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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #34 (August 17, 2004), page 11 and 16.

Samurai security without swords

Taiho-Jutsu: Law and Order in the Age of the Samurai

By Don Cunningham

Tuttle Publishing, 2004

Hardcover, 208 pages, $24.95

By Mike Street

Special to the Asian Reporter

During the Edo period in Japan, strict regulations governed the lives of the peasantry, including the outlawing of wheeled vehicles (useful to move anti-government troops) and international travel (to avoid collusion with foreigners). As part of this program to pacify the countryside and maintain order, the Tokugawa shogunate also instituted strict social reforms that divided Japanese society into four groups: warrior (samurai), farmer, craftsman, and merchant. Only the samurai were permitted to carry swords above a certain length, or to carry more than one weapon; members of the other classes were restricted to short swords and daggers.

In this way the shogunate hoped to keep its peasants separated from the instruments of disorder and rebellion, and the system was largely effective, unifying the country after years of civil war. When sword-wielding miscreants did flaunt the laws, Edo-period justice demanded capturing them without killing them. In response to this, the Japanese developed passive-control weapons and techniques for their police force in a new martial arts style called taiho-jutsu ("arresting arts").

In his new book Taiho-Jutsu: Law and Order in the Age of the Samurai, author Don Cunningham describes in detail these weapons and techniques, as well as the reasons behind the institution of these social reforms. What emerges is a picture of Edo society seen through the lens of law enforcement, a perspective that will benefit historians and martial artists interested in samurai-era justice, as well as modern readers who encounter daily the delicate balance between liberty and safety.

Cunningham spends the first several chapters outlining the Tokugawa shogunate’s rise to power and its far-reaching legislation, and how these changes affected the lives of everyday citizens. In a dry, academic style, he writes with great authority about everything from firefighting equipment and traditions to the physical and social makeup of large Japanese cities. His informative explanations provide a framework for the martial arts explications of the later chapters, allowing us to understand the reasons for the use of non-lethal force, as well as the finer points of its application.

Justice in this period typically required a confession from the criminal before establishment of guilt and sentencing, which could range from crime-specific tattoos to banishment or death. Although punishment was swift and severe, capture and confession of criminals was important to maintaining the respect for authority so deeply ingrained in the peasantry. The strict division of classes during this time, requiring policemen occasionally to arrest citizens of a higher class, gave further importance to the use of non-lethal force.

Japanese martial-arts techniques follow a variety of schools, differentiated by styles of fighting or weaponry used, and taiho-jutsu was developed to respond to the unique demands of Edo-period policing. Arising from the schools of jujitsu (unarmed fighting) and kenjutsu (sword fighting), taiho-jutsu incorporated several types of weapons unique to this discipline. Most prevalent was the jutte, a kind of metal truncheon that could be used either to parry or break swords, or as a blunt weapon for dealing non-lethal blows; carrying a jutte became a kind of badge among policemen throughout the Edo period.

For more dangerous situations, policemen might also employ one of the torimono sandogu ("three tools of arresting"), long pole-arm weapons used to hold criminals from a safe distance, where another officer could subdue or disarm them. The barbed sodegarami ("sleeve entangler"), U-shaped sasumata ("spear fork"), or T-shaped tsukubo ("push pole") were used to move, trip, or immobilize a suspect from a safe distance. Once subdued, the criminal would be tied with one of a wide variety of binding styles (hojo-jutsu, or "restraining arts"), in accordance with the prisoner’s social class, because of the great shame associated with being publicly bound.

Cunningham describes the origin and use of several other police weapons, but only the jutte is included in his final four chapters on taiho-jutsu techniques. While not in- tended to be a comprehensive explanation of all the exercises used in this class of martial arts, his diagrams and explanations give the reader a very good idea of how a suspect might have been apprehended in the Edo period. Many of these techniques are still used by Japanese policemen today, and would be worthwhile study for anyone interested in learning self-defense with a blunt weapon.

The intention of Cunningham’s book, however, is not entirely as an instructional manual, but also as a scholarly exploration of the use of the police force in this era of Japanese history. He strikes a good balance between context and detail, giving us a full portrait of both Edo-period society and the role of law enforcement within that carefully regimented culture. The book has special resonance in an era when police forces from Portland to Prague search for non-lethal methods of subduing suspects, giving it an interesting (if unintended) subtext about the lengths to which governments have gone to prevent harming suspected criminals. Although hardly a light read for the casual samurai enthusiast or kung fu fanatic, Taiho-Jutsu is an excellent reference for scholars or martial artists exploring this fascinating time in feudal Japan.

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