Tai Chi Move: The Single Whip

Each tai chi form can be broken down into a series of individual movements. One of the most well known tai chi moves is the Single Whip. The picture shows the final position of this move.
bruce beach single whip
A Striking Whip for Multiple Strikes. Every point along the arm is filled with energy and could become the end of the whip, or releasing point for the energy.

In fighting terms, the whip-like motion allows for multiple, rapid-fire strikes. This might be a shoulder blow to the ribs, elbow blow to the torso, forearm blow, wrist and hand strike, and, if still necessary, a finger strike or slap to the throat, face, or eyes.

If one of the moves is blocked by the opponent, simply move fluidly and rapidly on to the next attack option.

Health. In health terms, this strengthens the arm and energy flow to and from the fingers. Mastering this move and its energy flow has clear benefits for those with arthritis in their hands or those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, or other repetitive stress conditions affecting the arms, hands, or wrists.

Beak Hand. In the Single Whip, one of the hands is typically in a beak hand position. The palm faces downward and the 4 fingers are curled to lightly touch the thumb.

This hook or beak hand is useful for a jabbing type of energy release. In fighting, it's used to jab through soft tissue, such as the groin or eyes.

The beak hand can be useful for massage, when wanting to relax a point of deep tension.

Forming the Beak Hand. The beak hand can be formed simply and quickly by bringing the fingers and thumb together, all simultaneously. At the same time, the wrist is bent downward.

The beak hand can also be formed in a more elegant way. As the wrist bends downward, bring first the thumb and little finger together. Then, the ring finger joins. The middle finger is next, followed by the index finger. Ideally, the wrist motion stops at the same time the index finger touches the thumb.

A Beak Hand Exercise. This simple motion of forming the beak hand can be chained with its reverse, opening the beak hand. Repeatedly forming and opening the beak hand is a useful exercise to strengthen the fingers, hand, and wrist.

Style-Based Variations in the Single Whip. The picture below illustrates variations in the Single Whip final position, based on style.

tai chi single whip styles
Chen and Yang Single Whip. In the Chen and Yang styles of the Single Whip, the body is angled toward the opponent to present a narrower target. The position is front weighted, with the forward leg being more bent or closed than the back leg. This helps to keep the practitioner from lurching or being pulled forward.

Wu Style Single Whip. In Wu, the stance is completely open. This facilitates outward energy flow in all directions. Although not a low stance, as shown in the Chen, the perineum area is open. The legs and arms are equally extended on both sides. The right and left sides of the body are essentially symmetric, except for the different hand positions. Both legs are equally weighted.

This double weighting isn’t conducive for fighting. Moving in to attack will take precious time. And, the body is a undefended target, completely open for attack.

Tension Release. While not for fighting, the Wu style Single Whip is a wonderful posture for releasing physical, mental, and other energetic tension. Read more about using here.

tai chi single whip application
Martial Perspective. A number of strikes, throws, changeups (using one hand to create an opening so that the other can strike) and kicks are embedded in the Single Whip move. These are more easily seen in the Chen and Yang versions of the Single Whip.

One example is shown below. Bruce Frantzis has used his left arm to grab the opponent’s attacking arm. The attacker’s energy can be absorbed and re-issued outward with the free hand. Here, the energy is released outward and directly into the attacker’s face.

Next: Read about another tai chi move, White Crane Spreads Wings.