Talking Shibari: a guide to rope-related vocabulary

Learning shibari can feel like learning a new language. Here’s our guide to the most common rope-related words you are likely to hear as you start out.

Roles in rope

Rigger

The rigger is the person who does the tying. Some people prefer to use the word “Rope Top”, not to be confused with “Dominant”, which implies that a more formal power exchange dynamic is at play. 

Bottom/ bunny/ model

The term “rope bunny” refers to the person being tied. However, the term is controversial and has fallen into disuse over the years as the rope and kink scenes have diversified. Many do not relate to the “cutesy” nature of the word. In recent years “bottom” or “model” have become more commonly used in rope circles. The use of one over the other seems to be dependent on the individual community, with some preferring “bottom” — a more kink-related term — and some preferring “model”, which is devoid of kink connotations. Some feel the term “model” denotes more “passivity” in the equation, while others consider this to be the better and more professional term as it is used in other circles without the implication of passivity.  

Switch

A rope switch is someone who enjoys tying (rigging) and being tied (bottoming). 

Spotter

A spotter is someone who will watch a rope scene, to check for warning signs of something going wrong, or step in to support if something does go wrong. Many scenes don’t require a spotter, but if a rigger is attempting something new, or higher risk, they may ask a person (or three) to spot. Spotters are commonly used (and highly advisable) for self-suspension scenes and even performances.

Technical terms

At Anatomie, we tend to use 6mm jute rope in lengths of 7.5m, that are doubled over on themselves to tie. Jute creates great friction, is not stretchy like some other materials, and tends not to burn skin. This length is popular as it means you have a working end that is roughly two arm spans: enough to work with, but not so much that it gets in the way.

Bight

The bight is the middle point of the rope, where it folds in half. When tying you want to be as accurate as you can with where your bight is (i.e. as close to the middle as possible) to make joining ropes easier should you need to. 

Working end

The length of rope you are working with is called the working end. We focus on the section of the rope closest to the bunny when tying. This is what connects the rigger to their rope bottom when tying and creates intimacy. It is usually taut, in order to maintain this connection. The rest of the rope, the length you are not using, is usually slack.

Stopper knot

At each end of the rope is a knot: these are called stopper knots. We call them stopper knots because they can stop the ends from unravelling , and because they are used to join rope by stopping the joined rope from slipping off. There are a variety of stopper knots: overhand knots, thistle knots, matthew-walker-knot, and more.

Image via @theaccidentalrigger, used with permission

Column

In rope we call body parts — or other things you want to tie, like bed posts — columns. Any of the following could be a column:

  • A single wrist, ankle, thigh etc.
  • Two wrists, ankles, thighs, or a thigh and a wrist, an ankle and a thigh, a wrist and a bedpost etc. 
  • The waist, or chest
  • The neck (not advised)

Single column tie

Each tie starts with an anchor point: usually a wrap and a knot that secures the rope in place to allow you to start your tie. A single column tie is normally two wraps around your chosen column and a simple knot (often a granny or reef knot) to secure it. The knot you choose will determine the direction of your working end (see below: Granny knot).

A single column tie, tied with a granny knot

Double column tie

A double column tie is similar to a single column tie, but tailored more to columns that are made up from two body parts (e.g. two wrists, two ankles, a wrist and an ankle, etc.) with the addition of a wrap (a cinch or “kannuki”) that runs between the two to prevent slippage. 

Double column tie

Knots

In shibari, knots are mainly used on anchor points (single- and double column ties). Here are some common knots that will be demonstrated using videos and images rather than words:

Reef/ square knot

A single column tie, tied with a reef knot

Granny knot

See above: Single Column Tie

Left: reef knot; Right: granny knot

Somerville bowline/ Myrtle hitch

Somerville bowline

Quick release 

Instead of the knots above, a quick release knot can be used to enable to a rigger to release their model from their tie more quickly.

Quick release knot

Wrap

Simply put, wraps are when the rope wraps around the body/ columns. They can be used as part of a more complex tie, accompanied by frictions, or they can be used to create an experience just with a single- or double-column tie and the working end. 

Frictions

The other components of most ties are frictions: these are the points of contact between your working end and your existing wraps. They rely on the friction of the rope (and the skin) to help maintain the tension of your wraps and can be used to change the direction of your tie. Frictions should always be tight so remember to pull each part as you are tying it so there is no slack. They are really all you need to know in order to freestyle.

Again, the best way to demonstrate frictions is with images.

Counter tension/ reverse tension

A counter, or reverse, tension allows you to change direction and to move back the way you came from..

Counter- or reverse-tension

Full stop

A full stop enables you to continue tying in the same direction, while keeping tension. 

Full stop

Half moon

We can use a half moon when our working end meets an existing wrap/ line at a 90 degree angle, creating a “+”. 

Half moon

Munter hitch

A munter hitch is a slightly more complex and secure way to continue in the same direction; it requires a “T” shaped intersection of rope.

Munter hitch

X-friction

The x-friction is most commonly used when two lines cross as a “T” or an “+” shape. When doing an x-friction, it’s important to make sure the friction is tight at each step to ensure this happens. 

X-friction

Hitch

A hitch also requires a “T” shaped intersection, and allows you to change direction so you are moving perpendicular to the direction you were going. 

Hitch

Lark’s head/ Lark’s foot/ Cow hitch

A lark’s head is most commonly used when joining ropes. 

Lark’s head

Locking off

When we create an upline (see next) we have to make sure that the rope is connected securely to the suspension point and the model. We call this locking off

Upline/ suspension line/ mainline

The upline is the line of rope that connects the person in the rope  to the suspension point.

Tying off

When we have a length of leftover rope after completing a tie, we can use it up in a variety of ways; this is called tying off the loose ends.

Untying

In traditional Japanese shibari, the untying is as much a part of the process as everything else: it signals the end of the connection, and the connection should be maintained until the last rope is removed. We can do this in two ways, neither of which sound that appealing but luckily they both feel great. “Peeling” does what it says on the tin: you “peel” the rope off the bunny slowly. “Flossing” involves using your whole arm span to gently pull the rope across the bunny’s skin as it loosens. 

Rigger finger (Crochet hook)

When tying, rope often has to cross itself and sometimes the tension makes it tricky to move a rope underneath another. Rather than pushing the working end through, we tend to use our index finger to hook the rope and pull it through. Pushing is much more clumsy, and doesn’t feel great for the bottom. 

Tension

Tension is one of the most important — but also most difficult — elements of rigging well. There is some level of personal preference in tension: some bottoms prefer rope to be tighter, some prefer it looser. However, tension is much more integral than this: it is necessary to maintain the integrity of any given tie, and is even more necessary when suspending to avoid slippage. 

Labbing

Tying usually takes on one of two purposes. Labbing is when a tie is planned in order to practise technicalities.

Playing

The other option, playing, is tying for fun!

Self-tie

Often we tie with other people, but when we tie ourselves it’s known as self-tying. It can be a great way to practise, but it’s also an opportunity to connect with ourselves. 

Safety basics

Aftercare

Shibari can be intense. It’s worth considering some form of aftercare for both the rigger and the bunny. Check-ins post tying are also really important.

Drop

Drop is one of the reasons aftercare is important: after an intense scene, which involves a lot of adrenaline, our bodies can “drop”. This is when a participant in the scene — and it can be the Top or the bottom, or both — experiences a low mood, and sometimes feelings of guilt, in the aftermath. 

Circulation

Tying can cut circulation to body parts off. However, while this can look quite dramatic (limbs can turn white or deep purple depending on whether blood is pooling or cut off) and feels like intense pins and needles, the length of time is important. While different tissues respond differently, your limbs and extremities become unsalvageable after six to eight hours without blood. Most ties last a fraction of this time. It’s important to note that if, and how long, a person is comfortable with circulation being impeded is a part of their own risk profile and should always be respected.

Communication

Shibari is a way of communication in and of itself. It also requires negotiation and extensive discussion. It takes a while to learn what you like and what you don’t in terms of ties: body parts you like to have tied, positions you feel safe and unsafe in. 

Consent

It goes without saying that shibari needs to be undertaken consensually. Like all kink and BDSM play, a surface-level understanding of consent really isn’t enough. Here are a some resources about consent that are worth exploring:

Frenzy

A feeling many of us are used to: frenzy is the desperation to do all the things, all at once, RIGHT NOW. Discovering shibari, or kink more generally, often sparks a period of frenzy, in which our decision-making skills are impaired, and our risk profile is lowered, in the desperation not to miss out. It’s a hard thing to be aware of while you’re in it, but the best way to manage it is to rely on a trusted group of friends/ peers that can help you “sense check” decisions in a nonjudgmental way. 

Nerves

Often when tied, body parts can go numb. This is called ‘paresthesia’. It is due to compression of the nerves and isn’t usually dangerous. However, again, it’s down to a person’s personal risk profile and their knowledge of their own body. It’s important to note that shibari can cause long-term nerve damage if the correct checks aren’t done during a tie. Nerve damage, rather than compression, results in certain movements being inhibited, and the power of the grip lessening in the person being tied. If the arms are tied (especially in takate kote-style ties) where the radial nerve can be exposed. If compressed  it limits the movement of the thumb and fingers. Checking that the thumb can touch all fingers at a usual pressure (even if they feel numb) and checking the movement of the thumb towards and away from the hand is important. This should be done often by riggers and bottoms as a team. However in instances where the bottom is inexperienced, where the  power dynamics involved, and/ or where the person being tied is “spacing out” and has less awareness of themselves, the responsibility may — and should — fall more on the rigger to perform these checks.

Read more about nerves in rope here

Nonverbal

Sometimes when people are tied they sink into a headspace that renders verbal communication almost impossible. It’s useful to have a nonverbal “safe sign” as a back-up to a safe word (see below) but also useful to discuss nonverbal tendencies before tying.

Power exchange

Shibari is ultimately a power exchange. It can take a lot of trust to allow someone to tie you up. The Wheel of Consent is a great way to explore power dynamics in any given relationship, and to ensure any power is exchanged with consent.

Safeword

Ongoing communication is necessary in a rope relationship, but it’s important to have a safeword that cuts through and stops play immediately. Traffic lights are a well-used safeword: green for continue; orange for pause/ slow down; and red for stop. 

Shears

On a practical level, when tying it’s important to have a pair of safety shears on hand at all times to ensure that ropes can be cut if necessary. Typically, shears are useful in cases of fainting and/or when things such as fire alarms go off. 

Vetting

Asking for “references” before tying with someone new might sound a little ridiculous, but it’s a great way to keep yourself safe (again, as a Top and a bottom). It’s a lot more common in the rope community than you might think!

Common ties

Shibari ties, in Japanese, are not named after specific sequences of knots, wraps and frictions. Instead, they are named after the part of the body or the shape they create. To this end, there are multiple possible ways to any given harness or shape. Shibari is a puzzle, and it lends itself to creativity.

That said, there are some more common ties. Here are two examples.

Takate kote

The takate kote, or box tie, is a version of a gote tie: gote means “back hand”, or “hands behind the back; and takatekote means “high hand, little hand” — or  “hands angled upwards, forearms (tied)” — and is associated with a specific lineage of shibari. It is often used as a harness for suspension.  

Futomomo

In Japanese, futomomo means “thigh” (“the fat part of the leg”) and a futomomo tie is one where the ankle is bound to the thigh. Again, they can be used for suspension, but are great for all kinds of play. Here’s one example of a futomomo

Written by Kink and Cuddles; photography, videos and edits by Anna Bones.

With thanks to @and_so_is_lola for video editing, and @theaccidentalrigger for use of stopper knots image.

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