hojojutsu

 

Yesterday, I received in the mail a very special book from Japan.  The book is well known among kinbaku enthusiasts.  Written by Fujita Seiko, Zukai Hojojutsu, is the bible of hojojutsu (捕縄術) history and practice and the most comprehensive archive available, cataloging hundreds of classic patterns, ties, and techniques for this ancient martial art.

 

 

 

 

Briefly, hojojustu (probably first codified in the 16th century) was the martial art of capturing and binding prisoners for arrest, transport, and punishment.  It was practiced both as a martial art in the context of warfare and later as a civic function for police and constables as a core part of law enforcement through the Edo era and into both the Meiji and Taisho eras, but was gradually replaced with more western techniques as things like handcuffs and leg irons became more widely accessible in the late 19 and early 20th century.

Master K has extensively documented the history and significance of hojojustsu for modern kinbaku in The Beauty of Kinbaku, but last night I had the opportunity to be part of a long and detailed discussion about the complicated intersection of these two arts that went beyond what he was able to cover in the book.

I also got to see a hojojutsu scroll from Master K's personal library which was incredibly awesome to look at (it stretched probably 10-12 feet when unfurled).

So for all of these reasons, hojojutsu has been on my mind a lot recently.

Like Ukiyo-E, hojojutsu can tell us something about the culture of rope out of which kinbaku emerged and in doing so, it can also help understand the broader context in which we not only practice kinbaku but also teach and learn about it.

As Master K points to in The Beauty of Kinbaku, Itatsu Yasuhiko in Yoryoku/Doshin Jutte Hojo ("The Constable's Arts"), outlines four basic rules for hojojutsu.  What we explored last night is how important those rules still are for current rope practice and how and why we need to be mindful of them.

These comments are some of my thoughts, notes, and reflections on our conversation and I hope they might be useful in the broader context of thinking about rope in the context that we use it.

The four rules outlined by Itatsu were:

 

  1. It must be impossible to escape from, even if the prisoner dislocated his joints.
  2. The prisoner must not be able to understand the process of the tie.
  3. The tie must not deliberately cut off circulation to any part of the body or cause nerve damage.
  4. The tie must be beautiful.

Each of these rules has played a very important part in the development of modern kinbaku.

The first rule, "It must be impossible to escape from, even if the prisoner dislocated his joints" may seem obvious, since we are dealing with a form of bondage, the idea that as a restraint it needs to be inescapable.  But so often when people think of kinbaku and shibari, they think of pretty rope, beautiful models and neatly tied patterns.  The basis for hojojutsu, the first rule, is that the ties must be effective.  The tradition that has given us some of the most beautiful ties we see has also given us ties that are among the most restrictive and intense.  Kinbaku construction can be extremely restrictive and many of the ties we do today follow from techniques that would prevent escape, even if the bottom was able to dislocate their joints (which as been the core technique of escape artists throughout history). 

The second rule, that "the prisoner must not be able to understand the process of the tie" has an unintended consequence that complicated kinbaku in a few important ways.  Or more particularly, it complicates how it is that we learn and teach kinbaku.  Like all Japanese arts, kinbaku has both an explicit and a tacit dimension and it is the unsaid or hidden part which is always the most important.  That means that these ties, both hojojutsu ties and the kinbaku patterns that evolved from them, are designed to be indecipherable simply by looking at them.  The techniques are not obvious and, in fact, even the hojojutsu scrolls used to pass information from generation to generation would often leave out a key piece of information to preserve the sanctity of the style or ryu.  That meant you would need someone knowledgeable in the art to show you, teach you hands on, how to perform the tie in order to get that one small, but critical, piece of knowledge.

This presents a huge problem for those of us in the West trying to learn kinbaku from reverse engineering ties that we see in pictures.  We are trying to replicate ties for images that were specifically designed to not be reverse engineered.

The third tenet outlined was safety, "the tie must not deliberately cut off circulation to any part of the body or cause nerve damage."  Of course for hojojutsu, if the prisoner struggled or tried to escape, all bets were off!  So many of these ties play with very dangerous areas of the body (necks in particular, but also nerve clusters).  This meant that the hojojustsu artist also had to be something of an expert in anatomy as well.  Knowing where to tie and where not to was extremely important, especially if you were in the unfortunately position of arresting someone of high rank or nobility.

In modern kinbaku we need to be experts in anatomy in two different ways.  The first, and most important, is safety.  Understanding the brachial and radial nerves, the vegus nerve, chest wall and compartment syndromes and a host of other medical risks as well as how to deal with prior injuries and partner limitations are all basic shibari 101 topics.  But as important is understanding how rope can be pleasurable, building layering sensations, working with tensions to produce various and varied effects.  Japanese rope bondage has an amazing flexibility.  It can be absolutely ferocious or it can be soft and caressing or anything in between.  But that requires understanding both your partner and your technique at a very deep level.

A core part of the study of kinbaku is a study of what the Japanese consider to be the erogenous zones of the body.  Using rope to constrain, compress, isolate, torment, or otherwise stimulate these areas is the heart of kinbaku.

Finally, part of what makes shibari special is the last rule, "the tie must be beautiful."  This is probably what kinbaku is best know for: the ability to make beautiful patterns and ties.  And there is great beauty passed down from the traditions of hojojutsu.  But it is critical to understand that while kinbaku is an aesthetic of restraint, it is not just enough to be beautiful.  It must be effective, safe, stimulating, pleasurable, and beautiful.

Like the beautiful and elaborate patterns of hojojutsu, kinbaku creates a harmony between all of the elements.  The beauty of the tie is never just about the rope, it is always about matching the right tie to your partner to generate the effect you intend in her or him.  Done well, kinbaku makes your partner more beautiful.  And it is a beauty that emerges when the tie is effective, safe, and pleasurable all in the way you intend.

Last night, I was able to see all of these principles put into practice as Master K walked through the history with someone unfamiliar with the traditions of kinbaku.  More than that, he was able to translate that history into practice tying a model for the night first into a beautiful Kata-ashi partial suspension and later into an Ebi and Agura.  Each of those ties are part of a tradition extending back decades and in some cases centuries.  And part of the beauty that is kinbaku is embracing that tradition and being able to understand and, ultimately, use the various aspects and traditions of Japanese art.



Grabado: 2010-06-23 05:34:11

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