To understand why there are so few strikes in BJJ, we must go back to the beginnings of jujitsu. Before you think in your head, jujitsu? I thought it was jiu-jitsu? Generally speaking traditional Japanese style is typically referred to as jujitsu while BJJ is more commonly associated with Jiu-Jitsu.
We start at the Sengoku period (1467 – 1603) a time of conflict and war that began during the Ōnin War, which was a civil war that lasted from 1467 to 1477. During this time known as the “Warring States Period” combat was a daily part of life. Battles were typically comprised of skirmishes between warriors with bow and arrows, spear, and swords.
In order to protect themselves, samurais would wear full suits of armor consisting of 23 or more elements. The basics are the “cuirass (do), helmet (kabuto), face mask (men yoroi or menpo), armored sleeves (kote), greaves (suneate) and the cuisses (haidate).” These were largely made of scales and were mostly used during the 10th to the 15th century.
Seeing the outline of the armor, one can see that there were minimal weak points for one to penetrate. Striking a warrior in this armor would be very limited in its damaging effect. In response to this, jujitsu was created by combining various martial arts, specifically hand to hand combat. While it did involve strikes such as eye gouging, groin strikes etc, this is why we see so little striking in what we practice today.
Disabling an opponent and disarming them with trips, take downs and joint locks give a person a deadly advantage in combat. Doing so sets the dominant person in position to kill someone by their weapon or the others against them.
Although we know BJJ as the gentle art of today, jujitsu’s beginnings were anything but that. It was a time of life or death in technique. Battles were grueling and Samurais optimized their strength and power by utilizing principles of momentum, leverage and control. So when one asks why you do not strike in your class or why there is very little involved, an educated historical response might be in order.