Shibari

Last Updated: January 25, 2021

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Definition - What does Shibari mean?

Shibari is rope bondage that originated in Japan that has been incorporated into BDSM culture. It is also considered by some as an art form.

The word Shibari translates as "to tie." The term shibari is frequently considered interchangeable and encompassing of other types of rope bondage, but they are not all completely synonymous.

In Shibari, pieces of rope are used to create intricate geometric patterns and shapes. Shibari doesn’t use many knots, instead focussing on friction, folding, and wrapping techniques. The rope connects at the bight, the middle point where it is doubled over at the middle.

A Shibari session can be considered a form of power exchange wherein ropes are used to facilitate dominance and submission. The person who restrains and ties is called the rigger. Their scene partner is known as the model.

Shibari ropes and knots are strategically positioned to stimulate the body's pressure points. For some, the sexual practice of shibari is called kinbaku. The model typically derives pleasure from ties across their breasts, genitals, and other erogenous zones. In some scenes, the model may also be stimulated with sex toys or impact tools.

Shibari is often used in conjunction with suspension bondage. Some shibari sessions can involve intercourse and other sexual activities, but not always. This may depend on the relationship between rigger and model or the specification motivation for the scene. Some work together for sexual purposes, others work together to create art. For some Shibari practitioners, the elaborate rope designs and the material's rugged texture contrast visually and physically with the model’s smooth skin creating a significant sensual experience. Some believe Shibari can stimulate Ki energy flow and transfer. Some models consider a shibari scene to be so affecting that they enter a trance-like state due to the increase in endorphins and other hormone levels. This is sometimes known as being rope drunk.

Shibari is also commonly called Japanese rope bondage.

Kinkly explains Shibari

The practice of shibari has a significant and rich history. This type of rope bondage dates back to the medieval and Edo periods in Japan (from the 1200s to the late 1800s).

Shibari developed from the ancient martial art of Hojo-Jutsu which was used to restrain prisoners but eventually moved into other aspects of life including Shinto spiritual offerings, Sumo wrestling, and traditional kimono tying.

As detailed in The Beauty of Kinbaku, the definitive text on shibari, Master K explains that shibari is just another use for rope and that its movement into sexual and erotic play was just another way to utilize a tool that is important to Japanese culture. It is believed to have been brought to the United States by servicemen.

For those new to shibari, it is important to get to know the tools and rope needed for a successful scene. Among riggers, jute and hemp rope are popular because natural fibers have more grip. Smaller strands of rope are twisted together. It is also important that riggers have sharp shears or a knife at the ready in case the ropes need to be cut off quickly when safety is compromised or the model wishes to escape quickly. It is suggested that folks who are interested in exploring shibari take an introduction to rope class.

Additionally, it is important to be sensitive to cultural appropriation. There are Western folxs who have slapped the term shibari on types of bondage and rope work that are not rooted in the ethos that the Japanese masters would agree with or promote.

As with taking any influence from cultures that are not your own, people interested in learning the art should seek out experienced teachers who belong to the community that created the art form and invest the time and effort to understand it holistically. One of the foremost shibari artists and teachers is Midori.

Communication is critical before, throughout, and after a shibari session. Understanding each other’s boundaries and limits is crucial and check-ins should happen throughout a scene.

Because shibari can bend the body into challenging positions that put stress on the joints, muscles, and tendons and even cause nerve damage in extreme situations, models should work up to longer sessions and suspension bondage.

At the same time, in the hands of an experienced rigger, shibari can be comfortable and relaxing. It can also be used by folks who have mobility issues to enhance their sexual experiences.

Reviewed by Laura McGuire
on January 12, 2021

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