Renzo Gracie's book Mastering Jujitsu makes the interesting and not otherwise repeated claim that BJJ is descended directly from Fusen-Ryu rather than Judo. Allegedly, while Judo was cleaning up at the Tokyo Police competitions, Fusen-Ryu was the only style that beat them, and they apparently did so by butscooting and going for submissions. This is also apparently how Judo got its newaza.

The thing is, I've tried to find just any shred of evidence that Fusen-Ryu has newaza, preferably from someone who practices it, rather than heresay a few generations removed. I haven't found anything that even closely resembles it. MMA.tv forum member and BJJ blackbelt Shen was interested in this a few years ago as well, and he also came up empty. All anyone I've been able to talk to has been able to find is that Fusen-Ryu isn't distinguishable in a meaningful way from other classical jujitsu styles.

What I have been able to find though is a video documentary in the 50s (can't remember the title or the videographer at the moment, will edit when I find that info) showing one of the Kodokan's higher black belts doing some pretty advanced newaza - I saw what definitely looked like X-Guard (60 years ago!). The videographer, a Judo black belt himself wasn't well versed in newaza though so he wasn't able to describe or explain it in any detail beyond the awe he had for the newaza specialist's skill. So there's evidence of advanced newaza in Judo in the first half of the 20th century. Anyone have something similar for Fusen-Ryu?

What I'm looking for as far as documentation goes is either video showing newaza, photographs showing newaza, or technique and/or kata descriptions that clearly incorporate newaza.

  • Could you quote exactly what Renzo's claim is? Jul 14, 2012 at 1:52
  • @DaveLiepmann if I can find it at the library and it hasn't been checked out.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 14, 2012 at 4:20
  • From what I can glean through Amazon's preview feature (and I certainly could be mistaken since I have not seen the full text either), Renzo does not make the claim that BJJ is directly descended from Fusen-ryu. He does argue that BJJ and Fusen share a fight strategy, and he speaks (with references to some of the same sources as me) of Fusen using guard-pulling and ground grappling to defeat the Kodokan team. Again, this does not require the official Fusen waza or kata to involve groundwork, nor for BJJ to be a direct descendant. Jul 14, 2012 at 23:37
  • Any chance of getting the proper kanji on Fusen-ryu? I know of a school of kusarigama-jutsu called Fusen-ryu as well. Might help to track down the appropriate art and some documentation.
    – stslavik
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:15
  • @stslavik can't say I've ever seen the kanji for it, I suppose you could go backwards and find out what the kanji for that school in question is
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:53

3 Answers 3


The relationships between judo, Kosen judo, various traditional Japanese jujutsu ryu, groundwork (newaza), the nature of challenge matches during that period in Japan, and pinning a style on a given grappling expert during that period in Japan are all very complicated and deeply interconnected. In my view, if we are to develop an understanding of this history, we must do so very carefully, and by focusing on primary source documents as frequently as possible.

Evidence and theories we should take into account

User Ddlr on Bullshido is an accomplished martial arts historian, and has this to say:

[I]t's probably not accurate to say that Tanabe of the Fusen introduced the concept of ground fighting to the Kodokan, but he may have been of higher proficiency than most of Kano's boys. Kano wasn't above inviting experts to teach at the Kodokan; I suspect this is another example of Kano recruiting from the best to teach at his school.

He goes on (bless our lucky stars):

Fusen-ryu per se may also be something of a red herring; we know that Mataemon Tanabe was also associated with the Handa dojo and that both Uyenishi and Miyake referred to the Handa dojo in connection with their own training before they started competing outside Japan. As I quoted earlier, Miyake specified that the style(s) taught at the Handa dojo emphasized ne-waza.

My best guess on this, because we quickly run out of documentable sources, is that ne-waza was something more in the nature of a personal specialty of Tanabe's, perhaps shared by Yataro Handa (I can't recall their formal relationship offhand). I would further speculate that there may have been some connection between what was being taught at the Handa dojo and the more-or-less informal inter-style competition rules/conventions that were evolving as a result of the high-school level competitions during the 1890s and very early 1900s, which was when the international judo/jujitsu pioneers were training in Japan. Again, those rules also appear to have emphasized competitive ne-waza.

Ddlr goes into the Fusen ryu red herring in more detail here. His thesis that Tanabe was a great grappler who just happened to be a Fusen-ryuka is greatly buttressed by the September 1952 edition of Henri Plée's Revue Judo Kodokan, in which 8th dan Kainan Shimomura wrote:

[I]n January 1891 an inter-group combat took place in which Tobari (then 3rd dan judo, he died an 8th dan) for the Kodokan opposed [Matauemon] Tanabe, expert of the Fusen-ryu school. One must not commit the error of considering the ancient jujutsu as being a priori inferior to modern judo.

Straightaway Tanabe sought the combat on the ground, but Tobari succeeded in remaining standing up. After a fierce fight Tanabe won by a very successful stranglehold on the ground. Tobari, bitterly disappointed by the defeat, began to feverishly study groundwork.

The year after, he challenged Tanabe again. This time it was a ground battle and once more Tanabe won. He was now famous and, in the name of the ancient schools, challenged the members of the Kodokan, and even Isogai (then 3rd dan, at the time of his death he was a 10th dan) was put in danger from his ground technique. The Kodokan then concluded that a really competent judoka must possess not only a good standing technique but good ground technique as well. This is the origin of the celebrated 'ne-waza of the Kansai region'. And in conclusion to all this one may very well say that Mataemon Tanabe, too, unconsciously contributed towards the perfecting of the judo of the Kodokan.

That theory grows even stronger with this telling (PDF) of Tanabe's time growing up and learning (Fusen-ryu) jujutsu from his father through rough training and competition:

When I trained with my father’s other students I would never give in to a strangle or a lock. When I was fifteen I got caught in an arm-lock and my elbow was dislocated with a loud crack. My tactic was to wait till my opponent got tired and then make a move to free myself. It was the same with strangles. This ability to endure locks and strangles created various strategies for me. I soon came to be called Newaza-Tanabe.

It only makes sense to give him a nickname about his preference for groundwork if the style doesn't focus on newaza. It's certainly possible that the techniques that officially made up the style didn't even include groundwork or wrestling, since rough-and-tumble childhood grappling was the norm. Men were expected to know the basics of wrestling; a given jujitsu ryu was meant to supplement that with specific advanced techniques.

I recommend thoroughly sifting through all of these threads to piece together what makes what degree of sense. It's important to keep multiple contradictory beliefs in your head, each rated by degree of evidence.

Evidence that Tanabe Knew His Groundwork

The head of the Fusen-ryu during the era when judo came to prominence, Mataemon Tanabe, had some tight ground-grappling technique:

Mataemon Tanabe executing what judoka call *juji-gatame*

Mataemon Tanabe executing what Brazilian jiu-jitsu calls the rear naked choke

Mataemon Tanabe holding his opponent with *kata-gatame*!

Mataemon Tanabe executing what judoka call *ude-gatame*

Images are from R. H. Marcus' blog, which argues as I do that Kosen was merely a ruleset preferred by some judoka, and that calling some techniques specifically Kosen would be misguided.

Note also that while this is the head of Fusen-ryu executing what he would obviously call Fusen-ryu techniques, and he had success with these techniques in challenge matches using what was known as the Fusen-ryu approach or tactics of focusing on these techniques, we still cannot say that Fusen-ryu's canonical techniques, the ones transmitted as the core of the art, include any groundwork. (They may. They may not. We don't know. A fusen-ryu lineage holder would.)

Conclusions we may draw

All told, the claim that Brazilian jiu-jitsu is directly descended from Fusen-ryu does not seem to hold water. (We know that Maeda learned judo (or "Kano jiujitsu"), not Fusen-ryu, and this is what he taught the Gracies.) Similarly, the claim that Fusen-ryu was a style with formal techniques oriented towards ground grappling does not seem to be supported by the evidence. The theory that a Fusen-ryu practitioner just happened to specialize in a subset of grappling techniques is much more likely, given the evidence.

We can definitively say, however, that Mataemon Tanabe, who literally embodied the Fusen-ryu at the time of Jigoro Kano, most definitely possessed extensive and skilled newaza, as we see in the images above.

  • @Patricia I merely gathered the work of actual historians. Robin should get the credit--it's a great question that spurred my pseudo-research. Jul 23, 2012 at 17:00
  • 2
    The link of the article in question: abloodyblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/kosen-judo Where do I "call some techniques specifically Kosen"? "It has been well-argued elsewhere that Kosen was merely a ruleset preferred by some judoka." Thank you for reiterating that (although a third of my article accentuates this very same -fact-).
    – user944
    Feb 9, 2013 at 14:36
  • Thanks for dropping by, and for the updated link. I got that impression from the "Kosen Judo evolution" section, but will rephrase my statement to better showcase our agreement. I think the only potential distance between our views is that much like you convincingly argue that many techniques attributed to Brazilian judoka were predated by Kosen judoka, I've heard claims that some non-Kosen judoka were making the same inroads into newaza. Feb 10, 2013 at 1:14

one art, two halves, standup, and ground. Rare is the judoka who can master both. To be called a master, you must master both, that's my take. yup two black belts in two different arts, only then are you a true jiu-jitsu man, or Judo man if you prefer.

When it comes to winning for its own sake, the newaza way is more practical, and actually easier to learn. That's how MMA guys with only 2 years of training can beat martial artists with many more years experience, the shit is easier to learn, and it works, usually.

When it comes to winning with style, and impressing upon spectators that you are the superior martial artist, it's all about Ippon (and on concrete that is serious injury or death, it's no sport). Japanese are all about winning with style, making it look good even when unnecessary. It's a universal fact in all martial arts, that for the well rounded fighter, it's easier and takes less effort to win on your feet with strikes or dominant takedown. Why go to the ground if you don't have to (especially in a street fight)? so Judo in Japan focused on the standup, and forgot about the ground game.

It seems that Maeda was perhaps the last surviving judo newaza master. He taught his version of Judo with the Newaza focus to Gracie (it was not called jiu-jitsu). Realizing it was a very different from the popular type of Judo, and knowing the Jiu-jitsu history (pre-judo), Gracie decided to change the name. It could have been Gracie Judo Newaza. But they went with Gracie Jiu-jitsu.

One more thing. Gracie jiu jitsu is very innovative, still developing, cross training with wrestlers and mma strikers. So jiu-jitsu is a developing art. But what if it's a lost art, that's been broken down into several parts. To reclaim this art, and make it whole, one must study throws (judo), standing joint holds (aikido/hapkido), groundwork (BJJ), and some sort of striking (Boxing and Wing Chun are the best, kickboxing just ain't jiu-jitsu compatible, takes too much effort). Now you're talking. Now we are getting back to that world's oldest martial art, the first mixed martial art (real jim-jitsu uses strikes, or atemi to set up techniques). Well that's about all I got to say about that.

  • Hi, and welcome to the site. While this is all definitely very interesting, it doesn't exactly pertain to the question asked. Perhaps you could tell us how this answers the question regarding documentation of the newaza of Fusen-ryu?
    – stslavik
    May 28, 2013 at 17:18

In Hiroshima and northern Japan where Maeda was from there are native Ryu of ground fighting and wrestling. The confusion is that everyone finds it shocking that there are these waza apart from BJJ. Some BJJ people think it is new. in Judo the sport had ability to take a knee and initiate newaza to avoid an opponents throw until the 60s. Perhaps for a draw in judo competitions or gain submission. In any event, the throws take a long time to get. It's easier relatively to learn the newaza for example Kosen judo from the school team. Easier to develop winning team by newaza focus. And in some ways explains why Maeda taught this. So people didn't get hurt by throws.

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