Pages Navigation Menu

Swords, Cutting and Military History

Cord, rope and combat

Cord, rope and combat

Photo via Wikipedia

Share Button

The use of rope or cord on the battlefield is most often thought of in terms of  lanyards (to tie your weapon to your hand or belt), horse-tack (bridles, etc.), or simply as coils of rope for use in tying, climbing, etc.

Yet, to varying degrees in in different parts of the world, rope or cord (which we’ll define as braided leather, cotton or silk, as opposed to the rough hemp of rope) has seen use as a primary weapon.

In Europe, some medieval fighting masters recognized that rope had a use in defensive combat.  15th century fighting master Fiore dei Liberi  mentions in one of his works that the rope can be used in defense against a dagger or small staff.

In Asia the use of cord or rope as a weapon is ancient, and has been historically documented.  Usually classed as part of “unarmed combat”, rope has been seen as a primary weapon in the combat arts of: India (Agni Purana); the Philippines (Eskrima); in China, where a variety of rope-based weapons and combat techniques are gathered under the heading of “soft weapons”, and indeed, was used by Chinese police as late as the 1920’s where a manual on the use of rope in arresting criminals was issued by the Shanghai Police Training Center (Rope Techniques for Arrest).  In almost all cases, the rope is used as much to trip, entangle and restrain enemies as it is for inflicting damage.

The use of the rope in combat reached a high art in Japan, where the cord which tied the katana to a warrior’s belt (the sageo) could also be taken off and used to tie up the sleeves of the warrior’s kimono, and — if a prisoner was captured — could then be removed and used to tie captured samurai.  In fact, the art of tying prisoners became its own, separate art, known as hojojutsu.


Hojojutsu ties


As time passed, this art became a tool of civilian police as well as a battlefield skill, becoming part of the police officer’s martial art, taihojutsu.  Techniques were developed using small coils of rope called “nawa”, which allowed police to block and parry armed attacks, simultaneously snagging the wrists  or arms of law-breakers.




Hojojutsu studied more than just the immediate fast-tying of an opponent.  It also included the art of knot tying.  According to a modern master of hojojutsu, there were four main rules of the art:

  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.


Number three above is listed because, of course, the techniques and knot-work had to be kept secret in order that criminals wouldn’t learn to counter them.  Number four is a a cultural note;  in Japanese society, everything had to have an esthetic side.  Important prisoners (from samurai families for example), could not simply be roughly tied, but must be tied in a manner pleasing to the eye.  In fact, for prisoners of this class there were specific “wrapping” techniques developed which bound the prisoner but used no knots at all.  Being arrest at all was shameful, but being transported with knotted ropes indicated the person was guilty of a crime, and as such knotted bindings were particularly dishonourable.

A successful torimono (police officer trained to apprehend prisoners) was expected to be able to restrain and tie their prisoner within ten seconds.  According to modern experts, at its height of use, there were over 150 separate schools of hojojutsu in Japan, each with its own secret techniques.

A short introductory video on the art of hojojutsu and the art of tying is available in this  YouTube video;  unfortunately, the owners have set the video so it can only be viewed on YouTube.  It is presented in Spanish, with English close captioning.

Youtube transcript windowAs I have mentioned before, if the CC doesn’t work in your browser, you can open the transcript window and see the appropriate line of transcript text being highlighted as the video continues by clicking on the Transcript icon (see image at right).




Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *