“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)
Whenever I feel stuck in my practice, uninspired, have issues discouraging me from my pursuit of Kinbaku, or otherwise, don’t feel like tying for a prolonged period of time, I like challenging myself. In the case of bondage, I find that doing it for 30 days straight is a great amount of time: it’s very doable, while at the same time long enough that you will have challenging days where you don’t feel like it.
As I am in one of those right now, I proclaim that June is a perfect time to do exactly this!
And as I like involving the community, I post my efforts to the internet! In the past I posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FetLife, and a bunch of others. This time I think I’ll narrow it down to Instagram and Twitter, as this is going to be a busy summer I won’t have time to play with all the platforms as before.
So as before, if you want to participate, show the world what cool things you can do with rope! You don’t even need a partner, just practice on something, anything! And post it to your favorite social media network with the hashtag: #ShibariChallenge!
Classes are on a brief hiatus at the moment but should be starting up again in June! And because Atemi’s day job is changing hours, we’re going to have better availability! That being said, we need to decide what nights and times works best for everyone, so please consider filling out this poll so that we can get classes lined up to best suit everyone’s needs!
As a sort of bonus, we are expecting to have two classes or more a week, and as such, the value of our monthly membership option has improved! That is to say more classes for the same price: so that’s an average of 8 classes for $100* – a pretty sweet deal I think!
If that sounds like your cup of java, then come sign up by clicking clicking HERE and we’ll see you next class!
* Yes, this membership applies to you and your partner: If the Top is the account holder, whomever hey bring to class is covered by their membership, and if the Bottom is the account holder, whatever Top they bring is covered!
Oh, and being a member gets you product discounts on rope, accessories, and more! Just, saying…
As a researcher of the classical Japanese martial arts, I tend to get lost into massive libraries that house antique documentation of everything from the martial arts and warrior-ship, to that of flower arrangement, tea ceremony, and many other things.
I always find it interesting to take notice of depictions of rope restraint in classical Japanese literature. and this evening while looking for another document (on matters of yinyang and the five elements in the late 18th century, which I didn’t find…), I stumbled upon an interesting chronicle narrating storied of he famous Japanese sword smith, Gorō Nyūdō Masamune (1264–1343). He was basically an almost mythical figure, known for his unparalleled craftsmanship in the hand production of swords and daggers. Though my findings regarding this chronicle as a while is better suited for my other website, there were two lovely illustrations involving rope restraint.
This publication, “Meiwa Masamune Katana no Chinsetsu” (銘者正宗刀珎説) was written by Ikku Jippensha (1765-1831), and depicts some fabulous illustrations regarding sword smithing and metal work, sword combat, and even two cases of rope restraint. This is currently located at the Waseda Uniersity in Shinjuku, Japan.
This first illustration is a common depiction in this form of literature, where one man is at sword point while being bound in rope. I won’t pretend to know the narrative here as this form of literature is rather above my head in several ways in regards to translation, but knowing that this book is about Masamune swords, and based on some of the illustrations leading up to this (the bound man is seen taking an unmounted blade from a carrying case; shiro-saya 白鞘), I deduce that he has been captured for trying to steal a Masamune sword, and was of course caught, and would be put to death.
However, later he is depicted in a servants position (sitting on his knees to the left of the individual) to a swordsmith, who based on his stature, could be presumed to be Masamune himself.
And closer to the end of the book, he is depicted as being in an intense sword fight where a bandit is making off with a woman. A page later, he is rescuing the woman who is tied to a tree with rope; the bandit is on the other side of the tree, looking away.
It is interesting to note that in these depictions of samurai being bound in rope, it is common to see the same tie; involving just the wrists and biceps bound, while women often have the rope going right around the upper torso (above the breasts). Though the use of rope serves both as a literary tool (inferring a sense of shame or disgrace), and an expression of lifestyle (in that Japan is a very rope-centric culture), it is interesting to note that the sexes are separated by the forms that rope is depicted as being used on them.
Considering the amount of ties presented in the encyclopedic Zukai Hojojutsu by Fujita Seiko (providing hundreds of illustrations of body ties), it is a little bit of a surprise to note that comparatively few would fit the image of what is shown in these chronicles, where from the front, only the rope around the biceps, and sometimes neck, can be seen. Yet in these chronicles, it is almost exclusively this tie that is seen on men. It is stylized, yet simple.
On the other hand, women are usually depicted as having just a length or two wrapped around their upper chest. This style, I think, would be more expected considering that one cannot expect the illustrator to be versed in either shibari or hojojutsu.
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
Classes at the Shibari Dojo are conducted in a rotating curriculum format and as such, it doesn’t matter when you start, you will be able to pick up rope and start at any time, and if you stick around long enough, you will have completed the whole curriculum!
Classes are three hours long and are generally made up of three ties with an underlying lesson involved. Images of many of the ties can be found on our DeviantArt page here.
Some of the concepts that we cover include:
Safety – Friction burn, avoiding articulations, identifying nerve pathways and tying around them, and what to do in emergency situations, how to monitor a partner effectively, nerve impingement, circulation, and emergency procedures, and more.
History – A brief timeline of hojōjutsu, shibari, kinbaku, and S/m in Japan and the world.
Rope types – Nylon, cotton, silk, hemp, and jute, and their applications, pros/cons.
Rope Ergonomics – Speed, efficiency, and flow.
Breath Work – “Lengthening the breath/energy”, refers to matching the riggers and models breathing to the movements.
Body Ergonomics – The rigger utilizes ergonomics (shoulders level, no unbalancing of the self, no unnecessary tension in the body).
Manipulating Cadence – Modulation (of voice), variation, variety, Liveliness; full-bodied – From Osada-ryū meaning to change and adapt the cadence of the technique.
It is important to note that these classes are fully clothed; the purpose of the class is one of education and learning, and while our space is a body positive environment, certain things tend to distract from learning and as such we attempt to minimize such distractions. We do occasionally have other events where clothing is optional, but for classes [comfortable] clothing is mandatory.
Private classes are more geared towards folks who want a certain level of privacy in their practice, a customized curriculum, focused instruction, or even if they would like to learn our curriculum from beginning to end!
The current policy is is to schedule an appointment for a minimum of two hours, as any less and there wont be enough time to practice and make your money count!
Generally once a month or so we host a themed workshop, focusing on a specific principle in the practice and presentation of bondage. The workshop spans 3-6 hours and specific ties and demonstrations are applied to transmit the intended concept as best as possible.
The schedules for these workshops can be found in the previously mentioned social media pages.
due to some unforeseen personal matters, I had to step back for most of the event, but fortunately things were sorted out soon enough to get my butt on stage at the last minute (literally last time slot).
Usually, traveling tends to stress me out quite a bit, like many people in the rope scene, anxiety is a thing, and though I have a pretty good hold of it, travel tends to get to me. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE travel, but it comes with its cost. Fortunately, I had my love CutieTie with me, and traveling with her is something that I’ve wanted to do for some time.
So we grabbed a Go Train from Barrie down to UNion Station in Toronto at about 7am, and then a ViaRail train from there to Montreal, so a bout a 7 hour trip one way, and though expensive, it was rather comfortable.
We also have a sort of secret low profile hotel right next to the venue where we were to be performing, so that’s always decent.
On another note, someone thought that it was fitting to report a nerve injury treatment article that I had shared on Facebook, so I had my account blocked for 24 hours leading up to the event. Facebook does not dispute these things, so that was pleasant. I don’t like Twitter much, but because of this, my attention went there for the weekend.
Meeting and Practice
The Friday night we had the privilege of meeting many old friends and some new ones at Ropes in Motion (RIM), where the pre-party and meet-up was held. A very lovely studio dedicated to rope bondage. And then again during Saturday afternoon where there was a pre-practice at the wonderful Tension, another dedicated shibari studio with a awesome atmosphere and facilities (I also managed to forget my scarf there, and Montreal was having a wonderful cold-snap that weekend…).
The Night of Ropes
Moments before the event itself started, I had some personal matters occur that nearly caused me to back out completely from the event. CutieTie still had a performance around 1am which I didn’t want her to miss out on, and so I attended and took some pictures and media of that.
Through some turns in circumstance, I ended up going up wit CutieTie for the 2:30 performance slot. Accordingly our performance ended up going on with out a hitch. And though we were supposed to do two earlier shows, I feel that this one made up for it nicely.
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>.
“Ikebana developed from an inherent appreciation of nature, fundamental to the Buddhist tendencies which had reached Japan around 500-600 BC and the art form grew slowly from the appreciation of plant life, evolving into a subtle art of manipulation, geometry and performance. The evolution of Ikebana saw a cultural practice emerge that specific arrangements of stems and leaves performed a symbolic representation of the universe, by providing a visual balance between heaven, earth and man (Tenchijin) to reflect the harmony of the environment embedded in eastern philosophy.” (Mortimer)
Those with an eye for it, will quickly recognize that this particular aesthetic arrangement is very similar in intention to the application of the golden ratio. Operating on a variation of the rule of thirds, in this case, the thirds are referred to as the Sansai(the three powers; 三才), categorized as “heaven, earth, and man” (天地人). Though the explicit reference to the Sansai seems to have developed in the early 1600s, the usage and application of this aesthetic principle in Ikebana wasn’t established until around 1801 by Shosei Teishosai Yoneichiba.
Dry history aside, this concept managed to form a sort of blue print for a certain measure of pleasing composition; that is to say, the structure of the flower arrangement looks nice. This was measured rather precisely by the proportions of each stem (usually three stems or plants), the longest stem represents heaven, the shortest represents the earth, and the stem of mid-length represents man.
Application of Tenchijin in Shibari
The specific proportions vary slightly between different traditions of ikebana, they are all roughly within the same general comparison, and as such, when I teach the application of this concept in shibari, I emphasize recognizing the three stems or points of reference, and positioning them in a similar fashion to that of the ikebana concept of tenchijin to attempt to create a three dimensional scene that is interesting and pleasing to the eyes.
One such rope artist that appears to have developed in this direction (knowingly or otherwise), is Akira Naka, a rather well known practitioner of kinbaku who always seems to create masterful and exceptionally beautiful scenes in his performances. Though his style is more centered on very challenging and strenuous ties that encourage sadomasochism to be put on display, even those not drawn to the beauty of suffering can see the form and composition of his art and appreciate it as such.
To reiterate the composition here: the top stem (usually the models head), is the highest point; heaven. While the lowest point is often times a leg or foot, or even a prop to draw the attention down; this is earth. Man exists between heaven and earth, and as such is in between the two points. However, it would be a dry composition if the middle point were right in the middle, thus it is either slightly closer to the highest point, or the lowest.
Viewing the ratios discussed thus far, it is noticed that the ratios of “ten”, “jin” : “ten” and “chi” : “jin” resemble each other. It has been found that this ratio resembles the “golden section” (1:1.618 = 0.618:1), which defines the formal beauty of the architecture of ancient Greece and Egypt and also that of the contemporary art design.
The reason why the roles of heaven, earth and man were assigned to these basic stems derives from Buddhism. It originates from a way of expressing the universe using two basic stems like “the sum of things arises between
heaven and earth” which is a doctrine from the Buddhist Mandela. The stem representing man placed between those of heaven and earth also derives from the thought of Buddhism, viz., that “man is precious only because he
is a part of all creation existing between heaven and earth.” Many schools bend the stems and branches with special techniques to deform them to make them more suited to their roles. (Saito and Furuya)