Graydancer Interviews Master K

Master K's rope workIn the April 8, 2008 Ropecast, Graydancer was able to interview one of his heroes, Master K, author of “Shibari: The Art of Japanese Bondage.” While the book is out of print, you can still find it in some areas.

Several listeners expressed an interest in not only hearing the entire interview, uncut (available here) but also in seeing a transcript of the interview. With the help of Faviola and Jordan, here is the complete transcription.

Master K: Graydancer.

Graydancer: Master K.

Master K: How are you?

Graydancer: I’m very good, and it’s really an honor to hear you and talk to you.

Master K: Well thank you, I’m very flattered.

Graydancer: I read your background information, and based on the fact that I’ve been looking at your book for a couple years now, I believe. . .

Master K: Oh, that’s very kind.

Graydancer: . . . Oh, yeah. It’s right up on my shelf, and actually, I’ve made, tried to emulate several of the ties, and use it in presentations when I need to illustrate something that’s done well, I use your book.

Master K: Well, again, that’s very flattering. It was really considered just a pamphlet, which is why I wrote the new book. I’m always surprised and pleased that people seemed to have liked it as much as they have.

Graydancer: Oh, it’s definitely–people fight over it. Quite literally. Well, I figured for this interview we would talk more about sort of your outlook and philosophy and why you do the work that you do, and then we’d save the stuff about the new book for the next interview, if that’s ok?

Master K: Yes, that would be great. I think that makes a lot of sense. It would also maybe give us some time to get you a copy of the book so that you could look at it and, you know, if you have any questions, because it’s quite a, you know, it’s going to be a very large book, and quite expensive to produce, so I think there will be quite a bit of information in there that you might like to talk about the next time we get together, if that’s all right with you?

Graydancer: Yeah, that would definitely be all right with me. I would appreciate that a lot.

Master K: Great.

Graydancer: So, according to the bio Matt sent me, you definitely go back to an early age at being interested in bondage and things like that.

Master K: I go back to an early age, period.

Graydancer: Yes, well (laughs). I specifically remember he mentioned John Willie in that.

Master K: That’s right.

Graydancer: And that kind of actually surprised me, because I always associate him with more of the “Damsel in Distress,” “Perils of Gwendolyn” kind of thing. What was it about that that caught your eye?

Master K: Well, a couple of things, Graydancer. The truth of the matter is that when I was very young, I had a remarkable experience when I was about 17 or 18 years old. Knowing that I was interested in this world, in this lifestyle, I found myself in San Francisco and managed to go into a bookshop, and there was a small book of Kinbaku, Shibari, and there was a book of John Willie’s work; especially the illustrations, but also a few photographs. It was at that point that I realized, in spite of conflict within myself, that this interest could also be very positive, very loving, and it could also be an art form.

And then to my great surprise, years later, I discovered that John Willie, and people may not know this, who is English but who came from Australia, was very influenced by the Japanese in terms of some of his ties. And they in turn were influenced by him. Quite a bit of his work was imported into Japan during the golden age of the S&M publications, which actually happened twice, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, and then again in the Seventies and right up until the beginning of the Eighties. And especially in the early days, John Willie’s work was often printed in these Japanese magazines, which most people don’t know about. If you look at his ties, you will see that many of them have a Japanese feel about them. It isn’t exactly the same, but certainly there was a cross-cultural influence, which is remarkable for the time.

Graydancer: Actually, that is something that I’m very curious about. It seems like if you want to get five different versions of where Shibari came from, or Kinbaku, what the history is, you just have to ask five different rope tops. I guess, considering your collection of documents and artwork and things like that, I’m curious to know basically how it came about. Personally, my genealogy goes back to Ian Rath and Fetish Nation and going, “Oh, hey, I think I can do that!” So I don’t know where then where the history is of what I do. I just know that I like it. So I would kind of like to get an idea of my illustrious forebears, shall we say.

Master K: Well, It’s a good question. It’s one I’m asked an awful lot, and there is a great deal of confusion about it. It’s one of the reasons why I decided to write the new book, because I realized that, unfortunately, not many westerners speak Japanese, nor do they have an interest in this particular world. And in point of fact, the origins of Shibari and Kinbaku are fairly straight forward, you simply have to know where to look.

Western rope bondage, for all of its many qualities, is essentially a method of restraint, whereas Shibari/Kinbaku is really an aesthetic with hundreds of years – some would say thousands of years – of art and history and practice and technique. And what we call today “Kinbaku,” which was a term that was invented in the middle 1950s to describe Japanese bondage with an eroticquality, that type of Shibari, that type of Kinbaku, that kind of bondage comes down to us from a lot of different sources.

Principally, there are three or four main ones. The first is the martial art Hojoujutsu, which was the capturing and tying martial art of the samurai. The second is the Kabuki tradition of theater in Japan which aestheticized these types of scenes and that type of restraint.

Graydancer: Ok. That makes sense.

Master K: If you have any interest in Kabuki, not too many people do, but–

Graydancer: I actually studied for a year with a professor who had studied at Prince Hirohito. . . his school in Japan. So, yeah, actually I have a lot of interest in Kabuki.

Master K: Really? Well, that’s wonderful. you and I are two of the only people in North America who probably have this interest. Well, fantastic.

Graydancer: Absolutely.

Master K: Well, then, you’ll be interested to know that Kabuki plays a very big part in the development of Kinbaku. The other thing is the graphic arts in Japan, which as you probably know, also had a lot of influence from kabuki because of the actor prints that were so popular.

And then, of course, you can’t get away from the fact that Japan is a tying culture. So from its very beginning, you have influences and traditions, both religious and cultural, that lead right to Kinbaku as an erotic art form using rope.

So we could spend several hours talking about all the bits and pieces, but generally speaking, the societal influences, Hojoujutsu, and then Kabuki theater and the graphic arts all combined to give us what we call today as “Shibari/Kinbaku.” “Shibari” is actually the older word – meaning to tie – and it’s simply what they use. “Kinbaku” was invented, as I said, in the middle 1950s and printed in Kitan Club magazine, which was a very famous magazine.

Graydancer: So I guess this is the million-dollar question here. What is a “Nawashi?”

Master K: Oh, dear (laughs). If there’s ever a word that seems to cause fist-fights, and I never understand why–

Graydancer: Exactly. I should tell you my nawashi joke.

Master K: Please do.

Graydancer: Ok. How many nawashi does it take to change a light bulb?

Master K: How many?

Graydancer: One hundred. One to change it. Ninety-nine to stand around saying, “Oh, I can do that, but it’s not really Shibari.”

Master K: (Laughs) That’s very funny. I hadn’t heard that one.

Graydancer: I made it up, actually.

Master K: Did you really? You should go into show business. That’s pretty good. “And ninety-nine to stand around saying, ‘I can do that. And by the way, it’s not Shibari.”

Well, to answer your million-dollar question as best as I can, “Nawashi” is a term, and there are several terms that fall into this category. Another is “Kinbakushi,” sometimes shortened to “Bakushi.” “Semeshi,” or “Torment Artist,” which is what the great painter Itou Seiu who is so important to the modern development of Kinbaku was

Basically, today, what that term means is someone who ties professionally. In other words, someone who ties for a living or for part of their living in the Japanese world of S&M. This includes people who tie for audio-visual things, people who tie for pornography, people who tie for art books. A “Nawashi” is a “Rope Artist.” And it usually is used only for people who make a living doing that, or part of their living doing that. That’s as good a definition as any. Certainly nothing to fight about.

Graydancer: Yes, I would have to agree.

I guess, towards that end, I tend to call myself a “Rope Artist,” because for me the art is as important to me as the feeling and involvement of the submissive and things like that; the other aspects. But I guess I’m curious to know what you see as sort of the essential qualities of, well, not only a good rope top and rope bottom–and I’m using those terms. If there are any other terms you’d like to use, that’s fine–and also for what goes into a good rope scene.

Master K: Well, this all comes under the heading in Japan of “Sacredness.” You see, tying is a very important part of the Shinto religion, which is one of the two dominant religions in Japan, the other being Buddhism. And in Shinto, in order to make something sacred, they often will tie a rope around it. Or if you know Japanese sites, there will often be a beautiful rope knot tied over the gate of a shrine. These sorts of things are common sights in Japan.

So the sacred quality of the tying can be applied also to Kinbaku. That’s why authentic Shibari/Kinbaku essentially is an erotic, spiritual, artistic connection between the people who are doing it.

Now, does everybody think of the spiritual while they’re doing this thing? Of course not. But that is definitely part of the background to what is creating the sacred space between the two participants.

Specifically, what makes the best combinations. . . well, there are so many, Graydancer, that we could spend the whole time talking about that, but I think mutual affection is important. I think talking about safety is important. Good communication is important. Being able to read the other person, and not just dom to sub, but sub to dom. All of these things go into creating an artistic, meaningful scene.

One thing I like so much about Kinbaku is that it is not about your ego. It’s about creating a beautiful climate, creating an exciting dramatic experience. Those are the things you try to shoot for when you are doing it in a serious way.

Graydancer: Is there a big difference in terms of that when you are–I don’t know necessarily if you would do a performance, but, for example, Zamil, when he does performances is very amazing to watch, beautiful to watch, just the way he moves with his dance background–I’m curious if you think there’s much difference in the performances, say of Osada Steve and things like that that he does, versus the intimacy of a one-on-one scene.

Master K: One of the wonderful things about Kinbaku is that there are a variety of styles, and you’re talking about several different styles. I think that’s something people aren’t necessarily aware of. Both in terms of doing the tying and in presenting the tying, there are several distinct styles.

Doing performance is really something that in some ways, believe it or not, descends to us from the Tokugawa age, when prisoners were tied in public in order to be punished.

Graydancer: For shame.

Master K: Exactly right. For shame. This had a profound frisson within the Japanese public, who found being tied to be one of the greatest disgraces, But as we all know with sadomasochism, what is forbidden, what is disgraceful, has an allure.

This transformed itself into drama through Kabuki. And if you know your Kabuki, you probably know the play “The Golden Pavilion” where the princess is tied beneath the cherry tree, and in the petals, with her toes, she draws pictures of mice who then come to life and free her. This kind of thing, this aestheticization of bondage, if you will, then became part of the art form.

Well, as we proceeded out of the feudal era and into modern Japan, these things still carried a very powerful erotic component for the Japanese public, and so it was natural that people would begin to do shows that in a way mirrored the Grand-Guignol in France. You know, the Grand-Guignol with all the blood and that sort of thing?

Graydancer: Yeah, the Auto-da-fe.

Master K: Exactly. And that really had to do with using these scenes of drama or capture/torment and presenting them to a pretty avid public.

And then, of course, from that we had Osada Eikichi, who was the first real stage performer. This was a guy who began in the 1960s doing a variety of venues: theaters, strip-theaters, small rooms. He started in a ballet practice room where he would do these S&M shows and would draw enthusiastic crowds, and he would make thousands of dollars doing this because it was so unique and it struck such a chord.

Well, all of the shows we see now are descended from what Osada Eikichi did. Some are better than others. It’s one way of presenting Kinbaku, but it’s not the only way. Doing performance is really a stage thing. It isn’t necessarily the use of Kinbaku between two lovers or in an interpersonal exchange.

Graydancer: Is there something specifically that makes something Kinbaku? Or perhaps, is there something specifically that, if it’s there, makes it not Kinbaku?

Master K: Now you’re talking about the technical side of these things. You see, what the Japanese were able to do through Hojoujutsu, was to refine the tying art in such a way that the safety considerations, the dangers and the potential liabilities of tying were very well understood, because these were used both for tortures, for punishments, for arrests etc..

What modern Kinbaku does is to take all of these lessons and attempt to try to turn them into something that can be safe, enjoyable and pleasant to experience and to do.

Now in order to do that, a variety of techniques and a variety of stratagems were created that provide the foundation for authentic Kinbaku styles. We can list a number of them. For example: Spreading the force by not using one length of cord, but several. Not crossing ropes, which creates a force point. Being aware of where the nerve bundles are and the effect that the vegal nerve has on the nervous system.

All of these kinds of things go into the creation of authentic kinbaku ties. Part of the problem is that, as with all other Japanese martial arts, you have the sense of there being the “overt” technique, and then there is the “hidden” technique. The “hidden” techniques are not necessarily difficult to learn, but they have to be there in order for it to be called truly a Kinbaku or a Shibari tie. That’s what really makes the difference between the real and the “Japanese-influenced.” A lot of people like to use that term, and that’s fine, but it’s not necessarily authentic.

Graydancer: I’m embarrassed to say that my very first bondage performance, I did bill myself as a nawashi, not knowing better.

Master K: That’s perfectly fine. Did you get a cup of coffee for it? (laughs)

Graydancer: Since then I tend to tell people that I do “Japanese-style” tying.

Master K: Well, that’s fair and noble and right.

Graydancer: Well, until I can get over and study, that’s what I’ll stick with. So actually towards that end, I guess I’m kind of curious as to how you managed to get to where you are now; you know, your body of knowledge and things like that.

Master K: Well, I mean, it all started a very very long time ago when I had the good fortune of going to Japan on a Junior Year Abroad program, which took me to Japan for about six months. Then I returned with friends about a year and a half after that, and one of the people I knew was a model who did this work in the second golden era of the magazines. So I made a connection and was able to learn some rudiments of technique, and I’ve been diligently studying and practicing since. There’s a great deal to learn about it, but it’s all endlessly fascinating.

So, that first experience in Japan was formative, and then everything else has been reading the copious literature that is actually out there. Quite a few of the best of these people have published treatises on tying and their techniques. If you can get your way through it, there’s an awful lot that you can learn.

The key guy for the transition from the feudal era to the modern era was a man by the name of Itou Seiu, who was a great artist, and he’s a very famous figure in Japan. There have been seven or so different biographies of him published. Many–two, three, four–different movies have been about Itou Seiu. He was really quite the wild man, the avant-garde type of artist in the early Twentieth century.

He was obviously also interested in sadomasochism; he was a sadist. He learned from an original Hojoujutsu practitioner, so all of his sketchbooks and workbooks, most of which have now been published in Japan, show in great detail a lot of the techniques.

Later, people interested in rope, like Akechi Denki, for example. I don’t know if that’s a name that you know–

Graydancer: Yeah. I’ve heard that name.

Master K: He’s one of the greatest Japanese rope masters. He learned an awful lot from Itou. And it gets passed on. And if you can tap into that, there’s an awful lot of knowledge there.

Graydancer: I had the pleasure of looking at a copy of Go Arisue’s new book that he’s published. I was amazed at just how much information he packed into the book. I mean not just how to tie, but how to attach to the hard-point and how to boil the rope and how to condition it and things like that.

Master K: Yes, Indeed. Arisue Go, Go Arisue, has two relatively recent books. One is called the Book of Five Rings which comes in two parts. And the other just was published by Sanwa, who’s a big publisher of erotic     material in Japan, and other things. But the basic philosophy of Japanese bondage, which is sort of a how-to book.

He’s not the only one to have done these sorts of things. Over the years, the greatest living nawashi, a man by the name of Nureki Chimuo, has published a lot of material. Minomura Kou, who was one of the granddaddies of this, published a lot of material. He was part of Itou’s circle. He’s an original source. So you can follow all of these people all the way back to the feudal era, and you can see the steps forward all along the way.

Graydancer: We’re talking all about the nawashi. First of all, what is the word they would use for the rope bottom? And were there rope bottoms of note that stood out?

Master K: When you start to talk about rope bottoms, you’re talking about the emergence of S&M as a generally accepted activity in Japan. Prior to that people were doing this, or it would be thought of as a sexual perversion, and there are various cases in Japanese literature about this.

An interesting one goes all the way back to the late Tokugawa Era, where a woman was arrested on suspicion of murdering a high-ranking noble who was her patron. This was a woman who was taken into custody.

And in those days, and actually from around 1742 on, there were official punishments in order to get a confession. I don’t know if you know anything about Japanese law, but even today most cases only go to trial if the suspect has already confessed. It’s a point of honor, and it makes the Japanese legal system a little bit mysterious. However, the confession was very important. Well, there were a number of mandated and officially sanctioned tortures, several of which used rope. One of these was suspensions, which amazingly enough have suddenly in our world have become parts of S&M play and performance. The other was a tie called the “ebi,” which compressed the prisoner, and was certainly capable of even killing the prisoner if they weren’t carefully watched. So all of this kind of historical material went into trying to get a confession.

Anyway, this woman suspect was put to torture. And the only problem was that they could never seem to get a confession. This went on year after year, and the guards got to be a little perplexed by all this because the woman appeared to be not just surviving the tortured, she seemed to be enjoying the torture. they couldn’t understand why. Finally, she had to be released and no one was ever convicted for this murder.

it doesn’t take too much intelligence to put together that there we have an incipient bottom, who as a masochist, managed to turn torment into something she could at least survive, if not enjoy.

Graydancer: That sounds like something out of Monty Python. “Oh, no, not
the Comfy Chair!”

Master K: It does, doesn’t it?

Master K: Well, when you start to talk about true rope bottoms, the ones who became known were ones who began to be profiled in magazines. You know, when it comes to things like nudity and publishing bondage photos and that sort of thing, it happened fairly late in Japan. We even know the name of the first model who ever modeled nude professionally. This was like in the 1880s during the Meiji era. We know who the first bondage model was who posed for Kitan Club in 1955. So these people were the ones who, if they were not known by their real names, they were known by their nom de plumes. And of course there was an awful lot of that.

But S&M did not become truly accepted generally until the 1970s in Japan, when there was a real explosion of this sort of material. Prior to that, it was a sort of outre type of behavior, although people were interested in it, because they would go to the theater, they were excited by the bondage or torment scenes in the Kabuki theater or the New Theater, but it wasn’t part of the culture. So any of the well-known figures of the day, they were very much private. Only people like Itou would begin to have a reputation, and many consider it a notorious reputation.

It was only until the 1970s would you start to recognize these various people or these various nawashi. Itou was certainly one of the first. After him came people like Minomura Kou; a man by the name of Tsujimura was very influential in creating techniques that could safely do suspensions. He was very famous in his day. A man who tied for some of the famous Nikkatsu movies was a man by the name of Erato Hiroshi, who had a very good technique and would do such amazing things as tying an actor and an actress back-to-back on a galloping horse and do that safely for the movies.

Graydancer: Wow.

Master K: There were a variety of people who were pretty skilled at this back then.

Graydancer: So when you say “accepted in culture,” how accepted is it? I mean, would a newlywed couple get a pack of rope in their wedding gifts and things like that? Or is it just a matter of that this is just generally accepted as something people can do?

Master K: (Laughs) If they were interested in it, they very well could. You know, young married couples would often get shunga books, which were sort of erotic, pornographic books as part of their wedding presents.

The attitude toward things sexual was very different in Japan because of Shinto and Buddhism. You have to understand that with Buddhism and Shinto, there isn’t this sense of guilt, of sexual guilt, that the Judeo-Christian religions have. They are much more accepting of it, and therefore, whatever floats your boat is okay as long as you don’t harm anyone or as long as you don’t upset the “wa,” the harmony of the society. As long as you can stay within the realm of propriety in your public life, what you do in private–as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone–is your own business.

This is why a man like Akechi Denki could, you know, his family ran a fairly thriving interior decorating business. And yet, here he was one of the greatest rope artists. He kept it low-key, but he certainly was able to do both.

Graydancer: Hmm. Okay.

Master K: Very different culture. And that’s why often there are these misunderstandings between “Is it right,” “Who did what,” and “What are they doing?” And it gets even more complicated when trying to earn money from Kinbaku or Bondage comes into the picture. Then things get very very skewed, because now you’re talking about the commercialization of it, and that can go down any number of pathways, some of them not terribly attractive.

Graydancer: That tends to be the case when you toss money into the equation.

Master K: Always.

Graydancer: You mentioned that John Willie was part of the transportation of this art to America. What were the other routes and passages? I’m sort of getting the feeling that you were right there at least in some of the beginning. I know that me and several other rope tops sort of look around going, “Well, wait. Why is this suddenly so popular?” And I don’t know if it’s sudden or not, but it seems like it is sort of like the “flavor of the month,” so to speak.

Master K: Well, I’ve been amazed at the popularity. I think there are a couple of reasons for that: I think Japan has suddenly become very popular in all kinds of ways–fashion, movies, photography, music. So things Japanese, things somewhat exotic to westerners, are interesting. And this very unique lovemaking technique, for lack of a better word, you know, erotic technique, is fascinating.

I think that it was always around, but very few people attempted to master it or attempted to bring it to the west. John Willie was influenced, but he wasn’t going around saying, “I’m doing Japanese-style rope work.” he simply was using certain patterns and positions, and you can see them pretty clearly if you ever study his photographs which he took for his illustrations, by-the-way in much the same way Itou did. Itou Seiu did the same thing. he took photos, and then used those as the images he would then turn into pictures and paintings. Very interesting that both of these two guys, both contemporary, using exactly the same techniques except they were 5,000 miles distant from each other.

This type of tying was always there, but it was pretty much hidden until probably after the Korean War, and servicemen who were stationed in Japan came back, and some of them who might have been interested in sadomasochism or in this kind of thing brought the first of these images back to us. And then a variety of them
were imported.

The Japanese were importing western images and were fascinated by the cartoons of Stanton and ENEG and John Willie. They were importing these things in the late Fifties and early Sixties, as early as that. So there’s a bit of cross-cultural. . . but right now what is happening, I think, because of the general interest in things Japanese and also because I think Americans have become more sophisticated and a little bit more liberated in their love-making interests, it’s no longer quite so outre.

Graydancer: Right. That’s been my experience. I started performing some rope stuff with a burlesque group here, and I thought that it was going to be received in a, at best, they would not understand it at all, and at worst, they would stone me as a misogynist or something. And they loved it. The minute I laid the first rope across the woman’s body, they loved it. I came out of it thinking, “You know, we’re not as edgy as we think we are.”

Master K: Well, yeah, I think that’s a great comfort. I also think it’s the way you do things. I mean, if it is intended as deliberately misogynistic then it creates the problems that such an approach deserves. But if it’s looked upon in an artistic way–because, really, Kinbaku is all about creating pleasure. The good ties stimulate erogenous zones in either the man or the woman tied,–so if that is what you’re attempting to do then you’ll have acceptance.

I’m always so pleased that women seem to enjoy whenever I do publish photographs, I get more compliments from women than I do from men.

Graydancer: Yeah, I can see that.

I don’t have the book in front of me right now, so I can’t refer to the page, but there’s one particular image in your book, it’s a full-page photo of a blonde woman standing up tied in, I believe, it’s sort of a takatekote in the top that goes down into the diamond karada down towards her. . . yeah. And it sort of has a blue tint to it.

That photo is like a still pond for me when I see that one. Because it’s like I look at that photo, and just the calm beauty of it is what sort of. . . it’s sort of a resting place for my mind. And it’s funny to me that it’s not exactly as bad as when you are studying the pictures and you suddenly realize that you’re not seeing the woman anymore, you’re seeing just rope and knots, which is kind of disturbing. It’s sort of the opposite of that. It’s more like you’re not seeing the woman and the rope and the knots, it’s all one whole piece.

Master K: Well, I’m very flattered. I hope what you’re seeing is the pleasure that she was experiencing in the tie.

Graydancer: It definitely comes out that way.

Master K: That’s what makes the good photograph. The good photographs aren’t the exploitive photographs, they’re the ones that are able to present the emotion, present the drama, the peace. That’s when you have Kinbaku-bi, which is the beauty of Kinbaku art.

Graydancer: Not to put you on the spot, and you can feel free to dodge this question if you like, but do you have any particular photographers nowadays that you admire in particular?

Master K: It’s funny, I don’t really think a great deal of my photography. I am always surprised–

Graydancer: I think you’re in the minority (laughs).

Master K: I try to use natural light and the simplest of means. Who do I like? Well of course I’ve always liked the great Japanese photographers. There were two that I particularly admire. One is a man who has retired I believe, by the name of Akio Fuji, who did a lot of the photography for Nureki Chimuo when they were running the Kinbiken society in Japan in the late Eighties and early Nineties. He’s a wonderful photographer, and he published a number of beautiful little books. One in particular is a little masterpiece called “bind.”

The other I like very much–although he’s a very commercial photographer, I think he’s marvelous–is Sugiura, who is sort of a dean of these sort of Japanese Kinbaku photographers.

You know, the fascinating thing, Graydancer, is that, and many people don’t realize it, but in Japan, probably the most famous Japanese photographer internationally, a man by the name of Araki, who has published book after book, he is fascinated by kinbaku. Here’s a man who did the cover of the New York Times fashion supplement not that long ago, I think it was last year or a year and a half ago. And yet every month he publishes kinbaku photos in an S&M magazine in Japan. Nobody raises an eyebrow. So those are all wonderful photographers.

Graydancer: There’s actually a thing called “Arakmentari,” a movie about Araki that touches on that. It’s very interesting.

Master K: There’s a new movie coming out or should be coming out fairly soon called “Bakushi.”

Graydancer: Yes.

Master K: It hasn’t come out here in terms of the theaters, but it’s conceivable that it’ll be coming out on DVD soon. It’s a very interesting documentary on the lives of three of the most famous Japanese professional rope artists: Nureki, Yukimura and Arisue Go.

Graydancer: Right. I remember hearing about that. I also saw Arisue Go in “Hana to Hebi.” Is that what it’s called? “Flower and Snake.”

Master K: Ah, yes. He was the main guy who did the tying in both of the “Flower and Snakes.” The first one was so successful they did a second one, “Flower and Snake: Paris,” which in some ways is even better. It features art by one of the great younger kinbaku-S&M-style artists in Japan, a man by the name of Miyabi Kyoudou. Very talented guy. They copied some of his very striking images in that movie. And Arisue Go did the rope work.

Graydancer: I actually need to look at that second one. I only knew about the first one.

Master K: Well, look at the second one. The second one really is superior in some ways to the first one.

Graydancer: In your own, and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing it right, “Kinbiken. . . .”

Master K: Kinbiken.

Graydancer: “Kinbiken.” Is this like a study group?

Master K: Well, yeah, you know, for me doing kinbaku is a one-on-one teaching situation. My great joy is researching it, writing about it and teaching. What I do in California is I have private students, but I also have a group that meets once a month for ten months throughout the year, and we go through the entire history of Kinbaku and talk about the art and talk about the ties. It’s a couple’s class. And by the end of the year they know a great deal about this very arcane subject.

I like teaching that way. I think that, for me, it’s hard to teach a large group. I always like to look in my students’ eyes and know that they understand, because, after all, we are talking about something that was descended from a martial art, and a dangerous one as well. So one of the great pleasures I have in teaching is my group class.

Graydancer: When you teach privately, do you. . . I sort of have been promoting the idea that there should be more female rope tops. I realize maybe that as scandalous as when women started playing in Kabuki roles. . . but, personally, I feel like maybe it’s my sensitive New-Age guyness here or something like that, but do you teach women as well as men in terms of being rope tops?

Master K: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more. One of my best students is a young woman from San Diego who has functioned as an assistant for several years and is an absolutely wonderful shibari practitioner. I think that women have every bit as much skill, and even more, because sometimes a lot of the complexity of doing
shibari is in creating the patterns. It’s all about the correct use of the forms. And I’ve often found that women visually can sometimes pick that up sometimes a little bit faster. So I teach quite a few rope tops as well as the men and folks of all persuasions.

Graydancer: Of course any discussion about rope has to have some discussion about safety.

Master K: That’s first and foremost.

Graydancer: It should be, but I find often as quite–in my own teaching, I tend to skip the introductory “Here’s the safe stuff” and tend to integrate it into the rest of the things.

I guess you’re familiar with the spectrum of the Jay Wiseman version of safety to the Philip the Foole version of safety.

Master K: Right (laughs). The email that I hate are the ones that go, “Dear Master K. I’d like to suspend my girlfriend. Could you please send me written instructions?”

Graydancer: (Laughs)

Master K: Those are the emails I have a tendency to duck.

Graydancer: I noticed in the books that you don’t have four-inch mats underneath the women and they’re suspended. And you don’t have. . . actually I can’t remember. I think there were some carabiners that I saw that. . . I guess I’m wondering what you consider to be good safety practices. Not necessarily for suspension, but for tying in general?

Master K: Well, I think that there are several distinct styles of Kinbaku that are done, and each have their own safety requirements. There is general rope safety, and I think Jay Wiseman’s book is superb on that. All of those basic cautions are important.

When it comes to Kinbaku, it’s important to know a lot about the nerve bundles, where to tie, where you’re going to have problems. One of the reasons that I don’t teach groups is because I go into a great deal of that material. It’s
about layering the ropes. It’s about how can you support different parts of the body. That kind of thing.

You mentioned the book. Of course the book is not a “How-to.” That first book is an artistic appreciation of Kinbaku. My technique is much more traditional and sometimes I won’t use the metal hitches and that kind of thing because that isn’t the classical form of Kinbaku. On the other hand, only an idiot would be dealing with a non-model partner in a play or teaching situation without having those quick-release type of things. The very quick-release knot around the wrists is another vital component.

So there’s a little bit of difference between my teaching of what I do and what’s in the books. They’re not there to be necessarily followed in terms of “Do it this way.” It’s more creating an image and knowing that it was done safely with people that you can do that with.

The safe way of doing Kinbaku is more important than the style; more important than the art. I remember Akechi Denki was interviewed just two weeks before he died. Here was one of the great Japanese masters, and he was asked, “What is the most important thing you can say about Kinbaku?” And his reply was, “Don’t hurt your partner.” I have to say that I can’t say anything better than what Akechi Denki said.

The Japanese are also very conscious of common sense. There is a lot of safety that we get involved with that seems complicated or seems like it’s difficult to do, but really it’s a question of common sense. If it doesn’t seem to be right, don’t do it; don’t move too quickly; move slowly; make sure you’re in good communication with your partner; make sure you’re not trying something that is beyond your capacity too early; obviously; don’t drink or do drugs when you’re tying. It just goes on and on and on, but these are the basics.

Graydancer: Actually, something you said there sort of piqued my interest because one of the very popular classes that goes on is the classes on speed-bondage. I have nothing against it, two of my dearest friends, Lee Harrington and Lqqkout, teach really great classes on that. But I found that ironic I had to cover for Lee at an
event to cover his speed-bondage class, and I sort of said, “Well, this is kind of ironic, because I’m the guy who’s always saying ‘slow rope,’ you know, ‘slow down.'” I opened the class saying, “Well, this class is speed-bondage – but I didn’t say what speed.”

Master K: You see, while it’s true that in the history of Kinbaku, there were two types of Hojoujutsu done. One was called “hayanawa,” or the “fast-rope.” The other was called “honnawa,” or the more “official rope.” One was used for capturing prisoners, which had to be done very quickly while they were struggling. The other was done to transport or to present prisoners. But, in general, modern Kinbaku is something that should be done slowly and sensually, because you want to take your time and have your partner experience the beauty, the feeling, the sensual pleasures of being both tied and untied.

I think that fast bondage is fun for those who like that type of scene, but it carries with it manifestly more potential for injuries, and you have to be very aware of it. People teach classes on takedowns and this sort of thing, and it’s like teaching a class on Judo. If you’re going to do that, you have to go into it with your eyes open and know that you’ve exponentially increased the potential of injury. It has to be done very carefully. That sort of thing has very little to do with Japanese Kinbaku.

Graydancer: Okay. That’s good to know. Well, we’re just about to the end of the time I have for the podcast. Are there any final words you have for that type of thing. Obviously were going to get to talk again when the book is closer to being out. This is a rare chance for people to actually hear your voice in talking about this. So I guess the question would be–a lot of people write me and say, “I want to get started into rope bondage. What do I do? Where do I go? How do I start?” I’m interested in what your answer to that kind of question would be.

Master K: Well, everyone starts in their own way depending upon their own resources and their own interests. I never think that one style is necessarily better than the other. I think that each has different things to recommend it, and it all depends upon your particular interests.

I think it’s always good to find someone to mentor. And if you can do that in your community, if there are clubs where you can go and there’s a safe public outreach program, if you know of a teacher that you have some interest in or if you’re interested in a particular style. There is certainly some literature out there that can be highly recommended. Jay Wiseman’s book is terrific. I think Midori’s book on Shibari, which I had the pleasure of contributing a tiny tiny bit to, is a very good introduction if you’re interested in Japanese rope bondage. And then you take it from there.

The important thing is to enjoy it, go slowly, use your common sense and realize one thing that every “nawashi” realizes pretty early on, which is that everyone you tie is different. And that you can’t learn something from a book and then apply it to everyone. You can learn techniques, but they must always be adapted to the person that you’re working with. That’s why going cautiously and safely and playing carefully is the most important point. It’s all about the pleasure and those profound feelings that can be felt in those situations. You don’t want to destroy that.

Graydancer: Wow. That is one of the best-said things I have ever heard in terms of this. I wish I could spend another hour talking with you. part of the fun of doing this podcast is that I get to learn a lot myself. . . .

Master K: Well, you’re very kind, and I look forward to talking to you for another hour.

Graydancer: Excellent. Thank you very much, Master K, for your time, and I will look forward to speaking to
you again about the book.

Master K: Well,
it was a great pleasure talking to you, and I’ll be delighted to talk to you again when it’s closer to publication. I hope I made some sense.

Graydancer: Definitely. I really appreciate it.

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