For those in the traditional Japanese martial arts world this may be the most frequently used, misused, and in my opinion abused verbiage. For the gun world think of it as tactics over technique but they apply perfectly in either realm. In fact the similarities in today’s gun world are striking,


Within Japanese culture the definitions are a bit more ambiguous than those translating it into English. Japanese is a language of context based on a culture that does not always translate to the literal. Americans like nice well defined boxes, not everyone in the world does. Japanese words can have multiple meanings depending on context and don’t always translate literally, a big reason they are often misused.

The accepted definition by most is Jitsu is the study of techniques. Becoming adept at the performance and application of certain techniques or the proper use of a particular tool. Many think this only applies to marital arts, but in Japan it applies to anything. Do implies some deeper meaning, almost spiritual attachment, something more than just the simple study of technique and its application but why. For context in the gun world “competitors” would probably practice Gun-Do, the “gunfighters” practice Gun-Jitsu the simple practice of application. Yep, sounds about as stupid as it really is. Reality is they are not separate, at least not in my four plus decades of experience and study. The terms are most often used as a tool to explain away your inability or unwillingness to do either or both. It is in my opinion part and parcel to a world that is focussed on division and separation.


Study the history of Japanese Martial arts, or arts in general and the separation really starts to appear during the Tokugawa Shogunate, a time of purported peace. Warriors having just unified Japan had to maintain their skills, ostensibly not for on going war or combat, but in preparation for any invasion. After “annexing” the Ryu-Kyu islands (Okinawa) warriors in general had little to do. Much of literature and the media romanticizes this, but basically you have thousands of trained warriors who in order to maintain their station as Samurai must train. At the same time outside a dual here and there and an occasional invasion attempt they never see war. It’s much easier to stay focussed on practical and expertly applied technique when failure results in your death. Weapons training was focussed on killing your opponent not being one with the inner spirit of the universe. What you did either worked or you died. Study within a system, family or clan largely remained practical, at least initially.

With no wars to fight dueling became popular. As time passed duels were frowned upon, even outlawed, at least those with live blades. Wooden swords (Boken) became a popular substitute. Injury was likely, death not a as much but possible. Engage in a sword fight resulting in death for the wrong reasons and the Shogunate may call for you to commit Seppuku (Ritual Suicide). As a Samurai you belonged to the Shogunate, this was not a Democracy or Republic, another item often lost in today’s romanticization.

Training needed a purpose, many became introspective hence Jitsu became Do, or training with some often ill-defined deeper purpose. At the time practicing “Do” did not abandon Jitsu, in fact most Japanese would not understand the distinction. How could you understand the deeper meaning of sword practice if you abandoned its application? They still trained the same just with an added purpose. Proliferation was included with schools popping up all over Japan. That did not really change all that much until the Meiji, or modern era where “Budo” became more a means to further Imperialism and included modern weapons. While the Samurai “class” was no longer, they did not disappear just faded into the background. Samurai the class was gone, but the lineage remained. That was unchanged until Japan’s defeat and America’s Occupation, and thats where “Do” in Japan really came into its own and largely passed on to the rest of the world.

Warriors were Evil

Most understand that we (America) banned and outlawed any practice of war in Japan, it was part of our occupation. What most seem to forget is the disdain the general population had for the practice of any martial art. This was not just practical, but cultural. Those surviving the war blamed Imperialists and the practice of “Budo” for the war and its outcome, the nearly complete destruction of Japan and its culture. It meant those wanting to continue practicing the traditions of their ancestral warriors either went underground or changed stripes. Capitalizing on what was probably an abject ignorance of the distinction by us, martial training that was “jitsu” became “do”, in many cases with little or no change. The “martial” aspects were stripped or hidden leaving only the deeper meaning of training, it was an art, not a practice, eventually a sport like Judo and Kendo. Japan was able to keep the cultural aspects of its warrior tradition while on the surface at least abandoning the martial aspects of the training.

The Real World

I started training in the marital arts in 1972 with a mostly continuous study covering a number of traditional and non-traditional arts. Over the decades a pattern has developed that seems to only grow worse, the use of the terms Jitsu and Do not as descriptors, but a means for separation. It implies that you can train in Kendo for instance ignoring the practical application of the sword. Conversely if you are practicing Kenjitsu you do nothing but mindlessly practice “techniques” with no focus on why, or for any purpose other than killing. The gun world has adopted the same stance, you train as “gunfighters” or something else. Real warriors train for a fight, everything else is a game, sport, or meaningless practice. What you end up with is gunfighters that can’t shoot, and shooters that can’t fight.

It has been my experience in Karate, Judo, Aikido and Kendo as well. Those living the “way’ revel in their lack of need to practice the techniques of their art intensely abandoning practicality and function for the greater good of the universe; what I call “nuts and granola”. They are studying the “deeper meaning” of martial training. Application is unnecessary, perfecting technique is only “one aspect” of training and not the most important. Many abandon it all together because fighting is bad, better to be one with the universe “loving” your opponent practicing the “way”. Schools intensely focused on the practical can somehow abandon why they train and its application within the world we live. The terms Do and Jitsu are used as reasons to abandon one or the other instead of understanding they are inseparable.


What you end up with is Karate schools who’s techniques look like aerobic dance, gymnastics or grade schoolers learning to use pom-poms. Form completely void of power, balance, speed, or even the remotest hint of practical application. In many cases kumite (fighting) is completely abandoned or solely focussed on scoring “points”. Training on the details is hard, inconvenient, and since what you do does not matter, only why, then who cares. Aikido and Judo techniques that only work when your opponent is “cooperative” and being “one with the opponent” are the norm. Ukemi, or falling skills that are useless outside a dojo. Sword techniques that are more about “touching” than cutting. The complete abandonment of practical work with a Boken (or Bokuto) providing a means to use what you practice. While you may not end up in a sword fight there may be a stick near by. As my colleague said the other day, I would not want to mess with you holding a broom stick”. Gun handling skills look like something out of a comic book or movie with no practical application and a whole crop of shooters that look cool but can’t hit the broad side of a barn. All “excused” because they are either a “Do” or a “Jitsu” and not both.

All is not Lost

There are schools that remain focussed on both the application of skill and its detailed study with an understanding of its broader context in the world. Training in these schools can provide a solid focus on both. Having trained with Shorinji Buddhist monks I assure you they are spiritual, yet their physical training is rigorous, and practical, if not brutal. The same can be said for Aikido training, some of the most brutal application you can find occurs at schools in Japan who have not lost focus. An old colleague of mine spent his first three days in Japan getting revived after having been knocked unconscious by Aikidoka. Why because he did not “get out of the way” first when punched or kicked. It seems his Black Belt in one with the world Aikido did not mean much to those at the Hombu in Japan. There are firearms trainers that refuse to sacrifice shooting skill for “tactical” mindset understanding you need both. It’s all there, you just have to look, and that is the hard part.

Here is the bottom line, the serious study of any martial art, or one designed to protect you and yours is hard. If it’s easy something is missing. Fighting is not easy, nor should it be done without mental preparation and moral pinnings. Training to fight without understanding right from wrong, and what is and is not acceptable is wrong. Martial training without any focus on practical application is called dance. If you want to be a dancer than fine, just don’t expect to dance your way out of a fight. Call it what you want, Do, Jitsu, or JitsuDo, just remember practical application and detailed understanding of technique are symbiotic with the broader study of why, not separate. Do so and not only will your life be better, it may save your ass someday!