On Yugen in Kinbaku

yugen-kinbaku-shibari

“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.

cutie-tie-kinbaku-shibari-yugen-black-kimono
CutieTie wearing a lovely black kimono and bound in the Yukimura-ryu Gote (雪村流後手)

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)

A Story of Swords, Rope, and Romance

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.

“Meiwa Masamune Katana no Chinsetsu” (銘者正宗刀珎説) was written by Ikku Jippensha (1765-1831)

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.

A depiction of a samurai to be put to death over the theft ofone of the famous Masamune swords.

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.

A woman tied to a tree and about to be rescued from her captor by a warrior with a Masamune sword. 

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.