An encounter with a traditional jujitsu master

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Rahim (standing) teaching students ground techniques in his dojo.

Rahim (standing) teaching students ground techniques in his dojo.

While being exceedingly polite, traditional Japanese jujitsu (literally gentle art) master Rahim El-Amin exuded an aura of confidence and quiet awareness during our meeting. Rahim visited the Philippines last month and he was introduced to me by Philippine Swimming League President Susan Papa.

When Papa invited me to lunch with Rahim, she told me beforehand that he is a “jiu-jitsu teacher.” So I thought the man is teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ).

“Oh no, I’m teaching traditional Japanese jujitsu,” Rahim explained politely when I asked if he’s teaching the fighting art popularized by the Gracie family of Brazil.

The difference between traditional Japanese jujitsu and BJJ is an interesting topic among martial artists and Rahim was eager to share his insights.


Rahim has been practicing his martial art for 48 years now. His journey into traditional Japanese jujitsu started when he was 11 in Bronx, New York under the tutelage of the late grandmaster Philip Scrima,” My mother and I checked on several schools in the beginning until we found Scrima’s school,” Rahim narrated. He earned all his jujitsu belts under Scrima including his 10th degree rank.

Rahim, who’s teaching the Fuji-ryu style, said that the main difference between traditional Japanese jujitsu and BJJ is the scope of coverage. The Samurai warriors when they broke their swords or spears or when they ran out of arrows originally used the empty hand skills of Japanese jujitsu to survive in battle. Rahim said that the curriculum is extensive encompassing stand-up and ground grappling, throwing, striking as well as weapons training that includes the sword, knife and stick. In addition to the aforementioned, Rahim added that the purpose of training is to win in an actual self-defense situation not in a tournament. He explained that jujitsu is the mother art of judo and aikido.

In comparison, BJJ, while covering both self-defense and sport training largely focuses on ground grappling and striking. BJJ was developed in Brazil during the early part of the 20th century based on the teachings of Kodokan judo master Mitsuyo Maeda. The efficacy of BJJ has been proven through the years in the arena of sport grappling and mixed martial arts (MMA).

BJJ first caught the public’s eye when Royce Gracie dominated fighters from other martial arts using BJJ during the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Champion-ship (UFC) in the early 1990s. But Rahim recalled not being surprised by the techniques Royce Gracie used to win over bigger opponents in the first few editions of the UFC, “Ground grappling is part of traditional Japanese jujitsu training so how Royce Gracie won his fights was really nothing new to me in those days,” he said.

Rahim and I also agreed that taking the fight to the ground, while effective in tournaments and one-on-one fights is not something you want to do in a street fight where multiple opponents and weapons are often involved.

Rahim also warns of the possibility of serious injuries in sport jiu-jitsu and MMA. He told me of one incident wherein an irresponsible player applied a technique that severely injured his opponent’s spine. The extent of the injury Rahim said, left the player paralyzed for life. He related that he never got a single injury in his 48 years of studying and teaching traditional Japanese jujitsu.

Rahim believes that it is unwise for a martial artist to sustain serious injury during training and that he should instead reserve his mettle for a real fight. He also said that martial arts, in addition to teaching one how to fight should also promote health and wellbeing. Rahim said that unlike in other martial arts where practitioners constantly complain of injury, training in traditional Japanese jujitsu result to the betterment of mind, body and spirit, “In our school, students always leave with a better health not injuries,” Rahim concluded.

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