People tend to ask “So, are you moving for a job?” Well, a job WILL BE in the offing obviously, but...well...The Beach was really the deciding factor.
We fell in love with the area when we vacationed there a couple years ago...The history, the vibe, the people...and then there's also the beach...
Wilmington is also home to the largest Television and Film studio system in North America outside California, and if you happen to go to the “About Me” page and read about my other passion and profession, you'll see why that would be appealing. Speaking of appeal, did I mention the beach?
Consequently, MACH One Whip Artistry is moving with us, so look out Cape Fear!
Once the move is complete and we're relatively settled, I plan on really ramping up the work that I do with MACH One, the services I offer, and the marketing of my services, and generally just totally overloading the area with supersonic goodness. I also hope to add some videos, (demo and instructional,) to the website. I'm going to try to be more involved with the larger US Whip performer community in general, and writing more on this blog about my exploration of whips, (which is often problematic for me. If I'm writing about some aspect of whips, my hands invariably begin to get twitchy, and I have to go throw a whip around for a few minutes. It makes getting whip articles written almost impossible. To get just a LITTLE meta on you, I just came back to my chair to write this after putting down a whip.)
I've been rather quiet of late and for that I apologize, but I had a “Back to the drawing board” moment with my whip work a few months back, and that was a VERY very good thing.
My other passion/profession mentioned above took me out to Silicon Valley in September of 2014 to do some corporate training video for a large software firm, (and between the boring subject matter and the non-disclosure clause, that's all you need to know,) and while I was there, I had the amazing honor of going down to San Jose and working very briefly with Maestro Ron Lew, (**Master Lew's website is on my links page, but is currently down. Therefore I will not link to it here.)
This was a REALLY big deal for me...Like meeting a favorite celebrity..and to put that into perspective, I need to explain my personal exploration of the whip in more detail than I've ever publicly divulged.
I've loved bullwhips for about 35 years now, ever since I saw that 12 plait beauty made by David Morgan flash across the big screen in the opening scenes of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” (seriously...Go back and watch it...The whip gets its close-up before Harrison Ford does), but I really began my obsessive exploration of the bullwhip 11 years ago.
In May of 2004, I took a weekend bullwhip workshop with Gery L. Deer, owner and proprietor of The Whip Artistry Studio in Jamestown, Ohio. Gery was immediately a great teacher who became a great friend and collaborator. Through Gery, I got to work with a great number of whip makers and whip performers. I learned a bunch really quickly within that first couple years.
But there was still a big difference between me and the folks I worked with.
Now, I don't mean this as a slight against them in ANY way. They're absolutely fantastic at what they do, and I cherish every moment I had to work with them. But there was an immediate difference of focus.
There was a difference of priority.
There was something elusive that I desperately needed to define and explore that no one else seemed to respond to, (or at least give the primacy to that I did.)
Before I picked up that whip in 2004, I had tried my hand at a number of things: Various martial arts, kendo, sword fighting, (both stage combat and competition/sparring with longsword and rapier,) target shooting, etc. etc. etc. I still enjoy a few of these things, but I never committed as much diligence, time or attention to them as I did the whip, and it took me a LONG time to figure out why.
Gery, and most of the other guys I had the opportunity to work with, were performers. THAT was their focus. The goal of practice is to cut the target...nail the routine...rehearse the show...get it perfect.
At first, I thought that was my focus too. I have a LONG history as a performer as well. All through elementary and high school I did shows, plays, and sang. I performed off-broadway in New York my Freshman year of High School. I started college as a Theater Major. One of my favorite toys as a kid was a cassette tape recorder, on which I spontaneously performed sketches, did impressions, sang songs, etc. To this day, there are very few accents or character voices I can't do or pick up very quickly if I try, (and I credit the “playing as training” I did with the tape...recording...listening back...self-critiquing...re-recording...and getting better and better for that. I was doing it for fun, but I know professionals who wonder how I do it today.)
But the whip was different.
The whip wanted more from me.
I WANTED to cut targets and learn routines, but THAT wasn't the goal...That was a byproduct.
When I first cracked one of Gery's whips, (I remember it well. May 8th, 2004...My 30th birthday. The whip was a 6', 12 plait “Indiana Jones” style bullwhip made by Joseph Strain that Gery'd had for years as his “work whip,” pulling equal duty snagging fallen branches from the electrical fence on his parents farm during the day and cutting targets from the fingers of his performing partner on stages at night,) my immediate reaction was “HOLY SHIT!”
All of those cool things I'd taken up and dropped...martial arts, rapier combat, target shooting...all that stuff I thought at first “This is IT” but left me cold somehow...This WAS it. That deep connection I was looking for was THERE, I just had to find it.
There will soon be a subsequent blog post to REALLY discuss IN DETAIL what that deep connection was about, though at the time I couldn't put it into words, and couldn't really even conceptualize it. But to summarize, I wanted to develop whip skills NOT so I could cut targets or do routines.
I wanted to make the whip such an extension of my own body and mind that reaching out and wrapping a persons wrist or neck, OR cutting a target from their fingers became as simple a process as reaching out and flipping a light switch. Cutting the target was a byproduct of that skill, just as turning on the light is a byproduct of neuro-motor skill development we did as infants and toddlers.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. This took me a while to figure out. In the mean time, I was hanging out with cowboys, developing skills, doing the occasional performance or demo, but never really developing an ACT, and I couldn't figure that out. As I said, I have a long history as a performer, so exactly why did I have such little interest in performing?
I couldn't figure out why I seemed to be focusing on a more personal INTERNAL approach to the whip, as opposed to the more presentational EXTERNAL approach that my colleagues and instructors had.
Then, not quite two years AFTER I began my journey, I read a very singular book: The Filipino Fighting Whip by Tom Meadows *** Tom's book outlined his own exploration of the bullwhip, starting as a young child, and then rediscovering the bullwhip as a student of Filipino Martial Arts legend, Dan Inosanto. Filipino Martial Arts utilize a great many weapons and weapons styles, (all centered around techniques developed with the escrima stick and moving out to include ropes, flails, coins, shirts, hats, etc. Weapons were outlawed in the Philippines for centuries during Spanish colonialism, and the Filipino people made VERY good use of whatever they had.) Tom began to develop his own system, based upon traditional stick, sarong, and whip techniques, but utilizing a more modern Australian style bullwhip and a knife or a stick in the off-hand. Tom shared and collaborated with various other martial artists and developed a quite unique and effective system known as “Latigo y Daga” (Spanish for “Whip and Knife”) which he outlined quite eloquently and precisely in the book.
***I should point out that the Paladin Press edition of this book, linked above, is out of print. In recent conversations with Tom, I have learned that he is putting it BACK in print via Amazon CreateSpace, and will be available soon as both a paperback and a Kindle download. I CANNOT recommend this book enough, HOWEVER I would wait for the new edition, as you will pay less than the extortion prices they have on used or like-new copies at Amazon, AND the author will be paid royalties that he would not otherwise get. I will keep folks updated on the state of the new release when I learn things, and will no doubt partner with Amazon in selling it through this site as well. In those conversations I've have with Guro Meadows, I've learned a bit of what he's got planned for Latigo y Daga. If you're reading this blog, then you're the kind of person who will want to fund what Guro Meadows is up to. Trust me.***
In Tom, I found a kindred spirit who had begun his own journey down the road I was on back when I was in diapers, (and subsequent recent extended phone conversations and lengthy e-mail exchanges have just convinced me more how much this man's philosophy mirrors my own.)
Most of the photographs illustrating the techniques in the book feature Maestro Ron Lew, a Chinese American martial artist who has taught Tai Chi, Ki Gung, Kung Fu, and various Filipino styles for a great number of years, (longer than I've been alive anyway.) Master Lew trained with Guro Meadows for a while, and began to develop his own “Tibetan Wave” whip form by applying Tai Chi energy flow/redirection principles to the Latigo y Daga whip techiques.
So, I worked on my own...Not necessarily attempting to learn Latigo y Daga from a book, but I DID finally have a clue what I was after in my whip exploration, and I had a bit of a map and a lot of inspiration from the book.
Flash forward to September of 2014. I had recently acquired a “Tibetan Wave” bullwhip from Bobbi HolyOak in February. I'd purchased it without ever handling one of her whips before. This is VERY unusual, as whips are obviously a very personal thing for me. The quality of two whips by two makers can be almost identical. They can use materials from the same suppliers, and almost identical techniques and tools, but their whips will behave very differently. The quality of the whips are not in question here, but the qualitIES are. Whip makers tend to make whips that follow their own preferences. It's like the difference between a Bugatti and a Lamborgini. They are both fine vehicles that are built for high-performance. But there are aesthetic... not qualitative or quantitative...differences that make the TRUE aficionado pick one over the other. There are no wrong answers here, only preferences. And most whip enthusiasts have as wide a sampling from many different makers as they can manage. I'm picky, so just BUYING a whip from someone I had no experience with was really weird. BUT, Bobbi's whips are the official whips of both Tom Meadows and Ron Lew now. They give her rave reviews, (as did every far-flung whip performer I knew who's opinion I considered worth a damn.) So, I took the plunge, but not first without asking LOTS of questions that resulted in very lengthy conversations.
I've come to love Bobbi like a sister, though I haven't yet had the opportunity to meet her face to face. She gets the more “Far out” aspects of my approach to whip work that I'll probably NEVER divulge publicly, (or admit to if someone else does,) and she's told me some things about her approach and technique to whip making that she doesn't share too easily. Bottom line, she makes whips to use that way I want to use them, and I have NEVER handled...kangaroo or nylon...a whip that is more dynamic and responsive to the way I work with whips. I honestly didn't think that was possible with nylon, (for aesthetic, philosophical, and physical wave dynamic reasons,) but here we are.
Through Bobbi, I had some fleeting contact with Master Lew, and when I realized that he was located in San Jose...about 30-40 minutes from where I was staying during my week there doing corporate video, (remember that from WAY BACK at the beginning of this post?) I immediately contacted him.
It was last minute. I didn't even know if he'd be in the same COUNTRY while I was there, let alone have time to meet with me. I honestly didn't care. Even if I just had a chance to sit down for coffee with this guy, it was something I wanted to do.
We ended up meeting on a Tuesday evening. I met Master Lew at his martial arts school. I suppose now I should shift to calling him Ron, as when we met I greeted him as “Maestro,” to which he responded “Call me Ron...'Master' makes me feel old!” at which point he pulled off his hat to display his mostly bald septuagenarian head. Now, I had heard from a number of people about Ron's whip techniques, and I was determined to see them for myself, but somehow he managed to get me to crack a few whips before he did, (OK, I KNOW how he did it. He tempted me with a bunch of whips from his collection. But it was my intention to see his work before I touched a whip.) He was very kind and complimentary of my style, and I talked a bit about my approach and what I like to do as I did, (the memory itself is all a blur, but Ron had asked if he could videotape me while I worked. He sent those videos to me, and it's really the only way I can remember what I said.) Then, I handed Ron my Tibetan Wave whip from Bobbi for him to try.
Now, as I said, I had heard stories about Ron's style, and had seen still pictures in Tom Meadows' book, but I'd never seen him in motion. Ron took the whip from me, examined it briefly, and very non-chalantly began to move.
I have never EVER seen anything like it. The whip seemed to be orbiting him, cracking all around him in several directions at once, creating this cloud of flowing energy. There, in the middle of that cloud, was this smiling man doing these slow, flowing Tai Chi movements that at once seemed completely disconnected from the whirling explosive chaos of the whip, while at the same time flowing right along with it...providing the core for it...a methodic integral beat to the syncopation around it.
“So, what would you like me to teach you?”
I didn't know where to begin at all. But Ron started with a couple off-hand techniques, (manipulating the whip with the opposite hand, redirecting the flow of the energy as one does in most Tai Chi techniques.) And then I attempted what he was showing me. 10+ years of work, and feeling like I'd developed some skill and sense of control and elegance went RIGHT OUT the window. I actually gave myself the one and only scar I've ever got from a whip working on the skillset that he gave me. But he was patient, and generous, and gave me some great advice and techniques to practice that I've been working on ever since.
Afterward, we went to dinner and talked about martial arts, and whips, and Chi flow, and it ended up being one of those conversations that ends up transforming your approach to life.
I drove to San Jose exhausted, stressed-out, headachy and sore from two 8-hour days hunched over a camera, squinting into a viewfinder.
I was only with Ron for about 2-2 ½ hours.
I drove back from San Jose with the windows down, the Stereo blaring 80's tunes, (rental car had Sirius Satellite Radio,) smiling, pain free, and ready to go back to work behind that camera RIGHT THEN.
I've been working on the skill-set Ron taught me for about 9 months now, and I can honestly say that if you were to show Dan the Whip Artist from 10 months ago any footage of me today, 10-months-ago-Dan wouldn't recognize me.
My approach has changed, my style has changed..in visually subtle, but profound ways, and I'm getting closer and closer to my goal of meditation at mach 1. And that's something that I hope to share with many of you, both digitally and in person.
Thanks for reading...