Professional Whip Artistry Training & Entertainment

Professional Whip Artistry Training & Entertainment

Don’t underestimate the value of the swivel-handled cowhide bullwhip.

By Gery L. Deer

Director, The Whip Artistry Studio

Three of the Gery Deer's original cowhide, swivel-handled American bullwhips. (From Left) 10 foot, hand-dyed black with 1/2 inch flat latigo fall; 24-foot, brown with modified "Australian styled" fall and popper; 6-foot, brown with modified fall and popper.

Three of the Gery Deer’s original cowhide, swivel-handled American bullwhips. (From Left) 10 foot, hand-dyed black with 1/2 inch flat latigo fall; 24-foot, brown with modified “Australian styled” fall and popper; 6-foot, brown with modified fall and popper.

I started working with whips when I was very young, but didn’t get too serious about it until my college years. Back then, the best whip I could hope for was a cowhide, swivel handled number with a plastic grip and a rope or twine core.

One of the first whips I actually paid for was a 20-foot, swivel handled American bullwhip with what looked to me like a bailing twine core. It was bulky, heavy and awkward. Even so, I think I learned more from that than any of the fancy Australian whips I use to teach and perform with today.

Most of my original cowhide models came from Schutz Bros. leather products in Arizona. That 20-footer was a major purchase for me back then, it was $55.00 USD and cost $5 to ship it. So for a whopping $60 I  had acquired what most professional whip artists would call the worst whip ever – with the possible exception of those five-dollar, India-made paper leather whips from eBay.

Over time, I bought a few more of this style, all various lengths and shades of brown cowhide. There were no black ones at that time. Anything you wanted black had to be hand-dyed. Whatever the look, I got used to them and learned most of what I know now on that style of bullwhip.

As a professional performer and competitor in the whip arts arena, I would never choose my old swivels over my Joe Strain or Paul Nolan Aussie styles. They’re superior in nearly every way. But I do get frustrated when I hear whip practitioners complain about the fallibility of their equipment. Naturally, as with any mechanical activity, like sports, learning the violin or racing a car, the better the equipment, the lower the learning curve. You’ll advance and learn faster with a better whip. Why?

Put simply, you’re spending more time on learning to handle the whip instead of, at the same time, having to adjust to its deficiencies. For example, a swivel handle requires a different pitch and wrist motion to put the tip where you want it for targeting. A whip with no plaited belly or rope in the center is virtually impossible to throw ‘slowly’ and requires an excessive amount of energy.

Even so, if you get too accustomed to one style of whip, no matter what kind, you’re cheating yourself out of the ultimate goal – to be a true whip artist, not just someone who crack one and make a big noise. The best whip handlers can maneuver virtually any kind of whip to do mostly what they want it to, even if it takes more effort or some adjustment. One whip may be more accurate or ‘prettier’ in motion than another, but they all can achieve the same tasks.

I can honestly say that there is very little I can do with my Indiana Jones copies that I can’t do with my old swivels. Naturally, I prefer my professional whips, but it’s fun to give the old cowhides a run in the sun now and again, just to stay sharp.

A few years ago, Chris “The Whip Guy’ Camp and I were doing some targeting at the Annie Oakley Western Arts Showcase in Greenville, Ohio. We were really just goofing off with our long whips, cutting spaghetti and Styrofoam from our contest stands. Chris was using a 25-foot Australian whip recently made for him by Joe Strain. It is a beautiful piece of work, as most of Joe’s whips are, double-bellied, 12-plait (thought it might have been 16, I don’t recall), and incredibly accurate considering its length. Of course, a large part of that depends on the skill – not to mention the eyesight – of the user.

As Chris worked his targeting skills with the whip he now calls, “Big Momma,” I jumped in at the stand next to him with my 24-foot, cowhide swivel-handled whip. Over the years, I’d modified the fall to something that more closely resembled and functioned like an its Australian cousin. After a few minutes of acclamation to the older style, I found myself performing nearly as accurately as Chris at a similar distance and using the same materials for targets. We were each taking an inch or so from the spaghetti sticks with each cut.

We were both surprised at how accurate I could be with the old cowhide, even at that distance and within the space – considering we were standing only a few feet from each other, side by side. Though I tired out faster, because of the excessive energy required for the belly-less swivel, I was able to keep up with Chris’s targeting level for the majority of our experiment.

Over time, I decided to use the longer cowhide whip for more and more, wherever space allowed. It’s impressive to watch and makes a pretty nice “bang” indoors, depending on the popper material. Plus it’s virtually indestructible. Since that time I’ve created a candle snuffing routine around this 24-foot beast, I’ve done basic targeting with it and also re-created one of Chris’s signature routines, just to see if I could get it to work.

Chris has one stunt he calls “Jumpin Jack Daniels” where he places a tin cup of water on top of a small paper Dixie-style cup, a wax-paper cup about two inches in height. The goal is to crack the paper cup from beneath the tin cup, letting it fall to the table without spilling any of the water. It’s not particularly hard with an average size whip but the size of the paper cup adds to the difficulty, requiring a respectable level of precision and talent from the handler. But it looks far more impressive when it’s done using a long whip like Chris’s “Big Momma.”

Chris Camp’s version …

With no ‘Dixie’ cups available, I tested it out using a 12-oz. Styrofoam cup below and an aluminum metal cup (about 1/3 full of water) above. After a few tries, I figured out the physics behind using the big cowhide swivel in such an accurate side-arm throw. It’s actually most functional in a side-arm or overhand flick because you’re using the weight of the whip to help build the momentum automatically granted by the bellies of other styles. In short, it’s not only possible but a crowd-pleaser. People seemed to marvel at the whip’s sheer length and power. Makes the performance side a snap (pun intended).

In any case, the point to all this is my personal advice not to get too hung up on the type of whip you’re working with but to try to learn what you can from any and all styles you come across, provided they’re somewhat functional. You will be a better whip handler by the experience of diversity when it comes to your equipment and when you use your favorites, you’ll find you learn faster and with greater precision. Good luck and keep the knots out of your popper!

Here’s the first and only video of Gery Deer’s version …

Learn more about handling all types of whips!

Schedule your lessons today at The Whip Artistry Studio!


Comments are closed.

©2024 Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)  Raindrops Theme