January/February 2001
What is a Master? Is it Just Semantics?
by FineArt

We often hear discussions of what makes a Master (or Mistress) in our lifestyle, both rt and vt. Recently I noted that the entire discussion was dismissed as being “just semantics”. An interesting comment in a world that depends so heavily on the exchange of words; cold and without inflection or body language to convey a fuller meaning. So, where do we start.... I choose to begin with an understanding of:

semantics (n) 1 : the study of meanings:

2 a : the meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs; especially : connotative meaning b : the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings

In the end, it is the ideas, thoughts, emotions that we wish to communicate. But we do this through words, and the richer our abilities to both use and understand words, the deeper our ability to enjoy, learn and grow in this two dimensional world. It seems so simple, but we must give as much thought and consideration to how the reader will interpret our words as we do recording for our own understanding. Whether we are trying to express an idea, attract the eye of another, or establish how we are viewed.... in the Castle, we do it through the use of our words.

So, what is a Master (or Mistress)?

Master (n)1 a : a teacher b : a revered leader c : a worker or artisan qualified to teach apprentices d (1) : an artist, performer, or player of consummate skill (2) : a great figure of the past (as in science or art) whose work serves as a model or ideal

2 a : one having authority over another : , b : one that conquers or masters : , c (1) : one having control (2) : an owner especially of a slave or animal

(Definitions abridged for this discussion)

In the context of our chosen lifestyle, lets begin with definition 2… authority, conquest, control or ownership. Here, the term applies to a role in a relationship. It may be long standing or temporary (i.e.: for a single scene). Whether or not formally called Master, the role is assumed through the gift of submission (or via consent of the submissive or bottom). The COMPETENCE of one to assume that role is an entirely different matter, and one that should be of considerable concern to the submissive or bottom. Certainly, one of the things that a Master must do, if he is worth his salt, is to master himself... to know his capabilities, limits (in terms of what he can or cannot do, not what he will or will not do), and maintain control of his emotions when exercising control or authority over another. This leads to the first definition...

A teacher, revered leader, one qualified to teach, one of consummate skill, a model...

This too has strong connotations within the relationship. The Dominant in a D/s relationship who wishes to become a Master bears a heavy responsibility… to guide and teach those who grant him their marvelous gift.  Some assume this role with little concern for the well being or growth of the submissive. While this may work well in short term BDSM relationships (i.e.: the scene), it does not in the on-going deep relationship. The more the aspiring Master learns of the submissive.. her wants, needs, reactions, limits, what buttons to push and how far at a time.. the greater the control exercised over the situation and within the relationship. The more growth can occur and the fuller the relationship over time. Revered, qualified to teach, consummate skill, model.... it takes so much more than a firm commanding voice and a quick use of the hand to be a worthy Master. It takes patience, observation, introspection, and personal growth, genuine caring for another, sacrifice and a willingness to share. Becoming a true Master is a journey of a lifetime, not simply donning a name and bossing people around.

Now, in a broader context:

The term of Master is also used within a group or community to designate those who have earned the highest levels of respect of others. This is brought about by many things: their behavior, the ability to control first themselves and then situations, their levels of knowledge and experience and their ability and willingness to share these things with others… not only within a relationship, with those who have granted their unique gift, but with the community as a whole. In this sense, those acknowledged as Master (or Mistress) would be relatively few. Look around as you see those who are in our realm… who among us hold the knowledge and demonstrate the behaviors to be revered or held as models? Who of us have the abilities to guide others in journeys of self discovery and growth instead of delivering lectures and trying to get them to simply conform to our own ideals of what this lifestyle is to be. Those are the few that, as a community, we should recognize as Master or Mistress...

and while we may not use the title, those few may include some who are not Dominants...