Otoko musubi (aka Japanese Fence Knot or Somerville bowline)

Posted on Tue, 26 November 2013


I have deliberated much upon the short-comings of the traditional reef knot style tie off used in, for example, the wrist tie of many takate-kotes. It seems to me that this type of knot is most unsuitable for a load at 90 degrees as this will often capsize the knot into hitches, which have the potential to slip or come undone as they capsize. I don't think it's just me as I have observed this in everything from Douglas Kent's books to Kinoko's class hand-outs and video tutorial's by well-established bakushi.

Maybe I worry too much about hitches causing the binding to tighten, perhaps in reality it is not such a problem. In practice, it does seem to require some pressure on the actual knot to make it move. Since I hate it if the wrist tie comes loose and it is so hard to fix satisfactorily, my solution has been to tie a second identical knot on top. It does the job but it slows you down, uses up rope and makes the tie off less elegant.

As much as I hate to admit it, there is an admirable solution from the west: the Somerville Bowline. I understand that the invention of this is credited to Topologist. It seems to owe some heritage to 1445 in Ashley's Book of Knots, which, for some reason, he describes as the worst of the "single carrick bends". However, it does seem to solve the problems of the traditional reef knots style tie. It is neat and very secure. I like it a lot and plan to use it. Some further research, that lead me into gardening of all places, revealed that maybe the Japanese did get there first. It is certainly commonly used and it appears that it is not unknown in kinbaku circles as you'll see from the videos.

Otuko Musubi 男結び (Japanese Fence Knot, literally 'man knot') is a traditional knot used commonly in gardening for building fences (yotsume-gaki 四目垣), typically with black palm cord. For an understanding of how it is tied, see this video and rather more clearly below:



You can see the same principles in this tutorial posted by SIVAnawa:



After seeing that video, you can see it utilised within bondage in Japan. To what extent, remains to be seen. I shall make some enquiries and do some further research. It is quite possible that it has been adopted by some recognised ryu. I'd like to be able to establish authentic shibari provenance for this knot, if only because I try to resist the "bastardisation", to quote a certain stereo-typically outspoken Aussie (Editor: Is there another sort?), of the art.

Here's an update from Osada Steve on the subject, which just came in since I started on this article. He pointed out my initial mistake of calling it 'otoko musu', which I picked up from one of my reference sites, and warned me of falling into the trap of regurgitating bullshit picked up on the net. True, I should have known better and checked that further:

"For starters, there is no such thing as musu. The び at the end makes it musuBI. The term otoko musubi (male knot) often pops up when there also is an onna musubi (female knot) - basically right-handed and left-handed versions of the same type of knot. According to Fujita Seiko, there is a plethora of "other" names for the otoko musubi: Oro-musubi (をろ結び) Moro-musubi (もろ結び) Kakine-musubi (垣根結び) Magaki-musubi (籬結び) Ibo-musubi (疣結び) Iori-musubi (庵結び) Shiori-musubi (技折結び) Haigashira (蝿頭) Igara-musubi (いがら結び) Ro-musubi (ろ結び) You bet that a truck driver's otoko musubi is totally different from a gardener's, which in turn is completely different from a bakushi's. It is a sticky wicket. The trick with this matter is not to jump to conclusions but to give it a few years of research..."

On that note, I should add that a lot of what I have said is speculation based on the wheat and chaff thrown up by Google. I can see I shall have to turn my eye to some authentic hojojutsu references as it appears there is more to be learned there that I had supposed. This knot looks like it might have a long history in Japan. Here is a link to Topologist's bondage blog with a step-by-step guide and a video. These show how to tie it using double rope, unlike the fence making versions, for a single column tie so will be more relevant to our usage.