You’ve tried a taster class, but what next? Maybe you’ve been tying at home for a while, learning from YouTube videos and improvising, but don’t feel confident attempting suspension yet. When you watch other people suspending, they make it look effortless, and perhaps you’re thinking to yourself: “Wow… how do I get there?”
If you resonate with this, then read on. We have some tips to help you get really good at tying.
In this blog post we are predominantly focusing on the practical aspects of tying. However, it’s important to bear in mind that there are lots of things beyond the actual act of tying that make someone “good” at it. Things like: being able to read body language; adapting ties and shapes for different bodies and mobilities; and understanding load distribution, balance, body mechanics and aesthetics (to name just a few).
1. Access the right structured learning for you
Not everyone learns in the same way or has the same goals. First of all we would recommend figuring out what the best learning environment is for you.
It’s also worth considering how you learn best: do you know your learning style? The three main learning styles are: visual, kinaesthetic and auditory. People tend to learn best either by watching, doing or listening, but again it may be that a combination works best for you. Knowing how you take in information will help to set you up for success.
Most people progress better with solid in-person or online tuition. Books can also be a great resource and support, but can lack the depth that movement provides.
Whether you go with in-person or online tuition, do a bit of research into the teachers, the school and the platform. Not just in terms of reputation, but also value for money, shared ethics, and the style of rope that is being taught.
Online is convenient, accessible and affordable in most cases. It’s an especially great resource if you don’t have a local community, have mobility issues, or simply prefer to learn alone. When watching videos you can pause and restart them in your own time to make sure you’re on the right track. However, the teachers can’t correct you or check your tensions, which is a major part of rope.
In person you have access to a whole group of people who are probably in a similar boat to you. The teachers can correct and guide you in real time if you’re not quite sure of something, and give tips and tricks they don’t usually share on video platforms. You get the added benefit of learning from other people’s mistakes as well as your own. People will come up with adaptations or variations that you would otherwise not have come across; learning with others is a great source of inspiration and ideas.
However, you are likely to share the learning space with people who are at different levels from you, so the class may move at a faster or slower pace than you.
Private tuition has the advantage that you get a teacher’s undivided attention and a completely tailored learning environment. You can set your pace, and ask for as much feedback and repetition as you need. In general, 2-3 hours is more than enough for one session but private tuition can be expensive, especially if you book multiple sessions. It can also be a bit tiring; be prepared to leave with a full brain and sore hands.
Unless you are unable to get to an in-person class, we would recommend starting with a group taster class. They’re usually short and cheap: the perfect way to get some basics under your belt. As you get more into it, move onto longer workshops and/or online platforms. Use private one-on-one sessions to explore specific topics or address issues you might be having. One-on-ones are particularly useful for advanced riggers, as they can improve your practice significantly. Use books and free online videos as supporting material throughout, but not necessarily as your only or main tool.
However you do it, it’s great practice to keep learning throughout your rope journey: there is always more to know.
2. Practise within a few days-a week of learning
Practice while it’s fresh in your head and hands. Ideally you want to revisit some of the things you’ve learned within a week of learning them. If you can’t practice on a partner, consider self-tying or using furniture. Chairs are particularly useful.
Mannequins can also be helpful but they are usually made of hard material that is very different to a body. Although the shape might vaguely resemble a human torso, there is no “give” to them; human flesh is much softer (and therefore easier to tie). Most mannequins also don’t come with arms, which are pretty important for practice. You might as well tie furniture you already have rather than investing in a mannequin.
We also recommend you practice “in your head” if you don’t have time to practice “for real”. Research from other fields has shown that visualizing practice can be just as good as physical practice to consolidate knowledge. So just close your eyes and imagine yourself tying…
3. Practise even if you’ve forgotten
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to avoid practicing because they feel they can’t remember every single step. Start by practicing what you can remember, and see what happens. Odds are you’ll start to remember. Or that you’ll see the same harness/tie/friction again in another class or jam and remember the missing steps. In the meantime, do what you can and enjoy it.
Remember that rope is about having fun. And bear in mind that teachers don’t realistically tie exactly the same pattern in exactly the same way every time anyway.
4. Don’t rush to learn too much too soon
If you’re feeling a bit unsure, it can be tempting to want to do all the classes as soon as you can. Some people do fare well doing this. However, we have noticed that most people experience more success (and more joy!) when they leave gaps in between courses to play and consolidate knowledge.
Rushing through the learning process means you are skipping the fun bits between workshops. You’re also missing out on opportunities for the information to sink in properly. You risk forgetting important things or mixing knowledge. Keep the fact that rope is supposed to be fun and joyful at the front of your mind: don’t turn it into an academic journey.
If you really want to go to classes, try choosing topics that are less technical and more inspirational, that focus on play and connection, or aesthetics. You can always book into more advanced technical classes next time.
5. Distinguish between labbing and play-time
This is probably one of the most important pieces of advice if you want to foster the fun in your rope practice. It’s especially relevant if you live with the partner you tie with, or are mainly learning within a romantic partnership.
Practicing rope can be both frustrating and intellectual, rather than “fun”. It requires a lot of time, repetition, feedback and undoing/redoing of things. This can create a mood that is less than sexy. Differentiate between doing rope for pleasure and rope for learning: establish whether you are labbing or playing.
Labbing is the time to figure out technical stuff. Ask questions, get lots of feedback and experiment with new ties.
When you play, stick to things you are very comfortable with that don’t rely on heavy feedback from your partner. Playtime is for letting go and getting outside your heads.
6. Repetition, repetition, repetition
That’s it. There is no secret: it’s all about muscle memory. Some people need more repetition than others, so don’t compare yourself. And definitely don’t compare yourself to teachers or more advanced riggers. They may make it look easy, but you don’t know how many years of practice (and frustration!) has led them to where they are. Practice makes perfect.
Drills also help. If there are techniques, finger movements and frictions that you are finding particularly hard or seem awkward, then dedicate some time to doing them — and only them — over and over in isolation until they become embedded into your muscle memory.
Drilling single column ties, finger hooking, specific frictions, and locking off mainlines are common practices throughout individuals’ rope journeys.
7. Watch, learn, and ask questions
Don’t be shy to ask questions. If you don’t fancy asking in front of others, ask or write to teachers and peers privately. There are also a number of forums like FetLife and Discord where there are channels and groups for asking questions about rope.
Definitely don’t be afraid of asking “stupid questions” or asking multiple times. We’ve all been there.
Watching other people play at events or watching recorded sessions on video is another great way to learn. You’ll be surprised how important this is. Not only for learning but for inspiration too. It’s very common for people to hit creative walls or have existential crises along the way. Watching can get things moving again.
Watch people lab things out, notice how they make decisions (and if they go back on said decisions), how they move their hands, and any other subtle little tricks and aesthetic choices they make. Watch people playing too. Observe the different types of dynamics people create, how people move and touch each other and how they build their scenes.
But do try not to be creepy: watch from a comfortable distance, and definitely don’t interrupt a scene.
8. Teach a little
This may sound a bit strange given the number of cautionary tales of people who started teaching too early, but this really depends on what you’re teaching. Always ensure you are teaching within your skill level, and deferring to others for things you are not sure about. In this case, teaching others can be a great tool to help you embed your own practice.
For example, you could help newcomers at your local jam or peer group with their single and double column ties. Show them some rope handling tricks, or maybe even a couple of basic ties you just learned. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know things, and check with someone more experienced when in doubt.
Obviously don’t teach above your skill level, but don’t be afraid to help someone who knows less than you. You’ll be surprised how much you learn when you have to explain things to others.
9. Take breaks
Often when we learn a new skill we can get mildly obsessed with it. But it’s normal — and healthy — to take breaks from rope. Taking a little time out helps to avoid burnout, and means you’re less likely to hit creative walls, feel stagnant, or start questioning your motivations (Is it still fun? Are you connecting with your partners? What is the meaning of life?)
And then, go back to basics. Spend some time remembering why you loved rope to begin with. If you’ve moved onto suspension, go back to the floor and do some simple one-rope ties, maybe even without patterns or frictions. Wherever you are in your journey, take two, three, four steps backwards and reconnect with your rope. You’ll be surprised at how taking steps back can push you forward in the long run.
10. Don’t break rules too early
Patterns and techniques are super useful for accruing skill. Copy these first and stick to what your teacher is teaching you before starting to improvise.
Structure and rules are great ways to learn and absorb knowledge, even if you know that in the end you will be taught there is more nuance to these “rules”.
Breaking rules too early, though, means you might change things in a harness that are actually crucial for safety. Before you know exactly how and when you should improvise, stick to structure.
11. Get tied up yourself
Do you need to get tied to be good at rope? Some say yes some say no. We think it depends. It can be useful to have a first-hand understanding of how things feel. But equally things feel different to different people, so just because something feels a certain way to you there is no guarantee it will feel the same to someone else. There are some incredibly talented riggers who seldom or never get tied.
It’s far more important to learn to listen to your partner’s feedback, and cultivate awareness of your partner’s body, sounds, expressions, etc. The ability to read someone and preempt things is one of the best skills you can have as a rigger. This takes time, so it won’t happen overnight and it’s even more important to spend time doing this if you are tying with different people.
Being tied can absolutely help cutivate this awareness, but that’s not universal.
Tying different bodies is perhaps more useful, if that’s part of your dynamic of course. Try tying people with different preferences, mobility, sizes and even limits. You’ll be surprised with how much variation there is and how much you will learn by getting feedback from different partners.
All rope journeys are unique, but we hope you’ve taken some tips away. Make sure you check-in with yourself as you are learning. Notice how your motivations and desires evolve as time passes and understand that this is totally normal.
There is actually no end goal to rope. It’s play, and play by definition is not a goal-oriented activity. So enjoy the ride, with all its glorious ups and downs, and all the beautiful humans you meet along the way.
This post was written by Anna Bones, with input from members of the community, and edited by Eleni.