HojoJutsu: An Overview Compiled by Tatu, May 2002 (Revised 2006)
There are two key figures that came into the public view in the west toward the end of the 20th century,who have made extremely valuable contributions to our understanding of this ancient martial art. Without these two gentlemen our understanding would be minute.
The first term I ever heard related to the use of rope by the Japanese was "hojo-jitsu", which was from Don Angier's VHS tapes which he produced in 1998 & 1990 demonstrating the martial art of Japanese Prisoner restraint using rope.
"Don Angier sensei is the Soke, inheritor by direct succession of a classical ryuha, of Yanagi ryu Aiki Bugei of the Yoshida han. Angier sensei was bequeathed Yanagi ryu by Yoshida Kenji sensei the son of the famous Yoshida Kotaro. The fact that an ancient samurai ryuha has been inherited by a hakujin is unique. Angier sensei is one of the foremost teachers and practitioners of ancient samurai arts in the world."
You can read Angier Sensei's complete profile at: 
You can order his Hojo-jitsu VHS tapes as well as other martial arts instructional videos at the same site at: http://bugei.com/subcategory_46.htm Volume 1 is out of print, but I understand both volumes are coming in DVD format soon. I also enjoyed the Tanto jitsu video on short knife handling and defense.
Dr. Richard Cleaver
Much of what is currently known in the rope community comes from information translated by Dr. Richard Cleaver from Nawa (1964). It was my honor to discover and introduce his very important contributions to our rope art world back in 1999 by sharing his scholarly works at the D/s ARts Website. He is a gay male and foot fetishist. I enjoyed sharing emails with him back then.At the time, he was still a graduate student living in Japan working as a translator. He has transformed our understanding of this ancient martial art. Unfortunately, his writings and translations have often been used without even acknowledging his authorship. Some have used his works on websites and in print without giving Dr. Cleaver his due credit. This is very sad. Thank you Richard for giving us this valuable understanding of the ancient Samurai Martial Art we now know as Hojo-Jutsu. (Tatu)
Background: Edo Period Law Enforcement
Medieval Japan was in constant civil war. War between factions for possession of land continued until the late 16th century when Japan was was united under the rule of Toiyatomi Hedeyoshi. Hedeyoshi had become a general by age 27 and ruler of Japan by age 59. He established a rigid class system and a strong ethical system for Samurai.
He encouraged Samurai to sharpen their martial skills. Hojojutsu was one of those skills, the art of binding the enemy with ropes after conquering him with jujitsu, sword or other weapons.
Following the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, Tokugawa Leyasu, who was protector of Hedeyoshi's 5 year old son and heir to the throne, had him killed and then embarked upon a campaign to rule all of Japan. In 1600 Leyasu defeated Hideyori's followers in the "Battle of Sekigahara". In 1603 the Emperor appointed Tokagawa Leyasu, Shogun. Leyasu set up his Tokagawa government in Edo, which is now known as Tokyo. His Tokagawa Shoguns ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1867 with the Meiji restoration.
The Edo Period (1603-1867) was marked by strong isolationism from the west. Samurai educated themselves in the martial arts, but also literature, especially Confucianism, and participating in the "tea ceremony". Rope was used among the Samurai class as a method of torture, capture, prisoner retraint, and transportation and later came to be used for law enforcement puposes. The use of rope in torture was in order to elicit a confession. Officials within the Japanese government were known as Bakufu. There were two "machi-bugyo" in Edo (old Tokyo) which oversaw law enforcement. The constabulary were the low ranking Samurai.
Tokagawa's high ranking Samurai established the "Ometski" which means "all seeing eye" who in turn appointed all of the local magistrates. The magistrates employed the shenobik (Ninja) and set up an elaborate system of "metski" (spies).
Emperor and over 300 noble families resided in secluded majesty at the Imperial Court in Kyoto. The nobles involved themselves in the arts, while the Shogun really ran the country. New forms of arts flourished, such as "kabuki" (theatre) and "ukiyo-e" (wood block paint art). The people were disarmed and were severely punished if caught carrying a sword.
With the opening of Japan to the west and the Meji Restoration in 1867, the Meji Restoration restored the emperor to power and did away with the class system. Samurai were disbanded and were taking common police jobs. With this, the Art of Hojojutsu was lost.
Because bondage was considered a shameful practice, the legal captor used no knots, thus out of respect allowed the person arrested no shame. According to Dr. Richard Cleaver's translations of law enforcement manuals from the Edo Period in 1998, there were four rules of Hojoj-Jutsu:
- 1. Not to allow the prisoner to slip his bonds.
- 2. Not to cause any physical or mental injury.
- 3. Not to allow others to see the techniques.
- 4. To make the result beautiful to look at.
The aim of Rule 3 was not so much secrecy for its own sake as it was preventing criminals from learning the techniques and figuring out ways to defeat them. However, the schools and techniques varied from one feudal domain to another. When a person was being transported cross-country, the binding would be allowed to come loose a bit just before turning him over to the next domain's officers, so the latter would not be able to learn the techniques either. Each set of officers numbered at least four, and the new team would stand around the prisoner while one of their number bound him, not only to prevent escape but to foil prying eyes.
Each District had a local magistrate. He carried:
- 1) A Jute with a purple cord and handle. This was the equivalent of a law enforcement badge.
- 2) Hojojutsu cord in the sleeve of his kimono.
- 3) An Iron Fan.
Police and Guards
Under the magistrate were various local police and guards. They would carry:
- 1) A "jute" with a red cord and handle, red denoting a lower rank.
- 2) 2 Swords
Magistrates, police and guards carried a Taske cord, used to tie back the sleeves of their kimono and wore a "hachemache" which was a plain headband.
The common local police wore a distinctive hair cut, wore no sword and tucked their kimono in their trousers.
- 1) They carried their hojojutsu cord under their Obi
- 2) Carried a red handled "jute", with no cord
- 3) "Gusari" which is a weighted chain
- 4) "Sodegarami" or a sleeve entangler on a 16' pole.
Note: The preceeding text is a "paraphrase" of the voice text of the introductiory background to "Hojo Jitsu" in the video by Dragon Videos produced in 1988. The actual instructional videos I & II can be purchased at the Bugei Trading Company . Also resourced are the translation works of Dr. Richard Cleaver. See: Hojo-jutsu by, Richard Cleaver
According to the translation work on the topic of Torture by Dr. Richard Cleaver, there were 4 approved methods or levels of torture.
Three of these approved methods involved the use of rope.
- Images below by Ito Seiu.
- (1) Flogging. The suspect who was kneeling was bound by rope around his upper arms and two assistants on either side would hold him in place by pulling these ropes tight. He was then whiped by a "shimoto" (flogger) or "muchi" (scourge). The shimoto was a flogging type device, the scourge was to beat the detainee bloody on the upper back and shoulders and have sand rubbed in to stop the flow of blood. The beating would go on in new spots on the body.
- Long rods were used on convicted criminals upon the shoulders as he was tied to the ground face down in a spread eagle positon.
- (2) Pressing. Literally means "embracing the stones." This second level of torture was done with the criminal in a kneeling position. Ancient drawings show the prisoner kneeling on what appears to be a corregated surface. He was tied with his arms behind his back and large stones were place on his thighs.
- (3) The Prawn. If the first two methods failed to gain a confession, the prisoner would be subject to the "Prawn". He would be tied around his upper body with his hands behind his back. He would be seated and his legs tied in a cross-legged positon. A rope would be placed around his forearms which were tied behind his back and then brought over the shoulders down to his legs. His chest would be forced down to the legs and tied in that positon. Hence he was bent over for hours in this prawn position. Sometimes floggings would be added while in this position.
- His shades of skin would be monitored from red to purple to pale blue, at which point he was about to reach death and he would be released just prior to that point. The subsequent pain lasted for days. Sometimes the suspect would be put into a wooden box as a variation.
- (4) Suspension. The final method of torture was done be tying the criminals arms behind his back with rope and and then suspended. Sometimes it was by arms alone, sometimes in a reverse spread eagle. Sometimes heavy stones were placed on the back or shoulders. Another variation was to be suspended by the ankles upside down or by the wrists alone. Sometimes flogging was added.
Warning to the readers of these methods. Do not attempt to duplicate them as serious or permanent injury can result or even death.
Evolution of an Art Form by Tatu
Kinbaku-bi literally means beautiful binding in Japanese. When rope was first used for erotic purposes in the late 1800's it was referred to as Kinbaku or Kinbaku-bi. It would later become known sometime in the mid 1900'a as Shibari.
Shibari, also referred to as Nawa Shibari, literally in japanese means "to weave" or weave with cord or string. The word "shibari" is a verb derived from the Japanese word "shibaru" which means "to weave or tie". The word "shibaru" is common in the textile or fabric weaving industry in the weaving of cloth.
Shibari, however is not a commonly understood word in Japan for bondage. If you used that word on the street in Japan, you would probably be understood to be talking about weaving fabric. The most commonly used terms understoond in Japan is the American "Engrish" word "Bondage". The word Kinbaku of Kinbaku-bi would be understood by Japanese nationals before the word Shibari. The word Shibari used as a noun to describe a style erotic Japanese rope bondage was coined in the Japanese porn and performance industry sometime in the mid 1900's.
Generally, "Shibari" is understood to be a rope binding that is:
(1) Based loosely on the historic "Hojo-Jutsu" martial arts forms.
While Shibari grew from the rope traditions of Hojo-Jutsu, there are however a number of differences and in the end analysis, two entirely different art forms.
Primary differences between Hojo-Jutsu and Shibari would include:
- (a) Rope length: In Hojo-Jutsu according to the translations of Dr. Richard Cleaver:
- *Hon-Nawa (Main Rope) wound into a "Hojo Bundle"
- 13 fathoms = 78 feet
- 11 fathoms= 66 feet
- 9 fathoms= 54 feet
- 5 fathoms= 30 feet
- 13 fathoms = 78 feet
- *Hayanawa (fast rope for initial restraint)
- 2 and a half fathoms = 15 feet
- In the latter half of the 20th century as the art of Shibari developed as an erotic performance
- art form, the typical length became about 7-8 meters which is about 23 to 26 feet. One must
- consider that the average Japanese Bondage model is very petite, making 7-8 meters not
- quite long enough to complete most traditional ties upon western models. A rope of about
- 9-10 meters would be more appropriate for most non - Japanese uses.
- (b) Application: Ancient drawings of the various basic forms in Hojo-Jutsu, we observe the rope is applied in a single line from what we in the west refer to as a "Hojo-Bundle". In contrast, modern Shibari applications are usually done with a rope which has been folded in half.
- (c) Safety. In Hojo-Jutsu safety was of concern, so no permanent harm was caused. Historic sketches of forms show ropes going around the front of the neck and around arms in a cinching fashion often under tension against the arms or legs. Breathing would have been a challenge and loss of feeling and use in the arms would have been typical, hence the criminal would not be able to struggle against the ropes with strength.
On the other hand, In modern Shibari, safety is of course of the utmost concern. Ropes would never be placed around the front of the neck or in such a fashion as to intentionally impinge blood flow or causing nerve compression or hinder breathing.
- (d) Forms. Modern Shibari has adopted a few historic positions such as the "ebi" or "prawn" postion, but they are applied entirely differently. Many modern Shibari ties begin with what is referred to as a Ushiro Takate Kote or an arms behind the back box arm tie. We do not find the Ushiro Takate Kote in Hojo-Jutsu. Hojo-Jutsu often (but not always) began with both arms behind the back, but the application was entirely different. Several Hojo-Jutsu forms involved the arms in front of the torso.
(2) Tied with "asanawa" which is a natural fiber rope as opposed to any modern made nylon or artifcial materials. In modern Japan, shibari practitioners are said to use only hemp or jute. Years ago flax would most likely have been more common. However one of Japan's most respected rope artists, Osada Eikichi, who died in 2001, used colored ropes in many images and videos that we can see today. Some go on to add that "no self respecting nawashi in Japan would use caribeaners, however they are obvioulsy in use by some of the most noted Japanese professional practioners.
(3) Beautiful to look at. Anyone that knows anything about Japanese culture will understand that "art" is a component of any endeavor, whether it be serving tea (sadw) or paper folding (origami). The Japanese have a history for seeing all of life at art.
(4) Not allow captive to escape their bonds This is the whole point of bondage and would be true of any method or style, otherwise it is not bondage
(5) Some would add that Shibari does not use knots. Dr. Cleaver's translation works indicates that knots were not used in Hojo-Jutsu in order to spare the prisoner the shame of technically being "in bondage". So there are those current Shibari practitioners who insist that Shibari would not involve any knots, however most modern Shibari practitioners will use some sort of knotting as this seems to have varied among the various 150+ schools.
Overall, more and more ancient texts are surfacing. As these are translated, our understanding will increase proportionately.
With the end of the Edo Period in the late 1800's, the Samurai tying arts were outlawed and much of the information from some 150 schools of the art was destroyed. Hence, there is relatively little information available. My research has indicated that Hojo-Jutsu was studied in some schools in post World War II occuppied Japan, so it was not entirely lost. Thankfully in recent years, a few martial art schools have been studying Hojo-Jutsu again. Sensei Don Angiers of California has been noted for his studies in this art.
This Japanese term is made up of two Japanese terms. "nawa" which means rope and "shi" which means artist or practioner of some recognized proficiency or master or teacher. It can be understood in a general sense as simply rope practioner. The commercial Japanese performance industry will use the term to denote it's performers.
There are a few schools of Hojo-Jutsu among the established martial arts community which are attemptting to recapture the practice and training of this art. Inspite of the ban of this practice in the late 1800's, my research has shown it was still in exitstence and practiced in some martial arts school in post WWII occupied Japan.
There are currently no schools of Shibari or Kinbaku. It has been a free-form evolution among interested rope practioners, aka nawashi or nawa-shi ( Rope Artist).
*For more information about Hojo-Jutsu, check out the following articles and websites:
- "Torture", by Richard Cleaver
- "Hojo-jutsu", by Richard Cleaver
- Tatu's comprehensive glossary of terms related to Rope Tying Arts
- "Hojo-Jutsu", by Squaddie
- "Hojo-jutsu", by Jim Stewart
- The Art of Tying, by Paul Richardson
- Origins of Japanese Bondages, by Bondage Project
- Meiji University's 'Nawa Collection'
Bugei Trading Company