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A New Yorker by birth and raised in Westport, Connecticut, the lasso had always been a powerful archetypal image of the old west to me. Nevertheless, except for television cartoons and Wonder Woman comics (yep, I read those), I had never seen anyone really handle a lasso. Sure, on several occasions, as a kid, I tried to tie the end of a cord into a loop and throw or spin it what kid hasn't? In fact, my earliest memory of the lasso dates to when I was about four years old when I tried to make a lasso out of a shoelace. It didn't seem to work very well and the next morning when my dad tried to put on his shoes he got pretty red in the face and excited when it became clear that he was going to miss his train to go to work.

Well the negative reinforcement I got from that little experiment discouraged me from trying that again anytime soon and so you can imagine that for many years I harbored a lot of pent-up but repressed lasso desire which was just waiting for an opportunity to come to the surface. That moment came in the summer of 1985. My roommate and friend, Alex Feldman, a juggler and variety arts entertainer, had just received Frank Dean's book Will Roger's Rope Tricks [4], a lasso, and some other juggling equipment he was interested in experimenting with. Since I was then 28 and felt relatively assured that I'd be safe from any paternal reprimands I decided to leaf through the book which led me to discover some interesting facts. First, I learned that shoelaces are not standard roping equipment. More surprisingly, however, I read that Will Roger's had had a ranch in Westport, the town I'd grown up in. Wow! Was this what it felt like to step into the twilight zone?

Call it coincidence or call it destiny. I knew I was going to learn how to trick rope! I started reading some of the descriptions in Dean's book and working on the first trick roper's trick the Flat Loop. After about a half hour of effort out in the yard I successfully got a wobbly horizontal loop to spin in front of me. Boy, was I thrilled! On writing this I still recall the enormous pleasure this gave me and I think that you'll be thrilled, too, when you succeed with the same trick. This chapter gives a detailed description of the Flat Loop. Also described here are many of the basic principles useful for lasso tricks to be presented in subsequent chapters.


1.1 The Elements of the Lasso

I begin by giving a physical description of the lasso. Referring to Figure 1.1 a lasso is a length of cord which has a small loop at one end called the honda . The other end of the cord is passed through the honda thus dividing the cord into two parts called the spoke  and the loop . The honda must be big enough to allow the spoke to slide freely. If the lasso is long it might be necessary to gather the excess end of the spoke into a coil  which is held in the free hand.

Figure 1.1: The Lasso

The rope of preference for trick roping is Samson  spot cord #12 although for some styles of roping maguey or poly might be used (see [4], [7], and [8]). Samson spot cord is a double-helical, braided cord that resists becoming a tangled mess (within limits) under a lot of twisting. Once you begin trick roping you'll see that this is a very useful property indeed! For vertical loops (discussed in Section 3.1) Samson spot cord #10 or even #8 may be preferable to #12 since these cords are thinner and thus much lighter (your arm is going to get very tired learning this trick). Samson spot cord can be bought at many hardware stores in the US. The last time I checked, a one hundred foot hank could be had for about $25.

If you have problems finding Samson spot cord you can contact Samson directly by telephoning or writing them (see [13]). They should be able to tell you the location of their closest retail distributer. Another source of Samson spot cord is Mark Allen Productions [9]   which offers a catalog of a wide variety of western arts equipment and produces the newsletter of the Wild West Arts Club [14]  containing valuable information about people and activities in trick roping. Brian Dube, Inc [1] , a manufacturer and supplier of juggling equipment, is also a source of ready made lassos.

In fact, you should know that there are two types of Samson spot cord. The type that is sold in hardware stores has a synthetic core and the type sold by Mark Allen and Brian Dube has a cotton core. The cotton core rope is a bit stiffer than the synthetic and it is the cord that was traditionally used by trick ropers. When Samson developed the new synthetic core the cotton core rope became unavailable. Recently, however, due to the efforts of Brian Dube and Mark Allen, Samson has agreed to remanufacture the cotton core rope. I started roping with the synthetic core rope but there are those who swear only by the cotton core.

An average beginning Flat Loop lasso is about 15 ft (4.6 m) long. If you're smaller than average, though, this may be too long for you. You can get a good idea of how long your Flat Loop should be by measuring the distance from the center of you palm to the base of your armpit and multiplying it by eight. The last three inches (7.6 cm) of the Flat Loop rope are folded back to form the honda. The honda is sewn in place with either cooking string  (a string used in sewing up roasts) or with copper wire . Cooking string can be found in most supermarkets and copper wire in most hardware stores. If copper wire is used an awl will be needed to pierce holes in the rope to allow the wire to pass through. For the cooking string a regular wide eyed needle will suffice. The copper adds more weight to the honda than the cooking string and lasso will be ``faster''.

Although sewing makes for a very solid honda it's also possible to simply use a few wraps of plastic electrical tape to hold the honda in place. Another common thing to do is to insert a metal sailing thimble  in the honda. Sailing thimbles are used for finishing cables and lines on boats and are available in a variety of sizes, weights, and materials from marine hardware stores. The stainless steel varieties are probably the most suitable for rope spinning. There are two advantages to using the thimble. First, for advanced roping it is much easier to manipulate the diameter of the loop when using a metal honda and, second, the honda will never wear out from the cord of the spoke rubbing against the cord of the honda. From experience I'd say that the sailing thimble used should be about 10 or 11 grams. This is rather hard to find and you may be obliged to use one a little heavier which you can try to cut down with a jeweler's saw. By the way, if you decide to use a sailing thimble do not use tape to fix the honda in place since the thimble can become a dangerous projectile if the tape becomes undone while you are spinning your lasso.


1.2 The Description of the Flat Loop

The Flat Loop is the trick roper's first trick. It is the most basic and the easiest of all the rope spinning tricks and it is an important foundation trick on which many other roping tricks are based. The Flat Loop also has the virtue of illustrating most of the basic physical principles of trick roping. These principles are discussed in detail in the following sections.

As the name suggests, the Flat Loop consists of spinning the loop in a flat horizontal plane. The spoke leads downward from the hand to the loop at about a 45 degree angle with the vertical axis as shown in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2: The Flat Loop

The hand is at about waist level and is placed far enough forward and high enough so that the spinning loop does not brush against the legs or against the floor while it is turning.

Before describing how to learn the Flat Loop let's take a moment to understand how this works. Why does spinning the loop make it form into a circle? The answer is that the turning motion of the loop creates a centrifugal force which makes every part of it want to fly away from the center of rotation. The force with which the loop wants to flee the center depends on the speed of the rotation. A greater rotation makes the loop flee the center with a greater force. Spinning makes all parts of the loop flee the center at the same time thus forming it into a circle.

The above explanation raises an interesting problem. If centrifugal force is making the different parts of the loop flee the center what keeps the diameter of the loop from getting bigger and bigger? The answer is that gravity is also acting on the loop, pulling it downward and trying to make the diameter of the loop smaller. This point is clear in the limiting case when the loop is not spinning at all. Under these conditions the downward pull on the loop closes it completely.

Thus spinning opens the loop and gravity closes it. Successfully mastering the Flat Loop depends on finding the right equilibrium between these opposing forces. We see right away that trick roping is a Taoist pursuit, an activity which seeks the middle way! Read on as some of the less metaphysical aspects of mastering the flat loop are discussed in the next section.


1.3 Starting the Flat Loop

Starting is probably the hardest part of the Flat Loop to master. I've taught the Flat Loop to many people and my favorite way to do this is to start the Flat Loop myself and to hand it off to the person I'm teaching. Normally, it just takes a few tries to succeed at this since the Flat Loop almost works by itself. It's a very stable trick. It does take a bit of work, however, to master the start. In this section I try to minimize the pain by giving a detailed description of the starting configuration and a discussion of some of the rational landmarks that should help you along your way.

It is important to examine Figure 1.3 carefully so as to get the   starting

Figure 1.3: Starting Configuration

configuration correct. The view in Figure 1.3 is that of the roper looking at his or her own hands. The left hand is palm down and grips the loop between the thumb and forefinger. The right hand is palm up gripping the loop with the thumb and forefinger and holding the end of the spoke with the remaining three fingers. The exact geometry of the honda and spoke are important so examine the figure again carefully. The spoke length is between a quarter and a fifth   of the loop circumference. A handy way to get the correct spoke length is to form a square out of the loop by placing the hands and feet in the loop at the locations of the four corners of a square. Arrange the square so that the honda is at the right foot and make the spoke length just a touch shorter than one side of the square. This may take some adjusting of the hands and feet to get everything right. In any case, after a few tries the correct spoke length will be easy to estimate by eye and the square method can be abandoned.

Before starting the Flat Loop I'd like to point out some of the rational landmarks. The goal is to spin the loop   counter-clockwise (Note: In this book the direction that the loop turns will always be from the roper's point of view, i.e., as the roper looks at the loop while roping) in the horizontal plane in such a way so that the hand holding the spoke makes a small circular motion and in such a way so that the hand is always a quarter of a circle ahead of the honda. The difference in circle position between the hand and the honda is called the phase of the hand with respect to the honda. It is very important to pay attention to the phase of the hand in all lasso tricks, and more about phase is discussed in Section 1.4.   I point out that the description of the starting configuration (using a square to correctly position the hands with respect to the honda) means that even before starting the Flat Loop the hand is already positioned at a quarter of a circle ahead of the honda. Thus, we can conclude that in starting the Flat Loop the hand mustn't make any extraordinary accelerated spinning movements. Before releasing the loop with the left and right hands the spoke hand already has a quarter circle phase advance on the honda and it is important to maintain this phase difference after the release of the loop and throughout the entire action of the Flat Loop.

The initial turning action on the loop is started with both hands. The right hand describes a large, horizontal, counter-clockwise circle in front of the body. As the right hand circles from right to left the left hand passes underneath the right arm to facilitate the rotation of the loop. It is at this point that the loop is released by the thumb and forefinger of both hands. At the moment of release the right hand travels in a spiral path from the loop edge to a position near the center of the circle formed by the now horizontally turning loop. Through this entire operation the hand must remain a quarter circle ahead of the honda. To achieve this you must observe the rotational speed of the loop at the moment of release and then do your best to match this speed with the right hand. It is only in this way that you will be able to learn how to maintain the quarter circle phase advance during the start of the Flat Loop.

Before moving on to some more subtle ideas about handling the Flat Loop I'd like to point out two common mistakes made by many beginning Flat Loop disciples. The first is starting the trick by throwing the loop of the lasso away from the body. Since the loop is attached to the spoke it will just swing back towards the body like a pendulum and collide into the legs. This kills the spin and you'll be forced to start over. To avoid this just lay out the loop in front of you with the spoke positioned directly over the center of the loop.

The second mistake is trying to drive the Flat Loop with large arm motions directed from the shoulder or the elbow. A large arm motion is required at the start of the Flat Loop but once started the Flat Loop requires little energy to keep it going. Thus, most of the time a small wrist action is all that is required. Furthermore, limiting the driving force of the Flat Loop as much as possible to a wrist action diminishes the probability that the loop will stray into the legs, killing the spin and forcing you to start over.


1.4 The Quarter Circle Phase Advance

Figures 1.4(a) and (b) illustrate a front perspective and top view, respectively, of the Flat Loop. In both figures (a) and (b) the large circle is the loop, the small circle represents the path that the hand moves in, and the straight line between the two circles is the spoke. In the figures both the loop and the hand are turning in the counter-clockwise direction.

Figure 1.4: Phase of Hand for the Flat Loop

The position of the hand on its circle with respect to the position of the honda on the loop circle is very important. As depicted in the figures the hand must be a quarter of a circle ahead of the honda. The quarter circle phase advance is necessary to keep the loop turning efficiently. We can think of the tension in the spoke as being decomposed into two parts. As illustrated in Figure 1.5 one part of the spoke tension is tangential to the loop and the other component is perpendicular to it.

Figure 1.5: Tangential Component of Spoke Tension

Since it is the tangential component of the spoke tension which makes the loop turn we can intuitively see that it is the quarter circle phase advance which most efficiently keeps the loop spinning.

In Figure 1.5 the tangential component is largest when the end of the spoke is located at the point illustrated on the small circle (i.e., a quarter circle phase advance with respect to the position of the honda on the large circle). Note that the small circle illustrated in Figure 1.5 has been represented at a larger scale than it is in practice in order to better illustrate the principles involved.

There is an exercise you can use for cultivating the feel of the quarter circle phase advance principle. Unthread the end of the lasso from the honda and starting from the end of the spoke, coil about half of the lasso's length into the left hand. As shown in Figure 1.6(a) allow the honda end of the lasso to hang down from the right hand

Figure 1.6: Phase Mastery Exercise

and, by moving the hand in a small circle, try to make the rope obtain the shape in Figure 1.6(b). When the rope takes this shape, the hand is a quarter circle phase ahead of the knee in the lasso. A little practice with this exercise should give you an idea of the correct hand-honda phase.

The problem of hand phase is very important. The quarter circle phase advance principle holds true in almost every lasso trick. The most likely result of bad phase is that the diameter of the loop gets smaller and smaller until the circle completely vanishes. The two possibilities that give rise to bad phase are (1), the relative phase of the hand and the honda is constant but the hand is on the wrong half of the small circle

Figure 1.7: Problems with Phase

thus diminishing the loop speed and (2), the hand-honda phase is continually changing in a way which, on average, diminishes the loop speed (see Figure 1.7). For both cases a decelerating loop speed means a diminishing loop diameter. If you're having problems with the loop becoming smaller and smaller the problem is almost certainly a poor mastery of phase!


1.5 Untwisting the Spoke

If you've been trying to learn the Flat Loop by following my description up to here you've probably become aware of a problem. After a few tries the rope becomes kinked up and it is impossible to continue without removing the kinks. While you've been turning the loop in circles, the spoke has been held stationary which explains why the spoke (and even the loop) get unmanageably kinked after a while. To avoid the kinks it's necessary to make one turn of the spoke end for each turn of the loop.

Untwisting the spoke is a little tricky since you must do this with the right hand all the while being careful not to release the spoke. As shown in Figure 1.8 this is accomplished by alternately rolling the spoke end between the thumb and forefinger and then by gripping the spoke with the remaining fingers.

Figure 1.8: Untwisting the Spoke End

Figure 1.8(a) shows the three lower fingers of the right hand gripping the spoke end. The thumb and forefinger are extended so that they grip the cord as in Figure 1.8(b). The cord is then rolled between the thumb and forefinger, untwisting the spoke end, and then regripped as in Figure 1.8(a). Learning to untwist the spoke is a pain in the beginning, however, it quickly becomes second nature and you will forget that you are even doing it.


1.6 Changing the Loop Diameter

As already discussed the diameter of the loop depends on the speed at which it is turning. The faster the loop turns, the larger its diameter and the slower the loop turns the smaller its diameter. The conclusion is that for each constant speed the loop has a constant diameter and so to increase or decrease the loop diameter the speed at which the loop is turning must be accelerated or decelerated.

Because of the importance of maintaining the quarter circle phase advance   between the honda and the hand (as discussed in Section 1.4), you cannot change the speed of the loop by simply moving the hand faster along the small hand-circle path illustrated in both Figures 1.4 and 1.5. To increase the loop speed it is necessary to increase the tangential component of the spoke tension without altering the quarter circle phase advance of the hand. This can only be accomplished by increasing the diameter of the hand circle. Increasing the diameter of the hand circle increases the distance that it must travel to make a complete circle and so increasing the spoke tension also results in increasing the speed of the hand.


1.7 The Spin Acceleration Technique

Gravity is not the only force which acts to close the diameter of the loop. Most roping tricks require the roper to move the loop from the static position of the Flat Loop to another static position or perhaps through some continuous displacement of the loop. Moving the loop means pulling on the spoke and this results, as with the pull exerted by gravity, in diminishing the loop's diameter. If there were no way to counteract this effect the roper would be forced to stop after just a few tricks because the loop would be completely closed! Thus, the subject of this section is a method which is used to keep the diameter of the loop constant when it is necessary to pull on the spoke. I call this method the Spin Acceleration Technique.

The static relationship between the Flat Loop diameter and the rotational speed of the loop was described in the previous section: the greater the rotational speed of the loop the greater its diameter and vice versa. This is true, however, only when the position of the loop remains static. When the loop's position is changing an increase in the rotational speed of the loop may not increase the loop diameter if the two effects are properly balanced. This fact is of paramount importance for the successful mastery of many lasso tricks as will be seen in subsequent sections.

Thus, pulling on the spoke creates a loop closing force and accelerating the loop's rotational speed creates a loop opening force. The spin acceleration technique which seeks to maintain the equilibrium of these forces can be a little tricky to learn. Fundamentally you'll just have to get a feel for it. However, the following description should help you learn the method by describing some of the essential rational landmarks to be found along the way.

Figure 1.9 illustrates two top views of the loop. For the loop illustrated in Figure 1.9(a) the phase difference between the hand and the honda is a quarter circle and the hand circle diameter is normal. This figure illustrates the situation before spin acceleration begins. For the loop illustrated in Figure 1.9(b) the hand circle diameter is larger than that in Figure 1.9(a) and the phase difference between the hand and the honda is as close to a quarter circle as possible given the increased hand circle diameter. This figure illustrates the situation during the spin acceleration. Since the hand circle is larger the tangential component of the spoke tension is greater than that in Figure 1.9(a) and so the rotational speed of the loop increases. If the increase in rotational speed is balanced by the pull on the spoke the loop diameter does not change and, consequently, the spoke length does not change. After the maneuver is achieved the hand goes back to the hand circle represented in Figure 1.9(a).

Figure 1.9: Spin Acceleration

If you apply the spin acceleration correctly then you will actually feel a sort of solidity of the diameter of the loop as you pull. It's a force balancing act and you should feel as if the loop seems to be pulling back against you a bit. While working on tricks which require the spin acceleration technique you will notice one of three things: 1) The loop is closing while you do the trick which means you have not sufficiently accelerated the loop (or you've lost the correct phase advance), 2) The loop is opening which means you are accelerating the loop too much, 3) The loop neither gets bigger or smaller which means you've succeeded!

It's good to experiment a bit to get a feel for how much the loop diameter grows for a given acceleration. Just try speeding up the rotation of the loop without pulling on it to see how much it grows. Then try speeding up at different rates and pulling at the same time to see what spin acceleration is required for a certain pull. The experience you get from these types of experiments will help you get a feel for the balance of forces needed when practicing many of the tricks described in this book.

The explanation of the spin acceleration technique may seem a bit abstract at the first reading. Nevertheless, I promise that its importance will become clearer in later sections. Many of the tricks to be described in later sections depend on spin acceleration and you will develop additional insight when you begin to work on them. In fact you may want to come back and reread this section at that time.

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next up previous contents index
Next: Flat Loop Tricks Up: The Lasso Previous: Preface

Carey Bunks
Mon Jul 8, 1996