What’s a grappling hook?

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A grappling hook is a tool with metal hooks that can be thrown at high surfaces to climb or swing from. It was historically used by warriors and fishermen, and is now used by climbers and in RPGs.

A grappling hook has three or four sharp metal hooks that curve outward from a central shaft. An eyelet at the end of the rod allows you to attach a piece of string. A fisherman, ninja, or climber throws a grappling hook at a high wire, tree, or wall, where it’s bound to bite into wood or snag on an uneven surface. They then scale the obstacle by pulling themselves up the rope or swinging from ledge to ledge.

Historically, warriors and ninjas used a grappling hook to climb walls and trees. Japanese warriors used a type, called a kaginawa, as a climbing aid and as a weapon. They swung the kaginawa in small circles while holding the rope close to the hook. Building momentum, they deftly threw it at an enemy to trip him over a tangled rope or impale him with sharp hooks. In China, kung-fu practitioners used fei zhua, a “flying claw” to reach high ground on cliffs and buildings. It was also a heavy, hooked weapon.

Centuries ago, fishermen on large trawlers used a grappling hook to swing between vessels. If a vessel was heading out to the bay, the fisherman would choose to “catch a lift” to disembark when they were done fishing. Rather than boating or swimming, men were safer by tying themselves to ropes and hooking into the ship’s cables that held up the sails. Then they swung from the sails of one ship to land on the next. Since grappling hooks look like several large fish hooks tied together, their origin may lie in the ocean.

Climbers need a modern grappling hook, made with a flat, wide hook, to access mountains and caves. These are often used in the controlled environment of an indoor climbing wall, with ledges, cliffs and outcrops called flakes. Their edges are designed to hold a large grappling hook-shaped device. Mountaineers practice for outdoor mountaineering or enjoy the sport as a hobby.

Today, we’re more likely to encounter a grappling hook in an RPG than in any real-life situation. It lends itself to adventures in which a character must scale castle walls, scale a rocky mountain, or move between levels of a building with style and ease. Knights, gnomes and superheroes keep the self-propelled and self-winding grappling hook in their belt along with other mythical tools.

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