Entertainment

The Vancouver Couple Bringing Japanese Bondage to Art Classes

This kinbaku dojo teaches rope tying, hosts life drawing nights, and sparks conversation around consent.

by Michelle Gamage
Jan 16 2019, 7:17pm

Georg Barkas unties a model at Vancouver's only kinbatu dojo. Photos by Michelle Gamage

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

A woman stands at the front of the room, her arms bound behind her and a cloth blindfold over her eyes. Ropes snake around her body, digging in to her flesh as they form a body harness. She's breathing heavily while classical music drifts through the room. There's a pause of anticipation, her toes twist against the tatami mat, and then she is hoisted by her harness into a full-body suspension.

She moans loudly and her partner gently touches her shoulder and finds her hand. A silent communication is squeezed between them before her partner ties off the ropes holding her aloft, reaches down and flips over an hourglass.

The 13 artists packed into the room start madly sketching and clicking their cameras. It's life drawing night at Vancouver's only kinbaku or shibari dojo, a Japanese bondage studio in East Vancouver.

Kinbaku’s intricate knots has long-since infiltrated fringes of the art scene, with even Lady Gaga being photographed by Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki in rope. But that is like taking a photograph of an orchestra—beautiful but missing the point, according to one Vancouver instructor.

Georg Barkas runs the Osada Ryu Kinbaku Dojo Vancouver with his wife Addie Tahl, where they teach beginner classes, suspension workshops, host socials, brunch, life drawing, and more.

"I may be alone with this in the kink world but it's not about pain for me, pain is easy," Barkas told VICE while sipping green tea at the dojo. "Pain is so immediate and just a cover for shit that lies so much deeper."

Barkas has spent ten years practicing, learning, and teaching kinbaku. He is one of three Osada Ryu instructors in the world, and fist learned from Osada Steve in Berlin and later from Yakimura Sensei in Japan.

Addie and Barkas
Addie Tahl and Georg Barkas in their dojo in East Vancouver. Photo by Michelle Gamage

A rope burn or bruise will heal within a couple of days, but if you're tying with a partner and you uncover a trigger you won't heal as fast, said Barkas. Tying is about the emotional safety as well as the physical safety of your partner. That's why he emphasizes how in kinbaku you tie with people—there are no passive roles in shibari.

Barkas says when he ties with someone it is a quest to get into their head, to get to know them. If you ask someone who they are their answer is learned and practiced.

"But body language wise, in this framework of restriction, of closeness and ropes, nobody learns how to express themselves. So usually their answers, through body language, are much more honest, less filtered," Barkas told VICE.

We spend so much of our life stuffing emotions into little boxes and forgetting about them, said Tahl. But when tying is done with trust, invitation, and support it creates an opportunity to unpack.

Not to say all kinbaku is therapeutic. Tying can be erotic, about interesting knots and suspensions, sexual or about athletic prowess said Barkas. "It's always all of the above, but where you put emphasis is the most important," he said.

It always requires vulnerability from both partners, said Tahl. "That's something pop culture gets wrong with bondage. Power isn't one-sided," she said.

Eroticism is a huge part of the kink, but people link it too readily to sexuality said Tahl. "Some of the most erotic things in my life weren't sexual," she said, like when she first met Barkas and they tied together for three hours in her apartment without kissing once.

That was in 2015 when Barkas was invited to a Vancouver shibari conference. Working as a kink instructor in his hometown of Vienna, Austria was difficult because of taxes and a lack of support for entrepreneurs, Barkas told VICE.

Tahl, as a local, was volunteered to host. She picked him up from the airport and ten months later they were married. He packed some rope, a couple books, and moved to Canada.

They found a studio and nicknamed it "The Space" in the spring of 2017. When the Downtown Eastside place flooded they moved further east in April 2018. The name stuck but the URL was taken, so the dojo was dubbed TheSpace2.

Barkas casts a dubious glance around the basement dojo and tells VICE the next studio they have will include windows.

There are four beginner classes where newbies can learn basic knots, arm, and leg bindings and basic upper-body harnesses.

Japanese bondage model suspended
A full-body suspension. Photo by Michelle Gamage

Safety is paramount in the classes. Mistakes are rare in the kink but Barkas still remembers seeing one slip that leads to a rope tightening around a neck. Emergency scissors are always nearby and no one was hurt, but it drives home the cold reality of what carelessness can lead to.

Consent is also a central part of the practice. Understanding your partner and their interests and limitations takes time, which is why Barkas only ties with people he has a pre-established relationship with. Words like 'challenging' or 'sexual' vary dramatically between people and can be misinterpreted said Tahl.

Which is why you tie with someone, rather than tie them, says Barkas. It's a conversation, it's active participation from both or all partners.

Classes range from beginner knots to full-body suspension, but that shouldn't be treated as a goal, said Tahl. Rushing toward suspension is like pushing through sex only for the orgasm and ignoring the rest of the play, she said.

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