The practice of kinbaku is still quite young, even the supposed “masters” in Japan and around the world are still developing. It is an art still in a very early stage of development and standardization; at best we have contemporary shibari in that sense. Thus, we all have so much to learn and so many directions in which we can shape our own corner of the art! In many cases, those of us who have been there longer, or delved harder and deeper might have a body of knowledge for which they can share, and thus in order to create a curriculum, some things are formalized.
One of these such masters is the famous Arisue Go, a bakushi (rope artist; 縛師) who has worked in film and photography with rope for decades. In his book, Kinbaku: Mind and Techniques 2, he describes kinbaku as comparable to ikebana (flower arrangement; 活花), or ikezukuri (生き作り), in that it has been highly formalized in certain aspects (while he also emphasizes that the heart and technique must be one for the beauty to come out in the art). In many ways, this has been formalized into systems of thought such as Osada-ryū, Yagami-ryū, and so on, which include with them not only individualized and stylized techniques, but also morality, codes of ethics and issues of “honor” in the practice of Kinbaku and Shibari. Much of which can seem like mere protocol but within encourages considerations of not only physical safety, but also the protection of the models emotional and psychological state, and harboring feelings of reverence, respect, and dignity for the model.
Though it has been established that Shibari and Kinbaku did not originate from the Japanese martial arts of Hojōjutsu (the science of arresting with rope; 捕縄術), many of the practitioners these days have been shaped and inspired by some of the similarities and thus continue to derive both technique and philosophy from the martial arts. Thus, the foundations of etiquette, ethics, and moral codes start to be shaped by those who love shibari and kinbaku, whether practicing or not.
One of the things that bakushi were inspired by was the four rules that came to be institutionalized in hojōjutsu, and remain today as cornerstones of current Kinbaku and Shibari are:
- Do not let the prisoner escape their bonds.
- Not to cause any physical or mental harm to the prisoner.
- Do not allow any other schools see the techniques applied.
- The bonds must be beautiful, symmetrical, and artistic.
This situation, among the rigger (Samurai in this case) and recipient (prisoner in this case) was a highly formalized ritual. Both the public exhibition of the prisoner to the people who saw the Samurai walk before being delivered to court, were acts that entailed a great amount of humiliation, but also of great honor, for the prisoner as they were significant enough to be displayed; not simply executed quietly. That duality between humiliation and honor, appears to be contradictory, they gave thanks to the respect for the ways that both developed.
In relation to the four rules of late Hojōjutsu, the famous bakushi, Dan Oniroku created his own variation regarding the qualifications for the models he enjoyed working with[i]:
- She must look good in a kimono.
- She must have lontg jet black hair.
- She must have a certain amount of body fat, so that the bondage ropes make a clear impression on her skin.
- She has to be graceful under duress with strong facial expressions.
In Shibari today, the situations are quite different in some ways but similar in others. We do not deal with prisoners, nor speak of judgments, courts, or the like as in the days of Edo era Japan, but definitely keep the concepts of honor in the ritual of the bonds. Thus, also remain Shūchinawa (soft style touch with ropes leading to humiliating poses and situations; 羞恥縄) and Semenawa (torture with ropes; 責め縄) as the two most common ways you can take a session of Shibari or Kinbaku.
Master K. Beauty of Kinbaku. New York: Suirensha, 2015. Book.
[i] Please note that this is the preferences of one man, not an industry standard. This listing is referenced from Master K’s Beauty of Kinbaku, 2nd edition, page 80.