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Philippe Petit's passion for rope, knots and teaching folks to tie

April 21, 2013|By Tracy Brown
  • Philippe Petit, star of the documentary "Man on Wire," taught audience members how to tie knots in promoting his book "Why Knot?"
Philippe Petit, star of the documentary "Man on Wire," taught… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

“Man on Wire” star Philippe Petit was welcomed by a packed auditorium for his discussion about his new book “Why Knot?” on Sunday at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Each member of the standing-room-only crowd was handed a piece of red rope as they entered the auditorium. The man who walked a tightrope between New York City's Twin Towers in 1974 called various people to the stage to help him with his demonstrations.

As a self-taught high-wire artist, knots have been a part of Petit’s life from a young age. He explained how he first started tying knots when he was about 5 or 6 years old, which soon led to him tying rope between trees, which eventually led to him experimenting with walking along these tightropes.

Knots are important to Petit because the success of these knots are what actually keep him alive. But more than that, to Petit, knots are poetry -- his favorite being the “simple and elegant” figure-eight knot.


It was his dissatisfaction with existing books about knots that led him to writing “Why Knot?” He explained that other books were disappointing because they “were not filled with passion.”

Petit said he always carried a piece of rope with him, one that is red and approximately a meter long, a sturdier version of the pieces of rope given to the audience. His book comes with a bit of  rope because he believed selling a book about knots without it would be absurd.

Petit entertained the audience with demonstrations using props as well as people he selected from the crowd to be his assistants. He told stories about his rope work, noting that some knots were “for people in a rush” while others were “for people being patient.” He also taught the audience how to make a square knot and a figure-eight knot.


Petit’s presentation was shot through with his passion, and it was a lesson in how to make a more personal connection by sharing that passion.

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