Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hojojutsu - the art of restraining

Our Samurai, Paula Borea, poses at the Arizona School
of Traditional Karate (Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Hombu) with
naginata - a tool of her ancestors.
Feudal samurai were well-known for their variety of koryu (old) weapons which evolved into a number of modern (gendai) martial arts that are practiced today such as iaido, iaijutsu, yarijutsu, hanbojutsu, naginatajutsu, jujutsu, judo, kendo, kenjutsu, kyudo, and others. One of the stranger disciplines was that of hojōjutsu (捕縄術), known as the skill of restraining prisoners. No other culture in the world placed so much emphasis on restraining prisoners in this complex skill.

Since the samurai regarded restraining prisoners to be beneath their social status they apparently relied on servants or local constables to apply ropes to restrain an individual: all which had to be done properly. So complex was this discipline that entire books have been written in Japanese about the skill.

When we examine the Japanese word hojojutsu, we will have a better understanding of this skill. The character ho (also pronounced tori) means to catch, seize and restrain. The character for jo (also pronounced nawa) means rope. And the character for jutsu means skill, or martial skill. Thus hojojutsu (torinawajutsu, nawajutsu) is the skill of catching and restraining a prisoner with a rope. For those in Montana and Wyoming, I guess this could even extend to cattle roping (just kidding).

Soke Hausel from Gilbert, teaches hojojutsu to members of
the Casper Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate Club in Wyoming
In modern times, hojojutsu is taught as part of a various bugei or budo (traditional martial arts) curriculum during advanced training on many Japanese jujutsu and ninjutsu schools. It is still taught to some Japanese law enforcement officials.

Historically, hojo techniques were developed during the Sengoku (warring states) period of Japan (15th to 17th centuries) which was known as a time in history when Japanese society was in upheaval and various factions were at war with one another. The discipline continued during the Edo period (1600-1868) when hojo was a tool of law-enforcement under the Tokugawa Shogunate. However, hojojutsu began to decline with the Meiji restoration (modern Japan) following the Edo Period.

Ryan Harden from Mesa ties up Patrick
Scofield from Chandler at the Arizona
School of Traditional Karate in Mesa.
Hojojutsu consists of three parts. The first part was the capture of the person. This sometimes was accomplished using a kaginawa rope that had a barbed hook at one end used to ensnare clothing. The second part was the initial tie used to restrain the individual after capture. The third part was the use of elaborate and intricate ties before a prisoner was transported or executed. These had to respect the person’s social status.

Following capture, a constable would use capture cords known as hayanawa or torinawa. The hayanawa was a strong, thin, cord used with a sageo cord attached to the sheath (saya) of the sword (katana) The sageo passed through the hole in the kurigata of the saya for a katana (sword). This was used with a torinawa which was a much longer rope carried in a bundle on one’s hakama. This rope fed from one end and was passed around the prisoner’s body, neck and arms.

After the prisoner was secured, honnawa cords were employed for transportation or execution. More than one constable worked with others to secure the prisoner. This allowed the officers time to tie intricate and ornate rope patterns with ropes. The constable had to learn a variety of knots and understand which rope colors were required to bind prisoners based on social status.

For example, an accused prisoner yet to be convicted had to be tied with no visible knots. This was to save embarrassment from being publicly bound. Instead of securing with knots, the constable held on one end of the rope and walked behind the prisoner. Sometimes this involved securing one’s ankles so that if the prisoner tried to escape, the constable would simply jerk the prisoner’s feet out. Ties also were designed to restrict mobility of limbs and placed the ropes to discourage any kind of struggle by activating various pressure points, by numbing extremities, or simply by choking the struggling prisoner.

According to rank and social status, each method of tying required a constable denote the social class of the person. If a person had been found guilty of a particular offense, he was tied in a manner that indicated the offense committed. Because the style of tying varied with both crime and status of a prisoner, the length of rope varied considerably. Various experts report that the honnawa was measured in lengths of 78, 66, 54, 42 and 30 feet. The hayanawa was typically 15 feet. The length of the kaginawa was around 13 feet. In cases, prisoners were restrained facing distinct compass directions, depending on the season of the year.

During the Edo period colored ropes became popular. A white rope was used on someone who committed a minor crime and a blue rope was used to secure offenders who had committed serious crimes. If a person was of high social rank, a violet rope was sometimes used: if of low social rank, a black rope was used.

Hanshi Finley from Casper, Wyoming is all tied up.
The prisoner was subjected to an intricate web of rope to make him completely immobile. Unlike the kaginawa, the hayanawa had a small loop at one end or a small metal ring that functioned similar to handcuffs and allowed the constable to pass the other end of the rope through this loop. In addition to all of the above ropes, another short rope of 14 inches long (one shaku) was sometimes used on a suspect as they sat in seiza while both arms were pulled behind the person and the thumbs and big toes were tied together.

Two books on this subject:

Nawa, Yumio, 1964, Studies in jitte and torinawa: Yuzakaku Shuppan, Tokyo.
Nawa, Yamio, 1985, An illustrated encyclopedia for historical studies: constables’ tools: Shinjinbutsu Orai-sha, Tokyo.

Shihan Kevin Vance from Cheyenne, Wyoming
Rich Mendolia from Mesa is tied up by Bill Borea from Gilbert