(Photo by ChrisD Rigger MasterMHatter, Bunny: Cheshirecat-MMH. Rope: MMHJute )
There is a sharp divide in the rope community between those who engage with rope as part of a Dominance and submission paradigm and those who approach Shibari as an end in and off itself.
This is a divide that I have been aware of for some time but one which I have only recently begun to actually think about in a more serious context. My own entry into the rope scene was heavily influenced by Kink.com and the portrayal of rope bondage as part of a sexual D/s fantasy scene. With this as a starting point I then explored Japanese rope, Shibari, Kinbaku, and its related routes – but at its heart rope has always been about Dominance and submission, Sadism and masochism and is sexual. A theme reflected in many of the Japanese riggers who started (and in many cases continue) there careers in pornography.
I was not made aware of how unusual this approach was until a talented rope teacher came to stay with us and said “I haven’t come across another rope community which is so D/s focused”.
Shibari can be a sport, one in which people push themselves to the limit of there physical endurance. It is a two-person sport like a Tango, and those who perform for the public can put hours into their practice conveying the greatest passion they can through their routine. This performance can take place however whether or not the two people are actually lovers who are angry with each other – or desperate – or in a D/s relationship, or whatever other emotions are being displayed as part of this performance. The importance of the emotional connectivity that is conveyed within Shibari is a prevalent discussion, while some teachers focus on the technicality of the steps others empathies the important of delivering those steps with feelings – this is not the same as encouraging people to have these feelings, or viewing those feelings as necessary – rather the portrait of emotions is the often emphasized requirement.
Within some Rope communities’ rope is decidedly unsexual – while people might engage in bedroom bondage Shibari is viewed as an elevated art form more akin to nude painting than porn. The sexual tension is careful removed from the room and replaced by giggles and sweatpants. For other communities rope is introduced specifically for the bedroom, this is an activity for couples seeking some extra spice – some go on to make rope more than a bedroom activity but the starting point is desire and hands and feet attached to bedposts.
A word is needed here on the terminology relating to participants in rope. For the person tying generally one of two terms are used, either Rigger or Rope Top. The term rigger is used almost universally in the Western rope scene, with a few people adopting rope top – a term which has a good level of elasticity in its meaning. For some Rope Top is an indication that they tie within a dynamic, for others it is just a term used to be synomonous with rigger.
When we approach the terminology for those who are tied things become far more emotionally charge. The preferred term in some communities is “Rope Model”. This term implies to me a rope clotheshorse, but by the people who adopt this term it means anything but this. Rather the term is used to describe an equil partner in rope – 50% of the rope team that along with the Rigger create rope art. Others use the term Rope Bunny, a term that while preferred by some people who view it as an affectionate name which accurately describes there bouncy excitement at the possibility of “falling” into some rope, for other this term is seen as deeply insulting. For those who object to the term it is viewed as frivolous and brings to mind the image of a vapious playboy bunny (not to suggest that playboy bunnies are vapious but rather that this is a commonly associated image). Next we have the “rope bottom”. Here we have a term in hot contention – does this refer to a degree of submission, or does it refer to the position one takes in a particular scene, which may or may not involve submission? As unclear and open to interpretation as these terms are use the wrong one at your peril. Finally for the person being tied and the person tying we have the term “Rope Artist”. This terminology appears to makes it clear that we are not talking about D/s, or Sadism and masochism; we are discussing the creation of art – of course this is art that does on occasion contain D/s and Sadism and masochism and so again these lines become blurred.
At some classes an announcement is made at the start of the class that D/s relationships should be put on hold for the length of the class, that both parties rigger and rope “model” are equal parties working together to achieve a common goal this is not a place for D/s. This approach seems to imply that first of all within a D/s context a couple are not able to communicate freely, further that an established D/s couple are able to or desire to put the normal context of their relationship on hold within this environment – and thirdly that a couple would be prepared to do so upon receiving an instruction to do so from a third party. This can create a situation in which D/s couples feel unwelcome at Rope workshops, an environment in which they might reasonably expect to find a warm embrace.
Having nailed my colours firmly to the mast, and for anyone who missed it – my personal approach to rope is that it is a tool with which to express D/s, it is brimming with sex, and there is a good chance that there will be some Sadism and masochism as part of any rope scene I engage in – what is Shibari for you? Are you an artist? A Rigger? A Bunny or a model? Are you a rope top or rope bottom and have I misunderstood what you mean by the term?
Talk to me folks.