Tag Archives: writing whips

Q&A: Common accidents are not cliche

For a beginner attempting to use rope/chained weapons, how cliche would it be to have them getting it wrapped around themselves?

I kid you not when I say the first and most common injury you’ll get from the three-section staff when first learning to wield it involves hitting yourself in the head.

Chain/rope weapons are about gaining force with momentum, which means you’re learning to keep the weapon in a state of constant motion. With a weapon like the shaolin dart, the nunchaku, or the whip chain, you use your body as the guide to redirect the weapon while it is moving. This is not just your hands and your wrist, but your upper arm, your shoulders, your sides, your legs, and even, in some cases, your neck. The more complicated the motion, the more difficult the weapon, the more likely you are to make mistakes during training, and chain weapons are the pinnacle for weapon difficulty.

Look at the three-section staff, if you can’t imagine it rebounding at the wrong angle and hitting you squarely in some place very painful during the learning process then… well… lol. That’s unrealistic.

You’re going to lose control of a chain weapon at some point (probably multiple points) during training. And, honestly, you’re going to end up with it wrapped around you at some points on purpose simply because that’s a great way to make it stop moving.

The question about whether or not this will be cliche in your writing is going to depend not on the character getting their weapon wrapped around them, but how this occurs and what kind of motion they were going for to begin with.

Take a moment, (or an hour if you watch this instructional video with John Su) to familiarize yourself with the movement patterns of the weapon you want to write.

If your character is doing a forward spin at the side of their body, then the chain is unlikely to wrap itself around their whole body as part of a mistake. The chain is actually unlikely to wrap itself around anything. In fact, the weapon is more likely to lose the forward momentum, hitch in the middle, stop spinning, and fall to the ground. The chain whip is likely to only wrap itself around the neck, for example, if the practitioner is doing a specific technique which involves the neck. Or a technique which involves their body, and in those cases more likely to wrap around a specific body part in a tight spiral than the whole body.

So if you were imagining the whip chain wrapping itself around the character’s feet and body in such a way that they fall to the ground then you’re not just edging toward the territory of cliche but also that of unrealistic. Mistakes that come from the chain moving in an unnatural manner for the sake of showing the character making said mistake are going to be cliche.

You have to be going pretty fast for the weapon to wrap around you multiple times, and part of your training is learning to control it just enough so you can perform a catch and release. This involves learning to not just moderate your speed at specific junctures during the technique, but also mastering the patterns of circular movement. It’s not just that the weapon is going to wrap around you, but that you control when and how it does.

See take this example. They won’t be going this fast in the beginning, they should practice slowly and in individual pieces or they’re far more likely to hurt themselves. However, even an experienced practitioner can end up with the whip chain hitting them or wrapped around them in a way they didn’t intend.

Still, the term beginner is also a misnomer. The whip chain or nine section chain, the rope dart, the three section staff, the nunchaku, are all advanced weapons at the end of a comprehensive martial arts curriculum. They are Eastern weapons, and there is a specific pattern of advancement all students follow before they reach a point where the weapon becomes accessible. So, you don’t join a martial arts school and get to start using a chain weapon right off. You will begin building the whip chain’s technical foundation while studying the staff, just as you begin with hand to hand techniques before gaining access to the staff weapons. If the character you envision learning to wield the whip chain does not have at least three to five years of martial arts training under their belt with a firm foundation in hand to hand and, at least, some training on the staff then that is not realistic. More likely they’ll go through the staff weapons and the bladed weapons before they get to the flexible weapons. (This is especially true if you plan to have them using the whip chain in combat rather than exhibition.)

Your character may end up a specialist in flexible weapons, but they should have a solid foundation in martial combat before they get there. Remember, this is a weapon that specifically builds on the techniques of other weapons. They progress together, and you can’t learn one without the other.

Now, there are weapon traditions like some Western traditions where you can pick and choose what your character knows. These specific chain weapons are just not one of them.

Don’t forget.

The chain weapon isn’t just going to wrap around your characters so they get tangled in it, it’s gonna full on hit them too. More often than not. Sometimes in the face.

Example: Downward arc over the head, under the left armpit, across the right shoulder, and whumph right into the nose/mouth.

If you want this weapon wrapping around your characters, you gotta get that circular patterning down so your audience can visualize the misery your characters inflict upon themselves.

-Michi

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Q&A: The Vampire Killer

Is it at all possible to use a whip like people do in movies? Like in Castlevania, Trevor uses it to cut someones finger off and rip another persons eye out. Thanks!

The whip Trevor Belmont is using is called “The Vampire Killer” and it’s a mystical weapon, but I don’t know whether that’s the one he’s using in the anime or if he gets it later. You can assume though that the Belmont’s have mystical powers. What Trevor Belmont is using is a bullwhip, if you want other examples of the whip being used in film there’s Indiana Jones and The Mask of Zorro.

You can put someone’s eye out with a whip, but you can’t rip it out and you can’t get enough force going with a leather whip to cut someone’s finger off.

A chain whip? Oh hell yeah. You can take a finger off with that.

What I will say is worth taking from the new Castlevania anime is not what Trevor does with the whip so much as how he handles it. A good example is the final fight with Alucard. Where he uses it to trip, where he uses it as a disarming tool, and does a good job of showing how it always remains in motion. One aspect Castlevania does get right with Trevor is the use of the secondary hand for guidance when rapidly changing direction, when he wants small circles or very specific strikes he’d be unable to achieve with just his wrist.

The whip as a weapon is a useful secondary or supporting weapon to your primary. It works better as a harassment tool, a means to create openings, trip your opponent up, lash them, and wear them out. Whips and chain weapons travel on circular strike paths that are difficult to block. In the hands of a master, they can rapidly change direction mid strike and circle around the sword or spear to hit their target.

If you want to take a finger off, then you’ll need to attach a blade to the end as seen in the whip chain, the rope dart, or (to crush it) the meteor hammer.

The basic beginner stage to ground your understanding of how this works is the yoyo.

The whip has it’s place as a secondary weapon in multiple martial arts, and the tip will give you some serious burns. If you want to look into the whip as a defense tool, Anthony De Longis is a good place to start.

Keep in mind, however, that the weakness of all chain/rope/whip weapons is space. You need space to be able to get the techniques off. Even with lineal striking, you need room. It is a ranged weapon, and one that requires a lot more space to work than a gun or a bow.

So, yes, you can use it as a weapon. You probably also want your characters carrying weapons that are more versatile like the sword or a knife or a gun, that can make up for the situations were the whip falls short.

If  you’re in an open space and you want to keep five attackers on the defensive then it’s great. You can scare the shit out of them and keep a full defense going. However, you can’t really do it in your living room.

-Michi

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Hello! I’ve seen you guys write some things about the dangers of filming with chained weapons, but I was wondering how dangerous it would be to the wielder? While I was designing a hook and chain mechanism for my MC to move around quickly with in a fantasy world (ability to direct the chain minimally) I found the ‘kyoketsu shoge’ which combines both the hook and a knife in one. If the chain is occasionally spiked, how dangerous do you think it would be for my MC to swing around?

It really depends on how skilled they are at managing the chain. The kyoketsu shoge is similar to the Chinese Whip Chain/Chain Whip and the Rope Dart. They function similarly to whips, and are a more dangerous (to the wielder) cousin of the nunchaku and three section staff. These weapons all work off similar principles about maintaining momentum and using your own body to provide control. This includes your arms, your neck, your shoulders, your legs, and, on occasion, your whole torso.

Example:

The Rope Dart.

The Nine Section Whip.

Whip weapons are one of the most advanced weapons in a martial disciplines for a reason. If you don’t know how to control it, it will hit you. I mean that, it will and it will hurt. Like the boomerang, the whip or chain always comes back. You are at the mercy of the chain, like any fast moving object, it doesn’t stop on a dime and you’ve got to mitigate the momentum until it finally stops.

The advantage of the whip is that it can strike on multiple angles that are nearly impossible to block. It’s not just on diagonals, a chain or a whip will curve. It can be used to disarm an opponent. When you’re working with a whip made entirely of metal like the nine section whip any part of you it strikes is going to hurt like hell.

If you can master a whip, it’s a very useful weapon, though it shouldn’t be the only weapon your character carries. It does require a great deal more skill than the average and, with a whip chain, you should be prepared for pain. It’s also not a weapon your character could pick up and just wield without any formal training. If we’re talking about a formal Chinese martial discipline, this would be a weapon you’d learn after you mastered the others like the staff and the sword.

Chinese Cinema has many excellent examples of the Chinese varieties of these weapons in use and may provide you with some ideas.

The kyoketsu shoge is a little different because it comes with two ends, a bladed end on one that could be used to hook opponents much like one would when fishing and a metal ring on the other. Similar principles to the others in this category apply when it comes generating momentum and to safety, but worth keeping track of when you’re trying to figure out exactly what you want.

When you’re writing, it’s important to remember that the more complex a weapon is in its movements then the more difficult it will be when it comes to actually applying those actions on the page. The whip is a fantastic weapon for cinema because it’s dazzling. It’s in constant motion, it makes wide sweeping arcs, it’s often too fast for the eye to completely follow, and it’s just fun to watch. You don’t get that luxury when you’re writing. You don’t benefit from visually interesting weapons unless you figure out how to tease the imagination when the audience tries to visualize.

The best way to write weapons, especially complex ones, is grasping the underlying principles of how the weapon is supposed to work. You are at advantage over the practitioner because you only need the principle, as a writer you can simulate the experience. However, you’re at a disadvantage because you’ve never tried to work with one and don’t have the ground level experience of trying to get the weapon to work.

When you want to use a chain weapon like the whip chain in an action sequence, its important to remember that your character needs to keep it in constant motion. The weapon is only deadly when it’s in motion. You throw it out, spin it, wheel it about using your throat, catch on the shoulder, throw it back for another strike. They’re going to need space to use it, which means it’s at a disadvantage in cramped quarters.

What’s going to sell your whip in a written action scene is remembering all the tiny little physical motions that go into maintaining control. Whether it’s snapping the wrist to crack the whip, remembering that the guiding hand controls the whip and the other holds, to wrapping it around the body at the fight’s end to catch and negate the final momentum, what sells the weapon is your ability to accurately represent how it moves in the real world.

A lot of writers try for technical terms as a way to communicate what they’re talking about, my advice is learn them as necessary but don’t assume they’ll do the work for you. Assume your audience is ignorant and focus more on what the weapon does/is supposed to do/the purpose it served in battle rather than terminology. The more complex the weapon is in movement, control, and execution, the more difficult it is to write.

If you do get frustrated during your research, just remember: you jumped straight to the end. The whip chain is a complicated weapon, it’s supposed to be difficult.

If you’ve never used a whip before, this is going to mean watching a lot of tutorials on Youtube and reviewing many an action sequence where the whip is used as primary or secondary weapon.

Good luck!

-Michi

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