Jutsu 術

In dictionaries, manga, and common use the term “Jutsu” is often translated as “art“, “technique“, or “skill.” However, I have found that dew of these interpretations have quite fit it’s use to my needs:

  • Art

    Though some dictatorial definitions provide the explanation that art may refer to a “skill that is attained by study, practice and observation” (Art, Merriam-Webster), the far more common use of the word lean towards the creation of aesthetic items or forms of expression creatively such as paintings, sculptures, and so on. This tends towards forms of self-expression or works of beauty, and those things that are pleasing to the senses. While in many cases, this may be applied to such subjects as kenjutsu, Sōjutsu, Jūjutsu, etc. the term art implies this artistic expressionism to be the priority, which is a later development in what is now referred to as Budō.

  • Technique

    This is a bit closer to the skeleton-definition that is being sought for here, it is still limited in its use and connotation as it tends to exemplify something too narrow, even when pluralized. In the case of translating the term “kenjutsu” (剣術), it is commonly interpreted as “techniques of the sword.” However, there are many cases where kenjutsu can refer to the making of the sword or even the metallurgy of the blade. but when we say “techniques of the sword,” we think of the uses of the end product, whether it’s parrying, cutting, thrusting, or handling. Therefore, the translation of jutsuinto technique seems to be too narrow a definition for all it’s uses, and when in use, limits too much the transmission of the full idea that this ideogram seeks to express.

  • Skill

    This time, the translation is too broad; it has no structure, little free-standing context, and simply implies only a vague idea. For example, “skill of/with the sword” implies only a qualitative reference in regards to the sword’s use, but makes no reference to the development, transmission, or implementation of the weapon in question.

For these reasons, I have made an effort to avoid the above terms in my translations, journals, and articles when dealing with the ideogram 術. Instead I present the idea of interpreting the kanji as “science.”

Science is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

A department of systematized knowledge as an object of study

  1. Something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to a science>.
  2. knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through the scientific method.

I came to this conclusion through observing the etymology of this ideogram:

術 is a phono-semantic compound of 行 (okonau; intersection of a path) with 朮 (mochiawa; a type of herb or millet, which later became the kanji 秫). But to go a bit deeper, we have to look at the ancient shell and bone script of it from ancient China, where the kanji was a pictograph of foxtail millet being stripped of it’s grain and left in passing through a sieve. Thus 術 can be understood as “passing through crossroads or a process.” This process can be likened to the Scientific Research Method where one develops an idea by:

    1. Defining a Question
    2. Gathering Information (considering what is already known)
    3. Formulating a hypothesis
    4. Testing the hypothesis
    5. Analyzing the results
    6. Interpreting the data and formulate conclusions that lead into new hypotheses
    7. Retesting (usually done by other peers such as rivals, peers, or successors)

The above six points effectively lay out the theory, development, transmission to the next generation (successor), and implementation of what is usually referred to as jutsu. For example, all these points  are found in what is called kenjutsu. The process required the development of the metallurgy, the design formation (currently recognized curvature and overall shape and anatomy), the evolution of the handle design, including which woods were best, the decision to use ray or shark skin, the use of cotton, hemp or silk in wrapping the handle, etc. and then still after all that, the methods to carry, handle, implement the weapon, break convention, re-develop methods, and so on. All this operated within the conventional model of the scientific method of research. Therefore, it is for the above reasons that I have chosen to translate and interpret the kanji “Jutsu” into the word “Science.”

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