In this interview Scott from Melbourne Rope Dojo shares with us his way of feeling rope and how he started into Shibari/Kinbaku as an Osada student and then turned into an Osada-ryu licenced instructor.
What caught your attention to bondage and when?
Whilst I had been doing BDSM privately prior, I joined our local BDSM community around 2002. At the time bondage didn’t really interest me beyond the utility it provided to do other things such as impact play. I think this was because I had always seen rope bondage being done in a boring way, with all the focus being on the rope and not on the person being tied.
In 2005 on a whim I attended a rope workshop that changed that belief. It was the first time I had seen rope being done with any form of energy or connection, and so I became totally hooked. The following year I attended a Shibari workshop, and my love affair with Japanese bondage began. After a few frustrating years madly watching videos from JapanBondage.tv trying to recreate what I had seen, the next step was to travel to Tokyo to learn at the source.
In 2009 you travelled to Tokyo for intensive training with Osada Steve. How did you first hear about him? How would you describe your first experience receiving his guidance?
I had known about Osada Steve for years, originally from his posts on the Adult Rope Art Yahoo group under the Dr Dvice name, and then subsequently hearing more about him in conversations with Mark DV8 who had already been to Tokyo. I resolved to get myself to Tokyo to have lessons with him, and asked Mark if he would do an introduction for me and the rest is history.
My first experience? Initially I was very nervous. I had heard stories about Osada sensei being quite hard and strict, so starting my first lesson with Osada Steve saying “Show me your best bondage . . .” was nerve-wracking. But what I quickly found was someone the opposite of what I had expected – someone who was friendly, really funny, and totally generous and open sharing their knowledge. I am not sure where those stories had originated from, as everyone I know who has actually met and spent time with Osada Steve feels the same way about him.
What made you return the following year to repeat the Osada Honbu Dojo training? How was it like receiving classes from grandmaster Yukimura Haruki?
That first visit to Tokyo changed everything. I suddenly “got it”, so to speak. I saw what it meant to tie with connection and to flow. But more than that I started to understand how Shibari fitted into a broader context of culture. I saw a glimpse of something that deeply resonated with me. So I went back to Melbourne and “incubated” – tried to externalize everything I had seen, learnt and experienced, and when I had exhausted that process it was time to return to Tokyo to continue learning.
My classes with Yukimura sensei totally changed the way that I tie. I had seen Osada sensei do newaza, and we had touched on it in our lessons, so as part of my incubation back in Melbourne I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to capture some of that energy and connection. But my lessons with Yukimura sensei made it make sense, with multiple light bulb moments. Such small subtleties that from the outside looking in I would never have seen them, but they totally change the connection and feeling of tie. I began to understand then what it meant to truly tie with connection.
After my lessons with Yukimura sensei I devoted my time to doing newaza, and followed his advice to tie as many different people as I could. Like Osada Steve, Yukimura sensei is so friendly, generous and open – it is always a great pleasure to go and visit him.
After that second trip in 2010 you started teaching in New Zealand and Adelaide. How did you find yourself in this new phase? Did you already had in mind starting an official Osada-ryu dojo in Melbourne?
I had been asked to teach by a few people and I wanted to share my enthusiasm for Shibari. During this time I was teaching generic Shibari rather than specific things that Osada sensei had taught me as I didn’t feel that I had the necessary understanding or skill to properly teach it – for that I wanted Osada Steve’s ok. I discovered during that time that I enjoyed teaching, and I seemed to get a good response from the people I taught.
At the time there was no thought of becoming an Osada-ryu instructor. Rather I was just wanting to improve my tying so that it could be as good as it could.
In 2011 you organized workshops in Melbourne for Osada Steve. Soon thereafter you started the Melbourne Rope Dojo and you kept on offering workshops in Adelaide and the Gold Coast. Did you feel your teaching approach changing in any way?
I decided to open the Melbourne Rope Dojo to keep the momentum and interest going after Osada Steve’s visit. But more fundamentally it was because I received the OK from Osada sensei to teach. Because of his OK I started teaching ties from Osada-ryu, and so the people I was teaching benefited from this as it incorporates both the technical side of tying, including flow and efficiency, with connection.
In 2012 and 2013 you trained again at the Osada Honbu Dojo in Tokyo and also with Yukimura Haruki to obtain your instructor license from Osada Steve. You also performed at several Japanese venues including Studio SIX. Was the feedback from the Japanese different from Down Under? In what aspects would you say your Shibari/Kinbaku style changed along with time?
The difficulty in distinguishing the different feedback I have received from the Japanese to what I receive in Australia is that the way I tie publically in Japan is very different to when I am in Australia. In Japan rope enthusiasts, let alone the well-known professionals, have a very high skill level and understanding of Shibari. This is reflected in venues being run with tying in mind compared to the noisy and crowded venues in Australia where lots of different BDSM activities are carried out.
The result of this is Australian venues are only really conducive to doing “circus bondage” ie., suspensions. By comparison in Japan venues are smaller, quieter, and lend themselves to doing more connected tying (which is why I have started a quarterly rope salon). Hence the feedback I receive in Japan and Australia is quite different from each other due to my style of tying being totally different.
But the beauty of rope is that when you walk into a venue or salon in Japan and start tying and can show that you share the language of Shibari you can quickly create great connections with people.
As for the way my Shibari has changed, I dislike now doing circus bondage and performances, and much prefer to do intense and connected semenawa and shuchinawa for a small audience.
Besides making yearly visits to Tokyo to renew your license, are there other ways you employ to assure unadulterated transmission of the Osada-ryu techniques to your students?
For me it is primarily the yearly visits to help ensure I am passing on up-to-date information.
In what ways do you feel Osada-ryu may enrich rope enthusiasts?
It has been a privilege teaching Osada-ryu and seeing how students develop over the years. As I teach I see how well thought out the syllabus is, encompassing all the aspects of Shibari necessary to tie any style (semenawa, newaza, circus bondage etc) and in any situation.
For me, the underlying strength of Osada-ryu is not that it produces people who tie the same, but rather it gives people the skill, both technically and in terms of being able to fully connect with the person they are tying, to create their own “voice”, so they tie quite differently. Learning technique, learning forms so you can then forget them with your conscious mind and be in the “eternal moment”, for me, is where Shibari becomes magical.
There is a nice series of pieces looking at this from the book The Life-Giving Sword: Secret Teachings from the House of the Shogun, by Yagyu Munenori:
“To think of only winning is sickness. To think only of using the martial arts is sickness. To think only of demonstrating the result of one’s training is sickness, as is thinking only of making an attack or waiting for one. To think in a fixated way only of expelling such sickness is also sickness…
Use thought to arrive at No-Thought; use attachment to be nonattached… If you can expel the sickness of any remaining thoughts with thought, afterward both the thought that has been expelled and the thought with which it was expelled will disappear. This is the same as using a wedge to extract another wedge. If you drive a wedge into the place where another wedge is stuck, the first wedge will loosen and come out, When the first wedge is extracted, the wedge to loosen it will not remain either.
. . . Apply this to the world of the arts. When practicing archery, if your mind is occupied by thoughts of shooting the bow, your aim will be disordered and wandering. When using the sword, if your mind is occupied with thoughts of plying the sword, its tip will not be regulated. When practicing calligraphy, if your mind is occupied by thoughts of writing, the brush will be unsettled. When playing the koto, if your mind is filled with thoughts of plucking the strings, the melody will be confused.”
What is Shibari/Kinbaku in your life? What do you enjoy the most from Shibari/Kinbaku and why?
One of the magical things for me about Shibari/Kinbaku is that it can be so many different things. One of the fundamental things for me is that I find tying very centering – no matter what I am doing I can be in the moment with an empty mind. I finish tying and I feel grounded.
In terms of what I enjoy the most, it is the fact that I can have an intense connection with someone, and it can be someone I have just met and I can’t converse with them beyond basic communication (like in Japan). I can tie and it is like we are in the midst of an intense love affair. So understandably my favorite way of tying is newaza – to try and read the person I am tying so that the two of us can exist in the pure moment, to give all of myself through the rope and hopefully have them give all of themselves, and to be void of my own desire. To achieve this so many things have to happen simultaneously, without conscious thought, and it has to be reactive and in the moment rather than “paint by numbers”, but when it happens it is just incredible.
How would you describe Osada Steve’s teaching method? How does his style of Shibari/Kinbaku strike you?
For me the best thing about Osada sensei is his constant questioning and not doing anything because he was told but because it is the best thing to do based on a range of considerations (ease of tying, connection, aesthetics etc). For this reason his rope and focus is always in flux, and each time I return to Tokyo things have changed. Whilst on my first visit his teaching was more technical, on subsequent visits it was more about connection and newaza. Ultimately Osada Steve is trying to share his great love of Shibari/Kinabku, and therefore is generous with his knowledge. It is something that I try to emulate.
In terms of Osada Steve’s style of Shibari, I would say that Steve strives to have a complete style technically, in terms of being as comfortable doing a suspension show in front of 1,000 people as he is doing newaza in front of 2 people, whilst all the time having a focus on the impact of the rope on the person being tied.
What can you tell us about grandmaster Yukimura Haruki’s style and his teaching focus?
Yukimura sensei’s style is focused on creating an exchange of emotion, a strong connection, between the model and the person doing the tying.
When people in the West look at Yukimura sensei’s rope there is often a comment that it looks simple and untidy, and what is the big fuss about him. But what those people miss is the small and subtle things that Yukimura sensei does when he is tying, from the angle of his hand, to where and how he is holding the nawajiri (ends of the rope), from the distance you tie at to what happens even before a piece of rope goes on – all of these things change the feeling and exchange of emotions of a tie. There is the idea of urawaza, or techniques that are hidden because they are done behind the model, but I feel this idea extends to those techniques that occur in plain sight but are hidden because people aren’t aware of them.
His teaching style has a focus on the feeling of a tie, in terms of the conversation that happen between the model and the person doing the tying, rather than on the technicalities of rope placement. As such, many of his suggestions are subtle. I think it’s like the teaching of concert pianists – they know how to play the notes in the right order, but there are subtle differences that make one pianist a good one and another a great one, and it comes down to feeling.
From the South American Continent, Oriental culture is seen as something “from the other end of the world”. How is Japanese culture in general, and specifically Shibari/Kinbaku, perceived in Australia? How do you see Shibari/Kinbaku evolving in the West? Is Australia within those same parameters?
Australia is a multi-cultural country, closer to Asia than any other part of the world. Because of this there is a large Asian influence on Australian culture, so it is by no means “from the other end of the world”.
I’m not sure how Shibari/Kinbaku will evolve in the West – like Asia the West is not a homogenous entity. From afar I see differences between Europe, where there has been more people studying with Japanese bakushi than say in America. Because of this the evolution is different between the two.
Australia is different again, with the population of Australia being slightly more than half of Greater Tokyo, except spread out around a large island. Because of this the numbers in any given city interested in Shibari are small, but it seems slowly more and more people are learning about if from various means, with Shibari being promoted primarily by a small number of serious people who have studied in Japan. There aren’t many students who are dedicated to studying Shibari in-depth (ie., weekly classes), but their numbers are growing.
I would love to pay a visit and train with you at your dojo some day in the future. What are your future projects for the Melbourne Rope Dojo and yourself? Are there any special dates or events people should bear in mind if planning a Melbourne Rope Dojo training visit?
The best thing is to email me ([email protected]). We have weekly classes, and quarterly rope salons. If someone is coming from afar I always try to accommodate them.
As for me, I still have lots to learn, hence my yearly visits to Tokyo to continue my studies with Osada sensei and Yukimura sensei, and to go out and see a lot of tying at clubs and salons.