|Also known as||Nawajutsu (縄術)|
|Country of origin||Japan|
Hojōjutsu (捕縄術) or Nawajutsu, (縄術) is the traditional Japanese martial art of restraining a person using cord or rope. Encompassing many different materials, techniques and methods from many different schools, hojojutsu is a quintessentially Japanese art that is a unique product of Japanese history and culture.
As a martial arts practice, hojojutsu is seldom if ever taught on its own but as part of a curriculum under the aegis of the body of study encompassed by a larger school of bugei or budō, often as an advanced study in jujutsu. Whatever their source, hojojutsu techniques and methods are seldom demonstrated outside of Japan.
The history of Hojojutsu is varied and obscure. Japanese cultural history has complex and pervasive traditions of wrapping and tying in everyday life that go back for at least a millennium—touching on things as varied as Shinto votive items, the transportation & packing of foodstuffs, and Japanese traditional clothing which is tied to the body instead of being held with the buttons, pins and fasteners of western dress. These factors make any meaningful pinpointing of the historical origins of Hojojutsu problematic.
Although Japan’s often violent history has made the mapping of meaningful changes in areas like armor and weapons technology and technique well-studied, the origins of the formal, studied use of rope for restraint as a technique that is Hojojutsu remain obscure. Nevertheless, the Hojojutsu techniques that have garnered attention in the last decade can be said to have flourished as a tool of law-enforcement under the Tokugawa Shogunate.
With Japan divided into individual territories (Han) with the restrictions on travel already in place under Toyotomi Hideyoshi and strengthened afterwards by the successive Tokugawa reigns of the Edo period (1600-1868) provided a fertile ground for the development of formalized methods of tying prisoners who had to be transported across territories because of measures then in place mandating that a prisoner had to be handed off from one set of officials to another at the border of each territory with each law-enforcement group employing a different school’s or region’s often jealously-guarded methodology.
Also spurring the growth in the importance of Hojojutsu was its use in the arrest of criminals and the codified methods of tying employed by various schools and agencies which sometimes provided numerous different methods of binding prisoners on the basis of considerations as different as social status, profession and sex of the prisoner—with all of this added to the methods devised by those directly in the employ of the court system in Edo itself.
Techniques and methods
Generally speaking, Hojojutsu can be divided into two broad categories. The first is the capture and restraint of a prisoner that was effected with strong, thin cord (usually 3–4 millimeters) called a hayanawa or “fast rope”, and sometimes the sageo carried by samurai on the sword-sheaths. In law-enforcement, this cord was carried by constables who secreted the rope in a small bundle that fed cord from one end. This torinawa ("capture-rope") was coiled so that the cord would pay out from one end as the bundled cord was passed around the prisoner’s body, neck and arms as he or she was tied. This was usually accomplished by one constable in the course of performing an arrest while the prisoner was actively resisting and had to be accomplished quickly.
Even at this stage, attention was still paid to visual and aesthetic concerns in the tying method as well as to the cultural needs of Japanese society. According to experts, an accused but not convicted prisoner would be tied using methods which allowed the prisoner to be securely restrained but which contained no knots to save the prisoner the shame of being publicly bound. Instead of securing the tie with knots, the constable held on to the free end of the rope and walked behind the prisoner to keep him or her under control as the prisoner was taken for an interrogation which could involve the application of one or more forms of judicial torture to elicit a confession.
The second category was effected with one or more “main ropes” or “honnawa” which like the torinawa could be any one of many different lengths, but was a proper hemp rope, possibly six or more millimeters in diameter and as much as eighty feet long—which was used to provide a more secure, long-term binding than is possible with the torinawa for transportation to a place of incarceration, restraint at legal proceedings, and—in the case of particularly severe crimes—for the public display of the prisoner prior to execution by such methods as beheading, crucifixion (i.e., the prisoner was displayed tied to a cross before spears were driven through the body), or, in arson convictions, death by fire.
Honnawa ties were applied by a group of people, usually not less than four, whose presence allowed the use of more intricate and ornate patterns than was the case with the torinawa. Both forms combined effective restraint with a distinct visual aesthetic.
In either form, the hojojutsu ties known today display a shrewd understanding of human anatomy through several recurrent themes. This can include leverage-removal (tying limbs in positions that decrease the force they can generate), rope-placement to discourage struggling or to make it less effective by placing one or more loops of rope around the neck and constricting restraint around points on the upper arms where determined struggle put pressure on blood vessels and nerves numbing the extremities.
Persistence in modern times
Hojojutsu shows limited survival in the modern world, both in Japan and elsewhere. Torinawa-techniques are taught as part of the curriculum learned by modern Japanese police officers and it remains an advanced topic within schools of jujutsu, following it and other Japanese traditional martial arts as they make their way around the world from Brazil to Eastern Europe.
Although the Honnawa techniques have long been supplanted by handcuffs and leg-irons, some teachers of traditional martial arts in Japan work to continue to maintain the art form. The Soke (head of, and heir to the style) of Masaki-ryu Bujutsu, Nawa Yumio, has written several books on the subject and has worked as an historical consultant on matters dealing with law-enforcement and Mizukoshi Hiro’s recently reprinted book Torinawajutsu offers historical background followed by thorough, practical instruction in more than 25 traditional ties including some recreated from rare and very old texts. The Koryu cited are Seigo Ryu Jujutsu, Seishin Ryu Jujutsu, Koden Enshin Ryu Iaijutsu, Nanbu Handen Hojo Jutsu, Kurokawa Ryu Ninjutsu, Kurama Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu, Mitsuo (Mippa) Muteki Ryu, Bo Ryu and Tenfu Muso Ryu.
That's the late Seiko Fujita’s monumental work, Zukai Torinawajutsu, who could be considered as the bible of this art, by showing hundreds of ties from many different schools. Although long out-of-print, one can now read this book online, like here : 図解捕縄術 / « Zukai Torinawajutsu ».
- Ittatsu-ryū - a school of hojojutsu featured exclusively in Shintō Musō-ryū
- Japanese bondage
- Torinawajutsu (Hojo-jutsu)- Hiro Mizukoshi
- Bugei Ryuha Daijiten
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hojojutsu.|
- An article by Richard Cleaver on Hojojutsu, translations from the 1964 works of Headmaster Nawa Yumio
- Images from the Criminal Museum of Meiji University showing torinawa and hojojitsu techniques
- Masaki Ryū
- The ancient art of Hojojutsu