I made a writing about what I mean by “experienced rope bottom” a little while ago, and it prompted some positive reactions and some discussion. Out of that discussion and a few other exchanges came the suggestion to do the same for rope tops.
There’s a lot of overlap between the two lists, of course, but I’ve rephrased the overlapping points to fit tops where needed and added new points where relevant. I also discussed this with Bound_Light to get her input from a bottom’s perspective (as, of course, I did for the other writing). Below is the result, which I present here with all of the disclaimers of the other writing.
I’ve indicated parts that I’ve kept the same/similar to the other writing for the sake of anyone reading both or comparing.
Time is a factor
Time isn’t everything, but it’s not nothing. I know a few 40-year-olds who have been driving all of their lives who still can’t drive for shit. But I don’t know many 16-year-olds that I feel confident about, particularly when approaching the on-ramp to the highway …
Also, when you have someone’s safety (and maybe even life) in your hands, you want to be someone who has spent time learning to keep them safe, who has built up muscle memory with safety in mind, who has successfully dealt with problems before, who isn’t shaky and uncertain because so much is new, who has learned to look beyond the rope and see the person, etc.
Have an Understanding of Common Rope Norms
You know the difference between practice, play, and performance. You know that this top ties mostly in line with the Japanese style of rope, that top prefers more decorative rope, and you understand what those things mean (and don’t mean). You know we should try to clear the area under an anchor point as soon as reasonably possible after using it. You know you shouldn’t ask questions of the top or bottom until after the scene and aftercare is over. Etc.
Take Your Responsibility Seriously
You understand that you are playing with someone else’s physical and emotional safety, their livelihood, and their life.
As a result, you take that responsibility seriously by learning all you can, progressing at an appropriate pace, tying within your experience level, listening to your bottom (see below on communication), and doing your best to provide an injury-free and enjoyable (however both parties define that) experience for both of you.
Prepared for the Type of Rope Desired
This first implies that you have a sense of the type of rope you want to do, and maybe it doesn’t involve suspension (gasp)!
It also means you have already determined that the particular bottom you’re approaching is an appropriate person for that type of rope.
Past those two (maybe obvious) qualifiers, it means that you know that your skill level, mind, and body are ready for the rope you want to do through regular practice and conditioning and that you’ve done what you need to do immediately before to get ready (warmup, stretch, eat, hydrate, pee, etc.).
It should go with out saying, but: this also means that you have the appropriate skills for the type of rope you plan to do. More details on this later in the list …
In addition, and as part of the negotiation process, it means you’re matching your collective experience, familiarity and skill in relation to the tie/ties you plan to do with the experience level and purpose of the interaction. For example: being “prepared” will be different if you’re learning a new pattern vs. learning a new transition sequence vs. having a free-flowing, sadistic rope scene vs. doing a performance … and each of those will be approached differently depending on the experience level of the bottom and the type of relationship and interaction you have with them.
Lastly, it means you’ve got your own “rope top bag” (whether it’s in a bag or not) that has the things you need to help you pre, during, and post rope … including the appropriate rope for your goals, the appropriate hardware for your goals, and the appropriate safety supplies.
Able to Negotiate Effectively
Some of this is implied in the items above, but this includes all the normal negotiation skills: you know your limits and seek to understand the bottom’s limits; you know what physical, medical, or mental concerns you should discuss (for both of you); you know how to negotiate for sexual, SM, and D/s aspects; you learn what your aftercare needs are and discuss how they align with your own; you know how to negotiate around your risk profile; etc.
Your negotiation comes from a healthy concern with what both parties want from the experience.
To use a phrase from DemonSix, you realize you’re playing with a loaded gun.
Humble and Honest about Experience
You don’t try to “oversell” yourself, you don’t drop names for the sake of dropping names, you don’t exaggerate, etc. You’re honest about your own level of experience and your limitations, and you let those inform your negotiation and communication. You realize there are always things we don’t know that we don’t know, and approach tying and learning with that humility.
Able to Assess Skill Level of Rope Bottom
You are able to have a discussion with a rope bottom and watch them tie with others and have a general sense of that bottom’s experience and skill level, which informs the type of interaction(s) and rope you are willing to do with them. Once you start actually tying with them, you can definitely confirm or alter your initial assessment.
Able to Communicate Honestly and Appropriately
Of course, the degree of communication depends to some extent on the type of interaction, but the key word here is “able” with the assurance that you “will” where necessary for safety.
Attentive to the Communications from the Bottom
You are focused on your bottom and the communications they are giving you throughout your interaction. You listen for what the bottom is telling you (verbally or non-verbally) about their body’s needs in rope. You understand that communication comes in a variety of forms, and you’re practiced in reading and responding. You are as aware and perceptive as possible. Your fundamental concern is for the ultimate safety of your bottom, and that sits as the foundation on which you build your focus on the type of interaction, experience, or connection you’re both seeking.
Able to “Join the Dance” and “Listen to the Follower”
In the metaphor of rope as dance, it’s important to remember that a good leader isn’t simply forcing their will upon the follower. You listen to what the bottom is offering (again, verbally and non-verbally) and adjust or adapt to take advantage of those things or to allow for the bottom to introduce variation or new aspects into the dance.
We’re getting into a little theory here, but merely “exerting your will” on someone is not, in my opinion, skillful D/s interaction. Merely “hurting someone” is not, in my opinion, skillful S/M interaction. Reading your partner and using their responses to help guide and refine your expression of D/s, S/M, sexual pleasure, etc. … that’s the difference between an experienced lover and a teenage boy fumbling about in the back seat of a car.
Able to Balance Risk, Efficiency, Aesthetics, and Intent
You’re conscious of the balancing act that’s constantly happening among the goals of risk reduction, efficiency, desired aesthetics, and intent. You make purposeful choices and understand the implications of those choices in regards to each. When your choices impact the risks, you’re conscious to keep those within the negotiated risk profile of both parties.
Understand Relevant Safety Concerns and Body Mechanics
Being able to keep risks within the agreed-upon risk profiles of both parties implies an understanding of the risks (physical and mental/emotional) involved in the rope bondage you choose to do, as well as an ability to take steps to predict and mitigate those risks. On the physical side, this includes (but is not limited to) an understanding of circulation restriction, nerve compression, breathing restriction, mobility, torsion, and stress. On the mental/emotional side, this includes (but is not limited to) a consideration of the other person’s desired dynamic, sexual limits and preferences, triggers and fears, etc.
You also understand enough about body mechanics to manipulate the body as needed (with or without rope) in order to achieve desired results while mitigating risk.
Understand and Able to Control Placement
You understand the risk implications of rope placement on various parts of the body, particularly for common families of ties, and are able to create ties that have intentional placement in an attempt to mitigate those risks. You understand what the “primary” bands are for common families of ties and the implications for various choices in placement for each. You understand and are able to create variations in placement when required by the needs, desires, or limitations of the bottom. Once placed, the rope stays where you intend it to stay, or rope movement is anticipated and included in the overall risk assessment.
Understand and Able to Control Tension
You understand the difference between “tension” and “tight,” how to control the tension in the rope as it’s applied to the body, how to equalize tension when needed, how changes in tension affect the body, and how to adjust the body when needed if changing or equalizing tension. You recognize that the bands with the greatest tension will take more of the load in ties that are loaded, and tie with that in mind to achieve purposeful results. You also understand the risk implications of tension in ropes for particular placements as well as for common families of ties.
Able to Move Efficiently When Needed
You are able to control the bottom and the rope in order to move rope and complete your intended tie efficiently when needed. While tangles, snags, and momentary issues are inevitable, in general, you do not fumble with the rope, you control the entire length of the rope, and you use the rope to create solid and compact frictions as they are created.
Able to Create Structurally-Solid Ties
Through effective choices in placement and tension, and through competent rope control and efficiency, you create structurally-solid ties. These ties do not shift or alter in tension until and unless you intend them to do so. These ties also load in a manner intended and are not unintentionally distorted by load.
For Suspension: Able to Assess and Attach to Anchor Points
You can assess the viability of various anchor points and are able to securely attach your desired lift point(s), whether that be a ring, carabiner, poll/bamboo, or other device. You understand the implications of the choices you make in hardware and attachment methods, both in terms of safety and in terms of the effect those choices will have on your tying.
For Suspension: Able to Manage Up-Lines Securely and Efficiently
You know how to securely attach to the body and the implications for attaching with various methods and at various locations. You know methods for securing your up-lines that are appropriate for the hardware you’re using. You can manage multiple up-lines without causing confusion, jams, or entanglement. You can do all of this efficiently when needed.
For Suspension: Understand and Able to Take Advantage of Load, Orientation, Angles, and Levels
You understand the forces at work in suspension, depending on where the load is applied to the tie, the orientation of the bottom’s body, the angles created by the attachment lines, and the levels you introduce into the tie. You are able to control and alter these things to achieve the desired or needed results.
For Suspension: Understand and Able to Manage Transitions
You are able to make controlled transitions in suspension with an understanding of how those transitions affect the bottom and the concepts previously addressed. Your transitions are purposeful, and you anticipate the shifts in load and additional needs and risks introduced by each transition.
Able to Monitor the Bottom in Rope
This means at least two things: you know what to look for, and you’re not so distracted by the rope that you forget to look for them.
Part of knowing what to look for should be handled in negotiation (does this person turn funny colors, does their responsiveness drop suddenly in certain conditions, do they have difficulty breathing in some positions, etc.). Part of it includes having ways to check for motor functions, to monitor breathing and responsiveness, etc.
As for the latter point: this means you’ve negotiated the right kind of interaction for your mutual goals. For example, if your goal is to learn a new pattern, a new position, a new transition, etc., then your focus likely WILL be more on the rope than on the bottom, at least at certain points. As long as both parties understand this going in, and the bottom is able to take additional responsibility in monitoring themselves and communicating, then no problems. However, in general and for most interactions, your focus is on the bottom and their response to the rope, not on the rope itself.
Able to Respond to Timely Feedback and Warnings
You have a fairly accurate sense of how long it takes you to do things in rope. If given a five-minute warning, you know what you can reasonably accomplish in that time-frame. You know how long it will take you to lower someone, transition someone, untie someone, etc. … and which is the most efficient method for doing so when needed.
Able to Respond to Problems
If/when problems arise, you are able to respond to them calmly and appropriately. You have more than one way to address a problem, and are able to improvise solutions to new problems. You know how to direct and work with others to address problems when needed.
Willing to Call It
You are not afraid to call a scene if it’s not working, no matter what the reason, and without fear. You respect and appreciate bottoms who do the same.
Able to Take Responsibility Where Appropriate
If both top and bottom communicate as well as they’re able and respond as well as they’re able to each other’s ongoing communication, then both take equal responsibility for whatever happens without accusations. If the bottom communicates something that you do not or cannot respond to appropriately, then you accept responsibility or the results.
Final Thoughts & Disclaimer Reminders
These are ideals. As I said in that other writing, I am not a perfect or ideal top.
Also, the word “able” remains important. It doesn’t mean you will do all of those things all of the time, but when you don’t, it’s intentional (or at least, not due to a lack of ability). I understand concepts like “wabi-sabi” or “tying in the void” or particular variations of every tie with every bottom. The idea is that your purpose and your skills align. (Just because your rope is painful doesn’t mean you’re doing semenawa. Just because your rope is uneven and asymmetrical doesn’t mean you’re doing “wabi-sabi.”)
I also don’t intend this list as a way (and certainly not “the” way) for tops to “judge” one another. However, I do hope this can be a helpful tool for tops to think about their own progress and for bottoms to determine the risks they’re willing to take with tops based on their mutual experience levels.
I’d also offer this warning/reminder (for myself and others): for either list, be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking you know more than you know. I find many of the items here are not complex on their face and are easy enough to understand … but in practice, remain quite elusive and exceedingly difficult to master. I’ve only seen a handful of people (and I’m not one of them) tie in ways that I thought approached or achieved a “yes” on all these …
Finally, I am confident that — for this writing and the one about bottoms — I have likely forgotten something or will need to revise things, and that these lists will very likely change as I continue to tie and learn.
Your additions, corrections, differing perspectives, and other suggestions are welcome (provided they stay civil).