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Formal Training, Houses, And the Formal Lifestyle
Some facts, truths, misnomers and misunderstandings about the magic, myths and mysteries of the lifestyle.


Clearing Up Some Confusion in Terminology

Almost every day in email, discussions or personal contact, Lord Colm and I are asked about "Formal Training,"  The formal lifestyle has become one of the most popular issues we and others are asked about and deal with on a regular basis.  A great deal of confusion exists concerning what is and what is not formal training and the formal lifestyle.  You won't find most of these terms in your Webster's Dictionary so I'll attempt to define a few of them, ala jade.

  • Formal Training: A period of time where a submissive or Dominant enters into a contractual agreement with an experienced member or members of the lifestyle to learn the ways, etiquette and expectations of living within the realm of the Dominant/submissive lifestyle.  The purpose of this training is to prepare the novice for a future alliance with a chosen partner in regards to behaviors, concepts and activities associated with living within a relationship based on a consensual power exchange.

  • Formal Lifestyle: A structured and honored manner of existing within a relationship or society based on the Dominant and submissive characteristics of individuals.  The structure of the lifestyle has been defined by certain rules, formalities and etiquette established by the traditional principles, practice and conduct of those involved in a lifestyle based on an ancient code of ethics.

  • Houses: A common term for the families or small communities that have evolved from adhering to certain social activities, social values and morals associated with the Dominant/submissive lifestyle.  Each "clan" developed their own special standards, style and customs and there are wide variations as to what is acceptable within a "house."  We find two distinctly different styles between the two main groups found within the term:

    • The Oriental Society: The lifestyle developed in the Oriental countries, mainly Japan.  This group of "houses" or "families" focuses mainly on the psychological and artistic aspects of Dominance and submission.  Physical punishment and pain play little part in their world and great attention is given to the surrender and control of the mind and emotions.  The beauty and artistic appeal of their method is easily seen in Japanese rope bondage.

    • The European Council: Developed in Europe, mainly Germany, Belgium and France, this group is heavy into the more physical aspects of the lifestyle and incorporates the bulk of the BDSM practices we find today.  The German houses gave birth to the PonyGirl/Boy and many of the other fetishes found in the power exchange.  Within the European houses we find most of the Dominatrixes and male submissives, along with the practices associated with them, such as CBT.

The Facts, Ma'am, Just the FAQs

Now that you have some definitions to go by, let's deal with how this impacts you and your lifestyle choices.  First of all, let me set the record straight on my opinions: The methods and means used by an individual, couple or group are a matter of personal choice.  There is no right or wrong way to live within a power exchange, as long as the Safe, Sane and Consensual Creed is honored.  With that out of the way, let's deal with some frequently asked questions.

  1. What is it and where can I get formal training?
    Following the definition of "formal training," you can receive this training by entering into a contractual agreement with a person who is experienced in the complexities of the exchange of power that takes place between Dominant and submissive.  This does not limit you as to where or how you are trained.   There is a terrible misunderstanding attached to the term, formal training.   The perception of most people assumes this is some glorified, ritualistic, rigorous schooling that one must endure to become the ultimate submissive or Dominant.  This simply isn't true.  There are varying methods and styles that are taught, from the very traditional ways of the old Houses to the contemporary, causal style practiced by most D/s couples involved in a loving relationship. 

    I believe the word "formal" is what has caused most of this confusion.  Let me use this illustration to show the meaning of formal, as used in regard to training.   "Living together as a couple is an "informal" relationship.  Going through the marriage ceremony makes it a "formal" arrangement.  The thing that made it formal was agreeing to the laws and rules governing marriages and couples who have signed a marriage contract." In training, the thing that formalizes it is entering into a contract that clearly defines the principles of the arrangement and the expectations that both parties have.   The trainee must meet and agree to certain rules and conduct for the duration of the contract and the trainer is obligated to fulfill their promises in a clearly defined program of training.  All those involved in such a contract must fully understand and agree to its terms and enter into it consensually.

  2. Who is most likely a candidate for formal training:
    The novice uncollared or unowned submissive is the most likely to need training, formal or otherwise, and is free to seek or accept training when available.   A submissive who has entered into a relationship with a dominant is not free to seek training under the care or tutelage of another dominant.  Only with the consent or under advisory of the submissive's Master/Mistress is it even considered in the formal circles who observe the old ways, and then it is done with the cooperation of the Dominant who will also attend the training sessions to oversee and take part in them. (As an added note: In the formal lifestyle groups, a married submissive is considered to be owned even if his/her spouse is not active in the lifestyle and no training would be permitted without that spouse's consent and involvement.)  Occasionally, other older, more experienced submissives will teach novices the basics for submissive behavior and manners.   Although there are limitations in this method, it can be beneficial to newcomers in introducing them to the lifesytle.

    Opposed to the things you often hear, Masters/Mistresses do not send their submissives off to be trained by someone else.  In reality, there would be little or no benefit in such a thing.  A submissive's goal is or should be, to please their own Master/Mistress and no one else is better equipped with what it takes to accomplish that than the Master or Mistress of the submissive.  There may be certain skills that a Dominant does not possess and wishes His/Her submissive to have that experience, such as caning or piercing, and would permit another skilled Dominant to provide the submissive with this activity.  Otherwise, the Dominant will learn the skill and then train His/Her submissive themselves.  Another exception might be found when permitting the submissive to receive specialized lessons in some forms of pleasure giving activity of a non-sexual nature or service, such as dancing, food/drink services or body massages.   In the older Houses, submissives were trained in skills such as arts, music and grace in order to become more pleasing to their Dominants.  Such training was encouraged and provided benefits to both submissive and Dominant.

  3. Who can do this formal training?
    Anyone with enough experience in the lifestyle can train someone who has less experience than they have.  The quality of the training will depend on the skill and knowledge of the trainer, however.  Ideally, it should be done by someone who has many years of hands-on experience and has developed the skills needed to pass on their knowledge in an acceptable manner.  While some may be well seasoned in the intricacies of the power exchange, they may woefully lack the ability to successfully teach others what they know.  Temperament, communication skills, a code of ethics and trustworthiness are just as important as intelligence, knowledge and experience when choosing a trainer.  You are far better off to learn alone than to fall into the clutches of a self-serving or unscrupulous teacher.  Remember, not everyone is what they claim to be and for any number of reasons, there are people who will use you for their own gain rather than teach you.

    The best trainer is someone who genuinely has your best interests foremost in their mind.   There could be no better trainer than a spouse or lover who has an interest in the lifestyle.  Often the problem comes when the best person to take on the role of trainer lacks the knowledge needed.  While this might present some difficulties, there is no reason that it cannot be accomplished with a little effort from both.  In spite of all I've seen, there is no substitute for a submissive's Master/Mistress doing the training.  While He/She may need some advice and support, it is ultimately Him/Her that the submissive must learn to please and serve in the manner that He/She finds most desirable.  No one else is better prepared to do that then the submissive's own Master/Mistress.

  4. How can I learn more about how to train someone?
    The first thing you need to do is learn to train yourself.  By that I mean, learn all you can about the various activities in the lifestyle, learn about the mind-set of domination and submission and the psychology behind them, seek those who have experience in the real life realm of D/s relationships and keep your mind open so you can continue to learn past the introductory level.  Contrary to the sentiments of some people, you cannot learn all about Dominance and submission in 6 months.  This is a very difficult undertaking for some dominants, especially, and reading Lord Colm's article "The Closed-Minded Dominant Syndrome" would be a helpful step in overcoming this tendency.  To be in control of another human being and train them to fulfill their needs and desires is an overwhelming task for some until they feel they've reached a certain level themselves.   There is a wealth of information available on techniques and tools of the trade, but practical experience is necessary before you make that leap into trainer.    Reading "Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns" by Miller and Devon is a good start but that doesn't qualify you as a trainer any more than reading "Top Gun" qualifies you as jet pilot.  You better get some time in the cockpit before you start down that runway with a passenger.  The last thing any new submissive wants to see is you at the controls with the user's manual on your lap as you hit the switch to power up your engines.  Some of the most serious damage, mental and physical, to members of our lifestyle has come at the hands of the wannabe-instant-dominant who has decided to teach the world how much he/she doesn't know.

    I do have to make one big exception here, and that is the situation that arises when a "vanilla" couple decides to try exploration of a new relationship based on the principles of a power exchange.  In this case, both are likely to be starting out as novices and neither has the technical skills they desire in this kind of interaction.   They do have something much more important, though.  They have already established a bond between them and share a common goal in their future.  Together, they are very often able to combine the processes of teaching and learning in order to help each other achieve the training they both require.  Love and desire can overcome all obstacles and lead them into a very satisfying relationship as Dominant and submissive without some of the outside assistance that others have chosen.  Reading together, practicing those things that appeal to them both and gentle, loving encouragement can build a vanilla relationship into one of the best power exchanges I've seen.  It is work, often frustrating and a little awkward at times, but the results will more than compensate the efforts.

  5. What is the formal lifestyle all about?
    Basically it is about common courtesy, proper etiquette and the old ways that people show respect to authority figures, superiors and peers.  While there may be traditions and rituals that are only found in the formal D/s lifestyle, most of them are things found in any formal standards of behavior and manners.  To best show the difference in formal lifestyle as opposed to the typical D/s relationship methods, take a look at formal dining as opposed to eating at Burger King.  Most people use different manners or etiquette on a picnic than they do at a banquet honoring a dignitary.   The food may be just as good at either but the way it is enjoyed or served is quite contradictory. (For a peek at some of the formal etiquette you might want to read "Submissive Etiquette in Formal Training" by jade.)

    The formal lifestyle is a 24/7 type of relationship in most cases.  You may see scenes at parties or clubs that simulate some of the aspects of the formal style, but they are seldom done by those who live it.  The formal lifestyle is marked by a more serious tone to the power exchange between the Dominant and submissive involved and most do not "play" with other partners and choose to socialize rather than party.   For some it's a game, for others it's a lifestyle and there is where the biggest differences come into view.  A lifestyle is lived, not enjoyed as only a diversion.   Before any of you "lifestylers" get on your high horse, keep in mind that not everyone wants or needs what you do.  They find their own ways to fulfill their needs and do so without your help or criticism.

  6. Is the formal lifestyle better than any other type of D/s lifestyle?
    No.  It is a matter of individual taste and preference and there have been entirely too many flame wars over who's got the better idea of what D/s is all about and how to live it.   Not everyone wants or needs the rigidity of the formalized lifestyle.  For some it may be too restrictive or confining, while others find it comforting and enjoy the structure it provides to their relationship.  Most find a combination of the two extremes where they feel comfortable the majority of the time and let their moods set the tone of those special moments.  One bit of advice when you allow moods to alter your expectations; Make sure you have conveyed your expectations to your submissive.  If you are usually informal in your relationship, don't expect your submissive to suddenly jump into formal mode because you have.  It will save a lot of uncomfortable situations if you devise a method of communicating your desire for a particular style.  In time, with experience, you will both detect the subtle changes in mood, body language or actions that give clues to the needs one of you has at any particular time.

  7. Do I need to belong to a "house" to live my own formal lifestyle?
    Absolutely not.  You are the one who lives your life and you are the most suited to decide what is best for you and your relationship.  Finding your own methods, founding your own rituals and defining your own standards are the best way for anyone to find the arrangement that fits their needs adequately.  Reading some popular books on etiquette or observing the old fashioned manners you were taught is a good way to begin.  Most of the formal lifestyle is, after all, common courtesy and respectful behavior.  That respectful behavior extends to both Dominant and submissive.  You seldom find a refined, finely trained submissive with a beer-belching, loud mouth Dominant who fractures every rule Emily Post ever wrote.   Submissives have a way of living up or down to the level of their Dominants, so using those little things like "thank you" and you're welcome" to others will have a profound effect on your submissive, just as being rude and discourteous will.   In all my years in the lifestyle, I have yet to see a SAMmy or brat-sub who had a gentleman for a Dominant.  There's a lot of truth in that old adage, "water seeks its own level."

  8. Are these "houses" real or only a fantasy created by some fiction book?
    These houses are very real as are the people who are involved in them.   The history available dates their existence as far back as 2000 years and they most likely existed before then in a less structured manner.  It is a common practice for people with similar ideals and interests to join together to share their experiences and needs, so the existence of these groups should not come as any great surprise to those who are aware of human behavioral sciences.  You may not see a sign hanging over the doorway of the little white house on the corner of 3rd and Maple Street that says "Joe's D/s House and Grill," but they are there, hidden from view and doing very nicely in our everyday society.

    One of the things that has undermined the existence of these houses is the current fad D/s is undergoing.  It seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry has jumped on the band wagon and proclaimed themselves to be members of this or that house and boast of having their Masters degree in BDSM or D/s.  The truth is that most of them are charlatans who have found a way to give credence to their misuse of power and pitiful knowledge.   Their unfounded claims have planted more misunderstanding in this lifestyle than almost any other factor.  Be wise and have doubts about anyone who solicits you for enrollment in a "house" especially on the Internet or at scene clubs.  Most people who truly have roots in the old families are not about to proclaim it to the world.

  9. How can I find a house to join?
    In a few words; You probably can't.  Most of the members of these groups have family connections or have had a personal recommendation given by someone in the group that got them invited inside.  You are not going to find them listed in the Yellow Pages of your phonebook or on a matchbook cover from the Holiday Inn.   Membership is carefully screened and most belong by nature of their birth, meaning it was passed on from father to son.

  10. Why are these houses so secretive?
    Like any group that goes against the mainstream beliefs of the society within which it exits, there are carefully guarded standards about their establishment and being.   Five hundred years ago, such things were only considered bizarre and extreme but not criminal.  Today, with laws and concerns for human rights, such organizations fall into the jurisdiction of illegal activities or criminal acts.  It doesn't take an active imagination to consider the consequences for a group or individual discovered to be living a D/s lifestyle or to be practicing some of it's activities.  Remember that in many states it is still a crime to engage in oral or anal sex with your spouse.   Just think of what a group who advocates the practices found in BDSM would be facing.  Not a lovely thought, heh?  Then is it any wonder that you don't see billboards pointing out the way to "Joe's D/s House and Grill?"

The Grass is Always Greener in Someone Else's Roissy

I hope this has shed some light on some of the darkness found in the information available about formal training and the lifestyle.  It is often much easier to look wistfully at the things you've read about than to devote the effort required to achieve them.  Submission and Domination take work, practice and imagination as well as all the standard building blocks used in strong relationships.   Assuming that you've already established the foundation of love, trust, respect and open communication, you are ready to begin to focus on refining the structure of your relationship by adding some formal touches to it with training or being trained.   Whether it is done with self-help, at the hands of a skilled trainer or by your loving Master/Mistress, you can enhance your style and service with some simple techniques and common references.

Submissives who are constantly seeking that magic wand called "training" outside of their own relationships are seriously jeopardizing the bond between them and their Dominant.  When I hear the words "He's just not a strong enough Master to train me", I have to wonder if it is the Master or the submissive that is most at fault.  It does not require a strong hand to rule one who is not struggling against it.  It doesn't take a bullwhip to teach a willing horse to accept the will of the rider, nor would it require a strong Master to train one who has let their heart and mind become teachable.  Your time and energy would better be utilized by working on the relationship you have than looking with hungry eyes at the grass in the another Dominant's yard.  Reality is always much more filling than fantasy or wishes.

Copyright© 1998 Castle Realm
All rights are reserved by the author.

24 March, 1998

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