My Meaningful Journey into Shibari/Kinbaku

I’m always looking forward to expand my vision on Japanese culture beyond ropes, and during this last two months trip to Japan I’ve found myself going over a process of  meditation, self discovering and personal healing. Within this journey through Buddhist temples and living an acetic life in the mountains, something touched my soul in a special way down in Kyoto city, and it was the visit to a zen garden called Ryoan-ji.

Monk combing the gravel of Ryoan-ji Zen Garden

There are many theories about what those carefully selected slightly molded fifteen stones mean. Those stones are scattered in five groups inside a 296 square yards rectangle filled with thin white gravel which is thoroughly combed every day by silent monks.  This wonder is meant to be contemplated from the temple’s gallery running parallel to the long side of the rectangle. You can seat on one of the wooden planks and silently meditate about what is shown in front of your sight. You can’t certainly see all 15 stones all at once from any particular place, and while you move to another place you may see the former hidden stones but, at the same time you notice that some of the stones that were visible are no longer visible anymore. There isn’t any unique explanation of what all this means.

You have to find your own interpretation.  Some people see the peaks of the mountains rising over the clouds.  Other people would see the footsteps of a tigress carrying her cub through a water pond. You may also see some islands surrounded by flowing water.  I’ve not seen any of that.  I’ve just left myself to feel all of it. The sun moving over the rocks changed the shape of their shadows over the gravel as the day passed by. The time flow and the seasons can be clearly reflected by the colors of the beautiful trees surrounding the place. At first sight the garden may seem impassive, as well as we seem to be from time to time. As soon as we change our point of view and what was concealed gets visible to us, we also miss to see what we used to see and that wouldn’t still be the same.  Nothing stays the same. I’ve experienced this vision along with a growing feeling of humbleness and acceptance of my place in the world was at every moment and what was generously given to me just at that given time.  What we believed to aknowledge in our former place, is no longer what we supposed it to be any more.  We do change, our perception do change, and reality surrounding us changes in a unavoidable and perpetual flow.  Humbleness, acceptance and gratefulness of what is revealed to us, in a fair amount, at the proper time…


People contemplating Ryoan-ji Zen Garden

That delicate balance within those last concepts is what I believe is the key for many things in our lives, but specially to understand the relationships between teachers, students and disciples in many disciplines among which I include Shibari/Kinbaku.

At a certain point of my journey, maybe because of my meditation, I’ve related this Zen Garden concept with my path, my discoveries, and my learning way in Shibari/Kinbaku. That way I’ve visualized that as part of a whole that keeps true to Japanese traditions and essence, each great master of Shibari/Kinbaku has his own vision of this art from his particular point of view. It’s like each one of them would see it subtly different but they all keep the same magnificence that legendary Samurais used to care this art to have.

This awakening, plus many of my latest experiences in my learning, have made me think that anyone who walks these path, after some time of learning, may evolve over the mere techniques, and might like to widen his vision as much as he could. He might want to capture the essence of what he perceives from teachers and pairs, and with a solid anchor in the basic principles of Shibari/Kinbaku he would let his path unveil letting this art flow from inside.

Doing a bit of retrospective analysis over my own history and what I have in sight, I would like to thank Osada Steve for being the first sensei who had the vision to make this beautiful Japanese rope art accessible to be learnt in the occidental world. His many Shibari workshops around Europe were what I see like the starting flame of the increasing fascination that grew all over the European community about Shibari. His later sickness and absence let an unexpected movement to go on, and without anybody even imagining that, it brought the first Japanese senseis to Europe. It was a breakthrough since Japanese senseis usually wouldn’t leave the island to teach abroad. As soon as they did so, they found a growing European rope community wishing to continue learning, and that gladly surprised them. After Kazami Ranki was offered to backup Osada Steve absence in London, many other great masters visits went on. Soon Yukimura Haruki,  Naka Akira, Hajime Kinoko, Otonawa and Nawashi Kanna, between others, made their appearance to European Shibari community.

Osada-Ryu 4th Kyu Certificate

It maybe was Osada Steve who first had the vision of teaching Shibari/Kinbaku with a similar format than a martial art is taught, with a predefined Ryu platform, with Kyu levels, and the chance to get through them through personal effort and perseverance.  It’s not odd he envisioned it that way as he has a strong formation in martial arts and a still remaining occidental background although he has been living for more than 30 years already in Japan. Being recognized by the great masters as the first gaijin (foreigner) worthy to inherit the name of who used to be his sensei Osada Eikichi (Public Performance Shibari/Kinbaku father as you may see on these two posts), Osada Steve focused to encourage his students to learn other Japanese disciplines besides Shibari/Kinbaku.  His idea, as far as I see it now, is to open his student’s minds to understand Japanese culture as a whole, to embrace it, and thus get a better interpretation of the Shibari/Kinbaku.

It was that way that I’ve started learning the Japanese language, and also started learning Shodó (Japanese calligraphy), Bonsai, Aikido, Japanese medicine and Buddhism. This whole new bunch of experiences truly made me see Kinbaku practice from a broader and enriched cultural background.

Edward Valentine Jr. by Tsubaki at Nawashi Kanna workshop (Barcelona 2014)

On April 2014 I’ve the chance to attend a Nawashi Kanna sensei from Tokyo (nowadays Akechi Denki sensei’s style reference ) workshop in Barcelona.  I was astonished at that time on the intensity he used to stress some concepts that seemed to be of a crucial importance for him. Among them he pointed out the unexistence of a Kanna-Ryu neither a Kanna sensei school. He rather prefers his art to be addressed as “Nawashi Kanna sensei’s style”.  He never allows anyone to be called “Nawashi Kanna sensei’s student”.  After a while I’ve been able to analyse this concept and suddenly I realized the amount of responsibility and honour it takes for a Japanese sensei to transmit his knowledge to someone and publicly endorse him as his student.

Being aware and keeping in mind the importance that Nawashi Kanna sensei used to teach the dynamics and ethical codes that should exist between teacher, students and disciples that I feel nowadays deeply honoured and humbly thankful for everything that I had already experienced in my young Shibari/Kinbaku path. If you see all this from an occidental point of view, you may think this all happened because of a personal time and money investment in Shibari/Kinbaku lessons. However from a Japanese point of view I feel that there was never enough money able to buy the loyalty, trust, and embrace feeling a student would feel in this culture for his/her sensei.

Iroha by HaruTsubaki at Yukimura Haruki sensei's (Tokyo 2013)

It was march 2013 when Osada Steve felt appropriate to contact me with Yukimura Haruki sensei from Tokyo for private lessons. I’ve already attended to his workshop at the Copenhagen Shibari Dojo in Denmark on August 2012. I felt honoured by this new path Osada Steve sensei guided me into. I would have never had asked other sensei to teach me since I’ve always felt him as my sensei. There were also many other people that also influenced very positively on my development as a bakushi, but I’ll speak about them in other writings.

There is a huge difference in the learning chances between a private class than a workshop since in the first one the sensei is only devoted to one student. It’s only through nourishing a continuous relationship and frequent private tuition that a student may be granted the honour of being officially recognised as a particular sensei’s student. It took me more than three years of knowing him and many private classes to get Yukimura sensei to see me as a bakushi and accepting me as his student as he named me “HaruTsubaki”.  Many of you may think this would mean an achievement for me. However this is the humble first step of a lovely path I’ve just walked into and where I know there is still a whole world to unveil.

Yukimura Haruki sensei, born in 1948 is considered one of the most active bakushis nowadays. He is a producer, editor, photographer, and ties in more than 3000 Shibari/Kinbaku videos and books. That is far beyond what any other bakushi had ever produced.  Although Osada Steve school, heir of Osada Ekichi linage, is mostly focused on performance Shibari/Kinbaku, Yukimura Haruki on the other hand can be seen as the craftsman intimate part of this art. It’s focus is deeply devoted to the intense interaction that takes place between the rigger, the model and the ropes.

Everything is related to energy management and the flowing of the same. His many videos capture in close ups the reaction of the tied one to the ropes, and without needing any spectacular suspensions they show pretty intense material. His style is renowned as Newaza, the “caressing style” because of the way the rope caress the tied one. His ties, delicately crafted as he let them flow, are exquisite and beautiful, and follow the intimate play where the bakushi gloats in the control, exhibition, shame, and embarrassment of the Japanese women while she is defencelessly tied using Shuuchinawa (羞耻 縄).

Iroha by HaruTsubaki at Yukimura Haruki sensei's (Tokyo 2013)


This style, so deeply related to the energy flow and communication with the tied one, has an almost immediate association in my mind with that meditation, breathing and other techniques I’ve learnt that I’ve mentioned before. It becomes undeniable for me then that this journey has a very intimate liaison with my path for the seek of knowledge and personal spiritual development that embeds the imprint of the bakushi’s spirit in it.  It’s a journey that enriches with each experience, with every tie, with every inspiration on other bakushi’s work, and that it is also nowadays my personal journey too.



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