In the effort of having a theme every year with which to direct my practice, expanding concepts, and going just a little deeper into the art, I really took a while (okay a few days of going around in circles), but I finally settled, though the deeper I reflect on what I chose, the more it demands…
Often times, I will refer to my research in classical Japanese martial arts, and the literature around that for inspiration, and this time was no different. This time around, it was from the teachings of a very old samurai school called Kukishinden-ryu. Within their teachings of the use of the jutte (a sort of sword capturing truncheon) there is discussion of the use of the rope for arresting as well as the use of improvised and concealed weapons (essentially, all small weapons should be used as concealed weapons). Within these teachings, there is the following statement:
一筋縄多縄仏心十縄の構 (Hitosujinawa Tajō Busshin Jūjōno kamae “The attitude that a single rope multiplies into the ten ropes of Buddha’s mind.”)
(Kukishinden-ryu Jupposessho no maki)
This correlates to the teachings of the “Ten Oxen” (jūgyū; 十牛), which is a series of short poems and accompanying drawings used in the Zen tradition to describe the stages of a practitioner’s progress toward enlightenment, and his or her return to society to enact wisdom and compassion. Though I’m very much tempted to write out my own commentary of this resource here, I will simply link to the translation and commentary that i am working off of HERE.
All that being said, it is from the exploration of this idea and the implementation of using just a single rope, that we will explore the possibilities of what can be done with just one rope. This will demand exceptional resource management, ingenuity, and some nice tight ropes!
“Kinbaku is, in a word, the extraordinary. More accurately, it is the dissimulation of the ordinary. While it neighbors the everyday, it is different from the everyday; an act that draws out a separate reality. That is why it must be done here, where we all enjoyed supper together not long ago, but also why it cannot be the same as it was then. An expression of Yūgen.”
(from a lecture of mine in a advanced kinbaku workshop)
Yūgen (幽玄) itself is very difficult to explain in Japanese let alone in English. Yū (幽) generally means something dim or subtle, or “hazily perceived”. Gen (玄) infers “something hidden deeply in principles” or “mysteries not easily understood”. In Taoism, it expresses things that are profound, unfathomable, and subtle. In my own experience in the art of kinbaku (tying deeply; 緊縛), the sense that best fits the aesthetic of Yūgen is like observing the gentle drifting of incense smoke in a dimply lit room. There is a sense of things moving slowly and subtly, yet with a certain profound weight about it, not physical, but insubstantial.
In the act of rope bondage, and it’s many facets, there are times when you are simply tying someone like a parcel, sometimes decorative, sometimes sadistic, and that’s all very good, they are facets that make up the art. For myself however, I am deeply drawn to the presence of a scene.
When the lights are out, and the room is dimly lit by candles, her hair is disheveled, and clothing ruffled, the rope being the only thing to hold it in place.
When the only sounds in the room is the creaking of the jute and the rasp of her breathing.
When the very air is heavy, and you dread swallowing your tea in fear of making too much noise and shattering the moment.
This is an expression of Yūgen in Kinbaku.
When you strive for what can be called kinbaku, one must bind deeply (binding the mind; 心緊), and to do that, the senses must be coerced, simple force is not enough, subtlety and elegance are requisites. Seduce the senses, light incense, burn candles, lower the lights, touch and caress, smell the rope, have the model take in the whole experience; build the illusion, for once they are in the illusion you can shape it fully.
All the same, “There is nothing to attain. … The imagined world is seen through.” (The Heart Sutra)
Anyone who knows me, knows well how I like to ramble about martial arts, well, a quarter of the way into the year and I have finally decided on what he theme will be for 2017! This year’s theme is indeed inspired from martial arts, though its roots are extremely Buddhist and zen influenced…
I often hear from various folks and all walks of life that they cant tie because they don’t have a place to practice their ties, or their partner isn’t sufficient for what they want to practice, or perhaps the type of rope they have is no good. Well in the spirit of rising the bar, I have to utterly Proclaime BULLSHIT! And not just to be an ass…
The thing about art is that it is to be an expression of oneself, one’s own feelings, or in the case of bondage, the expression of a certain sort of connection between two individuals. In the initial stages of exploring the concept of connection, having a medium in hand is often a nice stepping stone, but what happens when you don’t have your favorite rope, your favorite practice space, music, or even model? Is that it? is your art and capacity to express yourself null and void?
Freedom (jizai) from such attachments
Kōbō (Kūkai Shōnin) would not choose where he painted his illustrations or calligraphy nor what brush he would use. A slip of the brush is not easily forgiven on the battlefield. Thus, one should pursue their practice (keiko 稽古*) with many people packed together, in environments that are not ideal, with rope they don’t favor, and un-reliant on the partner in question. Whether it is the body mechanics, rope, studio, or anything. Tie and receive freely . Consider the brush (fude; 筆) to be the hand of fortune and opportunity (fude; 富手).
The Theme of Kinbaku Jizai 緊縛自在
Thus, the theme of the year will be a focus on being able to tie regardless of the circumstances. I personally have used each of the excuses above to prevent myself from being inspired to tie, and I personally find them all unacceptable. This year is to be the year of tying freely!
“To express love and emotion entirely though the medium of rope. It’s how you use the rope to exchange emotions with another.” – Yukimura Haruki
Merihari, is the expression of timing, cadence, speed, and the very flavor of the tie itself. One may tie their partner hard and fast to express a dominance over them, or slow and sensual to manifest an intimate and sensual atmosphere. Alternatively, this can be changed up in which one ties slow and hard to employ sadism into the scene, or soft and fast to express urgency.
The word itself
There are a few common words that describe this particular principle, each with slightly different connotation, but all of which touch on the core idea. There is Kankyū, which explicitly denotes tempo. Merihari which means to “shorten and lengthen”. Finally, there is Hyōshi (拍子), meaning something of cadence, though it’s not an easy translation.
This term is made up of two Chinese characters (緩急). The first can be read as “kan”, “yuru”, “yuruyaka”, and so on, and means to “slacken”, “Loosen”, “relax”, or “ease up on”; the act of going from tense to relaxed. The second character can be read as “Kyū”, isogu”, and so on, and means to “hurry”, something “urgent”, the etymology of which (feelings 心 being pressed upon 及) describes a sense of pressure to do an action.
So, in this context, Kankyū describes the action of changing tempo; from slow to fast, or fast to slow. So, this word describes the tempo and speed of the tie in question, it doesn’t quite catch the whole experience of what we are looking for here.
Again, made up of two characters (減張): the first, read as “Gen”, “heru”, or “herasu”, describes something that reduces [in speed, volume, etc], like reducing the pressure of water form a tap. While the second character, read as “chou”, ” haru”, “hari”, etc., refers to the opposite; to lengthen, draw out, stretch, or enforce, encourage tension.
So here again it is a term that describes the involvement of two opposites: to reduce and expand. In this case, meaning to reduce and then intensify the action, and versa-vice. Another facet for the aspect of this principle, but not all encompassing. So, we need another element to define the experience…
Hyōshi is most commonly found in the classical martial arts, referring to cadence. In the famous “book of five rings”, Miyamoto Musashi describes it as three timings: before, during, and after an activity in relation to the enemy’s attack.
For the sake of having some idea of where the word is coming from, it can be broken down to “haku” or “hyō” (拍), referring to a clap or beat in a musical rhythm, and “shi” or “ko” (子) which literally refers to a child, but infers the interval [between generations].
As described by independent researcher Kenji Tokitsu (and I have cherry picked his details for the sake of relevancy here), hyōshi can refer to the rhythm, cadence, or momentum in things or in musical expression. (Tokitsu 342); the momentum or cadence with which things evolve or advance; the texture or sensation felt in doing something.
“The relation between two combatants brings into play the whole set of cadences manifested by each of them: movements, facial expressions, breathing, the ebb and flow of muscular tension, mental state […]
[…]The Japanese notion of hyoshi refers to the sequence of spaciotemporal, rhythmic intervals produced by the reciprocal relations of two combatants, and at the same time, to the cadence proper to each of them, which is closely related to breathing and mental state.” (Tokitsu 343)
So, what is all this rambling about words and rhythm? Why not just refer to the speed of the process of tying and call it a day? Well, the main reason for such painstaking dissection is that this is one of the major aspects of kinbaku technique that can change everything about a scene is indeed the rhythm, tempo, and cadence.
It would not suffice to simply describe some examples of how merihari influences things and the reader to simply understand, a considerable amount of practice is needed to grasp both the implications of how this influences things, and one’s own technique needs to be at a satisfactory level where they are able to perform all their ties firmly, softly, quickly, and slowly, all interchangeably on a whim. The process to get there is to understand not only the theory of merihari, but to also have ample technique, skill, and improvisational capacity for the changing circumstances.
Within this concept, one may tie their partner hard and fast to express a dominance over them, or slow and sensual to manifest an intimate and sensual atmosphere. Alternatively, this can be changed up in which one ties slow and hard to employ sadism into the scene, or soft and fast to express urgency.
These combinations make for four primary categories, though it is extremely important to not simplify it as such and leave it as it:
Tie slowly and lightly to manifest a sensual scene.
Tie slowly and firmly to manifest a sadomasochistic scene.
Tie fast and firmly to manifest a D/s scene.
Tie fast and lightly to manifest a sense of urgency.
It is also through these changes and approaches, with which one can reach the “flow state” (ryūshin; 流心), as described in psychology. A flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is most likely to occur when one is wholeheartedly performing a task or activity for intrinsic purposes. While the activities that induce flow may vary and be multifaceted, Csikszentmihályi asserts that the experience of flow is similar despite the activity.(Csikszentmihályi, Happiness, flow, and economic equality 1163-4)
Flow theory postulates three conditions that must be met to achieve a flow state:
One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.(Csikszentmihályi, Flow 598-698)
The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.
One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.
Fortunately, the practice of kinbaku at an at least moderate level of performance, allows for this psychological state. In fact, for myself, this provided an approach of self-therapy during some very hard times of my life.
It is through the use of marihari that the state of ryūshin can be achieved. That being said, it is through any of the above four approaches of cadence that ryūshin can be achieved and maintained. Indeed, it is common for the individual bakushi to maintain only one cadence through their entire approach or style. The following video shares a great range of different cadences from many different bakushi.
Csikszentmihályi, Mihaly. “Flow.” Handbook of Competence and Motivation (2005): 598-698. Academic Journal.
—. “Happiness, flow, and economic equality.” American Psychologist 55 (2000): 1163-1164. Academic Journal.
Mosafir, Boris. Shibari Festival RopeFest 2012 Russia St Petersburg Daria Mihailova. 11th September 2012. Online Video. <https://vimeo.com/49232351>.