Manrikigusari (a.k.a Kusarifundo)

Manrikigusari (a.k.a Kusarifundo)

Traditional Kusarifundo

Recently we have been studying the use of Kusarifundo (a.k.a Manrikigusari) in the dojo in preparation for the Triple Threat II seminar with Tommy Joe Moore and Jason Hulott in January 2022. Don’t miss this seminar, it’s being held at our dojo (Seal Martial Arts) in Rugby and we will be looking at a wide variety of traditional Japanese weapons. Jason Hulott is teaching the Okuden No Kata (Advanced Forms) from Eishin Ryu Battoho (Japanese Naval Sword) and Tanjojutsu (Walking Stick) techniques. Tommy Joe Moore is covering Street Sumo and the use of the Yawara (Short Stick) for self defence and combatives. I will be covering fighting with the Tessen (Fan) and the basic use of Manrikigusari (Weighted Chain).

The Manrikigusari or Kusarifundo was believed to have been developed by Masaki Tarodayu in the 1700’s. It is used by several schools such as Masaki Ryu, Hoten Ryu, Araki Ryu, Toda Ryu, Meifu Shinkage Ryu and a few others.

Used to snag and snare the opponent as well as strike with the weight, The chain is a versatile weapon in the hands of a skilled practitioner.

As far as I understand the story, Masaki Tarodayu was tasked with guarding the gate of a castle and because it was considered to be holy ground he didn’t want to use a sword and spill blood. He thought of what he could use as a substitute and decided the staff was too primative so he looked for a new weapon and decided on the Manrikigusari (Weighted Chain). It has several advantages in that you can conceal it easily, strike with it concealed in the hand, use the weight to strike with devastating effect, ensnare your opponent, choke them and throw them.

When training in the dojo it’s important that you don’t use real (Metal) Marikigusari or Kusarifundo! You should always train with rope substitutes for the sake of safety, The Manrikigusari is an extremely powerful weapon and will do a lot of damage to you or your training partner should you make a mistake. Some techniques like the O Same No Kata (Clasping in the hands) cannot be performed properly without a chain as you need to use the elasticity of the chain to bring it into position but you should wind it around the thumb and forefinger instead to place it in the hand when you are using rope Manrikigusari.

The use of the Manrikigusari used to be more common in the Bujinkan (Ninjutsu) but it has fallen out of popularity in recent years. As far as I understand it Soke used to teach more techniques with the chain and a lot of the techniques found in the Bujinkan come from Masaki Ryu but Masaki Ryu Manrikigusari is a standalone art in its own right. As time has progressed and subjects of study have changed the focus has moved away from the Manrikigusari to look at other weapons. Students should however endeavour to learn as much as they can about this weapon as its extremely effective and an excellent weapon for self defence.

When you first start studying the use of the Manrikigusari you learn 5 basic Kamae (Stances) to learn how to safely conceal and position the weapon on the body.

  • Goho No Kamae is all about hiding the Manrikigusari centrally in the hands ready to extend it out to be used when performing techniques such as armlocks and chokes.
  • Issei No Kamae involves dropping the Manrikigusari behind the rear leg to conceal it from the opponents view ready to perform strikes.
  • Tenchi No Kamae involves holding the Manrikigusari vertically on the left side of the body with the chain held taught ready to perform blocks and overhand strikes.
  • Shumoku No Kamae involves holding the Manrikigusari on the right hand side of the body with the rear arm held outstretched to the rear.
  • Ippu No Kamae involves hiding the Manrikigusari behind the back in a similar manner to Kage No Kamae from Hanbojutsu which is quite challenging to move into at first. The key to moving into Ippu No Kamae is bringing the chain around the outside of the arm but it takes some practice for it to flow naturally.

Next you learn Yukichigai or how to wear the Manrikigusari in the belt. This is quite simple you just fold the Manrikigusari in half and pull the chain through the belt and allow it to hang freely. However its quite interesting as when you need to draw the Manrikigusari you simply pull on one of the Fundo (Weights) and allow it to drop down so that you assume Issei No Kamae ready to strike.

One of the fundamental drills with the Manrikigusari is the O Same No Kata or clasping the Manrikigusari in the hands. This takes some practice to get right. You have to maintain tension in the chain and snap it back into the rear hand in one smooth motion. Then the same thing the other way bringing the rear hand to the front hand, catching the chain in one smooth motion. This needs to be practised on both sides of the body until you can snap the chain open and close it into the hands seamlessly.

There are also multiple ways of positioning the Manrikigusari in the hand to to use the Fundo to strike and smash sensitive areas of the body. The most common is to hold one Fundo vertically in the palm with the chain and the other Fundo protruding from between the fore and index fingers. You can also hold both Fundo vertically in the palm and strike with Tetsui Fudo Ken (Hammerfist). The addition of the Manrikigusari makes simple techniques like Jodan Uke (Upper Block) and Ken Kudaki (Crushing The Fist) significantly more effective.

The first attack is called Kasumi (Hazing) and it involves concealing the Manrikigusari in one hand and throwing it forwards to strike the opponent in the face with the Fundo. It’s important to keep hold of the rear Fundo with the little finger so that it can be retracted and used to perform follow up strikes such as Kakoiuchi.

One of the fundamental things to master with the Manrikigusari is Kakoiuchi and Sukuiuchi or swinging the Manrikigusari in a downward figure 8 motion and an upwards figure 8 motion to strike and keep the opponent at bay. It’s important to learn how to switch hands when spinning and how to turn and move freely with the Manrikigusari. If you are spinning it in Kakoiuchi and turn to face the opposite direction then you transition into Sukuiuchi spinning the Manrikigusari the other way to keep it flowing naturally.

My favourite technique with the Manrikigusari is probably Maki Otoshi, It’s simple and very effective! When the opponent punches you move to the outside (Omote) and perform Ken Kudaki with the Fundo and then wrap the chain around the opponents neck with the right hand to choke them and throw them down to be restrained.

The only technique that i don’t particularly think is effective with the Manrikigusari is Yadome (Arrow Shield) this involves spinning the Manrikigusari in front of your body to stop incoming projectile weapons with the chain. Whilst in theory this would work for some small projectiles i can’t honestly see it stopping an arrow at all and every example i have seen of people testing it has ended with them being hit by the Fundo.

In conclusion the Manrikigusari is an extremely versatile and effective weapon! When you obtain a degree of proficiency with it you can incapacitate an opponent in a matter of seconds. The only down side to it is the possibility of strikes rebounding if you don’t follow through with you strikes properly. You have to be mindful of how its moving and anticipate where its going and be ready to catch it. It’s an excellent example of traditional Kakushi Buki (Hidden Weapons) that can be used in a wide variety of ways, I have even seen people wrapping the chains around their hands to strike like a Kakute/Kaiken and holding them by the chain to strike with both of the Fundo simultaneously like a mace. Just remember when your practicing in the dojo don’t use metal Manrikigusari as someone will definitely get hurt, It takes 2 mins to make them out of rope and then the worst anyone is going to receive is a rope burn.