PHOTO: IZABELLA BALCERZAK
Photo: Izabella Balcerzak

We sent a kink-novice to a Japanese rope bondage workshop

In Love & Sex, Multimedia, Video /

By Sierra Bein

The snow is falling heavily as my cab driver drops me and my friend off in front of a Shivaga Thai Massage parlour on Spadina Avenue. It’s labeled as “traditional” Thai Massage, but I know the neighbour I’m visiting will be far from traditional. 

A green, glowing sign lights the way to a glass door. Behind it, there’s a narrow staircase. I’m apprehensive, but I climb it anyway. A handwritten sign tells me to close the door. 

Walking down the white, fluorescent-lit hall we pass a passport and visa service office, the massage place and a tattoo parlour before arriving at an unmarked, open door. I poke my head in and am greeted by the instructor for the Japanese rope bondage class—a broad-shouldered, bearded man with glasses.

This is my first introduction to Japanese rope bondage. I’ve never considered myself to be on either extreme of the vanilla-kink spectrum. But bondage has always seemed beautiful, artistic and mysterious to me. When I learn that our teacher is a Ryerson student, I feel a bit more at ease. He wishes to remain anonymous, so I’ll call him Andreas.

When Andreas was younger, he thought he was a freak for liking bondage, until he met other people in the BDSM (bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism) community. Now, these are the people he spends every Friday evening with, learning, teaching and partying—all in the name of kink.

“We’re a family,” he tells me. The salon is like a home for many—and it definitely resembles one. Dirty dishes are scattered across the table and a refrigerator hums in the background. It smells like Febreeze and a bag of pretzels sits open for the taking.

The class is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. We wait on leather couches, admiring posters from bondage expositions that hang on the white walls. Andreas tells us about school, but the conversation quickly shifts back to kink. Most people in his life don’t know about his sadistic tastes. He often worries that if they found out, he would be labeled as a misogynist. You’d never guess that nearly half of his classes are women who want to tie—although, he often ties other men up, too.

A few minutes pass before two men who look like they’re in their late twenties walk into the room. They seem unsure of themselves and compensate with bad rope puns: one about being tied up, one about learning the ropes. For tonight, Andreas says it will just be the four of us. Drop-in classes are unpredictable, but he’s had as many as 18 people at once.

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We start off with a short history lesson. According to Andreas, Japanese rope bondage originated as a torture method for criminals. It was meant to be a way to restrain and hurt them without causing actual damage to their bodies because eventually, they would have to go back to work. Each village had a different type of knot to make escaping more difficult, should a criminal find himself in a similar situation elsewhere.

We sit on a bamboo-like mat. Behind Andreas is a long rod with different coloured rope hanging from it. We’re each handed one about eight metres in length.

Tying the basic knots isn’t difficult, but the two men seemed to be having a tough time. They struggle to twist the rope the right way, and to bring it through the correct loops.

You constantly need to make sure there’s enough slack and that your knots won’t slip, or else you could be responsible for an irreversible injury. The most common injury is nerve damage.

We start by tying our ankles: two times around, under, over, loop, thread and pull. Next, we tie each other’s wrists, eventually feeding the rope through one of the metal clips attached to the ceiling. Our arms are briefly suspended.

A model rushes in, late because of all the snow. She sits down with a footlong Subway sandwich and takes a few bites before changing into a purple leotard. She has a lotus scarification on her upper thigh.

Andreas has tied her up before. Because she knows her boundaries and understands how her body reacts in the rope, he can check up on her less and instead, concentrate on his knots for the next seven and a half minutes.

While Western rope bondage focuses on the result, Japanese rope bondage focuses on the process. It’s thought to be “meditative” and “connective” for both the person tying (the top) and the person being tied (the bottom). Andreas needs to focus in order to keep his partner safe, while his partner needs to focus on her breathing and balancing her muscles beneath the visibly tight layers of rope. She describes the awkward body positions, the stretching and the bending as being similar to yoga.

She’s suspended a few feet off the ground and her arms immediately begin to change colour under the pressure. Within minutes, they become the same deep shade of purple as her bodysuit; it’s a chameleon effect.

“Are you comfortable?” asks one of the guys in the lesson, audibly worried by the colour. “We don’t use the C-word here,” she replies, face-down. Andreas changes her position mid-air, propping up her legs, shaping her differently with the pull of a few strings. New knots appear and old knots are given a different purpose. In bondage, nothing is meant to be comfortable—it’s meant to be sustainable.

Eventually, she spins in my direction, putting us face to face. I can’t help but smile at her. Admittedly, I’m a little jealous of her experience. She responds with the coy raise of an eyebrow and a faint smirk.

All flushed and smiling, she’s released from the last strands of rope. She thanks Andreas and he thanks her back.

I ask her why she enjoys ropes, and why she likes to be a bottom. Cupping her face in her hands and inhaling deeply, she looks up at me. “You don’t need drugs if you do rope.”

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