The one about the crappy knot…

When we teach how to tie into a harness, we usually introduce some key points to make sure the Figure 8 Follow Through / Rewoven Fig. 8 knot tied is safe. Some variations i have heard include making sure that the knot is :

  1. Knot is Tight
  2. Excess tail not more than 15cm long
  3. 5 Parallel Lines
  4. Knot is well dressed
  5. Loop must be smaller than 1 fist

I like to do this little activity with the class once they have mastered tying into the knot but before i give them this list of knowledge. I would tie the sloppiest knot ever like below into my harness.


I would then set up a story, and for dramatic effect, i would role play it so that the class gets a good laugh.

“Ok guys, now just imagine all of you have gotten your Level 1 cert already and i am the only person here who does not have a level 1 cert. Now i saw what you have been doing and monkey see monkey do, i just followed along. This is the knot that i get (points to my knot). Can i start climbing?”

This will usually be met with a chorus of laughter or some incredulous looks. Most will say “No way dude”. And i would follow up with a “Why not? I did exactly what you just did what?”

Then the real learning begins. They will start to point out everything that is wrong with it. Conversations usually go as such.

“Errr the tail is too short…” (He/She has just stated the point)

“So? So what?” (Trying to draw out the understanding)

“Coz if the climber moves too vigorously the short tail will just slip out and the knot will come undone.”

I will then demonstrate what the participant has just said to drive home the point.

Gradually more answers will come in to point out all the faults in the knot. I find this a more visual and interactive way to drive home the key points about tying a safe Fig. 8 Follow Through Knot. Rather than just listing it and expecting the participants to memorise them. Now they have an image, some movement, to anchor their memory and help relate to the safety pointer they are suppose to remember.

Give it a try. Do you teach it in any other way? Pray do share.



The one about the non-mechanical belaying devices…

109808653_medium_6130ae(Photo Source : )

So over the long wkend, i received a note that one of the climbing gyms has decided to move ahead to introduce non-mechanical assisted braking devices eg. Mammut SMART belay, Climbing Technology Click Up, Edelrid Mega Jul, in their Level 1 courses at the gym. I had a chat with the gym owner once and he did share with me the rationale why the gym is pushing for it. We had a good discussion over their pros and cons (ok mostly pros) and why it will be good to introduce them not just in the courses but to see them being used more often in the gyms. I was really glad to hear about such innovations because such devices can really up the safety factor in belaying. Say what we want, but there is always the potential for human error to creep in no matter how experienced we are. These devices help to keep the risk to a bare minimum. My opinion was that there was no harm introducing them to new climbers at an early stage so that they get familiar with them and build up good habits using them. I am more than happy to include them in my courses especially with the gym’s support not just to supply us with the gear but to help us get familiar with it. If you are not familiar with non-mechanical assisted belay devices, here’s a good simple article that i found : They cover both mechanical and non-mechanical devices. 

As we spoke i also began to voice my concerns over whether will climbers eventually start to see these assisted belay devices as a norm in the gym. My greatest worry was that there will come a day when i will be belaying in the gym with my good old ATC and some young punk will come up to me and call me out for doing something unsafe. All because he has never seen an ATC before. I can just imagine the conversation (in the future),

Young Punk (YP) : “Hey Uncle, do you know that that device that  you are using is not safe?

Me : *resisting all my natural instincts to stab him in his jugular vein for calling me Uncle* “Why is it not safe?

YP : “Because it does not have any braking assistance. What if you let go of your brake hand accidentally?”

Me: “Well in my time (yes i know this is not helping to bring my age down…), we were all trained to use this ATC and the belayer simply had to learn NEVER to let go of the brake hand no matter what happens. It’s a sacred trust between the climber and the belayer and no matter what happens, my brake hand will always remain on the brake line. So as much as i appreciate your concern, this device is safe to use in the gym with a trained belayer thank you.

YP : “Yes, you are trained but what if the unexpected happens? You lose concentration for a moment and the climber falls. The climber dislodges a tile that hits you on your brake hand. So many things can go wrong. Why not just use an assisted belay device so that you will be 100% safe? I disagree that we should leave it to “trust”, as if “trust” will take care of us all. Gravity will still happen with or without trust. So i think it is still best to belay using an assisted belay device. Here, you can use mine.

Me, “Really dude, i’m good with my ATC. I’m more familiar with it anyway. And besides, no device is 100% safe. Btw you really shouldn’t talk to a belayer when he is belaying…

I can just imagine how the conversation will continue when we go into ethics, moral dilemma, rules & regulations, star wars vs star trek, pikachu vs ratata…. I guess that’s what makes this conversation important. On one hand i am happy to see a step taken in the right direction to reduce the risk in climbing, but the traditional aspects in me still wants to keep the old skool, romantic notions of climbing. Where to rope up with your buddy was way more than just a 5 min climb. Where by belaying, you promise to always hang on to that line even if he fell a thousand times and not leave it to a mere device to catch him. Will we even need a belayer in future? (Check out this blog : )These thoughts swivelled through my mind as i talked with BT that evening. Until he said something that made some sense to my undecided mind,

“Do you remember in the old days we made use of stitch plates and Fig. 8’s to belay? Why did we stop? Because a whole new generation of devices came along – the tubular devices like your ATC’s. Are we now seeing another new generation of devices being introduced? Maybe this will be the new norm?”

So this is progress. The price of progress. I was swayed a little but the conundrum still existed in my mind. As a climber, i was all in for the safety. But as an instructor, i still felt that it was my duty to teach. Perhaps until the day that BT described really arrives where the tubular becomes obsolete then perhaps i will feel more comfortable to leave out the good ole non-assisted belay devices. Till the day comes where the market is flooded with these devices, i hope we can all have the good sense not to make so drastic a distinction between safe and dangerous. Let’s not forget that these assisted braking devices are safe, but you can never remove the human capacity for stupidity. You solve the belaying problem but all it takes is for the same idiot to rig up the device wrongly or attach his carabiner wrongly or the knot is tied wrongly or harness never double and that’s it. At the end of the day, perhaps it is the belayer’s mentality, the approach to belaying, the regard for the importance of belaying that we should be concerned about? Always check regardless of what expensive device you have there. We are humans…and that makes us vulnerable.

These are the conversations that we should be having as a climbing instructor community. Thank you for engaging the community to move a step forward in the face of inactivity.

Peaceful Vibes!

The one about that decorative knot…

Ok i must confess, sometimes for the fun of it, i like to point at the little overhand knots some climbers like to tie at the end of their Fig. 8 Follow Through knot on their harness and ask, “What’s that for? Decoration ahh?”

Figure 8 Follow Through Knot with an Overhand knot back up (Photo Source :


Trainee Instructors attached to me for that day will be grilled on the significance of that overhand knot especially if they teach it to the participants for the day. And the most common answer i get from climbers alike for the overhand knot is,

“I was told that it serves as a back-up knot”

Followed closely by, a sheepish grin and…

“I have too much excess rope in the tail…”

The devil in me will then start to probe the reasoning. Everything we do has to have a reason, a logic else why are we wasting time doing it? If there is excess rope at the tail end of the rope, it probably means you didn’t measure it properly right? So should we go back and retie the knot if we are trying to inculcate good habits in the climbers?

If that knot is meant to be a back up for the main Fig. 8 knot, then do you really think it will hold a climber’s weight if you get the Fig. 8 wrong? That tiny little knot with a miserable 1-2cm excess of tail just so that it looks tidy on your rope? Really? Some would point out to me that most adventure centres’ SOP’s are to have the knot and some books advocate it, even to the extend that some would say the knot is totally unsafe for climbing until the overhand knot is present. I do not reject any of those explanations, as long as you yourself are convinced by it. And that you are able to convince your participants about your reasoning. Because people will ask and if your answer does not hold water, then your standing as an instructor in front of them will decrease gradually.

This brings me to the question, was tying that overhand knot a standard or a preference? Standards are things that we need to teach because they are mandated in the syllabus. Preferences are what we prefer doing because of some reason or some past experience. Preferences usually do not have any safety implications. If it is so important, it would usually be a standard rather than a preference. So should an instructor be teaching standards or preferences? This is a fine line to draw and many of us will be grappling especially if the guidelines or syllabus or passing standards are not clear and definite. Are  you able to differentiate between your preferences and the standards you are suppose to be teaching as an instructor?

The one about that black belt…

How do you end off a climbing course? I use a variety of methods to close off the day. No… doing the admin brief like “your cert no need to renew” or “it is valid in all of SEA nowadays…” is not a proper closing. It’s always good to end off the day since you probably had a good strong start at the start of the day. Beyond the admin brief and summarising the skills they learnt throughout the day, i usually like to end off with something thoughtful so that they might reflect on it on the way home. I have lots of stories but here’s one that i particularly like.  I heard this from a teambuilding facilitator once, didn’t know his name but he was using it for a certification programme so it’s quite apt here. Enjoy!

The Black Belt

A Karate student was on his way to collect his Black Belt from his master. When he came upon his master, he bowed and asked respectfully,“Master, I have trained hard all these years, I have defeated the best in the land, I have won every single fight, I am ready for my black belt, will you pls confer it onto me?”

The wise old master looked at him and replied, “Before presenting you with your black belt, I have a question for you. What does this belt mean to you?”

 The student immediately replied, “It means that I have attained perfection in the art of Karate and that I have reached the highest level in the martial art, master.”

The Karate Master shook his head in disappointment, “You are not worthy of the black belt yet. Go away and come back in another year.”

The student was very disappointed. But he went away and trained even harder for the entire year. He defeated better fighters and won every difficult fight. Eventually it was time to return to his master for his belt. He was confident that this time the black belt would be his.

 Upon arriving before his master, the master asked him the same question, “What does this belt mean to you?”

 The young student was confident and replied, “I understand why you turned me away a year ago, master. Now I feel stronger after I have defeated even more exponents and attained a higher level of proficiency in Karate. The belt will show that I have reached that level.”

 Again, the master was disappointed and replied, “You are still not ready for the black belt, go away for another year and come back again.”

 The student was shocked! He never expected this reply. He was already the best in the land. However he still went away and practiced hard for the next year. His skills were even better than the year before when he finally returned to the master again for his black belt.

 Again, the master asked him, “What does the black belt mean to you?”

The student pondered over the question this time and it occurred to him that the master was not looking for the usual answer. And then it dawned upon him.

 “Master, I finally understand. Achieving the black belt is only the beginning of my route to perfection. I have not attained perfection. Instead the belt is a reminder to me that I have continue to work hard and practice hard to achieve perfection.”

With that, the master was finally smiling and he promptly conferred the black belt to his former student. He had finally understood the significance behind the belt.

So that’s that. I will usually end it off by saying this to my pax.
In a way, the certificate you are holding now is like a black belt. We can go away with this cert thinking that we have mastered a skill but if we fail to continue practicing it, and perfecting it, our skills will dull and eventually disappear. Getting this cert is only the beginning and we should start to practice perfecting it rather than just rest on our laurels. Something for you to think about today as you go home. What does this cert mean to you? With that, i end my day. 
Do you use any other stories to end the day in a climbing course? I would love to hear more. I have other tricks up my sleeves for the ending but i will leave it to another post for now.
Peaceful Vibes!

The one about Why we do what we do?


Well, this being a site called Confessions, perhaps i should sort of confess. When i first started on this journey to try and bring together the climbing instructor community, I was, and still am, terrified at the thought of attempting something so big. I have always bounced off the idea of doing a workshop or doing a talk or just gathering instructors to climb and talk, but all these ideas didn’t bear fruit coz of the fear of rejection. I shared with some that i was afraid, afraid of the response, afraid of the unknown. I confided in some friends, what if others say,

“Who does he think he is to conduct a workshop on climbing?”

“He’s only a Cat 1 instructor teaching Lvl 1…”

“What’s his agenda? Who is he representing?”

To the credit of a friend of mine – KS (I believe in giving credit when credit is due!), he reminded me that “people will always talk. And people will always be suspicious. But you should still do it if you believe that it is good for the community.”

So here is my confession.

I am afraid. I am afraid nobody will respond, that this idea of community that i have always believed in my head, is all but a fantasy of mine after reading one too many outdoor or team building books. I am afraid of the rejection if others will find me not worthy. I have never given a talk or conducted a workshop and i sure as hell have never facilitated a session as big, as open as the one i am attempting to do on 1 Oct for the instructor community. But i know that i must still try.

I must confess that i run on passion. By now those who know me will know that i bear no allegiance to any gym or any organisation. I freelance at all the gyms to get a feel and an understanding of how each one operates. I believe that i have a good feel of what goes on in the climbing community. And once in awhile i see gaps, i see problems, i see potential, i see opportunities. I am completely neutral in this big project that i am undertaking. For those who doubt me, i guess only time will tell. I would like to see the entire instructor community grow and progress together. From the shambles that we are now into a professional entity that we will be proud of, that newbies to the sport will feel safe and secured to learn with. I want climbers to aspire to be instructors one day if they so choose to. And i want them to receive the best training they can get, to have a fair unbiased playing field to learn and test themselves. I want the instructors to not stagnate but to keep growing and keep dreaming. To build a true community of practice where we will share and learn together. I want an entity that will evolve when the need arises, to not be afraid to challenge itself, to keep renewing and keep on growing.

I am putting myself upfront to take the lead and get things up. But i cannot do it alone. We can let it be or we can try to do something about it,  regardless of our fears. I’m taking that step. Will anyone join me?

Peaceful Vibes