Fighting systems have existed, developed and evolved in Japan for centuries and there is actually no concrete answer to the question when Jiu jitsu have started. The earliest recorded use of the word "Jiu jitsu" happened in 1532, though the arts had existed before and it was known as Yawara, Hakuda, Kogusoko, and in a variety of other names. The history of the arts is unclear during that time, since the teachers kept everything a secret to add to the art a shade of importance.
Today Jiu jitsu systems are diverse, but have common technical characteristics, philosophical and mental components that have significance, an application and a value for the development of the actual combat effectiveness of a practitioner. The philosophical and mental components include all-encompassing awareness, zanshin (literally a "remaining spirit"), in which a practitioner is ready for anything, at any time; the spontaneity of mushin (literally "no mind"), which allows an immediate action without a conscious thought; and a state of equanimity or imperturbability, known as fudoshin (literally an "immovable mind"). Together, these states of mind considerably strengthen a Jiu jitsu practitioner, giving him the ultimate potential for an effective action. Thus, the effectiveness of a Jiu jitsu practitioner depends both on his technical competence and on a mental mastery and is achieved only through a devoted, serious and regular training.
The important technical similarities of different Jiu jitsu systems are the following:
Students learn traditional Jiu jitsu primarily by an observation and imitation.
Most Jiu jitsu systems emphasize joint-locking techniques, which is threatening a joint's integrity by placing a pressure on it in a direction opposite to its normal function, takedown or throwing techniques, or a combination of take-downs and joint-locks.
Very occasionally a strike, targeted to a particularly vulnerable area, will be used to set-up an opponent for a lock, take-down or throw.
In the arts name Jiu connotes pliability and suppleness; therefore, force never meets force directly and techniques should not need to be strong-armed to be effective; there is a great emphasis, placed on a flow and a technical mastery.
Movements emphasize circularity and accumulate on an attacker's momentum and openings in order to place a joint in a compromised position or to break a balance as a preparatory for a takedown or throw.
A defender's body is positioned to take an optimal advantage of the attacker's weaknesses, while simultaneously showing few openings or weaknesses of its own.
Weapons might include, for instance, the roku shaku bo (a long staff), han bo (a short staff), Wakizashi or kodachi (a short sword), katana (a long sword) and tanto (a knife).
Since Jiu jitsu has a long history and a highly developed basis, it has become the foundation for a variety of styles today. An individual instructor can modify the rules, incorporate new techniques and create his own Jiu jitsu school. Many of such varieties are not already considered as Jiu jitsu branches. This is the case with judo that has been derived from Jiu jitsu, but now is a distinct martial art.