Observations on the wrist tie in a gote shibari

Posted on Tue, 26 November 2013

It was observed on one of the forums that many of the Japanese rope masters, e.g. Randa Mai, Arisue Go, Osada Steve, seem to start a gote in much the same way. Namely, the wrist tie commences with the bight passing upwards between the wrists and the back, then completed as a standard single column tie. The question was posed whether there was a reason for this.

It certainly appears that the standard inner wrists together position we are often told is best may be flawed and actually increase the risk of nerve damage.

Osada Steve taught me to begin by holding the rope between index and forefinger of my right hand with both palms facing to the left. Using both hands, taking the left forearm by passing your left hand between your left model's arm and torso, and the right on the outside of the right forearm, I move the arms into the parallel position behind her back, this naturally places the rope where I can catch the bight with my left hand to draw it upwards to make the first wrist wrap. Both my hands are automatically in the right place; in this way, I maintain control and maximum ergonomic efficiency.

The passing of the rope should be achieved with the minimum of backwards movement of the model’s arms as they are near the limit of their comfortable range. Try to slip the rope through using flat hands, rather than fists, or just your finger tips. I suppose there is no reason why one should not hold the rope in one's left hand instead. At the end of the day, so long as the method is fluid, maintains control and the end result is sound, it really doesn't matter how you get there. After all, it is the integrity of the tie and how you use the rope that is most important.

The wrist tie isn't load-bearing or even especially confining; enough room to slide a few fingers under the bondage a bare minimum. It need only keep the wrists from dropping, in the manner of a loose sling. The arm/torso wraps prevent the wrists escaping the bindings by preventing the arms moving outwards and thus being slipped from the ‘sling’. If you tie the wrists too tightly, there will be insufficient slack to absorb the movement caused by suspension and you will risk causing nerve damage at the wrist. Ensure the rope is at wrist watch height, not on the joints, and that the safety slack is maintained throughout the session as it change significantly.

The correct knot on the wrist tie is important as it prevents the binding from tightening and introduces a safety factor. It is generally considered prudent to ensure this tie will not tighten. Firstly, the bindings must be supported by running the working end under the wraps to prevent what Jay Wiseman calls secondary tightening. Secondly, it must be tied off with a knot that doesn’t slip. This means that the long end of the rope cannot make a straight path or you will have a slip knot. I make sure this doesn’t happen by adding a second one on top. I appreciate that it is more common in Japan to use just the one  knot. In fact, I was chided by Steve for adding the second knot with the words "Hmm, nobody in Japan does it that way". However, I was able to rather smugly retort that Kinoko seemed to rather like the idea when I show him the previous night. I prefer the 'belt & braces' approach as I know what a problem it can be if the wrist tie comes loose during a show; it is very hard to re-tie properly and breaks your rhythm.

Very often, hands will be the first thing to suffer from numbness or nerve impingement so it is important to be able to free them or just make adjustments. You don’t have this choice if you use a method which goes through the bight so you risk wrecking the scene by having to remove most of the bondage. Also, when you release the wrists, the model can get her arms down taking the tension out of the tie. This is much faster than untying in reverse. Although, as the great Akechi Denki said, “untie speed is the most important thing”. However, I take this to mean that it is important to be able to untie quickly if need be, not that the goal is always to untie quickly. Like a fine wine, this is something to be savoured.

I was recently shown Masato's tutorial video, which has an interesting variation in that he has two wrist ties. Three if you count the one he made to use up the spare rope! I can see this would prevent the arms dropping into an X, which runs the risk of tightening a single wrist tie. On the downside, the rest of the technology looks rather old school so it might not solve some of the issues that the Osada/Kinoko style ones do.

For example, there are no upper cinches and the lower cinch lines run over all the other bindings. This is not to say it is a bad tie but one has to be aware of possible limitations. Anyway, I will produce a tutorial on the Masato version when I get time.

I have noticed, when tying a TK, a number of Japanese riggers place hands so both the inner wrist faces backwards. This would seem to place the ulnar, not the radial, on the lower side where one would be likely to experience pressure from the rope. Is this done deliberately, I wonder? Is this is a safer position than the dogma in the west which is to place inner wrists together to protect veins/arteries? With inner wrists together, the radial on one side and the ulnar on the other are exposed, yet I have never heard of an ulnar injury but plenty of radial ones. Maybe this is something to consider?

I put the question to a friend who is a consultant pathologist and is no stranger to being on the receiving end of rope. Here is his reply: "Interesting one. I think you're right - it strikes me it's more about the placement of the arms within it than the tie itself. Clinically, ulnar and median nerve entrapment syndromes due to compression at the wrist (as opposed to injuries from impact/pressure further up the arm) are much more common than radial, but you have to bear in mind that these observations come from compression in situations like typing with wrists resting on a desk, though. So, it's a bit different to bondage, where the wrists are going to be held in positions you wouldn't normally encounter. It sounds to me like although the ulnar and median are more anatomically exposed, functionally, in the inner wrists together position during bondage, the radial is placed in a position where it becomes the more vulnerable. The thumbs on top might leave the ulnar more anatomically exposed, but functionally in terms of where the rope is, the pressure isn't focussed on it. From my own experience, I've always found it more comfortable and sustainable to grasp higher up towards the elbows which as you say puts the rope over muscle mass rather than any of the vulnerable points at the wrist. I don't think there's anything wrong with the tie then, just some of the positions adopted in it. My inkling is that the more relaxed to bottom's arms are (i.e. the more comfortable even before the rope goes on) the less muscle tension there is - tense muscles take up more room in the anatomical compartments, which might make nerve compression more likely. I find grasping elbows or thumbs up positions are quite relaxed to hold, so maybe that's a factor too -unless it's just me!"

Here's a somewhat more technical analysis by another medical professional:

"From an anatomy perspective, keeping the wrists facing away from the body allows the forearm to assume a more neutral position and less tension on the nerves. When the palms are faced together, one forearm is pushed toward supination (palm up), while the other is toward pronation (palm down). This poses a problem due to the supinator muscle that contains the deep branch of the radial nerve that becomes the posterior interosseous nerve. The passage of this nerve through the supinator muscle is the most common place for radial nerve entrapment in the forearm. With the supinator muscle either wound up in pronation, or over shortened (whether it be passively or actively) in supination the nerve can become entrapped and result in neurological symptoms into the hand (primarily loss of wrist and finger extension strength). The superficial branch of the radial nerve is the supply for sensation to the back of the thumb and hand and can also become entrapped due to pronation or supination under the brachioradialis muscle. This is the case because in pronation or supination the brachioradialis has a tendency to want to oppose the motion in a flexed position. Overall, impingement of the superficial branch is far less likely unless placed under compression from the rope, or spasm of the brachioradialis muscle. Additionally, pronation or supination will create shoulder strain due to multi-joint muscles like the biceps. Supination of the wrist will place stress on the biceps tendon with it attachment to the shoulder and tend to cause a forward tip of the shoulder blade and possible impingement over the brachial plexus. Pronation of the wrist with the arms behind the back promotes shoulder flexion with some internal rotation, but with the arms tied, this places stress over the external rotators of the shoulder and causes further problems with the shoulder."

Thankfully, Jimi Tatu put it in a way more intelligible to the layman without the jargon: "I heard people talking about placing the inside of the wrists together years ago, and the reason given was that putting wrists together protects the nerves in the wrist area, but I never saw any of the Japanese doing this. They always lets both wrists hang naturally. In 2006 I had some discussions with 3 doctors that I consult with about body related issues. It was pointed out to me that by rotating one wrist up the corresponding shoulder then rotates up to a position that is unnatural and stressful on the shoulder and could lead to shoulder problems, discomfort or injury. If you have been in my classes you have seen me illustrate this on my own body and it is very visible to the class when this rotational move is done how the shoulder is locked into a stressful position . In fact one doctor told me that this action may contribute to the nerves popping up out of their natural setting in their grooves making them more susceptible to nerve injury. So I have never taught placing the wrists together for a ushirio position."

Based on that, it looks like the Japanese might know best and that we are inadvertently putting our partners at greater risk by using the wrists together position, if the load is likely to be placed on the radial. In summary, one should chose a wrist position and degree of tightness that is likely to minimise the risk of nerve injury. Be aware where the load is being applied and adjust the tie according to the susceptibilities and sensitivities of your partner. A natural and relaxed position into which the model's arms fall will always be preferable to forcing a position. Positions which allow the model to grasp one forearm will have the advantage of a more stable position which is less liable to drop into an 'X' thus causing tightness. In my opinion, the risk is greater for those who cannot get their hands near the opposite elbow as this means the rope is more likely to end up on or near the wrist joint. Be careful to watch both the position and tightness of the tie as a scene progresses as loads will change and what was safe can become dangerously tight.