Shingyoso in Shibari

Shingyoso 真行草

In Japanese culture, the term Shingyōsō (真行草) has it’s roots in many sources; This is a concept that can be found in everything from Toshi Keikaku (City, urban, and town planning; 都市計画), to the categorization of utensils found in Sadō (Tea Ceremony; 茶道), it is however most known for its use in Shodō (Calligraphy; 書道). In general this system can be thought of as a measure of formality:

  • Shin 真 represents the most formal or symmetrically structured. For city planning this would refer to the cities that have a rectangular perimeters and orthogonal axes, and are regarded as formal cities. [1] In tea ceremony, when offering tea to a noble, or at a shrine or temple, a matched set of bronze utensils from China is used with a specific utensil stand. These are really (formal) utensils.[2] In the case of calligraphy, this would be recognized for being quite crisp and font-like, often times with sharp serif while other times without any such flourishes. This would be used for more clerical situations such as temple administrative documentation.
  • Gyō 行 represents a semi-formal presentation of the art in question. for traditional urban settlements in Japan, gyō would be the castle town. These towns usually have a combination of the other two styles and may be called ‘Gyō‘ cities. The center area in castle towns usually follows the curve of the castle moat, while the perimeter may be more rigid or relaxed. [1] For Tea ceremony, this would represent utensils between Japanese ceramics and bamboo and that of Chinese steel wear, and as such, is semi-formal. [2] lastly, for calligraphy, this would be the equivalent to general handwriting found in English, commonly used for daily communication, note-taking, and illustrates a bit of character from the author. [3]
  • Sō 草 is completely informal, and though may not be welcome in many high-etiquette venues, is none the less appreciated for its Wabi-sabi qualities and character. The cities located further inland were developed along the water routes, and respond to the curves found in the rivers and waterways. These cities therefore are
    The character of “mu” (nothingness; 無) written in the three levels of formality.

    planned in ‘Sō’ style. [1] In contrast to these Chinese utensils there are ceramics made in Japan that have an earthy flavor and simple utensils made of bamboo and wood that bring out the quality of their materials just as they are. These are ‘‘ (informal) utensils. [2] Lastly, Cursive script. Also called Grass script. Flowing style, with slender lines, and composed with rapid fluid strokes. This is the type most often used in formal Japanese calligraphy.

Now that we have established the nature of the concept Shingyōsō, we get to the question of “what does this have to do with shibari?”

Hojojutsu 捕縄術

Well, as one may have been made aware of, many of the ties used in shibari, and many more that are still in development, were inspired, borrowed, or derived from Hojōjutsu, the martial art of rope arresting.

Interestingly, the practices of arresting the opponent with rope presents one of the most clear examples of Shingyōsō available in the martial arts. There are a few ryūha (traditions) in particular that made use of Shingyōsō quite explicitly, such as Ichiden-ryū, Taishō-ryū, Kentoku-ryū, Sasai-ryū, and Hōen-ryū, where many of the ties have variations that increased in complexity as they were considered more formal. Each stage expresses the progression from informal to formal via placement and complexity of the rope on the captive.

“Shingyōsō no Honnawa Funyū-ban” (真行草之本縄不入番) of Ichiden-ryū (一傳流).

Alternatively, for some traditions, the ties were divided up in measure of expected longevity, where was for temporary ties for use with the short rope in immediate capture situations, while Shin was the category for the more permanent ties performed using the longer rope, and of course the Gyō ties were for anything in between that.

Shibari 縛り

In the matters of shibari, it’s a bit more of an aesthetic of “completeness” or “unfinishedness”. Many times in class I’ll be showing a tie, and stop to state, “this is the tie”, and then continue either with the rest of the rope in hand, or with adding more rope. This pause is “sō”, it has done it’s job, but it gives the feeling of being incomplete. This can manifest in the examples from Ipponnawa, or from examples of Kuzushi (untidy, unbalanced; 崩し). The rope covers little and is often times asymmetrical.

An example of “so” (草) in shingyoso. A single length of rope expressing simplicity.

Though simple and for some dis-interesting, this level of informality requires the least amount of nit-picking (finite knot tying), as it is oftentimes covering the most space with the least complexity. This allows for greater flourish, flow, and a focus on other things (such as play).

Shin, by contrast, it a sort of complete, well structured, and solid seeming architecture of tying. Here, things are usually pretty symmetrical, and it is usually at this point that some would consider a box tie (for example) to be suspension worthy, though such may not always be the case.

“Tonbo Shibari” (Dragonfly tie; 蜻蛉), here is illustrating “gyo” of Shingyoso (真行草).

Finally, Gyō is in-between, it is neither highly structured, nor is it loose and relaxed like sō. This sort of level is often suitable for partial-suspensions. Interestingly, one could almost measure shingyōsō by how much rope is used: one rope is , two is gyō, and three is Shin, though it would be very shallow to say that this is the case, it almost equates here.

But to delve down that rabbit hole would be to digress. Shingyōsō in shibari is a matter of recognizing a certain degree of formality in the ties and the qualities that are made available thereof. More on the matter can be gleamed from the workshop on this very subject:


[1] Shintaro HanazawaYukio NishimuraTakeru KitazawaNaota NakajimaShin, Gyo, So: The Traditional Concepts of Spatial Design in Japan. (2004)
[2]  Omotesenke Fushin’an Foundation. Shin-gyo-so (formal semi-formal, informal) ranking of utensils. (2005)
[3] Schumacher, Mark. Shodou – Japanese Calligraphy, Literally “The Way of Writing”. (2013).
[4] Seiko, Fujita. Zukai Hojojutsu. (1986).


Considerations that Make Kinbaku a Deep Experience


As has already be explained, the practice of kinbaku is quite a bit more involved than simply binding the partner, and though it may involve some very primal or sexual energy, it far from equates to such. The art and science of kinbaku and shibari is an expression of beauty, functional bondage, and of course safety (Safe, Sane, and Consensual is still a thing). However, for it to be a practice, there needs to be principles, and for it to be a platform of artistic expression, there needs to be aesthetic elements. For this reason (and for the purpose of transmission of a body of knowledge), certain schools of thought, such as the founders of the Osada-ryu (Osada Eikichi and Osada Steve) had organized theories into practice.

Some such considerations are maters as tenouchi (inside of the hand; 手の内), that is the method of handling the rope, just as the calligrapher learns to hold the brush or the brick layer learns the trowel. The appearance and placement of the bindings; if the tie is for photos, consider the photographer, if the scene is for private enjoyment, consider what augments the model favorably. One starts to understand through practice that the conscious intention that they impose on the scene, on the model, influences it; changing it. And, as the opposite is also true, the theory of Muganawa (selfless rope; 無我繩) came to be developed.

Even in minimalism, one can achieve atmosphere. Some would argue that minimalism is required for atmosphere!

The bakushi must always be aware of every detail coming from the dorei (slave; rope bottom; 奴隷), what in ninjutsu, we call suieishin (水影心). Suieishin refers to the mind or heart (心) that reflects the formlessness (shadow; 影) of water (水). Which is like saying that water takes on the colour of its vessel. There is also the ergonomics (taisabaki; 體捌) and handling of the rope efficiently (nawa sabaki; 縄捌). One must be sensitive to the rhythm of the scene, manipulating it when appropriate, and knowing when to let it guide itself (merihari; 減り張り); not to impose inappropriately. There needs to be respect and calculation in regard to the distance and angle, both physically and emotionally, between the rigger and model (maai; 間合). And then there’s all those little tricks that seem to make the masters stand out from the rest (ura waza; 裏技).

One of the most appealing parts of kinbaku is that of connection between the top and bottom through the medium of rope (nawa no kankaku; 縄の感覚). This is not something that can be forced and requires at least a little intuitive understanding of muganawa. “Muga (無我) is a concept steeped in the Buddhist tradition. It refers to the ‘non-self’, emptiness, or being devoid of desire.” (Osada Steve).

Nawa no Kankaku – Connection of Rope

Nawa no Kankaku (Connection of Rope; 縄の感覚) is a term at Shibari Dojo that is used to label that subtle sense of depth in kinbaku. I first happened across the term while training in the Bujinkan. There was a blog article by Duncan Stewart where he tried to describe the lessons of Masaaki Hatsumi on kankaku as thus:

“We shouldn’t move just like we are tying someone up with a rope. It’s far deeper in significance as always. The concept is that we are tying our opponent up with our soul or Tamashii (魂). Being captured by ones soul or spirit can be likened to being wrapped up my an invisible cord or rope. The feeling of restrictiveness and entrapment is the ultimate aim of obtaining Nawa no Kankaku.” – Duncan Stewart

CutieTie tied in the “Prawn” position.

This is a very difficult thing to grasp as it is very subtle and seems to play on the mood of the moment, it appears as though you cannot force it. Well in actuality it’s not something you conjure through your dominance of the situation (that’s something else). Instead you draw the feeling out into the space (kukan; 空間), like luring or seducing it; you don’t want to scare the feeling away. As Hatsumi once put it:

“Don’t think of trying to make it work. You don’t have to make this work. Don’t be tied up in whether it works or does not. No one ever teaches you that it’s ok if it doesn’t work. It’s ok if it doesn’t work, because you can change. You can keep going.”- Masaaki Hatsumi

Performing a tie, knot, or achieving a desired position of the model is a very low aspect of kinbaku, these things should be automatic at a certain level, the next level is to be able to lure out the kankaku, to create that connectedness, to manifest intimacy.