Of Shugyo…

Sometimes meditation is better with a corona of jute…

So here's a sort of quick-ish layout of my adventures in the unexpected and unusual world of Japanese rope bondage.

Firstly, I was actually a critic of the art, not seeing the point of it all, wasn’t really impressed, didn’t get it at all. I didn’t see the depth, and I’m very much someone who if I don’t see depth in something, I really can’t get into it. I need complexity, intricacy, and depth for something to hold my attention for more than ten minutes. Coupled with my Asperger's Syndrome and a massive background in classical martial arts, I basically move fast.

The turning point was this article, written by Osada Steve, a professional rope bondage artist living in Tokyo. He is one of the top in the field and possibly most respected, performing over three hundred sessions per year, needless to say, he get’s his practice in lol.

In this article, he explains his approach and understanding to the concept of “Muganawa” (selfless rope; 無我繩) as follows:

As the active protagonist in the rope session, imagine shedding all of your thoughts, all of your desires. You do so because favorable feelings of love and empathy for your partner opposite you come to the fore now. You wish to give, not to receive. Your goal is not to satisfy your own cravings, your lust, but rather to reach a state of heightened awareness which allows you to discern and compute the subtle messages and signals emanating from that passive being now submitting before you.
(Osada Steve, Muganawa — 無我縄)

This broke me out of the assumption that it was strictly erotic. The use of Buddhist jargon and application in a way that I was familiar with from classical martial arts was the key to catching my attention. This was in October 2012. Shortly after reading this, I was commissioned to translate a short Japanese manual on the subject of samurai rope arresting techniques (Hojojutsu; 捕縄術), and thus had some material to practice.

One of the many Hojojutsu ties that I commonly teach, Mawashi nawa (the rotating rope; マワシ縄)

It wasn't until my divorce in 2014 that the art of shibari and kinbaku became a therapeutic emotional outlet for dealing with the feelings that I was experiencing. It became my primary artistic outlet. In that time people started to ask me for lessons, and though I refused to charge them, they were donating money. Eventually I decided to actually open classes, renovated my home office into a studio, putting industrial mats down and making it more spacious and building a certain japanese aesthetic in the space.

And for a time it was good. I had many students coming to classes, workshops, and scheduling private classes. I had me a model that I worked really well with, and we even began to build a relationship of sorts.

The Shibari Dojo in late 2015

However, come the New Year's (literally the evening of), the above mentioned model left my life. It was sudden, without warning, and frankly illogical, but we all have our paths and there are as many of those as pilgrims. I didn’t expect such partnership to last, but I certainly didn’t expect to be discarded and most certainly never expected to be regretted. it was offensive, insulting, and a very serious scar on the ego that I swore to never have an allegiance with. I gambled and lost, knew what I was doing and felt the wrath of such a poor judgement call.

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

In moving on from that noise, somehow everything changed. For the past three months, classes had literally been empty; not a soul had shown up to a class or workshop, where I was almost living solely off such a profession for most of the year before. I don’t know what had happened to this day. Was it me? Was it the energy that I brought to it, and how that energy changed when that partner left? I might never know, but I do know that something in my own practice had changed. The passion wasn’t gone but a certain inspiration was missing.

Much more recently now, I have opted to close up shop, cease my weekly classes, end my workshops (the last of which is coming up on the 27th of March). This is no longer a profession for me after such an incredible run at living the dream, performing across canada on stage. I managed to teach seminars in Quebec City, and perform onstage in Montreal in front of hundreds to thousands. In February this year I had the privilege to perform infront of counties in what was one of the biggest bucket list items I have ever set for myself: Morpheous Bondage Extravaganza: Nuit des Cordes (MBE:NDC).

My four performances at MBE: NDC in February 2016.

I have grown tired of having models come to me with the zeal to do this with commitment only to find out that their parents, friends, lovers, etc. disapprove and them not having the integrity to stand up for themselves; the human heart is fragile and if it is not properly supported, it will take flight to times of comfort and retreat to safety.

I have also happened across those who don’t have that comfort zone in their lives but they find solace in me in particular and became attached, became jealous, became needy of my attention. I failed to see the impact of using people for practice partners, thinking that the professional distance was mutual and understood. That was influential as much as it was irritating.

It is for the many above reasons that I have opted to step back from the professional scene, and conduct a certain pilgrimage for myself. In classical martial arts, this is referred to as a “Shugyo” (修行).

Here, the term shugyo refers to the flow or current of thought (ryu; 流), that thing that begins to be treated as a sort of foundation that makes up a tradition after the practitioners legacy. Those components are to practice deeply, study, research, experiment, apply, act, repeat, copy, polish, reinforce, condition, and otherwise make profound. these ideas make up the meaning of the first character ‘shu” (修), which can also be read as “osamaru”, to discipline; conduct oneself well; study; master. The second kanji, “gyo” (行) refers to the way, the path, to follow the path (the question will be what or who to follow?), the way where you accumulate various experiences.

“The idea behind the word Shugyô is close to the way hermits, saints, religious men, devoted men, monks, ascetics, etc. practice and apply their faith and prays. Everyday, every minute, action, talks, silence, breath, etc., are devoted to God, Buddha, or whatever they believe. So for the founder of Koryû, master or sôke, this the way they live their art, because in the kanji Gyô (行), which can be read iku or yuku (even okonau), there is also the idea of Flow, something we must walk with and become one with.
(Kacem Zoughari, Koryû, Ninjutsu and Practice)

For me, the practice of rope bondage was always deep, personal, and carried with it a profound weight. Though my partners weren’t always understanding of this, most were patient with it. So any subtle change in my approach was very well known to me. Now something is very different, and until I find what has gone missing, I can not in good faith preach what I practice.

Though I am not without leads, and I have recently come to better understand a little the interaction between the rigger and model in kinbaku. the connection was always clearly important, even crucial, but as someone that has taken volunteers out a of the crowd before and made magic happen, there is indeed something there… I have done awesome, and I have done poorly, but I have not found the common denominator…