How do you identify with Kinbaku ?
Kinbaku started as a curiosity, quickly turned into a passion and became my whole life. This question makes me realise it became my environment to a point that I somehow don’t think about that question anymore. It is difficult for me to answer… Kinbaku is everything to me at the moment, with all the good and the bad that goes with it and the Community around it ! What I know now is that even with such a full immersion for several years I still have no idea what “is” Kinbaku. I go to bed every night with a new answer to that question and wake up every morning knowing even less.
You have taught various classes on Kinbaku all over the world, what made you decide to teach?
I started teaching like a started everything else in my life, quite randomly and very organically. The first event I was invited to as a teacher was EURIX in Berlin, I didn’t feel ready at all but I accepted the challenge and the gift. At the time I was a rookie rigger but an accomplished model/bottom and self-suspender and it shaped the way I still teach nowadays, in a very ‘bottom oriented’ way. In fact, I feel like rigging and modelling require very similar skills: presence, focus, adaptation, fast and constant decision making and above all empowerment.
I don’t really enjoy teaching rigid patterns because I feel it is often useless for the students. Once one understands and masters a large spectrum of different logics and building blocks then, no matter how intricate, any pattern will make sense. I encourage people to focus their practice on breaking down the small details in simple ties. Then the “complicated ties” appear to be nothing more than a lot of simple ties put together !
My goal is to help people to find their own power during a class, I try to make them feel ‘what they want’ and discover ‘what they can’ rather than just showing them ‘what I know’.
You do not identify to any specific Ryu, why is this? Would you receive formal tuition in one Ryu?
I have started to become a rigger by exposure, not really because I decided to. For the first two years I never received any ‘proper’ teaching, I was mostly picking info while modelling in workshops or watching videos and shows all the time. I couldn’t really learn the patterns so I had to understand the mechanics and developed strong deduction and analyse skills. The more I grow as a rigger, the more I am convinced that this apparent disadvantage became my strength. I love this freedom.
The only Rope master that I received formal teaching from is Naka Akira, because his style is very organic and he encourages independence and freedom. He recently gave me permission to teach his style and has me assist him in his workshops, which is a great honour. His aesthetic and sense of Kinbaku is what speaks to me the most and even if a lot of my rope work is inspired directly by him as far as the technique I don’t tie in a pure and strict Naka ryu.
During my journey I have absorbed so many different interpretations, techniques and philosophies, sometimes similar and sometimes radically opposed. I can’t ignore all these influences and choose one, because I find truth and flaws in all of them. When I am tying I hear the voices of all the people I have met and learnt from, arguing and yelling what each of them would do next !
Though I refuse to get stuck with one way, I think it is very important to study the main structures more than superficially. Before mixing them I think one should (at least) understand and (at best) master the fundamentals of the main Styles. I believe power is a lot about knowledge and choice. Improvising makes sense if you do it because you can, not because you have to.
Topping and bottoming are very different experiences and intensities. Can you describe your experience with both? Do you have a preference?
(This is a very… fascinating, complex and multi-layered topic ! Everything that I can say on that matter is of course a personal experience and feeling, that may be very different from someone else’s experience.)
Topping and bottoming in ropes are indeed very different experiences on an emotional level. But as I mentioned before, I also find a lot of similarities when it comes to the skills. I couldn’t tell that I like one more than the other one, though bottoming was always completely natural and fluid but I had to learn and struggle to find my ‘inner rigger’ !
One of the fascinating things that I noticed as I started to switch is that the Power Exchange dynamic isn’t as simple and obvious as it seems to be at first…
After several years of both Topping and bottoming in ropes I realised that I feel much more powerful when I bottom. One reason being that my body allows me to be very performant in ropes. But also because, as I said before, I believe Power comes from knowledge and choice. As a bottom I have all the information directly “from the inside”. As a rigger, all I can do is guessing (that my partner enjoys what I am doing, that it isn’t too much or not enough, etc.). And even with a very good sense of the other -and at best- ‘projecting with accuracy’ doesn’t give me the same power as ‘knowing exactly’.
It is an extremely important and sensitive element (or rule!) of the game for me, because the fact is : (as a rope Top) I am taking Control when I have the least Power and (as a rope bottom) I am ceding Control when I have the most Power. Understanding and embracing this ambivalence and paradox brought my understanding of rigging and modelling to a different ‘level’. It was a key to start exploring how to transform and replace (the need for a) goal into Intention.
In my lecture ‘About my Masochism’ I talk about the subtle difference between ‘goal’ and ‘intention’ :
Intention goes toward the unknown, it is an impulse but not a map. Intention is pure « desire » (in the very large sense of the word), it creates a movement, shapes a direction for many possibilities but no path. It is a tension toward the inside, in order to create a result out of the immediate reality.
A goal is often a symptom of the desire for omnipotence and a control strategy to neutralise a fear (for me as a rope Top the fear of taking control when I have the least power). A goal presupposes a mental representation of the final result and creates a tension (emotional, mental, even physical) toward the outside in order to achieve that expected result. It may eventually remove any space for creativity, spontaneity or surprise and compromises the ability of being Present. Necessarily cause of frustration, and threatening creativity, I really believe that the desire of omnipotence must sometimes be replaced by the power of humility.
Very paradoxically I could sum-up my (ideal) experience with rope to be as a Top about Presence, Transformation and Humility and as a bottom about Presence, Transformation and Power.
You teach ‘About my Masochism’, what is your Masochism? How does this identify with bottoming in rope?
I don’t get off on pain. I look for the experience of transformation. The process of accepting, transforming and transcending pain fascinates me and that is what I seek. My masochism is actually a kind of BDSM oriented interpretation of the Stoic school!! Behind the extreme complexity of our mental activity hides a simple logic: that of relief. Everything starts from a tension, a discomfort, grief, pain – even the simple intensity of living, that we sometime refuse. Stoicism can be resumed with two tenets: «Amor fati» (love your destiny), but also «bear and forbear».
According to Stoicism I must accept one principle: my destiny is everything that doesn’t depend on me. What then depends on me? Simply to love. Or not to love. Saying « yes » or saying « no ». What depends on me and is the core of my freedom is the relationship I have with what happens to me. Am I able to welcome unconditionally what is given to me? Amor fati. The Stoic school teaches me that it isn’t first about changing, but mainly to learn how to welcome and accept. My freedom stands there. In all things, in every moment « bear and forbear ».
If you hear it as an precept of inaction it means you only know the action based on a refusal (the belief fertility only comes with direct action is to me a very western condition). But fair and fruitful action may only come from a Yes. « Bear and forbear » in fact means: never act if it is to relieve you. Never act in reaction to any suffering that you refuse to live. Stoicism therefore teaches me to say « YES » : yes to the present situation as it is, and yes then to the desire to change it, to transform it, without questioning the reality of it.
From here, it is very easy to make a connection to BDSM. Be it physical or emotional: “live your own suffering. Regardless of whether it comes from another; because it is yours, only I can live it, only you can transform it.” In agreeing to live my suffering, without seeking relief that would only postpone it, I may transform it. Here stands the cornerstone of my passion, fascination and will to experience pain, constriction and humiliation.
Enhancing this ability to accept and welcome, unconditionally, is one of the ways of experiencing Presence and Transformation. Even with a very deep feeling of abandonment I truly believe that I can be (and have to be) fully present.
I had to work a lot on myself to start mastering this paradox, and not allow myself to simply “space out” or disconnect to process pain. Why is it so hard ? Because ceding Control while being fully Present is being utterly Vulnerable.
Do you have any new projects in the horizon?
In the near future I am working on a project with the talented romanian artist DarkShibari aka Ciprian Strugariu. We will shoot two sessions in Tokyo next week for a self-produced and self-directed DVD. We haven’t decided yet exactly how it will be distributed, but we want to produce video material of Kinbaku sessions that are not performances, not porn, not art, but simply intimate and erotic rope play and torture. I find interesting the idea to explore and show the different energies and alchemies different styles bring out of the same person, so I will feature in both sessions as a bottom. The riggers will be the young, handsome, talented (and highly erotic) Kinoko Hajime and Ren Yagami.
Speaking of, I am also preparing for the Europe and USA tour with Ren Yagami ! I am looking forward to discovering more of his style during the masterclasses. So much of what I’ve seen and heard coming from him was refreshing, genuine and exciting.
Of course, there is the Cirque Shibari project that I am extremely excited about. For the moment it is a very frustrating phase as the production is working on the touring schedule and dealing with “showbiz” matters and obligations that are beyond our (performers) power. After the first rehearsals in Berlin (summer 2014) we could get a realistic idea of what Shibari offers for a format like this show. It is both a challenge and a thrill to work with and around the possibilities and limitations. It will be an amazing show and adventure, another layer of Kinbaku as a performance art I am, and we all are, super ready and eager to let the magic begin and share it with the world !
How was your experience in Japan? Do you feel there were any notable differences between the Japanese Kinbaku community and European Kinbaku Community?
I don’t feel like I have spend enough time in Japan to really speak about the Kinbaku Community there. I have only experienced certain circles and layers of this Community, not even to mention the Japanese culture that a life time would probably not be enough to fully understand.
All I can say is that there are a lot of projections, fantasies, myths and misunderstandings in our Kinbaku Community about the circles I have experienced of the Japanese Community ! A LOT…
I am glad to go into more details around a glass of wine and in person with anyone interested about my experience there.
How was your experience modelling with Naka Akira and Sugiura Norio ?
Naka Akira’s Kinbaku is very unique, very beautiful and very powerful, I have admired his work ever since I discovered it. When I met him in London and Sugiura sensei asked me if I was interested in modelling in Naka Akira’s ropes for one of his photoshoot I couldn’t quite believe it ! It was a very interesting and unique experience. The shootings are very long (10 hours) with only a very short lunch break. It is very intense and Sugiura san has a very strong personality ! He is very precise about what he wants and all the assistants and the rigger and model are here to achieve the image he wants. This kind of shooting doesn’t give much space to the rigger and the model to connect, we are just at the service of Sugiura’s mind. It’s another kind of space, and after a while I got used to it.
I knew I would enjoy working with Naka Akira, of course, but I had no idea how quickly we would find and understand each other. It may sound very cliché but with ropes we don’t need words anymore, the language and cultural barriers completely fade away. The translators we work with are always very surprised by our communication!
There is something in him and that transmits in his Kinbaku that is beyond the aesthetic and the style. Only Naka Akira had ever made me feel something like that in ropes, regardless of the skills, styles, connections, experiences. There is a depth, a simplicity, a sadness, a tenderness and a love in his Kinbaku that punches through me and reaches very archaic places in me.
When he ties me I feel like a river under the rain; powerful, fluid and peaceful but very melancholic.
As a performer, how do you feel tying or being tied in front of an audience impacts your experience?
During a performance the notion of privacy is by definition excluded, even if this space in which the couple rigger/bottom evolves remains. Of course I cannot say that it is the same, and that I would tie/be tied the same way with or without an audience. Of course it is different, of course we know people are watching us, and if we didn’t enjoy it we wouldn’t do it ! What (hopefully) is the same though, is the authenticity of the dynamic and the feelings ;
The expression of the feelings is different since it has to reach an audience that is not directly involved in the action, but the feelings themselves are the same.
How do you prepare for a performance? How does your preparation differ between modelling and rigging before going on stage?
I feel more stressed when I rig because I have less experience as a rope Top than as a bottom, but the preparation is the same for me.
Awareness is the key; I think being a (good) performer is mostly the ability to be extremely aware of the audience without ever losing the main focus -in this case, my partner, myself and the rope.
It is very interesting to practice and explore this emotional gymnastic of opening the connection and the energy to a much wider circle without ever losing the density, intensity and authenticity of this connection.
I think once you have acquired the technical (rigging/bottoming) skills, to reach an audience performers have to develop and channel this very wide and multi-directional flow and Presence.
I very rarely have time to practice the technique because I often meet my partners the day before, so the essence of my preparation is trai ning this mental state and confidence, and developing the ability to understand and connect with another person in a very short time.
Right before a performance I usually close my eyes, breathe, smile, hold my partner’s hand tight and walk on the stage !
What are your thoughts on the aesthetics of Kinbaku?
This is a very rich and fascinating topic, because it leads directly to the Japanese culture and sense of aesthetic. Something very important to understand is the strong relationship to nature that exists there. Japan is on the fire belt of the Pacific, and the country has always suffer from very violent earthquakes, volcanos eruptions, sea storms and such. Nature there is beautiful and violent, which I think is at the core of the very unique sense of beauty in violence in Japanese culture. Everything can be destroyed at any time, you can lose everything you love in a blink, and this idea of things being so ephemeral is deeply rooted in their aesthetic. Kinbaku can be like an earthquake, sudden, brutal, tearing you apart inside and outside, but also making space for something new to grow back
Another aesthetic element related to nature is the idea of beauty in asymmetry (Kuzushi). If you take the human body, it seems symmetrical at first but looking closer you will realise that one eye is lower than the other one, one leg is longer, one ear is bigger, etc. This idea can be pushed to the concept of “organised chaos”. If you look at some of the beautiful rope works of Itoh Seiu or Chimuo Nureki (to mention only them) these concepts are very present. It looks “messy” and chaotic but is always balanced. Imperfection, asymmetry, gives movement, flow and power to all things.
A very beautiful and interesting concept to explore is “Wabi-Sabi”. There are entire books on that subject, but to make it very short “Sabi” is the beauty that you can see directly (the outside) and “Wabi” is the hidden beauty, the beauty from inside. I often say that as a bottom “I feel the way I look” and as a rigger I try to make my partner “look the way I want them to feel”. Kinbaku is about seeing and finding this beauty from inside and reveal it on the outside. The relationship between inside and outside, in a very large sense, and the very powerful impact of the outside on the inside and vice-versa (beauty-wise, sensation-wise, emotion-wise,etc.) is crucial to me with Kinbaku. I think people like Naka Akira, Yukimura Haruki and Norio Sugiura have a very strong sense of Wabi-Sabi.
It is hard to talk about this topic with words, these concepts aren’t as intellectual as they are instinctive…