A recently translated book from 1888 provides insights into the Samurai scope of fighting and martial arts, and that too with a societal angle. That is because this manual was targeted to the young and upcoming police officers who were in the line of duty in the late 19th century in Japan. Now historically, the Samurai by this time were already on a decline – with Emperor Meiji even abolishing their rights to be the only armed force in the Japanese nation 15 years earlier. This in turn allowed the book author (a Samurai named Tetsutaro Hisatomi) to delve into various techniques and fighting methods that were previously kept secret by the selected schools that taught the Samurai. Such techniques are accompanied by illustrations and instructions, thus leading up to a well compiled manual.
In terms of content, the manual has varied techniques and fighting styles that were demonstrated by 16 different (and presumably eminent) martial arts schools in Japan, circa 1888. But the purpose of the manual was not incite violence. As an excerpt from a samurai named Ohara Shigeya, at the beginning of the book, reads –
Things granted to us by heaven should not be wasted or used carelessly. Life is precious. One should walk the road of charity and benevolence. The crime should be hated, not the person. Everything should be based on the law.
As for the techniques described in the book, most of them pertain to Kenpo or Fisticuffs. Interestingly, these Kenpo drawings and methods became famous only during and after the Meiji Restoration, as a counter to reverse the declining interest in martial arts. Simply put, these illustrations were made more accessible to the public, thus encouraging people from different walks of life to take part in the societal ‘legacy’ of Samurais.
One of such striking props that hark back to the Samurai was the wielding of swords by the policemen. But instead of aggressive actions like slashing and hacking, the book rather focuses on how the cop can block, hold and make throws that could stop the suspect. Moreover, as with many martial art techniques, the author talks about focusing one energy through both correct breathing and posture, with the ‘power’ being generated from the saika or the abdomen, as opposed to the chest.
Other than swords and posture, the manual also takes about hojo or rope-binding techniques that take the place of modern-day handcuffs. Furthermore, the book also deals with kappo or resuscitation techniques that would have aided victims who drowned in water or suffocated by substances.
Finally, in our current context, the manual conspicuously doesn’t mention any kind of firearm. However, in spite of such an omission, some of these methods can still be used by the current police officers – according to the book’s translator Eric Shahan. Shahan, who specializes in translating 19th- and 20th-century texts pertaining to Japanese martial arts, also holds a San Dan (third-degree black belt) in Kobudo. And going by his expertise, the translator additionally advises against using throws to stop (or take down) a modern suspect, since such a maneuver allows the attacker to come in physical contact, which in turn would present him the ‘sneaky’ opportunity to seize a weapon from the cop’s belt.