It is said that fear of a thing only makes the fear worse. No, that’s not it…
It is said that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Well, that’s not entirely true.
Okay. Once more: It is said…
I got nothin’.
I was once told, by a friend, that he had heard that if you are afraid of the whip, you will get hurt. He learned it from an expert whipper… whip-guy? Whip-man? Whip user? I tried a Google search and the closest I came to a title for a proficient whip user was master whip cracker. I don’t think that’s right. I’m off topic now. So, yeah, it’s the fear of getting hurt by the whip that increases injury. By being afraid of getting hurt, you move differently and cause the whip to move differently, then it hits you, thus causing the injury. When you are not afraid, you can still get hurt (learning curve), but, the likelihood of it is seriously decreased.
I can testify that this is true.
My very first two blog posts go hand-in-hand with each other, although it is the second one to which I now reference: Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way. In this tale, I discuss how I had figured out how to grab an object with my whip, hold it, and release said object. It took quite a bit of practice, but I persevered and did it. On the journey to this accomplishment, I first had to learn how to use the twenty-two-foot-long whip. Yup, you read that correctly, several lengths of leather strips, carefully hand-braided into twenty-two feet of Indiana-Jones-eat-your-heart-out whip. It was awesome. It was long. It was harder to control than your typical six-foot bullwhip.
The energy and control to get that amount of leather snake to do what I wanted it to do did not come easy. I can still recall taking it out into my backyard and trying out the typical whip crack that is pretty easy to do—with your standard six-foot bullwhip. My whip just kept getting tangled—over and over and over and over again. Poo… I needed a new strategy. I needed some more muscles too. While the whip itself barely weighs in at a whopping two pounds, the force required to move that much mass was surprising.
So, so surprising.
I would like to think that any athlete that develops skills in their sport, is required to develop certain muscle groups that most people never do. I know I can’t throw a baseball at speeds over ninety miles an hour. And, I am sure that those who do, didn’t do it their first time. That said, even though I was exercising regularly, for ballet, and my superhero activities, I did not have the muscle group development to move that lengthy leather lanyard at sufficient speeds to be impressive to anyone—including myself.
The only thing I could do was practice and try to figure the whole thing out. The mechanics. The physics. The correct muscle motions. And, whatever else a person needs to make a whip that is four times their height needs to make it a dangerous weapon slash super-cool-tool slash Indiana Jones impersonator cool thing.
After weeks—and when I say ‘weeks’ I am referring to hours and hours, almost daily, for several weeks—of trial and error, I began to discover the recipe for success: Placement. More specifically, the initial placement.
To get the whip to make that spectacular ‘crack’ sound that is always most impressive (and cool), I found that I had to begin with my whip laid out, in a straight-ish line, at about the 5:00 position—relative to me, of course. At this point, I would move my arm like what a baseball pitcher might, with the solid exception that I would have my arm out to my side instead of the typical over-hand pitch motion. Otherwise, the motions were basically the same. When I did this I could get the entirety of the whip to go forward without any tangles or other problems. Now, I just needed to figure out when to pull back to get the ‘crack’ sound to happen.
My brother had a bullwhip—decades ago—and he told me that the end of the whip gets going so fast that it basically makes a mini sonic boom. That’s the cracking sound. According to science, the end of the whip can reach speeds up to twice the speed of sound. But, if it does that, why doesn’t it break the sound barrier before it snaps at the end of the whipping motion? Well, according to more recent research—thank you, Scientific American—the sonic boom is created by the loop that is formed in the whip during the whipping motion. The tip, however, can still reach speeds greater than 30 times the initial energy put into the whip’s movement. All this science certainly does explain why what happened all those years ago, on a hot summer’s day, happened.
When I got the forward movement perfected, I just needed to figure out when to pull back, to get that splendid ‘crack’ to occur. With a short six-foot bullwhip, the timing is pretty easy. With twenty-two, it’s harder. Also, I feel it’s important to note that a bullwhip is more of a ground tool. In that, the user is meant to be standing on the ground. The relative distance between them makes maneuvering the whip easier. Whereas a longer—like mine—cattle whip is intended to be used while on horseback. The user is father up from the ground and has the same relative ease of use as does the bullwhip user on the ground. I bring this up to let you know that the way I was using my whip was not the way it was intended to be used. But, I didn’t have a horse and have always been a believer in ‘just doing’ with what you’ve got.
I began to slow down my forward pulls so as to watch what the whip did while traveling forward. It was easier to see this in as close to slow motion as I could do. As I did this, I began to notice that the end of the whip curled inward, toward me. This, of course, made me nervous due to the ‘knowledge’ that the end made the sonic boom—which I now, and you, know to be false. This inward curl made me shift about. Each time I did this the end got closer to me, often hitting me or wrapping around my right ankle. Thankfully, I was working in slower motion, so it didn’t really hurt. But, it didn’t help anything. Anything. Anything, like, nerves, fear, concern, technique. It was all falling apart. And, I was so close! I almost had the last piece of the secret to making my whip ‘crack’. I had to press on. So, I did.
I sucked it up. I just accepted that I might get hurt. Once I did this, everything got better. Easier. Huh… So, knowing you’re afraid, being afraid, and doing it anyway can actually, at times, make things safer? Go figure.
As I got the motions down, I began to hear the sounds of the whip and recognize when things were just right. I can still hear those distinct sounds. Forgive my inability to accurately translate the spelling of the sounds into words, but, they went something like this: Propelled forward the whip would ‘thoooh…’ and then drop to the ground. More energy, the deeper the sound of the ‘thoooh’. When snapped back, it would ‘wiissh’. The faster, and harder, I snapped it back the shorter the ‘wiish’ became. Enough practice began to give me ‘thoooh-wiissh’ sounds. As this would happen the movement of the whip became reliable. Predictable.
My arm would go from its practiced forward-side-back-to-forward rhythm. The whip would curl forward, from an outward direction, rippling along the leathery length. This ripple of energy would cause the end to curl in, toward me. The harder I worked, the easier it all became. Thoooh, wiissh, thoooh, wiissh, thoooh-wiissh, thoooh-wiissh, thoooh-wiitch.
“Wait!?! That’s new!” The backward wiissh-ing sound was different. It was closer to the sound of the desired ‘crack’. Harder! I had to move harder! No. Faster. I needed to get faster. So, faster I moved.
Thoooh-wiissh, thoooh-wiissh, thoooh-wiitch, thoooh-wiitch, thoooh-witc.
YES!!! I was right there. With each calculated movement of my body and whip, I could feel the closeness of it all. The subtle breeze of the whip as it moved past me. How close I was to the ‘crack’. I also noticed that the more energy I put into the motion, the higher the whip lifted off the ground, and the increased height the whip had as it passed my body. At first, it would pass my ankles and calf muscle. Eventually, my thigh and hip. I was almost there…
Thoooh-wiitch, thoooh-wiitch, thoooh-witc, thoooh-witc, thoooh-witc, thoooh-CRACK!
I did it…? I did it! I DID IT! Oh, it felt so good to finally achieve it. I now knew how to move, understood the timing… It was far from perfect, and I couldn’t do it every time, but, I could do it.
At this point, on this day, I was really sweating now. I could feel the smaller dribbles collecting and forming larger rivulets that ran down my face, neck, and spine. Not to mention the swamps that were my armpits. It was hot, I was working hard, and I was sweaty. I was also, in the groove. Keep going.
Thoooh-witc, thoooh-witc, thoooh-crack, thoooh-witc, thoooh-crack, thoooh-crack, thoooh-witc.
With each success, I was closer to euphoria. All the hours, all the work… Also, closer was the tip. With each whip crack, I noticed—through my peripheral vision—how close the end came to my hip or thigh. I could feel the soft breeze it made. It would brush and move the fabric of my slacks. It was close, as was the fear to the surface of my psyche. Enter the fear, enter the error.
Remember how I mentioned, earlier, that the end of the whip can reach speeds of over thirty times the initial speed of the whip? Well, I learned that the hard way.
Because of the closeness of the end as it came around for the delivery of the ‘crack’, I was slowly having my confidence eroded away. My body began to subtly shift about. Then, the whip cracked differently. Earlier. Right next to my hip. I had put so much energy into that last motion that the whip added the curl into itself too early. Right next to my hip. I felt the sonic boom. It was sudden and strong. I felt the whip’s end barely clip the outer side of my right butt cheek. It was so subtle that it didn’t actually hit me at all. It had hit my pants. The resulting ‘crack’ was so loud, and the boom was so easily felt, that I thought that maybe I had somehow torn/ripped my pants. I looked down, examined the area… Nothing. No tear. No rip. No worries. However, when I began to prepare for the next attempt, I felt another bead of sweat run. It ran along the outside of my right butt cheek.
Not to get crude or anything, but, I had not noticed any building up of sweat in that area before. It was almost all exclusively relegated to my torso. I would not have bothered to investigate if it hadn’t been for two things: One was that I had not noticed any sweat running there before, just that one, sudden, short stream. Secondly, I had just had a close call right in that area. I should go look.
Once inside my bathroom, I disrobed what I needed to, to investigate. What I found dumbfounded me. There, on the outside of my right butt cheek, was a verticle, two-inch, clean slice. I was busted wide open. It looked like a precision surgical cut, made with a scalpel. No raggedly torn flesh. Just a clean, vertical, two-inch-long split in my skin. It was open about half an inch and letting my life force slowly run out (it wasn’t a very deep wound. adventure!). As quick as I could I cleaned it up and bandaged it together. The scar was minimal and has long since faded away.
It never happened again. So, there’s really nothing left to say. And so, here is my end. The end. The end.