Rope, Photography, and Education

Recently, I woke up to learn that a great Japanese rope artist, Yukimura Haruki, had passed away. The news did not seem to be a surprise to those close to him, but it was nevertheless a shock to many. Mr. Yukimura’s influence on the rope world was palpable, yet hard to quantify. Several of his students have been writing about their experiences with him, and these writings have provided a wonderful glimpse of a man not as well known in the West.

My exposure to Yukimura has come only indirectly, through what I have seen of his videos and through his students that I have met and studied with. There was always something about his approach to rope that resonated with me. In some ways, it’s the polar opposite of much of the rope that you see in photos. Yukimura’s rope was more focused on spontaneous connection in the moment than on creating a beautiful image. And while these two goals are not mutually exclusive, in my experience, both in my own tying and from watching and learning from others who are highly skilled, there is a trade-off between them.

A photo can never capture the entirety of a rope scene. At best, it is a moment in time. What about all of the other moments that led up to that one? Was the model bored while waiting for everything to be set up for the photo, or were they engaged in a real emotional connection with the person tying them? Was the rope bondage part of a well-planned shoot with a team of riggers, photographers, and assistants, or was it a spontaneous, intimate scene that ended in hot, passionate sex? A photo tells you very little about what happened before or after.

The prevalence and outstanding quality of the photographic images now being produced by many rope artists in the West has made them the dominant representation of shibari within the wider community. This has undoubtedly increased the visibility and popularity of Japanese-inspired rope bondage, but at the same time, it could have also created a somewhat two-dimensional impression of the art. Sometimes I wonder if the depth, richness, and diversity of rope is fully represented by the photography that is popular today.

The rope scene is incredibly diverse, and tends to attract many interesting, creative, talented, and intellectual people. Even when rope people prefer very different styles of tying, they are often likely to be friends. More than anything else, this seems to be a by-product of the fact that learning rope requires so much time and effort, and that much of that time is spent in social contexts. And for many rope people, bondage is just one of many kinky interests, and quite possibly not even the most important one. For some, rope might be a means to an end, whether that end is sensual, sexual, or sadistic. For others, it might be an end in itself.

Like any subculture, the rope community has its own jargon, aesthetics, techniques, equipment, events, power dynamics, hierarchies, etc. The best way to learn about these things is to go to places where people do rope (which nowadays is almost everywhere) – not even necessarily to play, but simply to observe. Watch how different people tie. Notice how they interact with partners, peers, and strangers. See which styles appeal to you and why. Then seek out the people who do the kind of rope you like, in person or online, and talk to them. Ask them who is skilled and reputable and who is not.

Most people involved in rope are willing to help new people, or at least point them in the right direction. There are active rope communities in most major cities around the world. If you like bondage, either as a top or bottom, check out some local rope events and see for yourself.