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Why is shibari so complicated? (2021)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

A widespread misunderstanding that I face is that rope bondage is complicated. Especially the Japanese inspired styles of shibari and kinbaku. People often think that it is only about the aesthetics, shapes and knots, while they claim to be only interested in “bondage”. There is a fundamental belief here that first needs to be clarified. Imagine that you have one rope in your hand. The rope itself doesn’t have a predecided function. Like a pair of leather cuffs do. It is flexible, so the person tying needs to decide their intention. That hopefully, it is shared by the person being in the ropes. Is it either to make the most complete tie possible with the one rope with different styles of knots, rope patterns, and body positions, making the most of the one rope, so to say. Or is it to make the most straightforward tie to fulfil a specific play or fantasy, similarly, making as little as possible of the same rope. Here the subculture is divided; some aim to perfect the complexity of rope bondage, while others aim to perfect the simplicity. Some would say that shibari, the verb for tying, is more about complexity, while kinbaku, the philosophy of connection through rope, is more about simplicity. But I think the terms are used too interchangeably to make this distinction. However, the open-ended-ness in rope bondage allows for the question even to be a question. 

As the Japanese bondage style rapidly developed during 1980, 90 and 2000, two different ideas emerged. One focused on technical tying that led to the development of suspension techniques and advanced patterns. While the other, on the eros of perverted fantasies. Both were performative in many ways. They aim to interact with the external viewer, which can be the person tying that temporarily changes position, a live audience, or a documenting camera. So a good question to understand bondage is; what am I witnessing? What draws me to this practice? Is it the impressive ropework and beautiful body positions, the physical and emotional challenge, an erotic fantasy unfolding, or the vulnerable honouring of old trauma? The answer isn’t often straightforward and very likely a mixture and different for everyone involved. 

But why even care about these complicated questions if one just want to experience “some bondage”? I think because even asking them without having an answer makes an impact on everyone involved. Feeling beautiful, twisted to the maximum, emotionally vulnerable and part of an erotic story matters. And I think this is when rope bondage turns into art when it engages this explorative mindset to understand our sexuality from as many perspectives as possible. But, of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. One can simply tune down the open-ended-ness and tune into a specific desired experience. And, everyone does this to some degree by talking beforehand about their curiosities and boundaries, daydreaming, studying pictures on the internet, and preferring certain partners. However, this boxing-in tendency worries me because a big part of my fascination for rope bondage is the open-ended-ness and that it is allowed to this complex. In both, its simplicity or complexity. So many people that built the rope bondage subculture for years and years are nerds, and it’s beautiful to give space to that passion and dedication. To allow it to be more than just a whipping on a cross. Even if that is pretentious.

So when people ask why shibari is so complicated, I like to answer because we allow it to be. And it’s up to you to decide in what aspect you want it to be complicated. And you perfectly served by starting not-so-complicated. That way, you can learn and grow, and shibari will be your companion for many, many years to come. So how simple can it be? In my standard three-to-four-day retreats, I teach four knots. The free introduction class at the online school includes two of them, and many people take the time to learn them at home already. When taking some weight away from the floor, there are another four knots to use an external fixation point. Then, we focus on play scenarios, stories of our eros, embodied intelligence and emotional connection the rest of the time. This teaching style is probably influenced by me being more inclined toward perfecting simplicity rather than complexity. And, the biggest mistake I see in beginners is trying to complicate things too much and losing the reason for tying in the first place. I experience a strong connection between this simplicity of rope bondage and tantra in the form of presence and non-doing. I also see this focus in many Japanese masters that I admire, even if they never would call what they do tantra or even spiritual. And I think this is when shibari is genuinely magical; when both the person tying and being tied makes it about something more significant. When they together with whoever is witnessing, see the movements in between the doing. And this is complicated, but on another level than learning knots.

In the stillness between moments, life happens.
Pause, witness.

Andy Buru