular is the legend of Dr Akiama. Dr Akiama was a Japanese doctor who travelled through China and admired the Chinese martial arts. After years of practice, he became a master. However, he still faced a problem. He wondered what he could do when some else would use the fighting techniques against him. After months of reflection and meditation he found an answer. During a cold winter day he saw a branch of a cherry tree breaking under the weight of the fallen snow. The branches of the willow next to the cherry tree did not break. The branches of this tree bowed under the weight of the snow and the snow would glide of the branches. At that moment, he had found his answer: to survive one must be resilient and pliable. He adapted the techniques of his fighting style to accommodate this new mindset. Jiu-jitsu was born.