Single whip: Part 2 - general applications

Introduction: the "real world" vs. "attack of the zombies"

In Part 1 of this article I dealt with only one defence: against the "sucker punch". I am unapologetic about this: learning how to survive that first "surprise" punch should be a priority in martial arts instruction. Instead it isn't. It is usually buried in a mountain of combinations against "zombie attacks". You know the kind: slow movement, arms outstretched, no response to your own counters, etc. – countered by a series of wishful strikes that pay lip-service to predictability and that give "overkill" a new meaning.

In this article I propose to deal with other, more sophisticated, applications of single whip. And there are many more than those I propose to cover in this article. My goal here is simply to illustrate the general relevance of the sequence: how its movements are congruent with efficient biomechanics in response to common attacks; how a sequence that appears (at least, initially) to be impractical and "dance-like" is actually a very effective mnemonic for civilian defence tactics.

An aside to address criticisms

That my previous application should receive scathing criticism from a martial artist of a particular "zombie attack" school, and that I should be told that it wouldn't work in the "real world", is particularly galling to me, given my 30 years of blood, sweat and tears (and yes, I've shed plenty of each, I have the scars to prove it).1 It is even more galling when he insults my teachers by insisting that I find proper instruction. I don't normally bother responding to such attacks directly, but I felt that my post and video were so clearly misconstrued that I had to correct any misimpressions here and now.

The first criticism was that the back of wrist strike shouldn't be levelled at hard targets. I agree. That's why I clearly note in the article the importance of striking soft, vital regions like the carotid sinus on the throat (which I clearly demonstrate) or under the chin (the soft part, naturally). I will say no more about this.

The second criticism was that the defence leaves one open to counters. And this feeds directly back into my article.

The defence I showed doesn't leave you "open to attack" because there is no "pause" at the point I showed; it continues seamlessly into the second half of single whip. Both the first and second halves of the technique are designed to "shut off" counters. That is precisely what this second Part is going to demonstrate.2

Dealing with combinations

One of the biggest criticisms traditional martial arts face is that they appear to be too focused on such singular attacks of the kind to which I referred in Part 1. After all, what happens if your attacker throws a combination? Indeed, this is precisely what happens in a boxing ring or MMA cage. Are traditional martial arts capable of dealing with this scenario?3

A video in which I introduce the concept that taijiquan has defences against a typical "1-2" attack of jab and cross. Note that the technique shuts off further attacks by moving in, suppressing any third or fourth attack that might follow.

It would be wrong to assume that traditional civilian defence arts don't teach defences against combinations. While it might not be their first and dominant objective to cover these, the traditional martial arts are rich with applications against combination attacks. Taijiquan's single whip technique is no exception. I illustrate this in the above video.

It is noteworthy that single whip, as it occurs, in the taiji long form in every style, occurs on the right. This means that it is geared primarily against attacks that lead with the left and follow with the right – an unsurprising feature, since 90% of the population is right side dominant (I take the opportunity to practice left and right sides of all techniques as much as possible, but you get some idea of the main focus of a technique from seeing its manifestation in a form).

What this means is that a leading left jab can be deflected downwards and sideways with the forearm using a circular "C-shaped" movement initiated by your right hand. In the form, this is accompanied by a retraction of the body indicating that you might well be surprised by the opening jab; a movement away from the punch buys you more time both to evade it and deflect it.4

On the other hand, you'll note that the subsequent rising movement with the back of the wrist is accompanied by a movement into your opponent. This is because, having flinched from the initial punch, you are in a position to move in and jam/wedge your opponent's follow-up cross.

Since the cross is a very powerful punch, you want to catch it as close to its point of origin as possible when it has not yet fully accelerated and where it is most easily deflected.

Something to note in this application is that the deflection/parry of the opening jab occurs on the outside of the jab but progresses to pressing the attacking arm down (in Japanese this is called an "osae"). What this does is open up a window for the counter – but it also limits your attacker to that window and no other. This means there is a high degree of predictability of the trajectory of the follow-up cross. And if you move into your opponent you can decrease the size of that window, further narrowing your opponent's options.

Following up from the double deflection

Of course, the two movements I have discussed (ie. the circular forearm "sideways and down" deflection and the "up and sideways" back of the wrist forearm deflection) merely comprise the first part of the single whip sequence. As I discussed in Part 1 these movements (which are succinct and occur in quick succession in a continuous flow) can scarcely be described as two separate movements. Moreover, they might contain one or more counters in and of themselves.

Regardless of the latter, in this article, I propose to focus on what happens after you've executed those two movements. I'm going to assume that you needed to use those movements to secure your defence. Having done so, single whip now puts you in an ideal position for any number of counters – all of which are clearly manifest in the formal technique (ie., as it appears in the long form).

Moving into an arm bar

The first thing to note is that a strong cross is a follow-through punch. This means that, unlike a jab, it is not usually retracted quickly, but rather stops when it hits the target or otherwise exhausts its momentum. If you're going to trap any arm in the course of a punch, it is going to be during a committed, follow-through punch like a cross – not a jab.

So it should come as no surprise that the single whip sequence is simply brimming with applications that involve trapping and moving into locks – primarily of that committed arm. In the adjacent images I illustrate how simply one might move directly into an arm bar from the deflection of the right cross.

Note that this trap and lock won't occur in the outward phase of the cross: you're not trying to "lead momentum". Rather, you're going to avail yourself of the follow-through and catch the arm as it is curving away or being retracted.

Moving from arm bar to throw

The next thing you'll note is that there is a fairly easy counter to the elbow lock in that the attacker might dive for your legs, throwing you. In fact, this is precisely what happened to me while sparring with an internal arts practitioner in Kowloon Park in Hong Kong in 2009.

The leg most susceptible to this counter is the one nearest your opponent. Accordingly, you will note that the single whip sequence moves that leg. In the form, that movement can be quite large (diagonal single whip turns you 270 degrees). This corresponds to the reality that if someone is diving for your legs, you have to be prepared to make a substantial evasion backwards or backwards and sideways. Alternatively, the movement can be very small – perhaps because you thwart the dive by moving into your opponent, driving him/her off-balance so that the dive is made impossible to start with. Both are valid alternatives.

Regardless, understanding this type of counter to the arm bar is, of course, half the battle won avoiding the counter. It allows you to predict your opponent's most likely effective reaction - and to exploit it.

In the previous video, you'll note that I deal with one such counter by moving my leg away and back, simultaneously thwarting the dive by driving my forearm under the opponent's chin. I then use the backward step and his natural flinch reaction to effect an "over the leg" unbalancing throw or trip.

Moving straight into a throw

Of course, nothing requires you to execute an arm bar or something like it. You could, for example, simply move straight into an unbalancing throw or trip.

I discuss moving directly into a throw using single whip

There are any number of ways of effecting this unbalancing . I illustrate some of the ways in the video above.

Essentially you are entering into your opponent, using the "chopping" action of the second part of single whip to cut down and across your opponent, while your "hooked" (bent wrist) arm controls your opponent's punching arm.

This is as good a place as any to note that the bent wrist functions as a very neat "friction hold", avoiding the pitfalls of the "grip reflex" about which I have previously written.

While the above elements relating to arm use are crucial, they are in themselves not sufficient: in order to effect an unbalancing you need to account for all three spatial dimensions. Your arms deal with two of these and your legs must deal with the third. Accordingly you might effect a "trip" (ie. provide an obstacle over which your opponent can fall) or you can do something more subtle, like collapsing your opponent's knee with your own stance (ie. the one in which single whip finishes). I illustrate the latter in the adjacent images.

Tying the controlled arm into a "goose neck"

Going back to locks, one of the more interesting things you can do with the "bent wrist" of the single whip technique is the lock I call the "goose neck".

A video in which I discuss the application of the "goose neck" lock in single whip and, more generally, the use of the bent wrist in that technique

You'll note that for this sequence I've used the identical opening, although clearly I could have simply used a defence against a right cross to start with. Certainly the "1-2" sets me up very well for this technique, but it isn't essential.

To execute the "goose neck" lock, you should go to grab the opponent's punching arm as it has exhausted its forward momentum or it is being retracted. As noted above, this is quite feasible against a committed punch, but not against a jab. The initial contact with the deflection gives you a kinaesthetic "feed" into the melee, in particular letting you predict, with some accuracy, where the punching arm is likely to be in a moment's time. But for this initial contact, you would not have much success in grabbing the opponent's arm at any stage. That initial contact in the parry is vital in terms of setting up your awareness of your opponent in time and space.

Having grabbed your opponent's arm at or near the wrist, you can slide down to the hand. The retraction of his arm will power the bend you want to create in both his elbow and wrist. Your other hand can reach around his head and grab it, twisting it around. This not only orients your opponent optimally for the lock, but it also enables you to pull him/her away from throwing a third punch in the sequence.

Once you have effected the "gooseneck" lock you'll note that your next step is to twist your opponent's head sharply as you step back. This is a very violent movement and should not be employed unless your life is in danger and you can justify such a technique as "necessary and reasonable force".

Other wristlocks

While it isn't a primary application of single whip by any means, it is possible to use the movements of that sequence to effect a variety of wrist locks which I illustrate in the video below. These range from a same-side "xiao chan" (the "small wrap", known in aikido as "nikkyo"), a cross-arm version of the same thing and a wrist out-turn throw (known in aikido as "kote gaeshi").

I discuss the use of single whip to effect other wristlocks

Back to basics: the use of the bent wrist in defence

I'll close this article by discussing very briefly the importance of getting the angle correct in your bent wrist. This is vital because if you maintain the correct angle, you will find that the rising motion of the forearm will create a curve that is optimal for deflecting punches. This works well against punches thrown at almost any angle.

On the other hand, a fully "collapsed" bend in the wrist robs your forearm almost entirely of this function.

I discuss this principle in the video above from 1:36 onwards.

Broadly speaking, you can ascertain the correct wrist shape by making a fist, bending the relevant wrist, then keeping that angle and extending your fingers outward in a kind of five-fingered "pinch".

You'll note that making a fist permits a certain amount of "bend" in the wrist, but no more (I've previously discussed the issue of clenched fists and stiff arms). This limited angle just so happens to be the optimum "crane's wing" angle: an arc that allows punches (even hooks) to be deflected off a circle (note again my paper on analysis using all the mathematical dimensions before you start arguing with me on this point!).5

As a matter of interest, those who are familiar with Hong Yi Xiang's "bridging forms" of Tang Shao Dao will be aware that they contain a percentage of strange arm movements with clenched fists and bent wrists (which my teacher used to call "horseshoe blocks"). They are in fact just the closed-fisted variety of single whip's bent wrist deflection.


The technique known as single whip is a multi-faceted movement that contains a mnemonic for almost countless applications. I've previously discussed applications against a single, committed surprise punch (the "sucker punch") but in this article I thought I'd outline just some of the other uses to which the single whip sequence can be put.

The uses of single whip include defences against combinations. Indeed, my videos have tended to demonstrate all applications on the assumption that you're defending against two punches in succession (the old "1-2") but it goes without saying that they are equally applicable against a single punch.

It is worth noting that the single whip sequence "shuts off" any potential third or subsequent punch by stifling or jamming the second punch and countering almost immediately. In this regard you'll note how my videos illustrate that the counter not only lands a blow but also "cuts the supply line" of any further blows – principally by stopping the shoulders. The same movement that "cuts the supply lines" can also feed into locks and unbalancing techniques and I spend some time in my videos illustrating these. However these are merely less violent options; nothing stops you from simply striking instead.

The reason single whip is such a powerful mnemonic is that it neatly summarises and pre-packages important kinaesthetic lessons, ranging from evasion and entry, through to angles of stepping for these purposes and to correct amount of wrist/elbow/knee bend. I have covered only some of these (one important omission would be the use of the bent wrist to hook an opponent's neck or upper arm etc. in a clinch).

Accordingly, the name "single whip" (taken from, I believe, the shape of a particular riding crop) is largely misleading. The word "single" is manifestly inappropriate for a sequence so rich with potential applications!


1. I've discovered that the particular instructor who criticised my single whip application discussed in Part 1 just happens to be the same person who does the "3 taps and you're a pushover" trick I've discussed previously. So much for his credibility in asserting that my application wouldn't work in the "real world"!

2. If any of you have ever wondered why I occasionally go into anal detail about certain things, here is a good illustration. I had felt that it was self-evident that I was only showing the first part of the single whip movement: that the technique actually continues seamlessly from here. I had thought that it was obvious that I was, in effect, pausing half-way through the single whip application, with more to follow (in this Part). I thought it would be particularly obvious since the video is titled "Part 4", the solo technique as demonstrated doesn't pause at the relevant point and the article says that I will follow with other applications. I was mistaken. And so was this "master". It seems that on the net you aren't permitted to leave anything to the common sense and good grace of your reader.

3. I don't propose to spend a lot of time here dealing with the prevalence of "multiple punches" in civilian defence altercations. For the time being I'll note (again) that my experience in prosecuting assaults is at odds with MMA style fighting bouts in the street. As I've said many times previously, the most common male-male assault seems to be a single punch – perhaps followed soon thereafter by a few more punches and even kicks, but followed nonetheless; people don't tend to open with combinations. Opening MMA style combinations are the exception, not the rule. And given that most civilian defence arts are primarily geared at surviving that first punch (after which most confrontations are determined, the fighters are pulled apart by onlookers, or the situation devolves into an ineffective scuffle), traditional civilian defence arts should make no apology for concentrating on what is their primary concern. This necessarily means that they are not geared at teaching a person to "fight" (eg. in a ring).

4. Many people think that the single whip movements are "wrist-oriented" because the wrist initiates and leads the movement – in fact the majority of the movement is in the wrist. However as I've previously noted, forearm, not hand/palm, deflections are really the mainstay of the traditional defelection (ie. "blocking"). The application of single whip is no exception. The movement of the wrist causes a smaller circle to be employed in the forearm and it is this smaller circle that is generally used to effect a slipping deflection – usually mid-forearm in what I call the "Goldilocks zone".

5. Put it this way, if you want to deflect a circular attack like a hook, nothing stops you from using a circle on a different plane; you're not constrained by the old "circles against straight lines and straight lines against circles" story (which is, largely speaking, a myth). That "story" is only true if you are referring to a single plane. But if a hook is thrown on a horizontal plane, you can deflect it with another circle that intercepts it at a 45 degree plane.

Copyright © 2012 Dejan Djurdjevic