In this article, I like to meditate on how patterns emerge and how we organize a body around its pivotal points. I believe that a form, – kata (型 or 形) – is needed to incorporate movements, to build muscle memory. Hence, it is just for practice. When we tie for real, we must tie outside of kata.
“Rope is free” Naka Akira
But when “rope is free” – how do the figures, and the positions emerge?
I think there is a space in which bondage takes place, which at first is only determined by physics (tension, friction, etc.) and anatomy (of the model). In this room everything is possible, but not everything “makes sense”. To create bondage outside of this room is simply wrong or dangerous. A friction that is half-open will hold worse than a closed one, and a reef knot holds better than an old wives’ knot. Period.
We try to find meaningful – i.e. effective – patterns, figures, and positions within the space of possibilities. And we make special formal and aesthetic decisions. A gote can also be bound as Nureki Chimou did, or like Akechi Denki did – or in a more modern form. A Hishi-Harness is also and of course a legitimate (and effective) upper body bondage – but with a different effect and certainly a different aesthetic.
Basic Elements & Harness
If you look at the fundamental structures of the style we follow, the more complex patterns are built from a few elements:
Wraps or double wraps, counter tension, friction, x-friction, reef knot, chinge, half-hitch, … etc.
The harnesses are created by combining the basic elements. When we talk about the “kata” / form for the harness, it must be clear that they exist only by our definition as a fixed form.
A harness is on one side a wrapping of a body part (i.e. upper body, hip, folded leg, etc.), and at the same time it does something with this body part or even with the whole body. A mermaid forces the thighs to the waist, and bends the lower body to a 90° position – and when you stand, it pushes the butt out.
When you stand at the beginning of a path, these definitions, the fixed forms, help you find your way. It is clear what needs to be learned. Later the forms/katas become exercises to internalize certain principles, movements, or concepts. With the Agura we can practice short stems and the use of remaining rope, with the 1-rope Mermaid (tied up while standing) a certain movement to force the lower body into shape, and with the armbinder for example to keep rope tension and to be in flow.
But that doesn’t mean that these are always exactly the forms that we should tie in the session, in the play (in the photo shoot). On the contrary, the better we understand the forms, the more we detach ourselves from them. And often we have to start early enough: because we have different partners, the rope length is not right – or something else deviates from the ideal. It requires us to find creative solutions.
When we turn to the positions, the space becomes larger and everything is more complex. First, we have to distinguish between the body positions and the positions in space. I can form a Gyaku-ebi on the floor or in suspension. And in suspension, it makes a difference whether the model hangs horizontally close under the bamboo, or vertically upright, or even upside down. Nevertheless, it is always a Gyaku-ebi, i.e. a body position with backward bending in the lower back.
Most positions are created by relating the two main gravity centers of the body: shoulders and hip. Let us take the simple routine mermaid suspension. From the standing position, suspension on the harness creates a “Z-Shape” (the names are meaningless!) with the knees relatively close to the bamboo. The shoulders are a little bit below the hips in torsion. This position puts a lot of pressure on the lower back in torsion. An important element is compression.
In the progression, we then bring the upper body down until the hips open up. The classical “S-Shape” is created. The compression pressure on the lower back disappears, and the body goes into expansion in addition to the still-existing torsion. The upper body (the gote) is relieved – and the model “pays” for this with a lot of load on the waist rope.
But before, in between, and after, many other positions are possible. Actually, it is a continuum. I can change the position of the two suspension lines at will – and thus the position of the two pivotal centers of gravity (hip/shoulders) in the torsion.
Some of the theoretically possible positions simply feel (anatomically) bad for the model. Others appear less aesthetically harmonious. Still, others are not ideal in the sense of kata, but have the potential to develop something. This is the starting point for creative play. You may break the rules and experiment.
Small steps. What happens if you go a little bit beyond the ideal S-shape? Often the figure looks flat, inanimate – the model “hangs like a sack on a rope”. But, what happens if you put a rope in front of the gote to give a little tension? What is the effect of a rotation of the figure by pulling on a foot?
This is the invitation:
Experiment with the familiar figures. Move a little bit out of the ideal, the kata. Add a rope, pull, bring the body into tension. Observe.