Single Whip

Single Whip is one of the most common application ideas in Chinese martial art. You can find it in most northern styles. The skill usually involves standing close, side-to-side with an opponent, hooking the opponent’s outstretched arm with one hand, and throwing him with an arcing overhead motioning with the other arm.

The whip it’s referring to is the kind we call bullwhip (see below), not the other major type of whip – riding crop, which is stiff, stick-like.

It’s so named because it describes exactly what the skill should be like: your spine is the relatively rigid handle of the whip. Your arm the soft, flexible body of the whip. Power is initiated in the waist area – at the butt of the whip. So the motion is not that of a staff, trying to knock over (and down) the opponent, or a lever, trying to pry him off his balance. The mental image is that of trying to strike a far away target behind the opponent’s head with a soft whip.

From experience, people have discovered that in martial art, sports, physical labor, using the correct mental image can help the person naturally use the correct mechanics, alignment. For example, Mark Rippetoe in his Starting Strength talks about how in squat, it’s natural for people to concentrate their efforts on where the weight is felt, on the upper back, neck area. And if they concentrate on pushing there, it would lead to excessive use of local muscles instead of whole body force. That’s how people can strain their neck. The really helpful mental image there is to imagine pushing up from sacrum in lower back. If you put your mind there you automatically do everything correctly for that motion. In martial art training, many secrets are small things like this, it all seems obvious after someone told you, but on your own it might take a lifetime to reinvent the wheel.

The same principle applies to single whip: if you concentrate on point of contact – your arm and opponent’s side, you’ll have to use a lot of force to unbalance him. Most likely you will not be able to, as the tendency here is to use just your arm to unbalance him. But if you put your mind on the imaginary target behind his head (from your perspective, not back of his head), and concentrating on trying to reach it with your hand (tip of the whip). You’ll find that you can move him very easily. This is because using this imagery, you naturally use your whole weight to move his center of balance, rather than applying a more awkward force using side of your arm. The other thing is, because force is spread out throughout your body, the opponent does not detect this type of change easily before it’s too late.

Finally, what can really make this motion effective is the snap at last moment. It’s what makes a whip lash sting. Here, rather than a gentle arc, which is similar to a linear motion, and therefore relatively simple force to deal with, that extra motion makes it a much more complex circular force to follow and respond to. You can throw a person a lot further by just adding this small extra motion.

Single Whip is a very old skill, people obviously put a lot of thought in naming it.


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March 2010
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