Matthew R. Bisson
The Yellow Belt — The First Accomplishment In A Jūjutsuka’s Long Road
The Yellow Belt — The First Accomplishment In A Jūjutsuka’s Long Road

Ketsugō Jūjutsu

“…any technique that is ‘workable’ — efficient and effective — is acceptable.”
 — Shihan Dickey

Ketsugō Jūjutsu (結合柔術) is a contemporary take on one of Japan’s most ancient martial arts. The word, “jūjutsu” can be literally translated from Japanese as “the gentle art.” The word ketsugō is a Japanese word that means “a blending,” and describes how this particular brand of jūjutsu incorporates some of the best aspects of aikidō, jūdō, karate, and many other martial arts. Thus, despite its old world origins, it is considered to be a “gendai” or modern combat art.

Ketsugō jūjutsu is designed for self-defense, and not (as some other martial arts) for fitness or sport. Like traditional jūjutsu, ketsugō also encompasses the techniques of body movement (tai sabaki), grappling (ne waza), joint locking (kansetsu waza), kicking and punching (atemi waza), off balancing (kuzushi), and throwing (nage waza). It offers unarmed defense techniques against many weapon types as well (edged, impact, projectile, and so on).

Boston Ketsugō Academy of Self Defense

Ketsugō jūjutsu traces its origins to the 1950’s United States. While it is unclear who, if any, can claim to have invented the system — former Navy “frogman,” Harold Brosius was one of the first to start a dōjō with this name — our dōjō, Boston Ketsugō Academy of Self Defense, was started by Shihan Robert Dickey in that same time frame.

Jūjutsuka practicing grappling techniques at Boston Ketsugō Academy of Self Defense.
Jūjutsuka practicing grappling techniques at Boston Ketsugō Academy of Self Defense.

Shihan Dickey studied jūjutsu from age 4 onward, and he earned the rank of Shodan (1st degree black belt) by age 16. In the military, he met and studied under jūdō Shihan Doug Hall. At this time, Hall already had an impressive résumé teaching jūdō, and was known to have (despite being born in the United States) been raised in Japan, married there, and even spoke Japanese much of the time. By the end of his nearly 60 year career, Shihan Dickey achieved the rank of Hachidan (8th degree) in ketsugō jūjutsu, and Rokudan (6th degree) in jūdō. He opened dōjōs in Dorchester, and near South Station in Boston (both named, The Academy of Ketsugo), and also had schools in Weymouth, Salem (NH), and Phoenix.

When Shihan Dickey retired from his position as head instructor at Boston Ketsugō Academy of Self Defense, he left the school in the hands of Sensei Darryl Rambo. Sensei Rambo began his jūjutsu training under Shihan Dickey, and was Senpai, teaching with Shihan for many years. He has been an instructor at this school since 1990. He currently holds the rank of Sandan (3rd degree) in ketsugō jūjutsu from Shihan Dickey, Shodan in jūdō from Ō-Sensei Phil Porter, and also Shodan in Tae Kwon Do from Master Suk Chung (formerly based in Harvard Square).

School Philosophy

Ubiquitous to ketsugō jūjutsu is the emphasis of efficiency of movement — strike quickly, directly, and decisively when attacked. Millimeters matter! Each body position requires emphasis on the making the tiniest movement possible. A block that is off by three inches is not off by just three inches, it is actually off by six inches: three inches too wide, and that same three inches back again into a position where you can make your next move. Every part of a body movement is scrutinized for efficiency and effectiveness. Why stop an attack by stopping the attacker’s momentum, when you can use that momentum to throw or add to the strength of your strike? Why not strike when any opportunity presents itself? Why bring your arm across your opponent’s face for a technique without striking with an elbow on the way past? Ketsugō is all about optimizing opportunities that the attacker presents you and disabling them totally before they even have time to make their next move. Shihan Dickey spoke of Shihan Hall’s blocks this way: “when Shihan Hall blocked a punch to his face, you could tell how long ago he had shaved by the stubble on his face as your punch was blocked.”

One of the important differences between the way our school teaches and how others teach is the emphasis that is placed on good foundations with all techniques. Frequently Shihan Dickey would come to class, pick two or three basic techniques that he wanted to work on, and the class would practice these two or three techniques for the full 2 – 3 hours of class. Like many things in life, higher level jūjutsu techniques build upon simpler techniques, and without having solid simpler techniques, your more complicated techniques will suffer. Without the proper foundations, your techniques will break down under the stress of an actual dangerous situation, and you will have studied for years without real success.

Similarly, we do not require that a jūjutsuka know sixty different techniques before obtaining the next level of their training. The more you perfect your small set of techniques over the year(s) that you train toward a belt, the more useful they will be toward you. In a situation where you are required to defend yourself from harm, you cannot use fifteen different techniques all at once — especially if you only know them and are not necessarily proficient with them. You must be able to accept what the attacker gives you and respond quickly and effectively. It’s a bit like a batter in baseball trying to hit a ten-run home run with one swing of the bat — you simply can’t perform five different techniques at once when just one good one will succeed. If you consider jūjutsu to be a life-long pursuit, you will have plenty of time to master (not just know) all the techniques in existence, you just have to keep studying, of course!

Further Information

For even more information about ketsugō jūjutsu, please check the Wikipedia entry (also edited by me in December 2010).

This is a draft of the Boston Ketsugō Academy of Self Defense manual (redux). This manual is intended for members of the dojo, but is provided for those who are curious. It is not intended, however, to use as a guide to learn ketsugō jūjutsu without instruction. Do not attempt these techniques without proper instruction and oversight, as you will hurt yourself. It is deliberately incomplete, so that you seek direction from an instructor and will learn all the nuances of these techniques.

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