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Tie Me Up, Nawashi

C. STILES

Standing barefoot in the center of the temple, Lochai uncoils a 30-foot length of rope. It's new rope, not much thicker than his thumb, four-stranded and fibrous. All the better to bind Jolie with.

Jolie, a tiny, 20-year-old redhead from Coconut Grove, has modeled for 40-year-old Lochai, a Lake Worth photographer, for several years now. She knows what to expect. She trusts Lochai.

She strips to black bra and panties.

The pagoda-like wood-beam temple — made specifically for practicing shibari, the art of Japanese rope bondage — is the largest piece of furniture in the carpeted Lake Worth warehouse. In fact, the spacious room is empty except for an assortment of chairs, spanking benches, suspension harnesses, and this bulky teakwood structure.

The only sound is the tap-tap-tap that comes from the ends of the rope dancing against the wood floor of the temple. As Lochai lashes Jolie, the green jute fiber coils against her pale ankles and neon-pink toenails.

With several observers watching, there's a certain sexual tension in the room, but it's mostly smothered by a palpable feeling of pretension. Art is being made here, not pornography, and anyone patient enough to watch the long process of knot-tying will likely lose any prurient interest simply from the sheer time involved. The Lifestyle Alternative Centre in Lake Worth, where this demonstration is taking place, may lend itself to the exploration of kinky subcultures like Japanese shibari, spanking, and other exotic interests, but its participants want you to know that theirs is no swinger sanctuary. This is a place of sophistication — Lochai's images will end up in a coffee-table book and will look stunning. And any salacious interest on the consumer's part is out of his control.

Not that the seriousness doesn't mean the participants aren't enjoying themselves.

"Jolie likes being suspended," Lochai says.

He double-loops her arms behind her back with the rope, the slender ends occasionally sliding between her legs, and Jolie's eyes flutter closed. Lochai is binding his subject with what's known as a box tie, or "wrapping of the pearls" — a breast-enhancing truss that also has a Japanese name, shinju, a traditional restraint that can be augmented with additional ties.

Jolie sighs, shifts her weight, and appears to go into a trance as Lochai sweats and grunts. The rope now forms tight, intricate knots between her breasts and down her stomach, wrapping itself around her legs, even between her toes. There's a complicated formality to the pattern of the rope. As Lochai pulls the strands, Jolie winces in pain.

"Hello, rope burn!" she hisses.

Lochai offers a few words of explanation to his audience, a handful of people watching the ritual with blue-flame intensity. "You want to keep rope burn to a minimum," he says. "But you don't make excuses for it."

Lochai — who estimates he's tied up 1,000 individuals, 90 percent of them female — tosses two strands of rope skyward, over a pair of metal beams that cross the top of the temple. He tugs them tighter, Jolie's bound arms lift higher, and she knows what's coming.

"Just being tied up is nice," she says in a gasping voice, her glossy lips tightened in a half-grin, half-grimace, "but being suspended is when it really brings something else out of me."

As Lochai constructs a rope pulley and loops lengths through the knots on Jolie's back and legs, he gives it a quick test. With a sharp inhalation, open-mouthed Jolie stumbles forward onto her tiptoes. Every subsequent tug of the rope contorts her further.

In a few moments, she's hoisted several feet off the ground, facedown. "Once the muscles weaken...," Lochai explains, "that's when most people start flying. When they can't fight it anymore.

"How does that feel?" Lochai asks her every few minutes.

"Fine," she answers through shallow panting.

But a minute or two later, amid the flash and flicker of digital cameras, she's had enough. Her arms are a pale shade of violet. A strangled "OK" leaks out. "Take me down now."

Lochai takes her down. "If she's going to get hurt or complain, it's not going to be fun," he says, softly stroking her hair.


With practitioners like Lochai around, South Florida has become, after New York and California, a shibari hot spot. The mysterious, two-centuries-old Eastern tradition of trussing subjects like imported provolone cheeses has somehow found a natural match with the area's underground art scene and kinky cultist BDSM (bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism) sexual practices.

There are different perspectives on what Lochai and Jolie do. Depending upon whom you talk to, it's a creative way to get off sexually, it's a compelling visual art form, it's a magnet for serious photographers, it's an ancient set of sado-masochistic techniques, and it's a prototypical male-domination fantasy that makes feminists' hair stand on end.  

Or are shibari practitioners just a bunch of kids exploring their identities?

Lochai's art earns him a small amount of revenue from book sales and photo exhibits. The women he worked with during the several weeks that New Times watched him bind models didn't seem to mind, let alone call him a sadistic creep. In fact, many proclaimed that they enjoyed it — especially those who live the S-M lifestyle.

"They have a master/servant relationship at all times," says one self-described "top," whose girlfriend, Paige, is one of Lochai's most pliable models, with a high tolerance for pain. Adds Mr. Top: "And it's not a playful thing. It's more a spiritual thing. It's really about fighting through the pain to find the pleasure."

Paige "knows where she's going with it," says her boyfriend. "We don't go suspending each other at home." With Lochai, whom they consider a "professor," there's little risk of injury.

Although it's not often that things go wrong, they sometimes do.

"In my personal experience," Lochai says, "the most serious injury has been some minor burns and passing out because of people not eating properly before being tied. On occasion, you do hear of someone getting hurt. There was a person here in Florida who was dropped out of a suspension because of faulty hardware used to support them, but they were good to go within a half-hour of the fall. I also witnessed a person in a self-suspension who dropped themselves on their head because they let go of the support rope without tying it off."

Lochai, of course, seeks to avoid anything similar.

Though the successful Palm Beach County real estate agent (who wouldn't allow his boring vanilla name to appear in print, insisting upon his Dungeons and Dragons-derived nom de guerre) is making stacks of cash at his day job, it's clear his hobby is where his heart is. He won't get rich tying up gorgeous women, yet he's more passionate about that than he is about the three closings he has coming up next week.


Rope-play is part of Lochai's routine love life. On a recent dark winter evening, he and his fiancée, Janice, are hanging out at the Lifestyle Alternative Centre, a 4,300-square-foot warehouse in a lonely industrial section of Lake Worth. Inside, the carpeted "green room" area is homey and comfortable. It's almost like a waiting room in an office, with a VCR/DVD and TV set, only with movies like Punished and Hotel Derriere.

Pretty 25-year-old Janice's ankles still bear red marks ("trophies," Lochai calls them with a chuckle) from a play session hours earlier. The reddish imprints look almost like a henna tattoo.

"We used some Japanese imported hemp rope this morning," Lochai says as Janice smiles coyly.

Both she and Lochai are accomplished "riggers" — those who prep models for bondage-themed photography — and Janice is also a makeup artist who helps with photo shoots. Today, she's "demo-ing" — being used as a shibari subject.

Lochai unzips a small black suitcase, and coils of rope tumble to the floor. He picks one up and snaps it taut between his hands. The first noticeable facet of the fancy, $3-a-foot rope is its powerful scent — a grassy, earthy, barnyard smell like a stable or a hayloft. Lochai looks pleased. "That's a fresh batch," he says.

He shoots Janice a look, and she pulls her black dress above her head. Demonstrating another version of the shinju, he soon has his beloved standing at attention with her arms lashed together behind her back and her breasts pointed like projectiles in front.

Janice isn't shy about admitting her love of being tightly bound. "Yay, bruises!" she says when a few are pointed out on her buttocks. "You could just tie me up and leave me in the corner all night!" When she's losing control, letting the bonds place her into a sexualized headspace, she describes it as "when Alice went down the rabbit hole."

Paige, who has also spent time tied up in ropes in front of Lochai's lens, says bondage and suspension are like any other physical exertion. "For me, I just happen to like the fact that my physical realm is taken away, and it allows me to find that place, the place that's closer to whatever faith or belief or spirituality or whatever you have. That inner peace."

Although some of the positions she finds herself in are painful, "you just have to breathe through it and deal with it," Paige explains. "Then it's nothing; it's like a self-accomplishment. I feel good I was able to move past physicalness. It calms me."  

Lochai says the genesis of his fetish is easy enough to pinpoint: on a school bus heading for PS 32 in Staten Island. That's when his 6-year-old playmate, Dawn, started tickling him.

"And it was just pissing me off," he remembers, "'cause I'm not ticklish. So I turned to her, took off my little Cub Scout belt, and said, 'Do you mind if I put this over your shoulders?' She said 'No, not at all. '" So he looped the belt around her, pinning her arms to her sides. "If there was a sexual thrill a 6-year-old could feel, I felt it. I felt that I did something right. I felt I did something natural."

As a kid, cops-and-robbers and cowboys-and-Indians games — as well as Scouting — gave him ample opportunity to explore his urge to tie people up. Once, a phone repairman left a case of wire at his house that ended up binding the kids from the block. He even used to tie up toy soldiers with needle and thread.

"Since then, every girlfriend I've had has allowed me to be who I was," he explains. "To be myself." To this day, he keeps that Cub Scout belt in his closet, occasionally using it as a prop when he's speaking at events. At an event like ShibariCon (which draws more than 250 people to Chicago every year), he's a prominent instructor, though ventures like that are about networking and extending his passion as opposed to making money.

Finding himself in relationships that incorporate elements of "power exchange," Lochai isn't exactly a leather-clad, stern-looking bondage practitioner. In fact, he still looks by day like the bland first-grade teacher he used to be. Thanks to an ad in the Village Voice, though, he and his then-wife hooked up with like-minded Manhattanites during the late '90s. He took on his new name and started hitting the fetish-party scene.

That led to an immersion in bondage and photography that was temporarily derailed when he and his wife split up. "It was the most miserable time of my life," Lochai says. "Not because of the separation but because I went vanilla."

He ended up following his parents to South Florida, arriving just before September 11, 2001. When he started dating, he kept his interests private; it didn't take long, he says, before holding hands in movie theaters or going out to dinner grew old. Soon, he stumbled upon like-minded folks via parties at places like the Fetish Factory.

"I was exploring the scene," he says, "but it didn't have the same genre of play. I was very spoiled in New York. I thought, 'They haven't gotten to my form of play yet.' So I laid low for a while."

Then, when he picked up a camera again three years ago, he felt reborn.

"I live the lifestyle," Lochai says, though he isn't a swinger. He and Janice "are poly [polyamorous] players. We play with numerous people. I travel one week a month for photo shoots, and everywhere I go, I have submissives help with photography. Or just for play."

It's the type of relationship that everyone, even vanilla-flavored puritans, should covet, Lochai says.

"We talk every day," he says. "Our parameters are set up, and I stick to them, but she knows when I'm traveling that I will be playing privately or demo-ing with models."

According to Lochai, those parameters aren't hard to remember:

"Basically, my dick stays in my pants."


Lochai enjoys using Japanese words for what he does. For instance, the word nawashi, which can mean either "shibari master," "rope artist," or "guy who makes money with rope," depending upon whom you believe. To be considered a nawashi, Lochai explains, one must be able to execute a complicated tie perfectly 100 times while blindfolded.

There is a serious, solemn side to shibari, a word that has come to mean Japanese erotic bondage using rope. Hojojitsu (a method of capturing, restraining, and transporting prisoners) was founded in 16th-century Japan, though modern-day shibari bears it scant resemblance. By the late 1800s, examples of rope bondage showed up in erotic art, even if much of it was actually painted by Westerners. Known as kinbaku-bi, this erotically arty bondage hit a peak in the 1950s, with Japanese magazines devoted to it. In Japanese, shibari simply translates to "tie" or "bind."

"Is shibari a culturally accepted form of art in Japan?" asks Midori, a well-known traveling sex educator who was raised in a feminist/intellectual environment in Tokyo. "No. It's much like saying handcuffs are accepted and treasured in Western art."  

A San Francisco-based writer whose books explore the sexual friction of East meeting West, Midori believes shibari can be seen as "more mythology that feeds into the Western propensity for 'Orientalism,' with elements of cultural chauvinism and racism beneath that." Her 2001 book, The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, is both history and how-to.

Midori and Lochai are old friends; they met at an S-M convention in Washington, D.C., years ago. "And he already knew a great deal."

Shibari is primarily a North American practice, Midori says; the word is virtually unknown in Japan. Usually, older white dudes are shibari's biggest proponents. Much as a skilled photographer like Helmut Newton can take a pair of handcuffs and — by harnessing its iconic or totemic power — transform it into beautiful art, rope is a great prop in the right hands, Midori says.

"Still, it's a trend, it's a fad," she insists. "Will it disappear? I doubt it. It'll get incorporated in the repertoire of people's experience.

"What we're witnessing now is shibari Americana, much in the way French cooking you'd encounter in South Beach is not the French cooking it was even when Julia Child started exploring it."

American misconceptions about the exotic sexuality of Asian women have given shibari legs. "Start with contemporary Western society's discomfort about sex, combine with two tablespoons modern Christian guilt, throw in a tablespoon of Orientalism, another tablespoon of Internet imagery stripped of cultural context and you get this mythicized information about what Japanese erotic play-style is."

In Japan, Midori says: "They're not wearing kimonos at fetish parties. They're wearing rubber corsets they import from the West."

While sharing trade secrets, Lochai says, he wrapped a rope around Midori's wrist, and she did the same to him. But that was as far as it went, he says; the two dominant personalities all but canceled each other out.


Some of the darker aspects of rope play are embodied in Jimi Tatu, a big, bald, and imposing figure who teaches classes at the Lake Worth facility. Easygoing smile aside, Tatu has an almost drill-sergeant appearance. Where Lochai is affable, approachable, and transparent, Tatu is guarded, intensely private, and extremely serious. He talks about "a sadistic side to rope [that has] a spiritual side too."

Tatu says that some people, "when they're bound, can't resist the pleasure being inflicted on them." A laugh emerges, and his eyes sparkle.

His earliest encounters with rope fetishism were around age 10, he says, when he was visiting a small store in his grandmother's hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. On the counter was a pulpy detective magazine, its front-cover illustration showing a woman bound, gagged, and tied to a chair. "I got chastised for looking at that," he says.

A few years later, he lashed Marcie, a childhood playmate, to a swing set; he eventually earned a merit badge in knot-tying as an Eagle Scout. A love of Japanese culture, traditions, and rituals, combined with an appreciation of pinup models back to the Betty Grable days, fueled his fetish. Basic Western-style bondage — women tied up with unimaginative knots and pedestrian positions — did nothing for him, he says. Turned on by Zen gardens, he wanted his harnesses and hogties to reflect the same thought-inducing style. After a Baptist education in New Orleans — coupled with an introduction to the city's fledgling S-M underground in the 1970s — he ended up in South Florida.

By the mid-'90s, Tatu helped start organizations like SPICE (South Florida People Involved in Consensual Endeavors), and he started a BDSM website of his own. Ds-Arts.com, his latest Internet presence, is a repository of information about Japanese rope artistry.

He's working on a book called The Way of Rope, with a how-to-tie tutorial and accompanying DVD. At ShibariCon, he teaches classes like "Sex, Shibari Style" and "Japanese Chest Harnesses."

When Tatu asked those attending his Lake Worth class (a mix of ages and backgrounds, up to 40 people at a time, he relates) if they'd mind a reporter attending a session, "The response was very negative, as I suspected it would. Most people prefer to do their thing in private."

Once a month, however, the Lifestyle Alternative Centre hosts the Photo Artisans Guild (PAG), "and their photographers and models crave attention," he says. The meeting functions as a contemporary extension of an amateur camera club. On a clear, nearly nippy January night, more than a dozen photographers, makeup artists, and models have arrived, including Tatu, Lochai, Janice, Pixel (a 20-year-old photographer and model from Alaska), and Don, AKA Quietmaster, a retired professional photographer who looks to be in his 70s.

Lochai helps run the PAG along with the LAC's founders, Jeff and Keiki Weigel. The center takes great pains to distance itself from swingers clubs, fetish dungeons, or the like. No alcohol is served, just pop and pizza. Everyone assembled is white and well-off, like Deiter, an architect and amateur photo buff.  

Lochai tries to make clear what the Photo Artisans Guild isn't: "It's not a place of pornography or sexual shooting — it's a venue for fine art. We're here to create artistic material — not for websites charging money. You're not going to have people fucking in here. It's not what PAG is about."

Smoking a cigarette behind the facility, Deiter agrees. "I'm here for pure motives of creativity and expression," he insists. "Not anything perverted — it's about the art." Deiter was taking a rope-bondage class from Jimi Tatu when he noticed the photographs in the front hallway and became curious about PAG.

Quietmaster whips out a black notebook-folder and a dog-eared magazine, its cover adorned with a photograph of Bettie Page leaning against an old car. One summer afternoon in the late '50s, Don and a group of photographers were in upstate New York shooting a group of lingerie models at an old farmhouse. A camera club similar to tonight's PAG shoot, no one had any idea of the risque status Page would later attain. "If I had known," Don says, "I wouldn't have shot anyone else."

That one day is his claim to fame. "You shot Bettie!" the other photographers say in amazement. "Doesn't make me a good photographer," Don shrugs. "Just means I was in the right place at the right time."

Piercings, shaved cootches, and tattoos have replaced Bettie's relative innocence, Don notes, but he still loves it all. His folder is full of photos of comely young models he's shot at the center. The models who come to PAG, Lochai explains, are paid with photo CDs or prints from the session. Many of those he's photographing will show up in his newest book, Kirinawa: Rope Cut for a Certain Purpose.

Stasha has driven all the way down from Kissimmee tonight just to be tied up by and among a room full of people she's never met.

With three women hovering around her doing her makeup and Lochai's genteel professionalism, she's feeling at ease. Within a few minutes of speaking to her, Lochai has got her taking off her T-shirt (which reads "Skinny Little Bitch") and her sweatpants, revealing tattoos, pierced-nipples, surgically enhanced breasts, and a pair of tiny black panties.

"This is four-strand hemp rope, just to give you an idea," Lochai says, offering it to her for inspection. A techno song starts pumping from a portable stereo. He takes one of Stasha's arms and starts to lace it against her thigh.

"If at any point something hurts," he says, "tell me. How do you feel?"

"I feel great," she answers.

"Good," Lochai says. "I want you to be stoic. I want confidence. Do you have to wear your panties?"

"I don't have to," she says, removing them and revealing another tattoo straddling her mons. Lips pursed in concentration, Lochai continues tying Stasha up in a freeform style that isn't very constricting but is visually appealing. "This is good exposure for me," she says, "good publicity. And it's really a turn-on, even though usually I'm the one in control."

Don walks up, takes a series of shots from every conceivable angle. "You should be on a red Ferrari!" he tells Stasha. "Sounds good," she replies, the faintest hint of a smile crossing her glossy lips.

Deiter scopes out the best spot for a shot. Around 10 p.m., Don packs up his equipment, thanks Stasha, and bids adieu. The nude, bound beauty waves goodbye with her one free hand.


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