Enso and Gyaku Ashi: understanding a minimalist way of tying.

Enso and Gyaku Ashi: understanding a minimalist way of tying

In 2012, I started to share my way to tie via a study group in Paris; it was very exciting and challenging. At that time, I realized that more than 12 years of research guided me onto a specific path: but how to invite other people onto that path? How to transmit the capability to be free, based on a solid foundation (rather than the opposite)?

I spent years in Japan studying my art, and it’s there that I really opened my practice and understanding. With the difference of culture, way to think, and to learn, I had a huge doubt about pedagogy. And I had to face the problem that even though I have studied rope under a Japanese sensei, have been living in Japan in a very old-fashioned, classical way, and have studied traditional Japanese culture… I am a European (And even worse… I am French). And that people who like to use my way to do ropes are too. Our culture, education, symbolism… are all totally different. So, the goal was to not have a stupid copy or some disrespectful cultural appropriation, but to apply the concepts and technics to our home, culture, and personality.

Let’s be honest, the path I chose is a very challenging one.

But, essentially, what are we talking about?

Enso and Gyaku-ashi are both technics and concepts that have been strongly influenced by my Aikido, Tai-massage, and rope practices. More specifically, they have become my way to introduce concepts from Aikido and Tai-massage in kinbaku, or rather my way to move and utilize the body from an Aikido and Tai-massage perspective. Most of the time it’s a mix of both, and everything applied has a use in supporting and influencing my understanding of technic/art/kinbaku as taught to me by my sensei, Arisue Go.
Of course, from all these various influences, it seems a little complicated. How to resume and introduce this set of skills and knowledge? How to show the homogeneity rather than the differences? Creating exercises that reflect the concepts have been my strategy; exercises based on Enso and Gyaku-ashi are now the base of my style:

1. Ensō

In Zen, ensō (円相, “circular form”) is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.
The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics.
Drawing ensō is a disciplined-creative practice of Japanese ink painting, sumi-e.

source Wikipedia

It’s exactly the spirit of the exercise I propose. Logically, the exercise I call Enso is the direct translation of this Zen/calligraphic exercise. Nothing more, nothing less!
Through the practice of this exercise, I hope to develop quality of movement, gesture, rope tension… using rope as a listening tool: using rope to lead my partner “naturally”, manage our bodies, minimize technic, create aesthetic, etc.
It’s also a good exercise to practice like a mantra or a wake up Kata (a Japanese word literally meaning “form” referring to a detailed choreographed pattern/movement), to be practiced as the beginning of a session. The goal is to establish contact with my partner and myself. It’s also a way to discover the state that my partner and I are in at the present moment.
Generally, I introduce four fixed forms to work with in the present. Other forms have been present and explained throughout my teaching journey. But in fact, when the concept and the mechanic have been strongly understood (fully seems impossible), there is just an infinity only limited by the situation in the present moment.

2. Gyaku-Ashi

Gyaku 逆 (inverted, reverse, opposite, wicked) – Japandic.com
Ashi 足 (leg, foot, be sufficient, counter for pairs of footwear) Japandic.com

In other words, crossing legs.
At first, “crossing legs” was really present in Arisue Go’s teaching. And even if I haven’t connected with him for a very long time, the impact of his technic and way to do ropes has still been very profound for me.
Also, crossing the legs can have a particular aesthetic; you can play with cultural symbol. But mainly you can work with the balance of the body; it’s a good way to control the body and introduce a spiral inside the body.
But this exercise (the fixed pattern as the variation) has mainly been created to learn and develop a way to manipulate the body. Of course, it is my way to share my knowledge developed through Aikido (mainly) and Tai-massage, to move (or lead) another’s body, to listen to the reaction of my partner, and to find and develop physical limits…
You should also find and develop all these principles in the Enso exercise. And the opposite is true too, in fact.

My personal use (Beside teaching my way of rope):

Both of these tools have naturally become my main methods to prepare people I do rope with. They have been created for that. Making contact, pushing my partner, increasing their resistance, understanding body movement… the list goes on. The more deep my understanding became, the more I started to use it for application: visual effect, a base for hard play on the floor, minimalist harnesses for very fast and dynamic suspensions… people who have been following me for a long time have seen me explore different ideas and range of play.

But for me, the basic use is to start to train myself to manipulate the body through one rope and to train my rope partner to be led by rope. To help them to find their place, adaptation, and “comfort” in demanding rope.

When this is not integrated inside the flesh of my partner, I will not go into any demanding play. (Suspension, breath compression, incredibly challenging half suspensions, etc.). When I make the mistake not to follow this common sense, only luck prevents danger.

Tying in minimalist style.

My style or our school can give you a lot of tools to achieve such integration. But they require a practice that cannot be completed in little time. Doing less means that most of the time it’s more difficult (and certainly doing more study and practice, in fact).
To do rope, from my point of view, it requires a long training that cannot be found in only a single workshop, a book/text, a video, etc.
But rather it requires some old-fashioned manner of training: “Study, train, adapt, do it again” – thousands of hours are needed to digest. And to be honest, you need such a practice on both sides; this will lead to extremely pleasant sessions and very creative ways to use the body and the rope. All of this in order to reach the heights of emotion, visual effect, session… but it requires work, time, and patience!
Enso and Gyaku Ashi are really the base of this study. There are thousands of other exercises to develop quality in my style. The road to achieving creative, minimalist suspension or very challenging half suspension is very long. But it is also very rich in sensation and discovery. So, to take a short cut will be three times stupid: you are going to compromise security, knowledge, and pleasure.

It’s an Art.
And Art takes time to mature.


Ensō et Gyaku Ashi: Une vision du minimalisme dans les cordes.

Version française en cours de correction !


Writing By Yoroï Nicolas – English correction By Saara – French Version By Zeryl – Featured Picture Paris Performance 2014 with Kiki Jackson

Variation on Gyaku Ashi // 2021 Basic traning with C.