The first time I saw the rope dart used (or ever, for that matter) was by Sifu Michael Parella in his Kung Fu school in Queens, N.Y. where I was an instructor. He was doing basic things but he handled the weapon well. Other than a pendulum swing, he also did what I consider to be the first body wrap one should learn; I thought the rope was wrapped around him and when it came out at me I was in a state of awe (this technique is found on my first lesson on body wraps). He also asked me to pick out a focus mitt on the wall. I pointed at no particular mitt and he shot the dart out and hit it. I was in love with the rope dart instantaneously. This was a cold January night in 2005.
I had recently quit my job as a graphic design salesman (which, of course, I had no business being) to become a full time Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu instructor (which, we would soon find out whether or not I had business being). I had trained in this same kung fu school as a youth, left (read: quit) and focused on schoolwork and odd jobs. However, there I was, back again in that same school watching the rope dart in all of its glory.
When I picked up the rope dart the next day I was a real rope dart beginner: there was nothing about it on the Internet and the media site Youtube wouldn’t have debuted for another month. Facebook launched a year earlier but take a guess as to whether or not there was a group called Rope Dart Tech on it. I desperately tried to recreate the simple pendulum swing and had little, if any, success. I saw my Sifu do a basic body wrap but no way was I going to figure that out yet. I practiced that morning for hours on the simple swing, trying to hit things. And hit things and hit things. Of course, I knew nothing else.
The rope for the dart wasn’t really rope at all- it was braided string. It was the original string that came with the dart. It was the exact string a person should not use. This is the reason that my Dragons Tooth rope dart comes the way it does: good braided rope (that must be worked in) and the Phoenix Tail Rope Dart Flag- the best flag ever made for a rope dart (in my humble opinion). Point being that I used that braided string for the first year or so, because I didn’t know otherwise. It was what was on my Sifu’s dart and I took it as gold.
I still have that first rope dart and the string is red from the blood that spilled from my rope burn. The burns on my neck and fingers were so bad at times that the skin broke and I bled. Â There was a time where I ran out of lead fingers due to rope cuts: I went from my right index finger to my right middle finger to my right ring finger and didnâ€™t bother with the pinky. I am glad I didn’t use a thick rope originally; I feel that the thinner the rope the more challenging to wield. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. A year or so later, when I discovered thick rope, it opened up a new world. Either way, for those who complain about rope burn when using actual rope, try using string. String cuts through you like a saw. Soooâ€¦stop complaining, please.
Months earlier I learned some whip chain so for the first few weeks of rope dart practice sessions consisted of pendulum swing shots, neck twirls and shoulder twirls. Mind you that with the twirling-shot combination I always tried to hit a target: something big and somewhat easy to hit. Not because anybody told me to do that but because it made sense to me.
I don’t train with Sifu Parrella anymore (I haven’t for years now but wish him well) but that doesn’t change the fact that he (whether on purpose or not) introduced me to the rope dart. Subsequently, he never actually taught me anything with the rope dart either. He wrote on a Kung Fu forum years ago that he bought me a rope dart video and thatâ€™s how I learned. This is simply not true. He did, however, buy me a whip chain video. Maybe he forgot/was confused. Not sure, don’t care. I am real self-taught (trial, error, etc.) not self- YouTube taught. There is a huge difference between the two. I am glad the information is out there now though.
Sometimes, when I read or view what others do, I am perplexed at what people say: I have been training for 5 months, why am I not better? How do you do this thing? This thing I shouldn’t be attempting? Sigh. It took me years to get this stuff, stuff people simply click a button and have access to. The challenge is that these people have not really had to work for it and lack the basics. They skip the art of accuracy and the retrieval in favor of some advanced wrap that quite honestly they have no business attempting, yet.
I’m not here to preach or discourage but there is an overwhelmingly scary trend that I keep seeing: new dartists wondering why they are not as good as others. The best thing about me learning the rope dart was the fact that there was no information on it. I couldn’t ask anyone how to do anything. There was also nobody to compare myself to.
My advice for you: take it back to the beginning.