In my past life I was a primary school teacher. I quit a few years ago to pursue other interests, but I always said that teaching was in my soul. And what do you know? Here I am, embarking on a whole other teaching journey: teaching shibari to adults.
As a trained teacher, I am so aware of the skills a person needs to educate young minds, but transferring this knowledge to kink education is a different kettle of fish. While there are certain skills and qualities that make someone a good teacher, regardless of who or what they are teaching, there are also particular things to consider when teaching rope to grown ups.
So, if you’re looking to learn shibari, what should you be looking for in your teacher(s)?
A good rope teacher…
Is patient & empathetic
When we asked our community what makes a good teacher, the most common answer was patience.
People learn in different ways and at different rates: this needs to be understood by a teacher. Many teachers have been tying for years, they know what they’re doing intuitively. This is great, but can mean they forget just how challenging things they view to be simple are to those who are just starting out.
Has enough relevant experience
Shibari is a pretty daft thing to do, really. Learning from a teacher who knows what they’re doing is unbelievably important.
It’s best practice for newer teachers to start out by co-teaching with someone more experienced. If a teacher is teaching alone, or is teaching more advanced skills like suspension, transitions or rope that intersects more with kink, then their experience should reflect this.
Enjoying these things in your spare time – even for a significant period of time – is not the same as having the credentials for teaching. According to our community, a good rope teacher has spent a lot of time learning, but also credits who they have learned from.
Teaches to their ability level
When learning a new skill — and here I am talking about teaching itself — there are four levels of competence:
- Unconscious incompetence: not knowing, and not knowing you don’t know
- Conscious incompetence: knowing you don’t know, and understanding the value of knowing it
- Conscious competence: having knowledge, but having to work hard to recall or teach it
- Unconscious competence: when knowing and doing become second nature
Of course this also applies to learning shibari itself. But teachers are human and can be in the “unconscious incompetence” stage. This happens when people try to teach too much too soon and, as above, when teaching a skill like shibari, this can be dangerous.
It’s also super important that they are not teaching above their own skill level, and that they know what this is. A good teacher is self aware.
Is a lifelong learner
Good teachers never stop learning. They will continue to learn, because the more they learn the more they realise they don’t know. Experience and citing prior learning is one thing, showing they are still learning is quite another. Look for teachers who are still actively learning and improving their own personal practise in order to share up to date knowledge with their students.
Furthermore, teaching itself is one of the best ways to learn. Author, Robert Heinlein says: “When one teaches, two learn,” and honestly this is so accurate. I learn so much from my students every single time I teach.
Shares and models best practise (and the reasons for it)
With experience and continued learning comes ever-increasing knowledge. And so a good shibari teacher should be sharing — and modelling — best practise at all times. According to our community: a good rope teacher never demonstrates a bad or incorrect technique
There are often multiple ways to do the same thing in rope: ties are generally more about the position of the body rather than a specific set of knots, wraps and frictions. Therefore teaching shibari is most often a combination of teaching the relevant knots and frictions, safety elements of tying, and the relational skills that it takes to be a competent rigger.
You should leave a class or course knowing key skills and how to safely apply them in a variety of ways.
Teaches from both Top and bottom perspectives
Since shibari most often includes at least two people — unless you are self-tying — rope teachers have the unique job of teaching from two perspectives. Ideally you’re looking for information about bottoming as well as Topping.
Whether this comes directly from the model, or from the rigger (who ideally has experience as a bunny too), knowing things to look out for from the perspective of the person being tied is imperative.
Shibari is deceptively tricky, especially when you’re starting out. A good teacher will greet your mistakes and confusion with patience (see above!) and will likely anticipate some of your misconceptions before you even realise you have them.
Getting good at rope is basically about one thing: practising. It’s about developing the muscle memory that allows you to access the unconscious competence level of learning. Part of this is also about making mistakes — safely — and understanding how to resolve them yourself. Your teacher should support you through this, not get impatient. They may also share mistakes they’ve made, and how they resolved and avoid them.
Is well prepped for class, but adaptable
It almost goes without saying, but a good rope teacher should be well prepped for class, but not afraid to make changes to suit the needs of their students. And this is where experience comes in… without experience a teacher might have a plan and feel unable to deviate from it. An experienced teacher will be able to read the room to meet the students where they’re at, rather than where they want them to be, in order to show them the next steps.
Breaks complicated concepts down into digestible chunks
And, as I’ve mentioned, shibari can seem super difficult at the start… explaining what the different parts of a tie do, and breaking more complicated ties down into manageable chunks, is good teaching.
Starting out can also be like learning a whole new language: bights, stopper knots, frictions, futomomos…
It’s important to know the correct words for things, but it’s also important not to overwhelm new students. Good rope teachers will introduce just enough jargon to support their learners’ journeys, and use the terms correctly and consistently in their demonstrations.
Hones their communication skills
Teaching is basically communication. Breaking complicated concepts down is one thing, communicating them is quite another. Rope teachers will use words and demonstrations to share their knowledge — ideally in differing ways to accommodate different learning styles — they will allow time for students to practise, and they will use active listening skills to understand challenges their students have.
My favourite model of active listening is the traditional chinese character “ting”. Ting combines ears, eyes, heart, mind, and undivided attention to ensure we listen properly.
Is able to engage their students without too much effort
A large part of teaching is making learning fun, and about your “stage presence”. This often comes from confidence: it is hard to learn, but can definitely come with practise. Some teachers might choose to share anecdotes about their own practise, others may employ humour (a popular trait with our community), but being open and approachable is what’s truly important.
With shibari, this goes further: the best teaching duos demonstrate good synergy between rigger and model and don’t try to “perform” for the class in any way that goes beyond what they are teaching.
Is passionate about both teaching and their subject matter
That’s not to say teaching is about acting… a lot of teachers of adult sex and kink education teach because they are passionate about their content. This passion is usually obvious in their personal practise, and is something to look out for: does what they’re teaching bring them joy?
Scott Hayden — a teacher of teachers — says: “Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.” I am inclined to agree. Teaching about sex and kink isn’t for everyone and a good teacher will be at ease when talking about more risque content and, by proxy, make their students feel at ease too.
But there are different motivators for teaching. After teaching for years in different capacities, Anna Bones, owner of Anatomie Studio, thinks the most common motivators for teaching are money, passion, and/or power. None of these reasons are inherently good or bad, but it’s something to consider when choosing a class or a teacher.
Have we missed anything? Comment below 🙂