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Jiu Jitsu or Jujutsu — Romanisation of Japanese

金, 2013-11-15 20:00 - At Adam Tilley's black-belt grading on 2013-11-15 at Judgemeadow Community College in Leicester.Tony Hughes (blue) and Simon Ford-Powell

Tony Hughes (blue) demonstrating a Jiu Jitsu throw with Simon Ford-Powell

A friend of mine, who is a very experienced martialartist in a few disciplines, including Jiu Jitsu (Jujutsu, Jujitsu, Ju Jutsu), asked me what is the appropriate spelling of Jiu Jitsu in alphabet, referring to the following post by some one, who seems to be in favour of "Jujutsu":

The reason lies in the actual kanji (characters) used in jujutsu which mean "the gentle art". Jujutsu, jujitsu and jiu jitsu are all ways of reading the exact same kanji, so the only difference is in how they are read. First, "jujutsu" is the modern way that those characters are written in English. This is technically the correct way it is written for english speakers. Jujitsu is incorrect when used by English speakers because there is no "I" sound (like in the word "it") in Japanese. Any time you see an "I" in a Japanese word, it is pronounced as "EE" (like in the word "sheet"). The issue is in how the words were originally translated. The "u" sounds in "jutsu" are often said with very little inflection compared to what we use in English. An example is the Japanese word "tsuka" which refers to the handle on a katana, it is pronounced "ska" not "tsOOka". In fact, "jitsu" was the old way that english speakers had romanized that character, but it has long since been updated.

Jiu jitsu is how the Portugeuse spell the exact same kanji. This is why there is nothing wrong with the term "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu", because that is consistent with how they had romanized those characters. It is likely the popularity of BJJ has led many to think that "jitsu" is correct. In fact you'll not find this mistake in any other Japanese art besides jujutsu, for example there are no kenjitsu, aikijitsu, ninjitsu, or any other -jitsu martial arts. Go to koryu.com and you will see that there are zero arts which use -jitsu.

Furthermore, at no point in Japanese history has anyone practiced jujitsu/jujEEtsu, and you will not find any record of anyone practicing it. Some suggest that the "jitsu" is in reference to the Japanese word for "truth/reality", which is correct if you just type it into a translator. I think this has compelled many to assume that there is a difference between jujitsu and jujutsu, but what they fail to realize is that the kanji for jitsu is completely different than the kanji for jutsu.

Interestingly, "jujitsu" actually means fullness/completion/perfection, but it has nothing to do with a style of martial art.

— posted by asymnation in circa 2010 at Yahoo! Answers
https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100212065009AA93kis#ya-best-answer

I would say the author asymnation's claim is factually corrrect mostly, though is incorrect at one point and contains points I don't know about.

Here is my view.

1. "Official" romanisation in Japanese

First, let's put it straight.

There used to be no definitive rule of "romanisation" of Japanese words. There are now — officially there are two, called, kunrei (訓令式) and Hepburn (ヘボン式) styles (See Wikipedia entry of "Romanization of Japanese").

Jiu Jitsu is written as

  • zyuuzyutu (in kunrei)
  • juujutsu or jujutsu (in Hepburn)

Kunrei is universal in the sense people with many different languages that use the alphabet in their written form (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian etc) can pronounce the original Japanese roughly correctly if perhaps not precisely, whereas Hepburn is English-based in the sense you can pronounce it corectly — more correctly than Kunrei — but only if you follow the convention of English-writing/pronunciation.

For example, take the word "chi" in Hepburn-style, or "チ" in Katakana in Japanese, which in isolation means either blood (血) or ground (地) or knowledge (知).

Note "chi" as in "Tai Chi" is Chinese, and not Japanese.

English people would pronounce "chi"(チ) similar to how Japanese do. But French people would do it like "shi" (as in ship), and Italian people, like "ki" (as in kitten), as that is how French and Italian spellings would do. Then, when Japanese hear such pronunciation by French or Italians, they would not understand it is meant to be "chi"(チ). In kunrei-style it is "ti"(チ). When western people read "ti", be it English, French, or Italians, their pronunciation is of course different from Japanese do, however at least Japanese are likely to understand what it is meant when they hear.

I would say there is no right or wrong, but that is the fundamental difference between Hepburn and kunrei styles. In Japan, kunrei used to be the standard. However as English has become more dominant as the world standard, Hepburn has almost taken over nowadays, such as the name in a passport.

Both the kunrei and Hepburn styles have been around for some time, about a century. However, before the world war II, I think the number of people who knew them was limited, and so was their use. After all only the best intellectuals or the most adventurous Japanese people understood European languages at that time. After the world war II, English was installed as an official and obligatory curriculum at schools, then people started to learn the romanisation. Nowadays you can assume almost all the Japanese know how (either or both) romanisation works more or less.

Jiu Jitsu was first exported before the world war II. I suppose the early apprentices wrote it down in alphabet as they heard from their Japanese teachers. Whether they heard it as "Jiu Jitsu" or "Ju Jutsu" (Jujutsu), who could possibly tell which is more correct than the other?

And remember, each Japanese person would pronounce it somewhat differently, depending which area/village they are from! People in pubs in London must speak rather differently from those in Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, and so on. The difference in dialects in Japanese is even greater than that in English, allegedly greater than that between English and German at their extreme ends. You can guess variations in pronunciations between Japanese people must be considerable.

Also, I am not surprised if how the people used to pronounce a century ago is somewhat different how people nowadays do. Take the Great Vowel Shift, which happened in England between 1350-1600. It is a well-known fact that the standard pronunciations vary over time and geographical region.

2. Sensitivity to difference in sound and pronunciations

Second, the sensitivity to each sound varies a lot from language to language. Personally, I still can't distinguish "R" and "L", like rice and lice when I hear, after well over a decade of living in Britain. I also struggle with "Th" and "S" or "Z", "B" and "V", or "Fu" and "Hu", and many vowels in English. Inconveniently, my auditory sense is not sensitive to the difference between those sounds.

The opposite is not quite true; English-speaking people would do better when they learn Japanese, because English uses a greater number of sounds than Japanese. Nevertheless some pronunciations distinguished naturally by Japanese are apparently very hard for English-speaking people. An example is, byoin (hospital) and biyoin (hair-dresser's). Most notably, Japanese distinguishes long and short vowels, as Arabic does, like Masaaki and Masaki (they are completely different names).

Korean language demonstrates this aspect very well. I "think" Korean people struggle to distinguish "pace" and "base", because "P" and "B" in these instances are naturally indistinguishable for them. However, I think Korean people distinguish the difference between the three "P" sounds between "pace", "shipping" and "asparagus". I am sure hardly any English-speaking people have ever thought these three "P" sounds were any different from one another, even though they pronounce them differently without being aware of. And this difference is essential in Korean language, and their characters, Hangul, represent them very well.

3. Phonological changes

Third, any language has phonological changes, whether people who speak their languages are aware of or not. Obvious examples are

  • insert → insertion ("T" → "SH")
  • electric → electricity ("K" → "S").

Or, "P" sounds between "in a pace" and "up-pace", as English speakers pronounce, are actually different for Korean people; in other words, English-speaking people change the sound of "P", when they speak, depending on the neighbouring words, without realising it.

Similar things are present in Japanese, too. In some Japanese martialart terms, "K" changes into "G", such as, "keri" and "mawashi-geri", or "kari-waza" and "osoto-gari". Or "TSU" into "ZU" like "tsuki" into "gyaku-zuki", etc.

For the same reason, whereas the "original" way of pronouncing "Jiu Jitsu" is "ju-u-ju-tsu", most Japanese people pronounce it more like "ju-ju-ts(u)". The final "u" is inserted or not, depending on what follows. Only when Japanese people speak it very slowly and clearly, they insert "u" between the first and second syllables like "ju-u-ju-tsu". Mind you, they are not aware of such an actual change in how they pronounce it, and rather they tend to believe they always pronounce it like "ju-u-ju-tsu", while in reality they don't. Hiragana (and Katakana) in Japanese characters is phonetic in the sense it represents how it is pronounced, and in this case it is spelled like "ju-u-ju-tsu". But as mentioned above, how it is pronounced in reality can be a little different.

4. Subjectivity in pronunciations and listening

Fourth, how a person Jon thinks he hears and speaks, and how Jon's friend hears what Jon says, are two different things. They usually agree well if their mother tongues are identical. However if not, they can be rather different.

A famous example in Japan is hotta imo ijiru na!. Can you guess what it means? It is an English expression. In Japanese, it means Don't touch a potato you dug up!, and they can remember this sentence easily, not like some coded sentence. However, when Japanese people say that, Americans would immediately work it out as What time is it now?

I doubt if Americans would understand if YOU (English-speaking person) say hotta imo ijiru na! However, when Japanese say so, that is different, apparently, because how they pronounce it is different from how you do.

Interestingly, when Japanese people hear Americans say What time is it now?, I don't think they hear like hotta imo ijiru na, but something different, say (as an example), howattai ji nau. But if they repeat what they hear, that is, howattai ji nau, Americans wouldn't understand. In other words what they think they have heard and repeated is different from what they actually speak.

It is true children, particularly small children, can mimic what they hear and can speak as such rather well. However, it is difficult for adults, presumably because they have too much language bias (the mother tongue) in their head, already.

5. Case study of Jiu Jitsu — comments on the original post

Here I give some comments to the original post by asymnation's part by part.

The reason lies in the actual kanji (characters) used in jujutsu which means "the gentle art".

Correct ("柔術").

because there is no "I" sound (like in the word "it") in Japanese. Any time you see an "I" in a Japanese word, it is pronounced as "EE" (like in the word "sheet").

Incorrect.

It is true "I"(イ) used in most cases in Japanese are pronounced similar to "EE" in English (and so Japanese have to make a deliberate effort to learn and pronounce "I" correctly when they speak English).

But the "I" sound as in English does appear in Japanese, as a part of phonological changes, even though they are not aware of it.

The "u" sounds in "jutsu" are often said with very little inflection compared to what we use in English. An example is the Japanese word "tsuka" which refers to the handle on a katana, it is pronounced "ska" not "tsOOka".

Correct. Again it is a phonological change. If a Japanese speaks very slowly and clearly, those "u" sounds become prominent.

Jiu jitsu is how the Portugeuse spell the exact same kanji. This is why there is nothing wrong with the term "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu", because that is consistent with how they had romanized those characters.

I didn't know that! And I have no knowledge of Portuguese, so can't comment.

It is likely the popularity of BJJ that has led many to think that "jitsu" is correct. In fact, you'll not find this mistake in any other Japanese art besides jujutsu, for example there are no kenjitsu, aikijitsu, ninjitsu, or any other -jitsu martial arts.

I have no idea about the likelihood. However, the final sentence seems consistent with my (though limited) observation.

Some may suggest that the "jitsu" is in reference to the Japanese word for "truth/reality", which is correct if you just type it into a translator. I think this has compelled many to assume that there is a difference between jujitsu and jujutsu, but what they fail to realize is that the kanji for jitsu is completely different than the kanji for jutsu.

I find this is a slightly confusing statement. Let me clarify.

The word he refers to as "truth/reality" must be "実". In Hepburn-style romanisation, it is "jitsu" (じつ in Hiragana). This word has absolutely nothing to do with Jiu Jitsu.

The second-syllable word in Jiu Jitsu or Jujutsu is "術". In Hepburn-style romanisation, it is "jutsu" (じゅつ in Hiragana). .

They are two completely different words and pronunciations. For Japanese, the difference is obvious even in the spoken form, like rice and lice for English-speaking people, let alone in the written form.

As far as the the difference in pronunciations is concerned, I suppose those two would not be (easily) distinguishable for native English-speakers, just like "byoin" and "biyoin". However, if some one reasons it as the author suggests, it is absurd. But I don't know if any one can jump to the "answer" that wrong.

Interestingly, "jujitsu" actually means fullness/completion/perfection, but it has nothing to do with a style of martial art.

I guess the author meant "充実", whose Hepburn-style romanisation is "jujitsu", and the meaning is as he explains.

My opinion about the argument

All in all, I take the point raised by the author asymnation. Japanese people do distinguish the difference between, say,
"じゅうじつ" ="充実" (jujitsu in Hepburn; fullness) and
"じゅうじゅつ"="柔術" (jujutsu in Hepburn; a martialart).
If one follows the Hepburn-style romanisation, they are different.

To me, however, the Hepburn-style romanisation is just one of romanisations, and the one that is heavily English-biased. It is sometimes convenient to make a subtle difference in Japanese visible in alphabet, though it does not mean much for most but those who understand Japanese. To be honest, if they really want to do so, they should use Japanese characters, which number in thousands and are suitable, rather than a combination of 26 letters, which may not be adequate or very suitable to express Japanese words.

Conclusion

To summarise,

  1. There used to be no definitive rule in romanisation in Japanese, and no rule is perfect anyway, (Sec. 1)
  2. Sensitivity to each sound differs from language to language, (Sec. 2)
  3. Due to phonological changes, no written expression is always correct, (Sec. 3)
  4. How one thinks s/he pronounces can be different how another hears, (Sec. 4)
  5. While native Japanese speakers naturally distinguish the difference between "jiu" and "ju", or "jitsu" and "jutsu", native English speakers usually would not. (Sec. 5)

Based on these, my conclusion is whether "Jiu Jitsu" or "Jujutsu" is up to personal preference.

Certainly, very few, if any, native Japanese would mind either way. They would, only when it was written with Japaneses characters, because each of Japanese kanji characters holds its own meaning, which is important to represent the concept and idea of the word, or in this case, Jiu Jitsu. However, when it was written in foreign characters, be it alphabet, arabic, thai or whatever, all those potentially esoteric meanings but the pronunciations are inevitably lost in translation. Then Japanese people would be just happy to see one of their cultures have some presence in a foreign language, regardless of how it is written.

My teacher Simon Ford-Powell, for whom I feel great reverence, appreciates the history of the term Jiu Jitsu used in Britain (and by his teacher), since Jiu Jitsu was first brought over, which was a way before establishment of the standard Japanese romanisation (see a part in Sec.1). Allegedly, "Jiu Jitsu", along with "Jujutsu", was the original way accepted by the Oxford English Dictionary. I very much respect his view and the history in Britain, and as one of his students, I too usually choose to use the term "Jiu Jitsu" when I write it in English.

Masa Sakano

金, 2013-11-15 20:21 - At his black-belt grading on 2013-11-15.Adam Tilley demonstrating Tanto-dori no kata with Mike Shanks

Adam Tilley demonstrating a technique against a knife attack with Mike Shanks during his black-belt grading for Jiu Jitsu on 15 November 2013 at Judgemeadow Communiti College in Leicester, organised by Kano-kwai East Midland by Simon Ford-Powell with the guest instructor and referee Tony Hughes.

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