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Shibari 101: Let’s talk about Japanese Rope Bondage - Guide to Glass by Glastoy.com

Shibari 101: Let’s talk about Japanese Rope Bondage

Shibari.

It rolls off your tongue nicely, but in a way that makes you want to say it again.

Shibari, which means ‘tying’, is often also referred to as kinkabu, or ‘tight binding’, and it’s the act of tying up a person for aesthetic purposes. Some think it’s purely sexual, but Shibari is more layered and has several centuries of context for any of us to sift through.

Shibari isn’t inherently sexual, and some historians of the practice say that since it entered the BDSM scene, it is used more for mediation and trust-building between partners. So how the heck did it become part of the BDSM scene? 

The roots of Shibari are firmly tied into the Hojojutsu martial art of the Edo period in Japan. Rope tying was used as a way to restrain and torture prisoners, but as Hojojutsu started to fade from visibility, its rope tying techniques merely went underground, popping up in Japan’s underground BDSM scene. Its popularity grew and started to spread to the West around the second world war. 

SO HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM WESTERN BDSM PLAY?

Shibari ropes are about 7m (23 ft) and are made of jute traditionally, but in modern times, hemp is an acceptable substitute. Western ropes are much longer and can be made of anything including cotton, nylon, or acrylic. 

Will having previous western bondage experience string you into the upper echelon of Japanese rope play circles? A-frayed knot.

Whereas western rope play tends to be foreplay for sex, Shibari IS the main attraction. The experience is about the rope itself and how the rigger (the person doing the tying) and the bottom (the person being tied up) relate to the rope and the experience. This means that the interpretation is relative, and for some people, that translates to a kink or fetish. Whether the experience is sexual or not, the more common experience of Japanese rope play is that of meditation, trust-building, and intimacy with your partner. There tends to be a strong emotional exchange, with many “scenes” ending in tears as the rigger or bottom have an emotional release. 

HOW TO GET TIED INTO THE SHIBARI SCENE

The first thing to know about Shibari is that almost no one goes into the practice blindly. Because it has an emotional and intuitive component, most practitioners are well studied, so do your homework. There are several books, videos, online resources that walk you through the history and the deeper meaning behind the practice. 

Shibari isn’t a self-taught art. It’s less about apprenticeship and more about safety; there are several instructors who teach in person and online. Take some time to find one that you feel a connection with, whether it be their style or intention. Consider that this is something that takes a long time to master so prepare yourself to go slowly. You will need time to actually do some rigging and be tied up, but you will also need to take the time to learn knots and other techniques before trying them on a human being. 

A lot of time will be spent learning floor knots on yourself before you graduate to being able to tie up another person or to suspend yourself (or anyone else) using your knot skills. Going slowly is a great way to meet other beginning practitioners and develop the kind of trust that can make or break your experience. 

ENGAGING WITH A PARTNER

So you have read a lot and you are interested in Shibari, but you have never done any kind of rope play. Where do you start? With an in-depth conversation about consent. Setting a safe word is the bare minimum. From there, you will need to discuss your boundaries and what fun and desire would look like for you. In Shibari, intentions are extremely important. Are you looking for the pain-pleasure principle? Are you looking for rough play? Do you need care and security? It’s helpful to have these things worked out beforehand. 

It also makes sense to understand how to tie a few simple knots. The most basic knot is called a single-column tie and it is the foundation knot of the practice. A single-column tie is a stable knot that will not tighten when tugged. To secure this knot, take a doubled rope and wrap it around your column (in this case, the column would be a wrist or an ankle) three times. Cross the closed end of your tie, also called the bight, over then under the wrapped part of the rope, between the skin and the rope. With the other end of the tie, or tail, make a loop then pull the blight halfway through so that it’s folded in the tail’s loop. Simply tug the bight to loosen.

The next knot to learn would be the double column tie which is similar in concept. Instead of one wrist or ankle, you would tie the knot around both wrists or ankles and secure the tie in the middle.

Lastly, have some scissors around. No kidding. In an emergency, you want to be able to cut ties. Having scissors readily available is one of the simplest safety precautions for practicing Shibari.

Shibari is the experience itself, but as a newcomer, it may be difficult to get what feels like a “whole” experience. Adding in some other elements as you ease into the play will certainly help. Throw a blindfold into your sexy entanglement, or really take it up a (k)notch with a vibrator. If you’re feeling particularly kinky, add some nipple clamps to your play.

Ultimately, Shibari is a means of connecting with your partner. Taking the time to understand how this unfolds and how you can use rope as a meditative way to undo your emotional blockages will strongly tie into how you process your growth as a practitioner.

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