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Rope lengths: Less is more

Posted on Sat, 30 August 2014


It’s generally accepted that the standard length for a shibari rope is 7-8m; so much so, that shibari is almost defined by that rope length. Of course, no doubt there are exceptions but, if you buy a set in Japan, the stock size is usually 8m. This seems to suit most modern shibari techniques and can be fine-tuned by trimming. Those doing old-style, where each component involves a new rope, tend to prefer shorter lengths. You’ll see why if you tie off each rope after completing the two sets wraps of a gote. Unless your model is small, you’ll end up with quite a bit left over each time from 8m.

Many westerners are a bit larger than the Japanese females upon which these techniques were developed, so it is natural to assume longer ropes are the answer. However, this is usually the wrong solution. As I have mentioned before, whilst models might change, the rigger is constant. So, it generally makes sense for them to fit the rigger. This means a length that can be pulled through in a single arm movement, thus the ideal rope size is a function of arm length. If you need to make more than one movement, it is inefficient and spoils one’s flow. Shibari has its roots in the art of fast take-downs, so efficiency is usually an important consideration. Longer ropes mean more arm movements thus less smoothness.

This might sound like nit-picking and shaving seconds off a tie but the cumulative effect of longer ropes, especially combined with badly timed joins and disconnects, can make a really big difference. Add an extra metre to your rope and you have to draw that extra metre through with every pull through, tying and untying. For this reason, you’ll probably work faster with three 8m ropes than two 12m ones. If you find shorter ropes just that bit too short to complete a tie, simply keep a couple of odd short lengths. I always have a ‘get out of the shit bit’ of a couple of metres for those times when you really don’t want to add another whole one.

The Golden Rule for optimising your tying is to join late, disconnect early. In something as basic as a two-rope gote, just one intelligent move could easily save a couple of dozen metres of needless pulling through.

For example, let’s say, you finish your first rope with a few centimetres left to make the final brake at the stem. If you make the brake before joining, you are smart. You will only have to move a few centimetres of rope to make that brake. If you join first, you will have to pull 8m under the stem, then you will pull that 8m back the other way and, finally, under the stem again: 24 metres already! Now, imagine you make a few mistakes like that? You can see why some of the pros seem to tie so fast without hurrying, while others seem to take forever. Osada Steve sets a quite realistic goal of 2mins 30 secs for a properly tied 2-rope gote and I have seen it done in less than half that time. However, it is not just a question of tying fast, you need to tie intelligently and constantly hone your efficiency. This means minimising pull-throughs, not swapping hands or making other unnecessary movements.

This doesn’t mean you should always take the shortest option. Sometimes, the shortest route might necessitate too much fumbling than is elegant, so you need to make a decision as to how it will affect your flow. A further consideration is whether you are seeking to be efficient. This might not be the main intent as the sensual effects of pulling through cannot be denied. After all, rope is a language. It pay to know how to be succinct but one must never deny the poetry.