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Swords, Cutting and Military History

A global weapon: the Man-catcher

A global weapon:  the Man-catcher
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We’re going to go a little far afield from blades in this post, with a look at a non-lethal weapon whose design was found in medieval societies around the globe.  Commonly known in Europe as a “man-catcher” or catchpole, and in Japan as a sasumata, this a pole-based weapon with a “blade” in the form of an unsharpened two-pronged head or semi-circle of metal.


Dutch catchpole woodcut

The device is meant to capture and hold the neck or limbs of an adversary, allowing them to be restrained and taken into custody. Precisely who used them and how varied from country-to-country.

In Europe the design of the man-catcher often included spring-loaded tines, which — when forced over the neck of the victim — prevented them from simply pulling out.  Historical records mentions their use in Europe as far back as the 1500’s, often in a war or combat situation where a valuable prisoner (noble) needed to be taken alive;  these versions are often found with spikes on the inside of the fork, which presumes the target wore some kind of neck protection.  There is also mention of this weapon being used in simply to unhorse opponents.  In later times a similar item — without interior spikes — is reported to have been used to control and restrain apprehended criminals or prisoners.


German mancatcher



I should note there is some debate in English-speaking countries over the use of the term “catchpole” when referring to these devices, as an identical term was used during the 1500-1600’s to refer to tax collectors.

Natives of Papua New Guinea used a loop of rattan depending from a sharp spike on the end of a pole.  Once the offender’s head was caught in the loop, a short twist would tighten it, bringing the point of the spike to their head or neck.


New Guinea mancatcher

photo credit Australian Museum


In Japan, the sasumata (spear fork) was in common use during the Edo period, mainly in the hands of police forces.  Unlike those used in Europe, which were mainly designed to be used on the neck of the victims, the sasumata was meant to be used to capture or pin limbs,  as well for parrying weapons.  To prevent a criminal from fending the pole off, these are often found with sharpened spikes on the sides on the pole.  Similar weapons, known as sodegarami (sleeve entanglers), had several tines facing in different directions;  while the spikes could be used to strike or pin a person, most often they were used to wrap up and entangle the sleeves of a criminals kimono, thus restraining them by their clothing.  A final item, the tsukubo (push pole) was design specifically for pinning an offender.


The three weapons used in capturing Japanese criminals



In an interesting note, a version of the sasumata has survived into modern day Japan, where it is used by police and civilian forces in restraining and capturing violent individuals.

In the video below, a school practice drill shows how a modern sasumata would be used to restrain a violent intruder:



Next is a police video showing the basic movements and tactics used with a modern sasumata





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