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Jutte: Japenese Weapon Helped Keep the Peace

Japanese weapon (jutte) has interesting past!

by Don Cunningham

jutte japanese weaponry

After unifying Japan’s many feudal domains, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) based his government in Edo, the site of present-day Tokyo. The new center of Japanese authority quickly attracted residents of all classes. In addition to laborers, craftsmen and merchants, there was a large samurai population, either retainers of the various nobles required to maintain partial residence within Edo or direct retainers of the shogun who served as bodyguards and government officials.

Within the male-dominated population of the city, competition for everything was fierce. With increasing interactions between the various classes and the cramped quarters of a rapidly expanding urban environment, it is not surprising that tempers often flared and arguments erupted. Social justice during the Edo period frequently meant violence. With an armed populace, minor disagreements tended to result in blood baths.

To maintain control, police officers and their non-samurai assistants developed many unique weapons and arresting techniques to use against the troublemakers, who were usually armed and frequently desperate. They included bizarre items such as a pole-arm implement with barbed hooks designed to entangle the clothes of a suspect and immobilize him by forcing him to the ground, as well as wooden ladders and short staffs employed to capture offenders unharmed.

One of the unique weapons of the samurai police was the jutte. Basically an iron truncheon, it was popular because it could parry the slash of a sword and disarm an assailant without serious injury to either person.

Essentially a defensive or restraining weapon about 15 to 18 inches long, the jutte required the user to get extremely close to those who were being apprehended. A single hook or fork, called a kagi, on the side near the handle allowed the jutte to be used for trapping or even breaking sword blades. The kagi could also be used to entangle the clothes or fingers of an opponent, and the main shaft was designed for jabbing and striking.

Throughout history, the weapon was known by many names. During the Edo period, jutte or jitte was the more popular reference. The term consists of two kanji characters, one representing “10” and the other representing “hand,” thus suggesting that a jutte gave the user the power of 10 hands.

How the jutte originated is still a mystery. One popular notion is that it evolved from a strange battlefield weapon believed to have been designed by Goro Nyudo Masamune, a renowned swordsmith who lived during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Called a hachiwari or kabutowari (helmet splitter), the prototype was a curved and pointed metal bar with a hook near the base of the handle. Worn by the samurai as a dirk, the hachiwari was probably used as a parrying weapon — held in the left hand while the sword was grasped in the right.

Many Japanese and Westerners are familiar with the exploits of Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645). His original name was Miyamoto Masana, but he was also known in his later years as Niten. To improve his swordsmanship, Musashi traveled extensively throughout feudal Japan so he could challenge other swordsmen. The founder of the nito ryu, or fencing with two swords, he was also an accomplished artist and the author of The Book of Five Rings, an exemplary treatise on the strategy of swordsmanship. Although not as well-known as his more famous son, Miyamoto Musashi’s father was also a skilled martial artist. Miyamoto Munisai introduced a military art known as jitte tohri-ryu. This particular style, sometimes referred to as tohri-ryu kenjutsu, used several military weapons, including two swords, the spear and the jutte. Practitioners of jitte tohri-ryu were especially known for their jujiyarijutsu, or techniques that involved the use of a spear with a distinctive cross-shaped blade. By all accounts, Miyamoto Munisai was also a master of iron-truncheon skills, or jutte-jutsu.

The term jutte comes from the Japanese words for “10” and “hands,” indicating that using the weapon gives a person the power of 10 hands.

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