Whoosh! Issue 14 -
November 1997

By Donald Plunkett
Copyright © 1997 held by author
3337 words

What a Whip Can Do (01-03)
Parts of a Single Thong Whip (04-13)
Cracking the Whip (14-15)
Get a Good Whip (16-21)
Tending to Your Whip (22-23)
Instruction (24-30)
Forward Crack (31-34)
Straight Throws (35-36)
Circle Crack (37-38)
Wrap Cracks and Other Tricks (39-41)
Xena and Her Whip (42-44)
Websites (45)

Whips in Xena: Warrior Princess

What a Whip Can Do

This is the most clothing we've seen on Gabrielle or her
descendents since '95

Indiana Gabrielle, avec whip

[01] Whips are as old as recorded history and show up in the oldest artwork. Xena's whip in the show is just a cheap prop. It is obviously very light weight to avoid injuring the stuntmen. The whip used in THE XENA SCROLLS (#34) looked to be real, however. It was in the American bullwhip pattern and probably made by one of the talented whipmakers in Australia.

[02] A real whip artist can break bottles, hit targets the size of a quarter, or use the whip to grab things. Australian ox drivers would flick flies off the ears of the oxen without hitting the ear. Carriage drivers would pick up lizards from the side of the road with the whip, fling them in the air, and then cut them in half. All this while the carriage was moving. Someone skilled with a whip can take a series of thumbtacks driven partway into a wall and either pull them out or drive them in as they wish.

[03] For purposes of this article I will only discuss the single thong whip as opposed to the cat-o-nine tails and its ilk.

Parts of a Single Thong Whip

[04] Starting at the tip is the "popper". That is the string or cord that makes the crack. Because this part of the whip gets the most abuse, it is easily replaced and frays quickly.

[05] Next is the "fall". This is usually a single strand of leather. On a well made whip designed for cracking it is tapered.

[06] The "thong" is the body of the whip. A well-made thong is braided with anywhere from 8 to 32 strips or "plaits" of leather. Eight plait is the minimum for a good whip and most run from 12 to 16 plait. Twenty plait or more is usually just decorative.

[07] The "belly" of the whip is the filling in the thong that gives it body and rounds it out. A well made whip will actually have a belly of 4 to 6 plait leather.

[09] The "handle" determines what type of whip it is.

[10] The "stock whip" uses a stiff handle of wood or cane that is often connected to the thong by a swivel arrangement, sometimes just a leather string. Xena's whip is a stock whip. The stock whips were the most popular style in Australia with handles up to several feet in length and thongs up to 20 feet or more.

[11] The "blacksnake" or "shot whip" does not really have a handle at all. The shot whip is flexible for its entire length and is loaded with lead shot near the handle to improve its handling characteristics. This style was popular in the American northwest with people that were used to using regular ropes as whips.

[12] The "bullwhip" has a short, stiff handle that is braided into the thong. Bullwhips are typically American, although the Aussies make some very good ones. Janice Covington's whip was a bullwhip [THE XENA SCROLLS (#34)].

[13] There are other styles of whip from other parts of the world, but these are the most familiar.

Cracking the Whip

Suddenly I have this urge to sing a Devo

Janice Covington, about to let fly

[14] The crack of a whip is made when the tip exceeds the speed of sound. The tip is actually traveling faster than most pistol bullets. It can cut flesh or break bones, so safety is paramount. If you are using a whip outdoors it can pick up gravel or stones and send them flying as well. Whips need lots of room. Only use them in an area with enough clearance for the length of the whip plus the length of your arm in front, behind, to the sides, and above you. Never use live assistants. Mechanical holders are more reliable and last longer.

[15] If you are learning with a whip you will pick up a few welts. Wear sturdy clothing and a hat. Safety glasses are a must and are very inexpensive. You only get one set of eyes. Proper technique will reduce the minor injuries. A well-made whip will just about crack itself with very little effort on your part. Throw it easily and follow through. There is no need to force a whip as you would a towel or rope. At the end of the throw do not pull it back toward yourself like it was a towel. Let the whip do the work.

Get a Good Whip

[16] A good whip will run several hundred dollars. Do not settle for a poorly-made whip. A good whip is an absolute joy to use and, if cared for properly, will last a lifetime. A bad whip is almost impossible to get a good crack out of and will come apart after very little use.

[17] I once thought about making my own whips and bought a book by David Morgan on whipmaking. There is real artistry involved in making a proper whip. It is perhaps the most difficult form of leather braiding there is and certainly beyond my abilities. Each plait must be formed precisely and the entire whip must be tapered exactly to get the correct action. Skilled whipmakers spend many years in apprenticeship learning their trade. They are few in number today. They certainly earn their pay. Do not get a cheap whip, save your dinars until you can afford a good one. Figure on spending a minimum of 125 US dollars for an 8 foot whip.

[18] Kangaroo leather is the best material for whips. It is strong and supple and allows for a tight braid. Kangaroo leather is also the most expensive. Latigo makes for a good whip although a bit courser and heavier than kangaroo. Buckskin makes a light, supple whip but is not very sturdy.

[19] The least expensive and sturdiest material of all is nylon. Nylon whips do not give a very good action and tend to be too light in weight.

[20] A six foot length is about minimum for most tricks. Eight to ten feet is average. Anything over ten feet can be difficult to control and anything over twelve feet is near impossible to do fine work with although I have seen whip artists do some amazing things with whips over twenty feet in length.

[21] At the end of this article is a list of whip makers and importers that handle good quality whips here in the states. Folks in Australia will have an easier time finding a well-made working whip as most tack shops carry them and several of the best whipmakers live in Australia (especially around New South Wales).

Tending to Your Whip

Raise your hand if you're sure?  I'll give you

Xena, about to return an axe to a Horde member the hard way
in THE PRICE (#44).

[22] Do not use neet's foot or other light oils on your whips. Light oils will loosen the plaiting in short order. Bee's wax, sheep's kidney fat, or saddle soap will preserve the leather without loosening the plait. Only use your whip in grassy areas. Dirt and gravel will get into the braid and wear the whip out. Do not hit metal or sharp objects. Do not let your whip get wet. Moisture will loosen and damage leather and can cause mildew (eewwww!). And above all do not let your new puppy near the whip. Most animals think an expensive piece of leather is ideal for chewing.

[23] Most poppers can be replaced by the owner. The popper should be replaced long before it wears down to the fall. A fall is more difficult to replace and you might want to return the whip to the maker for fall replacement. Any other repairs would best be handled by the whip maker. Whips are designed to be used and will take weeks of constant use just to get broken in. With a little care your whip will probably outlast you.


[24] It is best to have personal instruction to learn how to use a whip. By taking it slowly and carefully you can teach yourself.

[25] David Morgan recommends a very loose grip on the ball at the end of the whip. He even suggests starting by tying a piece of string to your wrist and letting the whip hang from that.

[26] Most American performers use a grip similar to that used on a fishing pole. It is a relaxed grip with the thumb pointing up along the handle. To me this grip seems to give more control, however it does make it easier to try and force the whip.

[27] Pick a method and stick to that one. If you have access to a large polished floor area like a gymnasium lay the whip flat and slowly and easily just move it back and forth. This lets you get a feel for the action and see how the whip works in slow motion.

[28] To get a good crack you want a very sharp "hairpin" curve to form in the whip. As the hairpin travels the length of the whip the taper in the thong causes it to speed up. When the popper finally travels around the curve it will break the sound barrier and crack. That is also the point where the whip is expending the most energy and where it will do the most damage.

[29] When you throw the whip use a full arm motion like throwing a baseball and follow through toward your target. Do not pull back on the whip or try to snap it. The motion should be smooth and easy. The whip will do the work. Let the whip move at its own pace. A longer, heavier whip will take longer to reach the end of its motion. Trying to speed it up or force it means more work for you with less satisfying results.

[30] Practice and you will develop a feel for the rhythm your whip demands. Enough time spent just handling the whip will allow you to make it do whatever you want with very little effort.

Forward Crack

Did I put on clean underwear?

The extension of a whip helps when one has to extricate oneself from a plot complication.

[31] The first trick is the forward crack. This trick is easiest with the shorter whips, and can be very difficult with the longer whips. It gives a loud crack. Hold the handle in your hand with the whip trailing on the ground straight out behind you. If it is wrapped behind you it might catch your leg as it goes by. Your thumb is pointing down to the ground with your hand hanging at your side. Swing your arm up (forwards) in a fast-paced, constant, fluid (not jerky) motion so the hand ends up above your shoulder, palm facing toward your ear beside your head, with the elbow pointing at your target. The speed should be enough so that the whip is fully extended throughout the upswing, not flopping or wiggling.

[32] For these first practice runs let the whip just fall to the ground behind you (do not follow through yet). Practice this so that the whip flies firmly through the air. Do not jerk the whip up, swing it fluidly.

[33] Next try it with the full follow through. When the whip tip (popper) starts dropping down behind you, step forward with the opposite leg (left leg for right handed throwers) and throw the whip forward. Keep the thumb on top (palm towards ear) and snap the wrist like you are using a hammer or casting a fishing pole. Follow through to a target you have aimed at in the distance (this is important) like a tree or telephone pole. Do not pull the whip down at the end so that it crashes into the ground (most people do this in the beginning). Throw the whip out straight and finish with your arm pointing straight out to the target. The body of the whip will travel past your shoulder creating a loop in the whip. The loop is the essential part of the delivery. It is what makes the tip go pop. When you swing the whip up and cock your wrist at the top (next to your ear) the tip of the whip is starting to swing down and forward under your elbow. When you throw the whip forward, the tip continues forward (past your shoulder or hip) and creates the loop as described above.

[34] This is why a good whip is so important. A cheap, lightweight whip will not have enough weight at the tip for this to happen. The tip will just follow the thong and not create the loop. The crack with this throw occurs fairly near the thrower so be careful.

Straight Throws

[35] Straight throws, whether overhand, underhand or sidearm, are the easiest to do with the longer whips. They are the most accurate for target work but do not make the loudest cracks. This is like the forward crack but done with a sidearm or underhand throw. Set up like with the forward crack (the whip is trailing behind you) but hold your hand and arm in a position as if you are "hitch-hiking a ride". Your palm is up and your thumb is on the near side of the handle pointing behind you. You will be pushing the whip forward with your thumb as if you are casting a fishing pole in a sidearm manner. In order to make the all-important loop, you must have as much of the whip up off the ground as possible (or it will droop below your arm). Think of this as if at the first moment of the throw, you are lifting the entire whip up off the ground. There is a little bit of a "lift up" with the hand at the first moment as you are throwing forward. It is not separate from the throw, it is part of it.

[36] An easy throw without cracking the whip sets it up in the air for a powerful crack in the opposite direction. Eventually you will be able to crack it in any direction and then move from that crack to the next, keeping the whip in the air at all times.

Circle Crack

[37] The circle crack makes the loudest crack, however, it is tough on the whip. Timing is critical with this trick. The crack occurs right next to your head so it is probably the most dangerous trick as well. It is the only way to get a badly-made whip to crack.

[38] Swing the whip in a circle over your head. Do not swing too fast, just enough so that the whip is airborne and straight. Have enough clearance on all sides! When the tip of the whip is behind you and a little to the right, (assuming you are right-handed) cease the circular motion, and instead bring you arm forward, as if casting a fishing line. Try to aim off to the right a little. As the whip starts coming forward, make sure you snap that wrist. Make sure you throw off to the side somewhat. This will make the whip miss your head, which is important.

Wrap Cracks and Other Tricks

[39] For wraps or cutting it is not necessary to get a good crack. If you are working for an audience however, they will expect one. The trick is to crack the whip past the target and then follow through with the wrap or cut.

[40] Practice your cutting with newspaper hung on string or taped to a cardboard frame. Do not use anything that will damage the whip if you hit it accidently. For practicing wraps, a nice smooth metal pole is ideal. Again, do not use anything sharp or abrasive. When you get a feel for your whip you can try grabbing smaller and smaller objects. Eventually you may be able to pull the caps off of bottles with it.

[41] Some other fancier tricks include: The Hungarian Pig Drover's Crack, The Quick Sixer, The Just Try It Young Ned, and The Queensland Flash. There are also Stockman's Chop contests held where a series of paper targets are cut while riding by on horseback at a full gallop. For full descriptions see the websites listed below.

Xena and Her Whip

Ever notice how my being left-handed wasn't a problem for
continuity people?

It's Autolycus' body, but Xena's driving in THE QUEST (#37) as she's about to use the whip in another handy escape.

[42] Although Xena uses her whip quite effectively in combat, the longer single thong whips are not really suited for it. They force the user into a definite rhythm that can be predicted and disrupted. In addition, there is a very limited distance at which the end of the whip is traveling fast enough to do the maximum amount of damage. If your opponent moves inside or outside that distance, the whip can lose much of its effect.

[43] Whips most commonly used in martial arts tend to be short fast whips and they are often fairly stiff out to the end. Examples include whips made from the tails of stingrays (baku) and the African sjambok. The baku has the added benefit(?) of containing a potentially lethal neurotoxin. The Chinese chain whips do not really provide a whip-like action, although they are brutally effective.

[44] Because an opponent might risk the damage a whip can incur and close in on you, it is best to have a weapon such as a dagger in the other hand. Of course it has been proven time and again that getting close to Xena in a fight does not lead to a long and healthy life.

[45] The whip is one of Xena's many interesting weapons and whip handling is just one of her "many skills". If you decide to try whip handling go ahead and invest in a quality whip. Also invest in the time to develop your skills. It does not take long to turn from work to fun. It turns into a hobby that will give you many hours of pleasure and a great deal of exercise. It is also an unusual hobby and the whips are real conversation pieces. Who knows? Maybe we will see you putting on demonstrations at the next fair or stunt doubling for our favorite Warrior Princess.


[46] Here are some websites with information on real working whips.

htt p://www.juggling.org/help/circus-arts/bullwhip.html
This site has information on buying, caring for, and using whips. It is primarily geared to stage and circus performers. You will find some neat quicktime videos here.

David Morgan's catalog. David Morgan made the whips used in the Indiana Jones films. He also supplied the whips used by Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the Batman movie. I would not be surprised to find that one of his whip suppliers in Australia also provided the whip used by Dr. Janice Covington (Renee O'Connor) in THE XENA SCROLLS (#34). His whips are top quality and he gives lots of information on the care of whips.

http://www.davidmorgan.com/CATALOGS/DM/dm5 8|catalog?1958274018788748848765197817
This is the bullwhip part of David Morgan's catalog.

Krist King here in the states makes excellent whips at almost half the cost of David Morgan's. You can order his whips from:

The Leathersmith
7369 Park Place
Boulder, CO 80301-3960

I own and use King's whips and wholeheartedly recommend them. At one time Krist held the world record for the longest plaited whip at over 185 feet!

http://www.oze mail.com.au/~welmat/whips.htm
Matt Welsby on how to make a whip.

http://www.crl.com/ ~mjr/whip.refs.html
Thrower whip page. Tons of information on all sorts of unusual weapons, including the chakram.

http://www.crl.co m/~mjr/shortwhip.1.html
The martial use of whips.


Donald Plunkett Donald Plunkett
I'm former military. I collect knives, swords, and most other types of weapons. I enjoy board games, raquetball, fencing (both foil and kendo), archery, and sport judo. I've tried most types of martial arts but I've been practicing jujitsu and escrima the longest (maybe someday I'll even get them right). My little speckled snake is named "Snake" and my little speckled dog is named Shelby. I live in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39)
Favorite line: Vidalus: "I'm under a lot of pressure here..." BLIND FAITH (#42)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (#H09)
Least favorite episode: Anything with Joxer in it, except those with Callisto.

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