Friday, October 3, 2003

Whip It Good

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #218, October 3, 2003)

PHOTO: Robert Dante, master of the bullwhip

Whipmaster Robert Dante holds people spellbound as they watch him handle a whip. He makes it look easy. It seems as if all he does is casually wave his arm and the whip responds like a magic serpent—cutting a playing card in half, extinguishing a candle or plucking a single leaf off a tree. He can snap the whip at a person with an earsplitting crack, only to have the whip wind lazily around a leg or wrist. He can even use two whips at the same time, one in each hand. Dante, who currently lives in the Los Angeles area, was brought to the Twin Cities recently by MSDB for a seminar on whips and the art of the singletail.

Whips have been a part of every culture since time began. They are useful for herding animals—not by actually whipping the animals, but by virtue of the tendency of animals to run away from the loud cracking noise. Whips have been used for hunting, too; according to Dante, “In Indonesia they still hunt tigers with a whip in one hand and a spear in the other. If they lose the spear, the hunt continues. If they lose the whip, the hunt is over and everyone goes home.”

Apart from their practical applications, whips are sensually satisfying. The crack of a whip, in Dante’s words, “is wasabe—it wakes you up, it commands attention.” In addition, there are all the other swooping and whooshing sounds a whip makes, along with the hypnotic sight of the whip flailing and writhing.

And then there’s the feel of the whip, which is not always what you might expect. Dante explains that “A whip is the only SM toy, besides a TENS unit, capable of producing a range of sensations that goes from 0 to 9.9.” The sensations produced by a whip can range from the breeze felt as the tip goes past, to a buzz as the tip gets closer, to burn, and all the way to bite.

Sometimes a whip almost seems like a living thing, but it’s really an extension of you, your arm, your hand. It’s your energy being channeled down the length of the whip, finally exploding at the tip with a satisfying crack. To quote Dante, “This is magic, the whip is the key, and the crack is the gate.” Dante describes the spiritual dimension of his art: “Whipping sets up a cycle of energy. I draw energy from the universe and send it out through the whip toward my sub, who receives it, feels it, processes it, and sends it back out to the universe. This is the magical alchemy that turns the lead of ordinary time into the gold of what could be.”

On the other hand, a whip is really just applied physics, and an understanding of some basic scientific principles is necessary to use one effectively. For instance, a shorter whip is more accurate because you’re standing closer to your target. A longer whip gives you more reach and more energy amplification but less accuracy.

More physics: As the whip moves through the air the tip gains momentum until it reaches supersonic speed. When a whip cracks, the tip is breaking the sound barrier. That means it is going at least Mach 1—761 miles per hour—1400 feet per second. And it may go faster, up to 900 miles per hour. That’s a lot of violent energy being released in a shockwave, and the whip is therefore capable of doing great damage to whatever it comes in contact with at that moment.

But once the whip has cracked, the energy has been expended. The whip can then gently brush a person’s back or wrap around an outstretched arm without doing any damage at all. Obviously it takes skill and precision to be able to time the crack of the whip, and to acquire this level of skill takes practice. Dante practices every day and has been doing so for a long time. Practice, in his case, has made perfect.

People new to whips almost always find that the whip snaps back and bites them—perhaps in the leg or the arm, maybe nicking an ear, possibly across the face or in the eye. That’s why one of the rules of whip practice is to wear eye protection, a hat with a brim to protect the face and ears (a motorcycle helmet is even better), and long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

A whip is a three-dimensional instrument, so the next rule of whip practice is to keep a “bubble” or clear zone in all directions around and above you (Dante suggests twice the length of your whip plus six feet). It’s almost impossible to find a decent whip-practice space in the average home. Practice in a basement with a low ceiling and you will quickly develop bad habits that will be hard to break later on—not to mention the lightbulbs you’ll break in the process.

But outdoor practice spaces, such as public parks, present other problems. It’s a good idea to have one person patrol the space and prevent intrusions while another person practices with the whip. And keep the ground as clear as possible. A pebble brushed by a speeding whip can turn into a bullet—all the more reason for eye protection, hats and long sleeves.

Dante suggests that you experiment and extend your whipping skills during practice sessions on inanimate objects. As with other forms of SM, when you play with a whip, play below your level of capability.

You can find more about Dante and whips at <>. Closer to home, a group of Twin City whip enthusiasts called Whipsters meets for monthly practice sessions. All skill levels, including beginners, are welcome. For information e-mail

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