27 Mar So you want to attend a rope class?
With the increasing amount of rope knowledge being exchanged and the access that we have to rope education, the experience of learning is not just about the content but also how we learn the best and from whom we wish to be inspired. I do believe that there are things you can think about which will make your learning experience even better.
After having returned European Rigger Exchange in Berlin my head was swimming with thoughts. Parts of this article is a collaboration with Peter Slemrian, who I’ve had the great honor and opportunity to study with on several occasions. One of the most rewarding sessions with him was as a teaching assistant for him during Shibaricamp, three days in Sweden where I learned so much from assisting and listening. On our way back, we discussed different approaches when attending rope classes. We took some notes, and here is the write up. Some parts will be his own opinion, and on some parts I might differ in opinion, but will try to be as clear as possible. All of these points is about stuff we thought was good to think about. I have split this into three section: before the class, during class and aftermath. Class here can be anything from a small learning experience in a demo, to several day intensive. Take the bits with you that you feel you can benefit from and leave the rest behind if you so wish.
Lets start from the beginning. First step is obviously to find a suitable class. Read the outline and description and ask yourself these questions:
• what it is about?
• how it can help you?
• what do you want to get from it or wish to focus on?
Don’t be afraid to ask others about the person who is teaching. What is their teaching style, will it work for you? A demo will be very different from a hands on class but this is also about the way that you learn. Are you the person that needs to get your fingers wet, or do you take stuff in by watching? Don’t be afraid to go to something that is the complete opposite of what you usually do, it is often those classes that will open your eyes. Do not be afraid to email and ask about specifications of the class. Check if there are any prerequisite kinds of knowledge,what kind of ropes will you need, what kind of equipment?
Now, let’s say that the prerequisite is a one column tie, and the organisers mention that you need to bring natural fibre ropes of a certain size. You tend to tie a two column tie without any problem and choose to do so with synthetic fibre. That’s awesome, but you still need to run through your one column and think about if you wish to continue with the synthetic ropes. Of course it is fun to buy new rope, but check if you can borrow natural fibres from a friend or if the organisers have any to lend out. No one is going to shoot you in the head for bringing synthetic into class, but there might be a reason they wish you to tie with something like hemp, jute or linen, or perhaps neon synthetic fibre. If you have the ropes that you need, now it is time to practice with that rope that you will use in class. And when you do, don’t just do it once or twice, but look closely at it, how it works, try different kinds of one columns, tie it with closed eyes, when you are watching tv or looking deeply into someones eyes. Tie it into your muscle memory and jog that memory! Just because you do it once or twice around the wrist does not mean you know it. The goal for you in the class is to learn something new, not to have to think about how to tie a one column tie when you want to be able to focus on this new exciting stuff which requires you to be able to tie that one column tie.
If you have not worked it out yet, make sure you know who you will work with. If you are going for the first time and don’t know who you will tie with, check with the organisers if there are other single people going and how it usually pans out. Unless you are set in stone, don’t be afraid to offer to switch, we are here to learn, not to play, and no one is going to question you if you choose to take a walk on a side you have not visited yet. Also, if you happen to be paired up with someone who happen to be of a gender you are not ‘into’ that; relax. Both of you are here to learn. Just be clear and cautious about your own boundaries and that of the other person.
I’m going to go all Mama on you and tell you to have a good night sleep the night before, a good breakfast and all stuff prepped. The thing is that I’ve myself spent 5 hours in a tough masterclass after having slept less than 4 hours and with only a banana for breakfast. Guess what, I forgot most of that day and everything I tied looked somewhat like dogshite.
Stuff that is good to bring: your regular kit + what ever else is required. If they say bring a Dachshund, doublecheck, do your best to find one, and in case you don’t, go for a Jack Russel. Those Jack Russels are everywhere! Be sure it is well behaved though.
Check your ropes. Double check your ropes, have them coiled, in a good condition, neatly packed. Having that where it should be often takes a load off your shoulders and you can start the class knowing your gear is in order. Other stuff? Well, it all depends on what you are going to do, but here is what I usually bring to a class, especially if it is several days in a row:
- Ropeset- not the newest, but not your most used and loved, especially not if you are going to do suspensions. Bring the ropes that suit the class. I once brough a completely new set to a 5 day course. My fingers looked live raw meat by the end of it and the ropefluff made me cough in a rather unattractice manner. Won’t do that again.
- Cutting tools- what ever floats your boat.
- Suspension gear: ring, carabiners, swivels, straps, etc. All double checked.
- Water bottle. A pet peeve of mine is people walking around with tea or coffee if I’m in a class. The law of Murphy dictates that the content will end up on someones ropes, and that someone is usually not the person who is walking with the cup of coffee. Get a good bottle that is easy to open, close and to shove into your or someones elses’ mouth, depending on who is tied up. A friend of mine actually brings straws to use in case the bottom is tied up.
- Handlotion. Yep. Your hands will thank me for this one. Climbing wax for hands is also a good one. If you know your hands will be raw, some surgical tape might be a good thing to have.
- Blanket. I have a scarf my rope bundle is wrapped up in, that doubles as excellent blanket. Or blindfold. If you are sitting around watching and listening this might be nice in case it gets a bit cold. Perhaps your rope partner is getting cold. I doublecheck with the venue if they have mats to sit or stand on, if they don’t a yoga mat is really worth the investment. Cold feet while tying sucks. Extra socks can be nice.
- Fruit or energybar is always a winner. Just don’t slob that juicy pear all over someones ropes.
- Notebook or any other kind of documentation device you like. Check if you can take photos in class obviously. My black book consists of ideas, notes from classes, corrections or feedback that has been given. And perhaps the occasional telephone number…If I can take a photo or video anything it helps me tons and tons. Again, know what you need in order to learn. It’s like uni, but more fun ( I hope). I jot down ugly stick figures that no one else can decipher. Creative peeps might draw stuff in a nicer way.
I could talk about what kind of clothes to wear, but I’ve already told you to sleep and eat and drink plenty of water before the class, so I’ll just say: what ever you are comfortable with, what ever is practical. I hate stuff that is tight over my arms and shoulders, because I want to be able to move properly when tying. If you are being tied, it can be a good idea to not wear to baggy items, and avoiding underwire bras/corsets/large jewellry/big belt buckles.
For those who might bottom for classes or switch; these things has helped me when I’ve been bottoming for classes:
Talk about expectations. If you are going into a hard core 5 –day intensive, know this is what is going to happen. Check if there is anything that you might have difficulties with. And remember, a class is not a session, nor a test. If you, despite having done all the warm ups and done so very well, suddenly realise that the current pattern that is practiced does not work for what ever reason; you don’t need to suck it up. Your partner won’t learn what they need to know if you decide to push through on something that is not really what it should be. Don’t push it just because you are at Awesomeplace in Shibari Capital of the World with The Best Nawashi In the World. Group pressure can be a huge thing, lordie lord I know that so well, but I’m going to speak a bit more about that a bit further down in this text so bare with me.
Know what you need in order to stay well in ropes, and to increase your stamina. A longer class can be very much like a marathon, and if you do need to sit something out, that is perfectly fine.
You and your partner(s) need to be on the same page from the start. You need to be familiar with what you are comfortable with, your stamina, pain threshold, and when to say “Please take this off”. If you are not sure of this yet, err on the side of caution. Classes are excellent times for you to finetune that scanner you need to have in order to asses where your body and mind is.
Obviously you need to take care of yourself in more ways than one. Stay warm, do your favourite stretches, have some snack bars at hand, stay hydrated and listen as much as your partner does. You probably already know it, but it is study time for you as well. The classes I like the most are those in which both tops and bottoms get something from; that they don’t just pour info out that is of use for the top both also for the bottom. That is not always the case, but you can still learn. First of all: observe what the demo model does. Just by watching how they use their body and move in different ways you can pick up a lot. Second: You can also talk to your fellow bottoms, share tips and tricks. But again, be attentive to what is going on around you. No one likes a chatter box when it comes to class and peeps are trying to listen to important instructions. Some of the best rope partners I’ve learned with has been keen observers themselves during classes and together we have been able to figure things out, helping each other.
So, now you and your partners are ready to go ☺
Right, so you are prepped, you and your rope partner is ready to go, and the class starts. Just remember this, for the love of god, please be on time. Be there before the class is about to start. Yes, I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but there is few things as annoying as when someone walz in half an hour after everyone and still demands to see everything from the beginning. If you come prepared, you can warm up. Yeah, the warm up bit is awesome. Someone whom I worked with nagged me into warming up with her, although her being far more limber than myself, I noticed the stretches and warm up did wonders for my shoulders, so regardless if you are tying or getting tied, make sure your body is as ready to work as your mind.
“The respect the space” goes for everyone. Now I’m going to go all mama again, but seriously, this is one of my biggest pet peeves: people who talk when they should not. I probably have done it. If I do, you have all right to tell me off. Please tell me off, because I’m being rude and disrespectful. In respect the space, the usual stuff, such as not touching what is not yours and respecting others boundaries and staying aware of the space you are working with also counts.
So, you are there, you are in class and everything is completely different from what you usually do. Shitsticks. Yes, you might end up in that situation. The great classes tend to break your habits and force you out of your comfort zone. In this case, it might not always be the best thing to be the most experienced rigger, because you are so used of doing what you are doing that your habits might be so firmly placed in your muscle memory you almost have to break your brain when asked to do something differently. Go ahead and do that, give yourself that break even if it hurts. Even if it seems or feels strange. You might have a better idea or your own solution, but please, give the new path a chance and go with it, just once. You can always suggest something later or adapt what you learn. Of course you won’t do anything that is directly dangerous or will inflict the bad kind of pain on your rope partner, but you get the gist. You are not here to show what you know, you are here to learn what you cannot yet do perhaps as well as you would like to.
In class, listen carefully to announcements and respect set times. If you are asked to untie something because the class in continuing with the next bit, do so and don’t let the others wait, but make that mental note to return to it later. Tie strategically if necessary. With strategically, I mean think about what you tie, in what order and how it affects your bottom. If tying more than the upper body, perhaps leave the TK on for last, to give the arms a bit of a rest. I know, I know, “It is not really bondage if the arms are not tied” but fuck that notion for now, because if you and your bottom are too tired because they have boxed their arms all afternoon while you worked on that minute details on the hip, it won’t really be of much use anyway. This is a good time for rope partners to lab as well with what works for your body or not, especially you are doing a lot of repetitions.
Right, so the class goes on and you might get it, or you might not. You might have that brainfart thing where your hands are not doing what they should, or your mind is racing because you are trying to keep up. I am of the opinion that this is essentially something good, but how to deal with it is a different matter. My stratergies are different depending on the situation. If I can, I respectfully ask the teacher to show me again. If the situation won’t be dangerous because I’m not understanding it completely I try to follow along as good as I can in order to not disturb the whole group. But the wonderful thing about classes is that there is at least always one more person who does not get it. If I turn into a dyspraxic panda and just can’t figure it out and getting to worked up about it, I take two steps back, breath, free my patient rope partner from their bonds and go back to watching. In the same way as it is ok for a rope bottom to say that they need a break, so is it for rope tops. Instead practice on just sitting very still, looking at what is happening and know that you have a vantage point because you are only focussing on watching and understanding, not trying to follow in the same time. When brain is on overload, reduce the input /output and slow down. Also, it is in line very much with the modes of learning in Japan, where the student watches the sensei, soaking up as much knowledge as they can. I myself need the practical bit of tying in the end, but if my hands are not doing what I want them to, I try to at least better my ability to learn through observation.
Then of course, you might get it. You will have that revelation and you will get that buzz, a certain kind of adrenaline, like when you knew you suddenly understood something in school. Everything makes sense, and it just works Enjoy it! On a finer note: this is a good time for you to also soak up as much as you can from it. Exactly what is it and how does it work for you? If you are learning a specific tie, look at it components and what they do to whole tie. Break it down for yourself in formulaes or ways to explain it that works for you, understand it in your own language. If possible, ask your teacher to look at it. I write down any kind of feedback given in class, both general like; “I have noticed that many of you do this instead of that” as well as the personal and the specific; “pay attention to your placement of the upper wrap”. Work on your muscle memory, never get satisfied from getting it once.
Now, Peter mentioned something about safety in these classes. He means that it is not often the most unexperienced riggers that get into problems, but rather those who have been tying for years and years. Peter spoke to me about paragliders and those who do parachute jumping. The ones who are in accidents are not those who have just started, it is those who have several hundreds of jumps done. Being accustomed to something so heavily that it becomes second nature can be both the saving grace but also the downfall, because a part of you might not think as consciously about every step as someone who is going to jump (or tie something) for the first time. I guess this is something which can happen to car drivers as well. What do you think? It is an interesting perspective, especially from a point of view in regards to rope, as many of the accidents we have heard about last year has been from more prominent riggers.
Something that is really valuable is if you get the opportunity to untie the teachers work. They do sometimes offer this. It is awesome, because you can check all the tensions, the placement and the structure, while still walking through the pattern, albeit in reverse order. If you get to do this, take your time and really look at it properly. Don’t go into a corner, but make sure you position yourself so others can see as well.
So there, you survived. Perhaps you survived the first day out of several or the only day you were doing the class. Either way, get yourself, your rope partner and your tired brain to some kind of food. Maybe you are somewhere which makes it possible for you to then go and practice or playing more in the evening. Lucky you ☺ Now, here is a part that me and Peter might differ a bit in opinion. But only slightly. When we spoke in the car on our way home, he mentioned how important the rest of the time is when you attend classes with the possibilities of practice and play afterwards. He meant that it is very good to use this time to do a run through of what you have been learning, rather than going back directly to what you knew from before. That muscle memory you know. I really agree with this. But in the same time, I know, for someone like me, especially if it is a longer event with several days in a row, I need to take a break, to return to familiar shores, not focussing on technique at all.
Then, there is the question of play in the evening. Remember what I said about managing expectations? This is again vital, especially if you are doing an event which lasts over a couple of days. Speak to your partner(s) about what they think should be best. Do they need some play time in order to not just feel like a mannequin? Do you or they have energy for it? If one of you wants to play, is it ok to play with someone else? I’ve been at several multiple day events and seen them taking its toll at relationships. You work hard during the day, and there is always a risk of misunderstanding each other due to many factors. A friend of mine once said to me after a GRUE, when I was worrying about my relationship with someone very special: “Don’t try to fix anything now. Don’t ask or demand too much, because you have both already run a marathon. You would not require a marathon runner to stand up right after their run and do another one, so why would you require that of yourself or your partner?” This means: think ahead. Be kind to yourself, and your rope partner. Think about what is to come. How intensely you work and what you need to do in order to connect, ground and prep yourself for the coming day.
After you are back home, try to go over the main points of the class within a week or so. I say main points because that is what I remember. Going over them, I then unearth those details that perhaps get clearer the more I tie. Return to your notes, see what details you noted down and might have forgotten. Take care of your eventual drop. Again: be kind to yourself and your rope partner. Do what feel best for yourself and them. Come prepared, think ahead, develop the tactics that you need in order to get the most out of what you are experiencing. And for fuck sake. Have fun.