Defining Western Bondage

topic posted Tue, November 16, 2004 - 12:02 AM by  Paul
Shibari is the new rage in bondage, of course. Everyone wants to do it like they do it in Japan. And lord knows there's a lot we can learn from the Japanese. But then again it seems to me that there's a lot to learn right here as well, and I'd hate to see that get lost in the glare from the Rising Sun.

When I think about "western bondage" as a category or concept the first thing that strikes me is that not much strikes me. There aren't many clear hallmarks of a definable western style. We can all rattle off a few basic components of shibari without too much trouble: kikkou body harnesses, boola-boola knots, shinju chest harnesses, hemp rope, etc. But what would similar markers be for the Western style?

IS there a western style, or perhaps more than one? Would it be John Willie, Bishop, Irving Klaw, perhaps? Would it be the rough almost anti-style of the 70s, the style developed at HOM in the 80s, or the ripped-clothing damsels of detective magazines? Or perhaps the "western style" is the fusion of Japanese elements with fetishwear and some characteristic knotwork that's exemplified by riggers like Jim Weathers and the Knotty Boys.

Before we can hope to talk about, let alone learn "western bondage" we need to know what it is. Any thoughts?
posted by:
SF Bay Area
  • I tend to think of older stuff like the Irving Klaw/Bettie Page material, as well as a lot of what you see in pubs like Bound & Gagged as being Western.

    When I was taking rope classes from Lou Duff in 97-98, she described the difference between Western and Japanese bondage as being "choices." Where you lay the line, what knot you use, the intent behind the bondage. When it comes down Eastern and Western rope, you see more of the differences that way.
    • There do seem to be thematic differences. For example while there are threads of the "damsel in distress" in Japanese bondage, it tends to have a different feel from the DiD in John Willie or in the work of someone like Lorelei of Bedroom Bondage. HOM's "love bondage" fits in there also. I can't quite put my finger on these elements but I can feel them moving around in there.

      Another trope that seems to show up a LOT more in western stuff than in Japanese work is "hardware" - that is steel, wooden, and leather restraints of various kinds.

      If I was to list some riggers that I think are identifiably "western," they would probably include some of the following:

      Bryan Davis
      Irving/Paula Klaw
      John Willie (not really a rigger but I think he needs to be in here)

      Some riggers that I would think of as "in between" - combining Japanese styles with other elements to one degree or another...

      Jim Weathers
      Two Knotty Boys
      Chanta Rose
      PD (of
      Peter (of
      Tammad Rimilia

      Some riggers that I think of as distinctly Japanese in style

      Randa Mai
      Emma Hui
      David El

      I realize, by the way, that many of the people I've listed are members of this tribe. I hope all of you will take this as purely my own impression for purposes of drawing up some tentative categories.
      • Good observation Paul. The concept fo the damsel in distress is very present in Western rope. Remember Dudley DuRight in the old cartoons and his lovely lady on the RR tracks? That image of the damsel is very much a part of Western Rope. It is as much part of the concept as the old wonderful photographs previously mentioned on this thread. It also happens to be one I really enjoy.
    • My take on western styled bondage is a simple one, that being, any style that uses knots, wraps and ties that originated in the West (i.e. west of Japan). It’s a broad brush I know; still western bondage is a general descriptive of a collection of styles, including medieval torture ties, applied functional farming ties (i.e. hogties), and a whole host of other associated ties and styles.

      I might add… Dan and I consider our particular tying style “Fusion”. This being the case on account of our coupling of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Celtic, Western and recent innovative knotting, weaving and tying techniques, together with a respect for the functional physics behind the restraint and lift of the human body.
      • << My take on western styled bondage is a simple one, that being, any style that uses knots, wraps and ties that originated in the West (i.e. west of Japan).>>

        That's a good starting point at least. Though a lot of those elements cross over.

        For example the half hitch is foundational in Japanese bondage and while it's not used so much in western bondage it's still there. The "double coin knot" that you and Dan teach is called the carrick bend in the west - though you two originated it's use in bondage on either side of the Pacific as far as I know. The "wrap and cinch" double-limb tie is used in both styles, differing only slightly (the twist to change direction and start the cinching turns seems to be western while the use of the larks head seems to be Japanese).

        So the differences are sometimes pretty subtle.

        <<western bondage is a general descriptive of a collection of styles, including medieval torture ties, applied functional farming ties (i.e. hogties), and a whole host of other associated ties and styles.>>

        That's a useful distinction: western torture/interrogation ties are distinctly different from those used in Japan.

        How would you distinguish between the western and eastern versions of the hogtie? Perhaps the western version attaches the wrists directly to the ankles, while the Japanese are more likely to bind the wrists and ankles to a chest harness?

        <<I might add …Dan and I consider our particular tying style "Fusion".>>

        Yes, I'd agree - that's why I put the two of you in my "in between" category. By the way, "fusion" is the only term that has ever been used to classify my bondage style likewise. It seems to work as well as any IMO.
        • Unsu...
          Well there are definitly western styles of bondage. I am no expert on it, but i have a friend who runs the leather archieve and meseum here in chicago and one night she showed me a bunch of the classic western styles of bondage becuase theyhave tons of resources on the subject. And al though i don't remember there names, they were definitly style. Mostly came from bondage photography in the 40's (betty page errea) and 70's (bondage magazine era). And the styles in the 70's i believe mostly happen, so they could punish bondage images with have FCC problems which is interesting.

          And as far as i have found, there is really only one major difference techiques wise between japanese and western style, and that is the japanese tend to (but not always) double up there rope when they tie.
      • Fusion is good and don't forget the influence of things nautical. Many a bowline and hitch are used but because I prefer the feel of Numi or Monk's hemp to marine braid it gets labeled as Japanese.

        Numi spent a pretty good bit of time researching "Japanese Rope Bondage" history and I trust him when he says that it seems the style came about round the time of color photography and became popular after Al Gore invented the internet.

        No let us not be blinded by the rising sun. We have a lot of good ideas between us.
        • Not to dispute Numi, but I seem to remember seeing old Japanese paintings (at least 19th century) that depicted rope techniques very similar to what we see today. So I'm not sure I'd accept a late 20th century origin for erotic rope in Japan.
          • Oh indeed the Japanese used rope to restrain and punish prisoners for centuries. The history of Hojo-jutsu or Baku-jutsu goes back to schools of martial arts practiced by the Samurais during the dark epoch of medieval Japan. Under the Tokugawa Government rope use was highly ritualized in both the capture and punishment of prisoners. I have read that the actual Jojo-jutsu techniques began with the pirates of the time who used the grappling cords to capture vessels and having that at hand used it to take prisoners for ransom as well. When the Shinkoku Period drew to an end and the more peaceful times of the Edo Period began, the leaders of the time wanted to put behind the violent years. As we may romanticize the images of the Nazi interrogator and the pretty French partisan it appears that some of the art of the day featured bound prisoners. Still from what I have been able to determine the actual movement from art to erotica may have occurred later. If there are any specific references that show differently or even have a reasonable expectation for a degree of accuracy I would love to see them. The history fascinates me.
            • No, the stuff I'm thinking of wasn't hojo. It was very clearly bedroom art - all female bindees in disheveled kimono or naked, with conspicuous genital play.

              I'll see what I can come up with.
  • I'm going off of vaguely remembered references, here, so bear with me for any inconsistencies.

    I recall reading...somewhere...that a great deal of what we consider "American" (Willie, et al) actually originated in Germany during the decadence of the Weimar period (mmmmmm, decadence...). And that it not only spread to America but also to Japan (and back to Germany, changed, of course) until it's really hard to say what exactly started where.

    So my question for those of you more knowledgeable than I: does Weimar Germany fall into this somewhere? Or am I conflating my art history classes with my bondage history?
    • Unsu...
      The influence of Willie et al on Japanese bondage is severly muted by the tie-in with hojojitsu, and the general facility with tying things that's simply part of Japanese culture.

      As to the influence of Weimar Berlin on Willie, that's possible. I don't have any evidence to prove or disprove, but the timeline is right. Can't say that I've seen any of the bondage erotica from that period. Sounds like a fun topic for an art history paper.
    • Mac
      offline 6
      It would be well worth looking into carefully, but not much of the media surviving from the period would appear to support the proposition that bondage as a distinct form of sexual expression was a featured inducement of Weimar-era Berlin.

      Mel Gordon made a thorough survey of erotic pre-war Berlin in his Voluptuous Panic, and pure bondage, while in evidence in a practical form throughout the book, seldom stands alone as its own virtue. Rather, it shows up as accessory to other corporeal play, and as such is not particularly well developed. Leather and other restraint types are as often featured, but the preeminent convention for limiting movement seems to be the intimation of threat. For all of the excellent illustrations in Gordon's volume, aestheticized bondage is not at all to be found.

      With all due respect to the many accomplished rope tops emerging from Germany (e.g., Matthias Grimme, Roland Kipper, Osada Steve, et al), it is not apparent to me that rope is quite the same phenomenon there that it is in North America and Japan. BDSM in Germany today has a more leather-centric fetish character as evinced by print and public/club venues, and this seems to be supported historically. The Nazis organized an entirely new aesthetic by appropriating such cultural signifiers, to which the German Volk were particularly, but not surprisingly, responsive.

      It's worth noting that German philosophy during its long phase of idealism professed a strong appreciation for all things aesthetic (think Goethe and Nietzsche), but never lost its traditional teleological commitment (Hegel, Heidegger, etc., while Kant himself tortured out of the German language the idea of "Zweckmaessigkeit", which translates as "purposiveness"). The German world view (Weltanschauung) in its post modern phase has only become ever more about purpose (or meta-purpose if you like). The German view has never (in the modern era at least) been one given to the production of aesthetic objects for their own sake; they have to serve a purpose. In this way restraint, however nicely formed, serves to keep a body still for some other (non-aesthetic) end.

      Recall that John Willie (Coutts) was born in Singapore to English parents and spent his formative years in Britain and Australia. He apparently spent much of the war in Australia, in part at least with the British Intelligence Office (where presumably he dealt with things Japanese). Fakir Musafar notes that Willie cut his artistic teeth copying the kinky (and decidedly ropey) stylings of the French artists "Carlo" and Rene Giffey, but did not begin to publish (in earnest) until reaching the US.

      While Willie's legacy is associated with his life in the States, his influences would not seem to have included Weimar, even if Weimar had had something informative on offer. Could it be that Willie’s coming to the States provided the generative impulse for the production of purely aesthetic bondage imagery in the West?

      Sorry for prattling on, but I just picked up on this thread, and, well, the thread became a rope. :)
      • I tend to agree that the modern BDSM aesthetic in Germany (and indeed in much of Europe) owes less to rope and more to what we think of here as "fetish" - leather, rubber, PVC, steel, etc. Outside the US that trend seems to be one of the hallmarks of BDSM as practiced in the west. Interestingly there does seem to be more fondness for rope in France and Italy - southern Europe in general - and more for "hardware" in Germany and the UK (as seen in Skin Two for example).

        I'll have to check my copies of Bizarre to verify this, but I think that you're right that Willie picked up most of his interest in rope from France and to a lesser degree Australia. The fondness he had for boots, corsetry, and similar fetishwear wouldn't have been out of place in the Weimar Republic, but could just as well have come from his native British roots.

        I'm not sure that I would say that Willie imported a fondness for rope bondage to the US - I have seen vintage erotica from the late 19/early 20th century that contains rope bondage as its own aesthetic - along with flagellation and other forms of corporal punishment as well.

        Most certainly Willie popularized bondage through Bizarre and his mailing list. He was part of a movement though - for example Irving Klaw's work was almost completely contemporary with Willie's, and Klaw was just the best known of a number of photographers putting out such material in the years between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Hayes Commission. That period - roughly 1945 to 1960 - was a renaissance in American bondage erotica, which had flowered briefly in the 1920s then went moribund through the Depression and the war. After that it went underground again until roughly the early 70s, although it never entirely went away thanks to comic books and detective magazines.

        <<It's worth noting that German philosophy during its long phase of idealism professed a strong appreciation for all things aesthetic (think Goethe and Nietzsche), but never lost its traditional teleological commitment (Hegel, Heidegger, etc., while Kant himself tortured out of the German language the idea of "Zweckmaessigkeit", which translates as "purposiveness").>>

        I see what you mean, but I'm not sure I agree. It seems to me that after Kant the 19th century Germans beginning with Fichte moved steadily further away from Kant's teleological base. By the time you get to Hegel you have the world seen as an endless evolutionary process which, while it has a direction, doesn't seem to be evolving toward any particular end. Heidegger did have "the world as will and representation," but even that always struck me as more implying the notion of an end than stating it outright - though it's been a while since I read Heidegger so I could be wrong. Nietzsche is the first German I think of as being solidly teleological after Kant.

        Still your point is well taken for modern German aesthetics - bondage for its own sake, with no end in mind but the artistic, isn't generally in line with their cultural aesthetic through the last century.
  • Elements that I consider more western than eastern:

    Western bikini harness aka V-neck harness
    Yoke harness
    (Both of the above western harnesses differ from the oriental standard in that oriental style tends to have a single cinch come through between arm and side)

    Tying arms straight or tying elbows (oriental standard is U shape in back)

    Symmetry (oriental tends to asymmetry)

    Western tends to tie over-knee together and ankles together; oriental tends toward legs-apart positions

    Jackknife tie aka forward fold-tie - re Jay Edwards

    Waist-to-ankle leash - such as Jon Woods

    Torso tying (tying torso without including arms) - such as Brian Tarsis

    Elbow-bound hogtie

    Cleave gags aka between-the-lips gags (I saw these much more in western pics for years before eastern photosets started to show them)

    Re earlier comment "HOM's love bondage" - House of Milan didn't do much love bondage; I think you meant Harmony.

    Re comment "Irving/Paula Klaw" - thank you for acknowledging that the Klaw style was all Paula. Irving never did any rigging.

    Re comment "John Willie not really a rigger" - Granted his ropework was better in his drawings than in his photos, but just because he wasn't one of the best riggers doesn't mean he wasn't a rigger.

    Re comment "leather archieve and meseum here in chicago and one night she showed me a bunch of the classic western styles of bondage becuase theyhave tons of resources on the subject"

    I'm so happy to hear that, because during the years I worked at Harmony, Mr. Harmony let me mail huge amounts of magazines to the Leather Archive. Back then most of the Leather Archive was gay materials so I wondered whether they were going to want so much stuff from us, and whether they were going to hold on to it.

    • Thanks for the Willie link, Lorelei. That's definitely better work than anything I ever saw in "Bizarre." I'll have to revise my opinion of Willie's real-life ropework.

      And yes, I meant Harmony, not HOM.

      On Paula Klaw, I try to give her credit whenever I can. When I teach the wrap and cinch version that she developed I still give it her name.

      Thanks also for the list of differences you provided. Most of those I hadn't thought of until you mentioned them.

      By torso ties sans arms, do you mean the wide chest harnesses and torso pole/plank ties that Brian Tarsis favors? I'm just thinking of the karada body harness - it's quintessentially Japanese but generally does not include the arms. But it's also quite different from the torso work that characterizes BT's style.

      Good catch on the cleave gag: I didn't think of it before, but when I see cloth gags in Japanese work they're more often than not tied over the lips rather than between them. And the cleave gags that I have seen in Japanese bondage have often been either purely token (a single thin silk band between the lips) or made of rope rather than cloth. Another difference that occurs to me now that I think about gags is that Japanese ball gags are usually perforated, while western ball gags are usually solid.

      There are also some standard tropes in Japanese work that show up in Western bondage seldom or not at all. Some of these include...

      -- The classic schoolgirl uniform and other schoolgirl paraphenalia. We see this in Western work, in either the Catholic Schoolgirl or Cheerleader modes, but it's not nearly as common here.

      -- Calligraphy brushes used for genital play, or simply left by the bound model as a symbolic reminder.

      -- Enema play of various sorts is much more common in Japanese work than it is here.

      -- Various conventions that are specific to Japanese erotic photography and which are designed around Japan's unique restrictions on showing pubic hair. These don't show up as much in Japanese style rigging off-camera.

      -- The western "damsel in distress" emphasizes fear, surprise, and to some degree outrage in the bound lady. The Japanse DiD aims more at humiliation and exposure.

Recent topics in "Advanced Rope Bondage"