The Most Controversial Post EVER!!

Note: this post has been edited from its original content. I made two errors, in saying that Mistress Matisse had said that the choking techniques required “years” of training, and second in incorrectly using the word “alarmist.” Both have been edited, and I apologize for the sloppy fact-checking.

Of all the various tropes and myriad ways of the English language, there’s one that I mistrust and dislike more than any other.


It’s probably a deep seated resentment going back to parental contradictions in my youth, the cross-currents of “You could do anything!” combined with “You’ll never amount to anything!” that played havoc with my developing character. There is no burden greater for a youth, I’m convinced, than to be told one has “great potential.” What do you do with that?

I later came to dislike it in that giant miasma of ideas and words and feelings that we label as “communication” in relationships. It took years, but I began to notice a pattern, or at least an indicator: any time the conversation included the words “never” or “always”  then the exchange of information was effectively over. It was sort of a weird version of Godwin’s Law; there was no answer to that, because at that point it wasn’t true. “You never do this,” and “I always do that” are demonstrably unprovable because they include the future in them, and the future is unknowable.

Part of my dislike of hyperbole is that it is so clumsy. It’s lazy language, really, saying “I don’t have the time to actually examine this idea, to go into fine detail, so I’m going to just lump it all together into one big Club of Assumption and use it to bludgeon you into my way of thinking.”

It’s so easy to avoid, too. All you have to do is put some conditionals to it: “It seems to me that…” or maybe “A lot of the time...” or “There is a tendency to…” But those dilute the Power of the Hyperbolic Word; they require some reflection, some more discussion, and let’s face it, it’s more dramatic to speak in broad, sweeping strokes.

It’s also less effective. A former lover once used hyperbole in a deliberately hurtful way to zero in on one of my biggest insecurities. Even as I write this, years later, I can easily call up the sense memory of her laying naked underneath me, saying this one particular sentence that began with “You’ll never…” and proceeded to pierce my psyche in a way that would have made a Marine sniper proud.

Even when she admitted, years later, that she’d done it simply to drive me away – that the substance of what she said had not been as important as the effect – the substance still sticks, and still needs to be worked through. To use a metaphor, she trimmed my nails with a sledgehammer.

I also mock hyperbole. I’ve used what I call the “Fox News Strategy” to turn Madison, WI into the Bondage Capital of the World. That is, I’ve said that phrase over and over again online, in podcasts, and in person until even Google admits that it is true. And therefore it must be, right? Like many titles in the kink community, it is only given what power we choose to give it; a Master given that status by the submission of her slave, a Presenter given that title by his name in a program booklet.

A powerful enough metaphor creates its own truth,” wrote Matthew Stover in the novel I was reading this morning, and I have experienced that. It’s why I fear hyperbole as well. My ex-lover’s words echoing in my skull; how much has that internalized their message, even when they weren’t intended? How many children have been warped by their parents offhand “Why do you ALWAYS…” or “Why can’t you EVER…“? How many relationships have been damaged by the realization that submission and dominance do not also convey the gifts of infinite endurance and infallibility?

Which is why I shook my head as I read my friend Mistress Matisse’s recent column in the Stranger, where she talked about her impressions of Lee Harrington’s recent breath play class. I followed her argument clearly, because she’s a fantastically smart person and a great writer. But at one point she dismisses one of the most powerful arguments of breath play proponents using hyperbole. And at that point, I felt her argument became weakened, and it felt a shame, because it didn’t need to be.

“Eppur si muove…”

It’s one of my favorite phrases, mainly because it’s the embodiment of my life. I’ve been told I would never make it through the Marines, that my kids would be failures because they’re mixed-race, that I’d never go to college, that I’d never be a dancer, and many other things that I’ve then gone ahead and done. If Goethe’s not your style, insert Han Solo’s “Never tell me the odds!” quote. Or Twain’s “Lies, damn lies, and statistics,” if you’d rather. Whatever it is, one of the risks you run when you hinge your argument on hyperbole is that it is a very big and very fragile balloon which poppeth easily under the needle of fact.

In the breath play controversy, for example, there is the simple fact that choke holds have been used in martial arts for decades, perhaps centuries, with no documented or provable ill effects. There have been studies, there have been tests, and yet this continues to be taught.

People against breath play often point out that there is a vast difference between the average kinkster and “Master martial artists” who are competing at a high level and under close supervision with medical personnel immediately at hand. Which is, in fact, a true statement: there is a big difference between those things.

The problem is, it’s not relevant to the argument. It’s like saying “You shouldn’t ride your bicycle, because motorcycle accidents are very common.” If you compare the average kinkster with the average jujitsu class, you would see a much closer fit; more to the point, choke holds are far from a “Master” level of skill.

I have to guard myself now from going into territory that I am not qualified to speak on, so let me simply relate my own experience. In Marine boot camp, during your second phase of training, there is a short “close combat” course. During that course you are taught things like how to sneak up and knife someone so that they die instantly; how to bayonet and butt-stroke with your weapon; how to break someone’s neck with the infamous “one-second kill.”

They also took perhaps 45 minutes to teach us how to choke each other out using a blood choke. That is, two instructors running approximately 40 recruits through an assembly-line educational process. “Do this. Now do this. When you feel them slump, let go.” Then they had us do it to each other, some twice.

Now, I can’t speak for the USMC. It seems to me that if there was a high fatality rate – say, any tenth of a percent – of recruits who had problems with that, they would have stopped the practice. And maybe they have, though we jarheads are proud of our “over two centuries of tradition unimpeded by progress.”

But what I can say, unequivocally, is that there was no “master-level” training going on here. There was less than an hour of instruction and hands-on practice. It was simple body mechanics.

The other arguments for breath play are much more clearly stated by people much more qualified than me in various forums on FetLife and other places. I’ve read them, as thoroughly as I’ve read Jay Wiseman’s arguments against it. He’s very persuasive, until the other experts – and yes, they are experts, in law and in medicine – ask him direct questions.

At that point, in my opinion, rather than enter into discussion, things fall into hyperbole. Often ad hominem attacks, too, but that’s another thing. But there are claims of “never” and “always” and “high-level” this and “closely supervised” that. Every real-world example has factors other than breath play – chronic heart condition, the use of mind- and body-altering substances – that mitigate the reasoning that breath play was to blame.

More to the point, there has also been at least one documented case where a woman apparently bled to death through fisting; yet I do not see people clamoring to put a stop to this practice at events.

I wish people could have a calm, rational discussion, free of hyperbole, about this subject. But it doesn’t seem to be possible, or at least hasn’t happened yet. Maybe someday.

Meanwhile, this is not a post about breath play. This is a post about hyperbole. I’m against it. It is the most destructive force in the English language.

I’m 100% sure of it.

9 thoughts on “The Most Controversial Post EVER!!

  • This is the BEST post I’ve ever read! I’ll love it forever and ever, even if you shouldn’t have called hyperbole clumsy. It’s never, ever clumsy, and anyone who says different is wrong. Didn’t anyone ever tell you this is always the case?

  • Very nicely put, but I think your argument suffers in the same way you accuse Matisses. Not the best example to support your case.

    Lets see: USMC – they were teaching you to _kill_ people. The 45 minute class on how to choke someone out sounded very supervised and very simple.

    Breath play _can_ be very simple but do we ever take what we learn in workshops and keep it at the simple level? I know that I dont. I push it, I try to expand on it and usually build on the foundations that I learned in that 1 to 2 hour class.

    So, 1 documented case of a bleed out due to fisting? How many documented deaths due to auto erotic asphyxiation? Its a harder number to track down, but most articles Ive read attribute 100s of deaths a year. We hear about the famous ones on a disturbingly regular basis. Michael Hutchense, David Caradine and more.

    I believe most kink workshop presentations Ive attended start with the words something like This is dangerous – do this at your own risk – Rope, knives, fire – all things that can kill us but most of the techniques taught would only kill us when things went terribly wrong.

    The line between breath play taken to unconsciousness being very good and terribly wrong is a very fine one.

    • I’m very confused by this. You agree with me that breath play can be very simple; that it can be taught to large groups of people by trainers with no medical training to speak of; and then you say that it should not be taught because people will have a tendency to go and do things that they were not taught how to do?

      Pardon me, but I feel that your argument is akin to saying “Yes, some people can drive cars safely if they follow the rules of the road. But WHAT ABOUT WHEN THEY DRIVE OFF CLIFFS?!? Hmmm?”

      I guess I’ll agree with you. In any educational situation, if people ignore the training they’re given and try something outside of those bounds, yes, that would be very dangerous, and certainly increase the odds of things going “terribly wrong.”

      So…that being said, how about hyperbole? Any thoughts on that?

  • So, saying there is a scale of skill in breathplay, that such skill is increased by good instruction, and that the risk of injury rises as the level of instruction/skill declines, is alarmist?

    Well, that’s an interesting point of view, Gray.

    • I agree, that would be an interesting point of view.

      However, it is not mine. Nor is it, as best I can tell, the point of view of the “alarmists” (and I should note I use that in a descriptive, not pejorative, sense).

      What I attempted to convey was that one particular technique of “blood choke” (often lumped in with “breath play”) was described by Matisse as being a Master-level skill only used safely by people with years of training in highly supervised conditions.

      Based on personal, anecdotal, and scientific evidence (which I’ve linked to above) I disagree with all of those characteristics.

      More to the point, I brought it up not to talk about breath play (which I stated quite unequivocally) but more to caution against hyperbole.

      That’s what the post is about, after all.

  • You might find this interesting:

    Byron Katie is someone I came across during my neuro-linguistic programming cert training, and she is basically a hyperbole terminator. The link I showed will get more in-depth into her work, but her most common/simplistic practice is to answer a hyperbolic statement with, “Is that absolutely true?” So when someone says, “He NEVER listens to me!” the answer follows, “Never? There has never been a time when he listened to you?” Which usually gets people to go, “Oh yeah, well, there have been times, I guess.” (Fun factoid: as Collin and I were learning this, we started using it on people who argued hyperbolically with us, and the only person it didn’t work on was Ted, the other Rapture owner. When he said to Collin, “I do ALL the work around here!” Collin replied, “All of it? No one else has ever done any work here, ever?” “NO! I ALWAYS do ALL the work ALL THE TIME!” ad infinitum. Pretty funny.) Her book — the best title EVER for a relationship book, maybe — is called “I Need Your Love! — Is That True?”

    Another good question of hers, one that I like to use on my clients and/or advisees of any kind, is “Who would you be if you didn’t hold that belief?” I’ve heard people tell me some of their deeply held convictions of how they would feel under certain circumstances (e.g., when my boyfriend does xyz I get really upset and insecure), and it blows their minds when I say, “Do you think you might be happier if you didn’t feel that way?” i.e., “What if he did xyz and it DIDN’T upset you?” When they realize they actually have a choice in the matter, the frame of the whole situation just blows right up.

    Also, while I’m on this tangent, I feel the same about hyperbole as I do about the idea of being “right.” I had a fight not too long ago with a certain fellow you met (who I am no longer dating) where he said in the middle of the argument, “Well, YOU started it!” I replied, “You THINK I started it. But I think YOU started it. So which of us is right?” It’s pretty much argument-proof.

    I’ve drifted a bit from your original subject material but to me these things are all linked. You would love NLP, Gray — you probably know much of this instinctively anyway, but finding ways to diffuse people’s stupid statements with a return to some sort of attempt at seeing an objective reality (or at least a knowledge that none of us can see an objective reality so what’s the point in ascribing anything but subjectivity to our observations) is such an awesome, awesome tool to have in life.

    <3 <3 <3

  • I greet you with great respect, Oh dancer, known as Gray,

    But, alas I feel you are missing an unconsidered element within your point of view. Just as you picked a topic with some heat to illustrate your point, I must step into some intense waters for a moment, if you will allow.

    Knowing, as I do, your familiarity with some things Asian in nature, I would draw upon the balance of the yin and the yang. Being specific, factual, and focusing on the facts is a very masculine position. The feminine counter parts, of the emotional, generalizing from the few (or single) to the hyperbolic conclusion of never and always, can be very frustraiting. Which is why an understanding might not be easily reached easily or cleanly.

    Bendy is much more articulate, and has the formal channels to be able to comunicate this better.

    Until I have the delight of your visage, again.


    • I would have to point out that reducing any characteristic to a dimorphic stereotypical gender base tends to be a lazy view of the universe. The yin always contains the yang, and vice versa, and that (to me) is the key teaching, not that there are two different masculine or feminine traits. In fact, it would be much more useful to use testosteronic and oxytocinistic as they are much more reflective of the characteristics commonly attributed to gender, and both are present in some degree in everyones body.

      Aside from that minor quibble, though, your point is very well taken, thank you.

  • Can’t tell you how thankful I am to see some sanity on this topic.

    I’ve been into blood chokes for at least 6 years now. 2 years ago I started jiu jitsu training (gracie combatives – which I’m told was one of the foundations of the armed forces training). The 30-class rotation was such that they taught me and the other total newbs the Mata Leao by the third class. And they did it with little fanfare, other than obvious warnings like – don’t keep this hold on once they’ve gone limp. I went on to see this and other chokes done in competition, also with little fanfare.

    Then I saw JW’s article online, and recently read it again in the updated SM101. ‘NEVER do this.’

    Well, screw that. Not only do I HAVE to submit to it and sometimes perform it when in training, but the rewards in a sexual context are too overwhelming to give up.

    Unfortunately the mata leao is not suitable for many situations, and I think I’d personally benefit from a non-histrionic treatment of other ways to do chokes without compressing the windpipe, what warning signs to look for/emergency steps to take/equipment to have on hand (JW may have mentioned a defibrillator, or maybe just to say it was not a reliable lifeline), and whatever else can be done to limit risk. Because…I’m doing it…even if lifestyle educators have a different opinion from an enormous number of soldiers, martial artists, and health professionals who work with them.

    PS: Wish I had the pleasure of both meeting you and knowing that Madison was Rope Capital of the World when I was going to school there! 🙂

    PPS: I am somewhat indifferent to boobies.

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