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 (traditional martial arts), often as an advanced study in jujutsu. Whatever their source, Hojojutsu techniques & methods are seldom demonstrated outside of Japan and, unlike its cousin Shibari (Japanese erotic bondage), there are many who consider it a moribund art.
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 in the time following the Edo period 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 governments of the Edo period (1600-1868 approximately) 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.
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