Shadow Work and the Tools of Ninjutsu: The Kaginawa 鈎縄

“You should try to learn the use of these tools on your own to decide if they are good or not. Unless you prove their worth for yourself, you should not use them.”

– Bansenshukai (on the use of ninjutsu tools

The times of the shinobi are distant. We of the modern age can hear but faint echoes of their past achievements and capabilities. Still, the vestiges they have left behind give much to those who might seek wisdom in their ways.

Background

An antique Japanese kaginawa https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaginawa

A kaginawa 鈎縄, possibly a favorite tool of the ninja, does not hold much appeal to the eyes of the average individual. With a modest rope of hemp combined with a hook of one or more points, one can hardly see a single modern use for the tool other than for specialized climbing applications. But to a ninjutsu/stealth enthusiast the kaginawa represents a doorway to self-exploration and a vast myriad of technical applications that can bolster one’s strength and sharpen one’s skills for hard times. Adhering to Fujibayashi’s words on the importance of proving the utility of a tool, my training in Shadow Work lead me to begin carrying a grappling hook like the historical shinobi…just to see what happened.

Though the one I possess is indeed a form quite different from that of the feudal era, I could still readily see how the tool may have been used as a weapon, what with its sharpened points and instructions from historical texts that advise using it to capture criminals and bind military targets. At first the tool was unwieldy in my hands. I didn’t know what to do with it other than swing it in a whirl about my head, sometimes smacking it against a tree as if to simulate hitting a feudal soldier.

I took to throwing the hook over and over again. Sometimes aiming to catch hold of a tree trunk, or even the head of a training dummy. To be hit upside the head with a kaginawa would, I am quite sure, result in severe injury…and depending on how deep a claw sunk into the cranium, death should not be ruled out.

Soon after learning the basics of maneuvering the tool through rotational swings, I began the practice of climbing trees, walls, and even buildings.

Climbing with the grappling hook is an historical facet of ninjutsu. As part of in-nin (covert infiltration) operations, shinobi sometimes had to scale mountain-faces, fences, and towering castle ramparts in order to fulfill their military obligations to a feudal lord. The siege of Kasagi castle in 1331 is one historic shinobi operation that relied on the skilled use of kaginawa.

Historical ninjutsu texts delineate many functions of the tool, though elaboration on specific techniques is to be desired after sifting through the material. Here are some basic historical facts concerning this tool:

  • The Shoninki (正忍記) states the kaginawa to be 1 of 6 primary tools that a shinobi-no-mono was to always carry
  • The Bansenshukai (萬川集海) mentions the tool, but does not provide any more detail on its use other than dimensions for construction and length (the rope was to be 1 jo 5 shaku in length or approximately 14.9 ft.)

Physical Considerations

One needs to have much strength in the hands and arms to climb with a grappling hook. This lends to the supposition that shinobi had to be physically fit to scale anything with the tool…but the lack of physical strength may be compensated for through cultivation of different scaling techniques. For example, knotting the rope in intervals allows one to use the toes during an ascent. This technique, coupled with split-toe shinobi footwear known as ‘tabi’ 足袋, gives a reliable solution to climbing a rope that would otherwise be difficult without a strong grip and powerful arms.

 

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