My rope philosophy: rope as a language
I've talked about my rope philosophy quite a bit more than usual lately and realized that I wanted to get my thoughts down in a more concrete way. This note is about how I approach rope based on my life experiences. I would absolutely love to hear how other people approach it based on their own life experiences in the comments. So without further ado: Rope and language.
I make no secret about the fact that I am a teacher in my real life outside of kink as well as a teacher within kink. Less people know what I teach. I am a foreign language teacher with a heavy background in how language is learned. This background really colors how I view a lot of the world. The more I did rope and learned rope and taught rope, the more I started to see parallels because language and rope. Through this, I started building my own personal rope philosophy.
First I'm going to talk about rope as a language, then I will move on to learning and teaching rope like learning and teaching a language. The way that I approach structures in rope is very similar to the way that language creates meaning.
I look at each little component of a tie like a word in a sentence. You can rearrange these little components in millions of way to create an unlimited number of ties, however, some of those ties are going to make sense and maintain their structure and some are not. In a language, you can rearrange the words in any order that you want but in a majority of languages, not all of those word orders will create something with meaning.
Moving a little bit larger, putting all of those words together creates a tie or harness, this is like a sentence. You have created something that has meaning to the person that you are tying. It could be a simple sentence, like a single column tie around the wrist attached to the bed port. Or, it could be a complex sentence, like tying a full 3-rope TK in a specific style. What matters is that you have now said something to your bottom that they can receive and understand.
Continuing to the largest category, putting multiple sentences together creates a paragraph, a group of sentences that when used together conveys a deeper meaning than each on its own. This is when you start putting different ties together and doing something with them, be that floor work or suspensions, static or dynamic. The way that you arrange and rearrange your sentences, in the air or on the ground, creates an experience for the bottom.
If you want to take this analogy a little bit further, you can look at the bottom's reactions to what you are doing as their part of the conversation. Rope isn't really supposed to be a monologue of a top just tying a bottom. It is a conversation between the two even if no real words are used in the process. It just so happens that the top's mode of communication is rope and the bottom's mode of communication might be words, facial expressions or sounds.
Because this is how I approach rope, it heavily influences how I teach rope. When I am teaching, I tend to favor techniques of second language acquisition over any other style of teaching. This means that my classes run a little bit differently than a lot of rope classes. I prefer to act as a facilitator of learning in my classroom over being a keeper and distributor of knowledge. This means that everyone gets a chance to contribute to learning: rigger, bottom, teacher, student. By acting as facilitator, the amount of knowledge in the room that can be accessed goes up exponentially because everyone's experience becomes valid and a worthwhile contribution.
The other thing that I model after a foreign language classroom is the idea of learning through doing. One doesn't learn a foreign language by just reading or listening to it, they actually have to use the language. And I follow this idea in as many of my classes as possible. This means that I spend as little time as possible giving instruction and as much time as possible letting the students try and learn through doing. I generally (when I have time) like to bring the class back together after little time to discuss their progress and discoveries, so that everyone in the room can learn from each other. This means that a lot of times, students come up with something I hadn't thought of before, and that is okay when the instructor is a facilitator rather than gate-keeper of knowledge. It means that I learn from their learning too. And it means that each person gets to put a piece of themselves into the classroom and what they are tying. I am not trying to make rigger copies of myself. My goal is to help people develop into the rigger that they want to be.
When I am teaching something specific, I also approach things a little differently. This has to do with error correction, something hotly debated in language classrooms. The question is which errors do you correct, how often do you correct them, and how do you correct them? Well, I bring my personal language teaching philosophy into my rope classroom.
The first question: which errors you correct? There are a lot of rope teachers that find it very important that students tie something exactly the way that they taught it, either for safety reasons or for other reasons. I do not fall into this camp. I actually only correct errors that I see a potential for catastrophic failure, meaning that someone is likely to get seriously hurt if it is left that way. I frequently will point out when something is done differently than the way I did it but as long as it's solid enough for what we are doing, I prefer to let it go. I also will let my students make mistakes even if it is going to lead to something problematic down the road. Learning from errors is really one of the best ways someone can learn. And before you get all up in arms about this being unsafe teaching practice, remember, I will correct things that will lead to serious failure. Also if someone is doing something that is likely to fail (in a not serious way), I stand right there to help them get out of trouble if they find themselves having a problem and can't solve it themselves.
The second question: how often do you correct them? This is heavily related to the first question but my general rule is trying not to correct too often unless they are doing something that will lead to failure or it is the concept during the class that we are working on. For example, if the class is about tying with fluidity, I am not going to correct the direction of a hitch in their tying but I will correct when the add their next rope. The corrections need to be relevant to what they are doing or they won't be remembered anyway.
The final question: how do you correct them? This is an interesting one for me. I favor the method of asking the student to look at what they did for a second time and seeing if they can spot their own error and how to correct it. If this doesn't work, then I will go into a more explicit correction.
Please, I want to hear about your personal philosophies about rope, so put them in the comments!