In every genuine Japanese art there is a learning way based on living the experience by the side of your Sensei, on the observation and meditation on all what is seen. This noble concept is based in the principles of those people that care for humbleness, for the soul openness and other codes very related to Bushido as those pointing what is honorable and what is not.
First thing taught in Bushido was that the Samurai would never fear death. It was the root origin of their legendary braveness, courage and honor. But not less important was the tuition about their strict moral values that always put warrior’s honor over all things. This was so extreme as to put honor even over the warrior’s life itself. Upon those ancient times Samurai usually sacrifice their lives so to purify their honor with their own death. The concept was that there was no point living a life without honor. This practice was abolished long ago in Japan and it’s considered illegal. However, the remaining echos of that honorable culture and its moral and ethical principles still remain among those who care about their honor and reputation in the same way Samurais did long time ago.
Some of those great Samurais became O Senseis (Grand Masters) transcending their mortal lives through the reputation, honor, knowledge and skills of their disciples. It may be hard for occidentals to grasp this atypical concept of honor in knowledge heritage, and perhaps the hardest part is to accept how traditional Japanese tuition praise their old Masters. Embedded in a world of immediacy and easiness where everything is accessible at a simple click, and where the popular things sometimes shines better than the important, westerners are convinced that the best they can do is give orientals the technological promotion and communicative tools, so to help them put their arts at hand for everyone, pretty much as any other occidental skill learning. That laudable objective of mass communication in the right of everyone to get the information sometime ends turning into a canned and soulless product what once used to be Japanese art and essence.
I feel nowadays that the honorable concept of Deshi (that student that used to walk by his Master in his everyday’s chores and who worked hard to gain his trust and be worthy to perceive and follow his techniques and knowledge) has fallen out of favor. Training and growing one particular skill seems to be under the dark blanket of oblivion. In these last years where Kinbaku got spread anarchically it seems that it’s more important how many patterns you know, better than how you are able to perform them or the way you have reached that knowledge. What used to be the “follow the Sensei to –steal– the technique” motto was taken in a very literal way. We’re witnessing today some pointless competition so to show who knows more tying patterns and moreover, who uploads better information to Internet (even when this may lead them to make the fool in public showing what they don’t master). If you’re skilled enough you may perhaps search on Internet and find many video tutorials on shibari. There are various videos showing you from the basic knots up to a thousand versions of the TakateKote dealing in between with safety issues and more. The fact is that many of them have serious mistakes and many understanding and content issues, and contribute to the global confusion and uncontrolled spreading of erroneous concepts. Same happens with those that upload and spread photos of what they call shibari, but clearly do not respect the basic and traditional aspects of this art. They usually confuse those newcomers to this art between an intricate rope macrame, circus style fancy contortions and suspensions, or the simple rope aspect fetish in difference on what Japanese shibari is.
But let’s come back to knowledge and learning… You can steal a kiss from someone with kindness, or you can do it in a nasty offensive way. You can steal a flower’s beauty by admiring it, by taking a photo of it… or you can just rip it off to take it with you. The outcome varies depending on the way you take your knowledge from who is giving it to you. You can take what is evident, what looks good in the photo, after a few hours of taking a training class. You can rush to your preferred social network and share what you think you’ve understood in a workshop. But if you really want to grasp what’s behind that pattern, it’s whole worth, it’s magic that sometimes transcend what is evident, there is no other way to do it than opening our heart, soothing our anxieties, and sitting by the Sensei to calmly and peacefully enjoy what he tries to show you. It is only then that you can distinguish the beauty of sakura’s blossoming far beyond it’s specially beautiful photographic composition. You may realize then it’s impermanence, enjoy the beauty and wisdom of the cycles of life and understand it’s relation with Japanese social habits . We can also took a sakura blossoming picture and use it without knowing it’s more profound meaning and hang it on our wall just because it looks beautiful. The difference, as it happens in many arts, resides in it’s intrinsic message, in it’s deep values beyond what is visible at simple sight. It’s the difference between how it looks and what it’s soul represents. In the same way it happens in any tie that shows us something plain from that one that goes far beyond from what our eyes can see.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
You can find many methods to transmit your knowledge through Internet in these days, or even in a “in the flesh” way. You can attend to some classes, workshops, peer rope meetings, and “steal” some knowledge you didn’t have before. You can learn new ways of tying, new tricks, etc. But it’s only through watching your Master over and over one thousand times (not only tying but in every aspect of his daily life), it’s only after opening our mind to gasp what’s beyond the rope, that you may capture the real essence of this art. Only after that, and with some effort and time, the real bakushi starts his own path. It won’t be his Sensei’s path. It won’t be the path of any of those who taught him something. It will be his own path, due to having grasped what binds ropes to our own soul. It’s only after understanding that internal engine that drives us to tie and love ropes that we’ll be able to start our own path in this art. After that, every new technique, every new pattern, every new knowledge will be redefined and will join us in total harmony and with artistic beauty to our rope soul, making us unique and really awesome. It’s up to us if we aim to this goal and put our energies to achieve it, or we just want to transform ourselves in living encyclopedias of soulless techniques and patterns, or become endless workshop collectors so that we can proudly hang them on our walls and brag about them every once and then.
To the lovely memory of Yukimura Haruki Sensei, who taught me this art far beyond techniques and ropes. Even when language conspired to be an unbridgeable stone where communication would die, no words were needed to understand and assimilate his particular way to live his life, and also to became absorbed by that beautiful philosophy of life that glowed peace and harmony all around him. It has been a true honor for me to call him Sensei in the very deep and profound meaning of the word.