Reprinted with permission of the author
The Samurai martial skill of restraining a prisoner with rope ties.
HOJOJUTSU IS THE FEUDAL martial skill of restraining a prisoner with rope. It was practiced by the warrior class and in particular the samurai, who acted as police officers.
The word hojo is made up of the character 'ho', which is also pronounced 'tori' and means to catch, seize or arrest someone, the character 'jo', which is also pronounced 'nawa' and means rope, and of course the word 'jutsu', meaning art or skill.
The actual characters can then be read in English as either 'torinawa jutsu' or 'hojo jutsu'. However, both meanings remain the same.
The main reason for tying someone up is because a need has arisen to keep them alive and take them captive, or prevent their escape. This was often the case during Japan's feudal period, particularly when the captured enemy was thought to be able to be persuaded to part with vital information, or be used in an ex-change deal for someone of importance who had been captured by the other side. There were various other reasons why rope tying was employed in Japan. One further purpose was to secure prisoners who were to be brought before a magistrate and tried for crimes they had committed.
In practically every country throughout the world the feudal era was littered with various means of securing prisoners. The techniques ranged from rope, to shackles or ball and chain. It would seem, however, that no other nation developed such a sophisticated system of rope tying as the Japanese. Hojojutsu was incorporated into the samurai's knowledge of fighting skills and used during the sanguineous era of the 'Sengoku Jidai' in particular.
The lower class police officers, called 'okapiki', were taught very basic forms of Hojojutsu under the guidance of senior police officials from samurai stock. However, with the Meiji restoration (1887), the art of Hojojutsu began to fall into decline.
When prisoners were held captive, they were tied in a specific manner, according to their rank and social status. Each method of tying denoted what class of society the prisoner came from, each was tied in a recognizable way. If a person had been found guilty of a particular offence he was tied in a manner denoting the offence he had committed. There were special techniques for people with strong arms or people capable of slipping out of the knots, even mad and extremely violent people were tied using special knots. Because the style of tying varied with both the crime and status of a prisoner, the length of rope used varied considerably. Some ropes were only a foot in length, while others reached well over 30 feet. Most of the Hojojutsu ropes were made of tightly twined linen that had been beaten until soft. Silk rope was not very popular because it was easy to slip the bonds. However, hemp rope did play a part in various styles of Hojojutsu.
During the Edo period the use of coloured rope to denote particular crimes and status became popular. White rope denoted someone who had only committed a minor crime, while a blue rope was used to secure offenders who had committed serious crimes. If a person was of high rank then a violet rope was sometimes used, but if they were of low rank a black rope was used.
The knots used for making the rope secure were many and varied. Some were employed to tighten as the prisoner struggled, while others simply held fast. When a number of prisoners were being conveyed somewhere together a long length of rope with hand loops secured each prisoner to the other. When the prisoner was conveyed alone the length of rope usually measured seven metres. Even the retaining cord on the sword scabbard was used to secure the unexpected prisoner.
There were many classical ryu (martial art schools) who employed the technique of rope tying in their repertoire. These included Fujiwararyu, Chokuji Goden ryu, Sekieuchi Shin Shin ryu and many others. Apart from the actual tying skills, the ryu employed various techniques of throwing and restraining that complemented the art of Hojojutsu.
There were many subtle appendages to the rope used in capturing an escaping prisoner. One included a barbed hook. This special hook was thrown as the criminal ran away.
However, as soon as it ensnared the clothing the criminal was brought to the ground and secured before he could free himself. The prisoner would then be subjected to an intricate web of rope which would make him completely immobile.
In modern Japan there are very few masters of the martial arts who are skilled in the traditional art of Hojojutsu. I was fortunate enough to witness this skill at the hand of Takaji Shimizu dai sensei, the late grand master of Shindo Muso Ryu. It was amazing to see how quickly someone could be restrained and with what ease the techniques could be effected.
The art of Hojojutsu has not yet died out in Japan. The modern police force still carry special rope with which to secure their prisoners (of course handcuffs are also carried).
The rope is also used by the police in Japan to cordon off areas and keep the public back during times of disaster, so its use is not restricted simply to the tying of prisoners.
Hojojutsu is an obscure but interesting part of the cultural history of martial arts. It reflects the ingenuity of the samurai class and the manner in which the essence of this martial skill has been passed down, even to today's modern Japanese police force.
Some additional information from various correspondents: