Recently there has been a renewed discussion on the terminology that is used to describe the Japanese art of rope bondage. That discussion, hinges on two Japanese words: Shibari (縛り) and Kinbaku (緊縛) with the first being the Japanese word “to tie” and the second being a word that translates to “tight binding.” Which of these words is “correct” is not particularly important. What is more important is the intention that each of these words express.


To me, shibari is the answer to the question “how do you tie?” And kinbaku is the answer to the question “why do you tie?”

Let’s say, for example, that you watch a session with a famous bakushi who performs a dramatic, moving, and inspiring tie. Asking him how to tie that, could result in a brief tutorial and some instruction that could, indeed, tell you how he performed the tie.

But asking why he performed the tie requires a much deeper discussion.

While I am no famous bakushi, the meaning of kinbaku for me cannot be separated from the question “why do you tie?”

In the past year, I have found my answer to that question not only in the practice of kinbaku, but also in the spirit of it. And my answer to that question is, like anyone else’s, personal and to some degree idiosyncratic. But, I believe that until one begins to answer it, one is not capable of doing kinbaku.

Kinbaku is, I think, for most Americans an uncomfortable thing. Done well, it requires a complete nullification of the ego, the ability to literally disappear in the ropes and to put one’s energy, in an absolute sense, into the pleasure of another. At its best, kinbaku is created but it is not something that I create. When it is kinbaku, I am no longer there, and I have had friends remark that I go into a different space. I appear both intensely focused and no longer there.

The tendency in all of us is to say “Look what I have done” and to celebrate each tie as an accomplishment. When we think of kinbaku as an art, we consider ourselves the artist, the model our canvas, and the rope our medium. And when we do so, I believe, we fail as bakushi.

In this simple formula, we never get past the “how I tie” question.

Kinbaku comes from a deeper place, not the self-aggrandizement of the artist or the ego of the showman. It comes from an authentic expression of who one is. An interview with Akechi Denki in 1997 tells the story of Minomura Ko, one of the early pioneers of kinbaku in Japan and editor of the ground breaking magazine Kitan Club, and how he came to the decision to devote his life to kinbaku:

…an enemy ship sank Minomura Ko’s ship and he was left adrift in the Pacific Ocean for many days. It was then, where he promised himself that if he ever made it back alive, “from now on, I will do the things I like.”

It is in that simple story that we can see the essence of kinbaku.

My story is not nearly so dramatic, but it flows from a very similar sentiment. A day when I decided “from now on, I will do the things I like.” And finding my way to kinbaku led me to my own personal discovery. For me, kinbaku is not an art, it is a river.

Doing kinbaku is, for me, about finding the flow of things and letting the currents guide you. It is a river of tradition, where you are carried along by forces much greater than yourself and where making small adjustments can have a great impact on your direction. The force of the river, its power and majesty comes from the past. Rivers have a history, literally written into the earth; they tell a story. They begin as a trickle, gradually building and finding their way, until eventually they can wear away even the most stubborn obstacles. They wash over dirt and rock alike and, eventually, find their way and proclaim “from now on, I will do the things I like.”

But they do not get there quickly or easily.

So it is with kinbaku as well. Our river is carved by time and our past comes from a long tradition with names like Tsujimura, Minomura, Nureki, Itoh, Osada, Akechi, Shima,Yukimura and countless others. These bakushi are my river spirits, the ones who created the river upon which I now travel, and each time I touch my rope and begin to wrap it around my partner, I am invoking them and pledging to myself, in my own small way that, like Minomura, “from now on, I will do the things I like.”

When we spend our time analyzing the chemical composition of the water, we miss the beauty, the spirit, the nature, and the transcendence that the river offers us.

And for me, in the end, it is in finding and doing the things I like that allows me to, ultimately, disappear.



Grabado: 2010-06-23 05:29:42

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