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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Tonight commences our third Atemi-ryū shibari workshop, and such a lovely class it was!
This was also the first non-beginners workshop for Shibari Dōjō. The fact that it was an intermediate level workshop definitely kept some away, but there was a lesson that I wanted to express with such a thing. Lately I have been expressing that the advanced kata (forms, patterns, or models) are very simply and quite literally made up of the basics. That is also to say that the beginning techniques are also the most advanced.
Accordingly, the first kata that we examined was the Atemi-ryū variation of Hishi Shibari (Diamond Tie). This is a tie that can be challenging for someone fresh to shibari, yet with a little perseverance the studious can extrapolate all sorts of lessons from this form and walk away with a very solid chest harness!
We also practiced a simple hip harness. One might wonder why we might practice a hip harness when there isn’t a determined suspension curriculum in Atemi-ryū. It is simple, the hip harness makes a considerable amount anchor points for use in the mizuhiki style.
All in all, we had great people come out and make this workshop priceless. Thank you everyone who showed your support through encouragement and participation!
Considering that this only just became a full time endeavor for us in June, the Shibari Dojo has experienced some notable success! Some points of interest:
We had two successful workshops in both June and July, and got both some great reviews and some excellent feedback for improvements.
Demand on Jute Rope have completely kept us low or out of stock. We’re honored to seemingly be the only supplier in the Simcoe county of Ontario area and sleeplessly strive to improve our services and have our supply meet demand. Accordingly, we have, as of today done just that! So the golden jute rivers should run smoothly from now on!
After fifteen years of being of the working class, struggling along without getting anywhere, and feeling frustratingly dissatisfied with my standard of living as well as a lack of fulfillment and unappreciated wherever put in time. This is the first time I’ve felt my efforts appreciated and reciprocated, I don’t feel restrained and anchored down by my occupation, and I get to do and share what I love.
For these reasons, we’re launching a special offer for the month of August!
When you purchase a three pack of jute rope, and use the coupon code “AUGJ003” you’ll save $10 off of that order!
Just apply it at the check out and see the discount immediately!
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
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.
One of the first controversies that I happened onto when I was first introduced to shibari was that of the semantics between the terms “shibari” and “kinbaku”. It was fortunate that I had come across Osaka Steve’s article on the very subject that differentiated the two items based on an understanding of his own. In essence it was that shibari (縛り) was the Japanese verb “to tie” (shibaru; 縛る), which could be used to refer to tying such things as parcels, objects, etc. While kinbaku (tying tightly; 緊縛) tends to be used to describe a practice where connection between the nawashi (rope artist; 繩氏) and dorei (slave, rope bottom; 奴隷) are important. For this reason I often translate kinbaku as “tying deeply” as opposed to tightly.
Though it doesn’t take long before one starts to wonder if these divided semantics are needless and a waste of time. Is it really necessary to devise these different ways of describing the same thing? In my opinion, I think it’s not necessary, however, I will do it regardless simply because when you tie someone in private, the approach, feeling, and intensity is different then on a public stage.
I frequently have different dorei, or rope bottoms over at my studio simply for practice. The majority of the time this practice is quite clinical and dry; they enjoy being tied, and I get my technical practice in. I love it when they approach me with ideas of ties that they want to try. It is rarely something that one would call a scene or play. I would call this shibari – it is a technical practice in tying with rope, an opportunity to experiment.
On the other hand, there is when you are with a lover, you strive to tantalize and tease, to get inside their head and open yourself to their exploration. You create a connection (Nawa no Kankaku; 縄の感覚) between hearts with rope as the medium. I commonly describe kinbaku as tantric rope bondage.
There’s of course other forms of rope bondage for various means including hojojutsu (science of arresting with rope; 捕縄術), Semenawa (torture rope; 責縄), and so on. But the big division seems to be around shibari and kinbaku.
So how does the greater community feel about this division in semantics?
This is the official launching of the Shibari Dojo, located in Barrie Ontario, and home to Luke Crocker (Atemi).
Though I began my shibari journey in October 2012, when I was commissioned to translate a short document on hojojutsu, it wasn’t until October 2014 when I really took the art seriously. Since then my practice had quite literally saved my life while going through a very dark time. It was because if this that I was able to commit deeply to realizing and understanding the art, and now I can never wait to have a length of jute or hemp back in my hands again!
Having a long time background in education and a great passion for academia, I decided to begin doing what I love for my profession, and in June 2015 I opened up shop!
I first began by selling rope for the purpose of hojojutsu, and soon after found people asking about classes and workshops. Though I was quite unsure about whether I was up to the task of teaching something that I felt to be completely amateurish in, it seems that not only did the students enjoy the workshops, but they enthusiastically practiced what I gave them. Accordingly, I have begun teaching private classes with considerable success!