Column ties

Shibari is one of those things that is founded on extremely simple to grasp techniques and ideas, but has an emergent complexity that sometimes overwhelm.

Think of most patterns, harnesses and ties as a set of principles and building blocks and you will eventually feel comfortable to assess and deconstruct even the most elaborate ropework, but also be able to imagine your own.

That being said, probably the most fundamental tie to learn can cause confusion and even heated debate.

The single column tie and the double column tie both do the job of wrapping and binding parts of the body.

The names can be misleading. The single column tie doesn’t mean that it is tied around one limb, it can be tied around many things, but so long as they act as one single column. 

The double column tie is the same but differs in that it uses a cinch to secure the position. For that reason, a double column tie can’t be used on one column or limb alone.

Single column tie

Using your own thigh, wrap a length of rope round so that the working end runs parallel with the standing part.

Cross the working end over the initial wrap you made and go back under it to make a basic half knot

At this point you will either make a reef / square knot/honmusubi – 本結び or a granny knot.

Cross the standing part over the working end and push the working end back through the gap…. you’ve made a square knot – 本結び.

Notice how the working end was running in the opposite direction and both the working end and the standing part naturally lie parallel with the wrap you made. Note also the shape of the knot.

Now undo this knot and try again but put the working end over the standing part…

This is a granny knot. Notice how the working end and standing part tend to lie perpendicular to the initial wrap you made. Also the working end doesn’t change direction.

Collapse

The reef knot / honmusubi is liable to collapse and this is an important thing you need to consider. The forces applied to the rope can mean that if the knot collapses it will tighten. This can be VERY DANGEROUS as it can cause discomfort, cut off circulation or cause nerve damage and so on. It’s important to understand and be aware of this because there may be times you do use this tie and you need to recognise when and why it’s safe to do so.

The truth is that the granny knot version can also collapse. There are other knots, such as the bowline, which cannot be collapsed. Once you start doing ties that involve partial or full suspensions, you should be advanced enough to recognise what should be used and when…. and why!

Doubled wraps

In order to spread force and reduce pressure on the body, the rope in shibari is often wrapped more than once. To make this quicker to tie, almost everything is done with a doubled over rope.

Rope is often prepared ready to be used doubled over, with the bight becoming our working end.

Try the above exercise again but this time wrap with the doubled rope. This creates 4 wraps of single rope. Cross the bight over and under as before and use the doubled standing end to complete your knot. 

The knot has become a bit more chunky now, so make sure you compact it down fully to secure it.

Shortcut: As well as folding the standing part over the working end you can achieve the same result by putting a twist in the standing end. The direction you twist in determines whether you make a square knot, or a granny knot. Get used to the difference.

Typically with single column ties on the body, you want to leave a little room so by placing two fingers under the wrap, you can create a suitable gap. This ensures that the rope doesn’t constrict too much. A lot of complex ties start with a single column tie and while someone might feel they can slip out of a SCT that hasn’t been tightened into the flesh, the overall tie is what restricts movement and allowing for wrists, ankles or shifts in the torso is important.

Exercises

  • Practise tying and untying single column ties around your thigh or your partner’s thighs or wrists etc. – try both square knot and granny knots so you get a feel for how they differ
  • Tie a bigger single column tie around your waist or your partner’s waist – feed the rope around to keep the wraps together. Split wraps don’t spread the force as effectively and can be uncomfortable
  • Once you’ve tied a SCT as a starting point, wrap your partner or your own legs/torso retaining tension as you do so. Get a sense of how tightness/slack in the rope feels and how to maintain constant pressure throughout

Double column tie

The double column tie is effectively a single column tie with a cinch or kannuki.

It would almost be easier if they were just called ‘a tie’ and ‘a cinched tie’, because that is more accurate and less misleading, in my opinion.

By cinching the tie between two body parts or objects, you are making the tie more secure. The cinch acts to close gaps around the thing being tied. It also has the effect of preventing the tie from rotating and it’s also less likely to slip.

There’s a tie called futomomo (literally just means ‘thigh’) where the ankle is bound to the thigh to restrict leg movement. As the shape of a bent leg makes a sort of triangle shape, a single column tie could feasibly ride up and slip off. It’s instances like that which make cinching a tie useful. 

Exercises

  • Apply DCT to ankles and to wrists on yourself or partner – feel how differently it feels and behaves to a SCT
Single column tieDouble column tie
No cinchHas a cinch
Can rotate Can’t rotate
Can slip easily on certain body partsCinches help prevent slipping

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