Merihari – Cadence in Shibari

cadence-marihari-shibari

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.

Kankyū

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.

Merihari

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

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)

Application

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:

  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

References

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&gt;.

Tokitsu, Kenji. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings. Trans. Sherab Chodzin Kohn. Tokyo, 2000. Book. <http://www.shambhala.com/miyamoto-musashi-999.html&gt;.

As a spectator of Kinbaku, what to consider?

spectating-kinbaku

In the Edo period, it was considered a deep honor to deliver a prisoner to the magistrate, particularly in a considerately functional and aesthetic way. It was a peculiar honor for the prisoner to have been tied and prostrated; though shamed and humiliated, they were also significant enough to have such treatment.

One in the space, whether private, general practice, or in performance, kinbaku is best respected as a ritual. And as any ritual, a good viewer does not try to interact with the scene without having been previously discussed with the bakushi. Just as one does not interfere with a sermon in church. Now, I personally enjoy interacting with the audience when doing the quiet and small demonstrations that I often perform, but I am the one that usually initiates such interactions. It is also not a good idea to be too close to the scene (preferably with a space of about 4 meters, 13 feet of free space without obstacles), particularly since my particular style of nawa sabaki (rope handling), called hinawa (flying rope; 飛縄), has the rope flying around quite a bit at high speeds. If you do not respect this concern, it is solely your fault, it is ideal to not further interfere by making a scene out of it.

Arisue Go, in the documentary “Bakushi”, described some such etticate found in kinbaku:

  • A good bakushi will provide a unique and unrepeatable experience for the model and spectators. It is considered a matter of honor that spectators respect this experience keeping silent and expectant.
  • It is not well seen to touch the bakushi’s rope, trying to catch or touch the rope during the performance. The rope, as it was for the Samurai, are very precious and personal objects to each bakushi. This goes beyond the physical concepts involved. Besides that they are made of living natural fibers (hemp or jute; asanawa; 麻縄), which react to differences in pressure, temperature and humidity, and are the instrument with the bakushi to transmit the flow of their energy (ki; 氣) in a flux of charging and recharging. The strings are so important because they are the means by which the bakushi communicates his sense of “self” with the model, with the audience, and with the cosmos.

It is absolutely normal that something draws your attention during practice. But in order not to break the atmosphere that fills the session, it is good practice to wait until the end of the scene (until the last cord has been removed from the model or until the bakushi thanks those present) for permission to conduct an inquiry to the bakushi.

If you want to approach the bakushi, once the session is concluded. It is considered good practice to thank them for the offered experience and then ask what you want.

A good model is a person who comes to the experience of kinbaku, and the inner journey that they are to experience, allowing the artist to give (Indou wo Watasu; 引導を渡す, as they call it in Yukimura-ryu) without feeling inhibited. This attitude of introspection is often reflected in details like having your legs together and slightly bent, having ones body relaxed, arms at their sides, eyes downcast. The perception of the rope artist should clearly perceive any of these signs of the body and tie wisely and react accordingly.

seiza
Frederick Starr sitting in the seiza style. (Source Wikipedia)

Another very common posture to wait in is called seiza (correct seat; 正座). It is also used in martial arts. You kneel with knees about a fist apart (if female) or two fists apart (if male).

Many consider themselves honored to be bound by the bakushi and feel blessed to have shared such an experience. It would be considered an offense if trying to break free of the bonds or taken as a joke .

It is not considered good practice to “help” the bakushi in any way to move, catch things, talking and breaking the atmosphere or putting ones arms behind their back without the bakushi even doing anything . You can recognize a good artist in Shibari and Kinbaku just because you do not need to bring your arms to any position. He achieved that you do exactly what he wants you to do with your arms.

It is important to practice this art barefoot, especially because the ropes are jute (thus unfit to be washed). As a viewer, stepping on the rope of a binder is considered a serious disrespect. Because as was said before, rope is the medium for energy in this practice of the rigger, the rope is like stepping foot on the most intimate part of the bakushi. Depressing the rope using any type of footwear is even a worse offense. The rigger and model are the only ones who could step on the ropes during practice.

The rigger is responsible for ensuring the safety and welfare of the model at all times. The process does not end until the last string has been removed from the model’s body. Except in very special cases, it is considered a bad behaviour to let the model try to escape or untie by themselves or delegate this task to another person (unless a Master delegating this task to a student in order to teach).

It is normal that the rigger drops the rope on the mat as as it is removed from the model. These ropes should not be touched by viewers, and may only be approached again by the rigger or whoever he designates. It is considered a high honor for an apprentice to coil the rope of the Sensei .

These are only some details and perspectives in etiquette around kinbaku. However, these points of consideration are effectively covered simply by being respectful, considerate, and thoughtful of others and their practice. It is not necessary to remember hundreds of rules, only just lead a life of consideration.

 

 

In thinking of Kinbaku as a Ritual…

thinking-kinbaku-ritual

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:

  1. Do not let the prisoner escape their bonds.
  2. Not to cause any physical or mental harm to the prisoner.
  3. Do not allow any other schools see the techniques applied.
  4. The bonds must be beautiful, symmetrical, and artistic.

shingyoso-gyo-informal-shibari
CutieTie in the “plea tie” (tangan shibari; 嘆願縛). 

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]:

  1. She must look good in a kimono.
  2. She must have lontg jet black hair.
  3. She must have a certain amount of body fat, so that the bondage ropes make a clear impression on her skin.
  4. 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.

Works Cited

Master K. Beauty of Kinbaku. New York: Suirensha, 2015. Book.

Notes

[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.

Shibari Demonstration at M4!

So last Tuesday, after a wonderful trip to Niagara, Ontario, HeGiWa and I randomly decided to shoot down to Club M4 to check out their Fetish Night (Turns out it’s also the transsexual and cross dressing evening, but that’s not really a problem). I had the craving for some rope exhibitionism (the only exhibitionism that I’m really into), and upon a quick search, found that Club M4’s price was right for us.

flying-mermiad-singe-CLubM4
Performing the “flying mermaid” at Singe, a performance at Club M4 in Etobicoke, Ontario. Model: HeGiWa.

Upon arrival, I was asked if we were doing a demo, in which case, as an educator by nature, I was more than happy to oblige!

We cruised through a couple of suspension transitions, and HeGiWa seemed to be in great shape that night regardless of the fact that we cruised from Barrie to Niagara, back to Barrie, and then down to Etobicoke all in the same day. The audience was great, even with a heckler, and asked some good pertinent questions throughout. The music was decent, though not very loud as it is a classy swingers club; not a dance club.

Apparently everyone enjoyed themselves and in the end we were asked to come back!

So this upcoming Tuesday were coming back! Around 11PM or so HeGiWa and I will hit the stage again and do a demo for the world. If any one has any questions there, they are more then welcome to ask us that night! And if you ask really nicely, I may be willing to tie you too!

Here’s the relevant links to the event pages:

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