Lost Art of America: Putting out a candle with a bullwhip

Spending the weekend at The Whip Artistry Studio was a chance to touch base with the skills that mean the most to me. One of the bullwhip tricks of high regard for many of the people who come through Gery Deer’s classes taught at that facility is putting out a candle with the crack of a whip. Most bullwhip artists have their own style in cracking that are subtly different from one another. I am typically very aggressive, and when I put out candles I don’t care if I hit the candle tip, because I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing splashes of wax exploding outward, which can be seen in the following video done over the weekend.

However, Gery Deer is all about finesse. In the next video he instructs one of his students how to put out a candle the technically correct way, by cracking the whip just in front of the candle and using the sonic boom to create a negative pressure vacuum that is followed by a convection current which pushes out the flame like a breath. Gery explains this process to one of his students, and a general audience of casual spectators.  

There are few skills which are as traditional of the American lifestyle as the bullwhip—except for firearms of course. When I speak to people from other parts of the world, the topic of my bullwhip work always comes up, because they usually watch my videos before meeting me. In Japan, their culture is all about the undefeated samurai Miyamoto from The Book of Five Rings. Samurai swords are typical weapons of reverence even to this day in that culture. Elsewhere in the world are similar military celebrities of worship, such as in China with Sun Tzu from The Art of War. Europe has their Napoleon. Every culture has a reverence for how their societies were formed from violence and conquest. However, in America, the art forms of the Wild West were not so much of oppression over a conquered enemy, but over escaping oppression. Progressives have attempted to paint westward expansion in a negative light in America by capturing the plight of the mystic Native Americans and how they were abused under the hand of the cowboy, but this doesn’t pan out within the psychology of America. Most cowboys wanted the same things the Indians wanted—land, freedom, and a love of independence. Both had European style governments as their primary antagonists.

The bullwhip was a symbol of independence because the cowboy used them to herd cattle across the vast plains of ranch living. In remote parts of the world such as Australia they have taken the bullwhip to a high level of art as they still use them to herd livestock. Naturally, cowboys have developed cleaver ways to prove their accuracy with bullwhips, and putting out a candle is one of the highest forms of accuracy that can be achieved. It is proof that such a weapon can be used in a way to not just produce a random noise, but to actually make that noise appear in time and space at the complete control of the handler.

In my life professionally and privately, my work with bullwhips is unmistakably a part of how people see me. I use bullwhip metaphors in almost every facet of my life and no matter what level anybody is dealing with me, bullwhips always come into the conversation. And it gives me great pride to share those metaphors because bullwhips are weapons of precision, not just of brutality. They can be used to kill like a samurai Katana but such violent engagements can be averted almost every time with a carefully placed crack next to the ear of an aggressive adversary. More often than not, violence is avoided when the kind of skill it takes to put out a candle is applied to a contentious situation.

The girl in Gery’s video had never put out a candle before. Her very first time was in front of the camera, so once she had mastered a precise cut, all she needed to do was direct it where Gery told her to, and as can be seen, the flame went out. It really is that simple—but most things are. The bullwhip is a metaphor for some of life’s most complex problems. Once they are understood—they can all be made to look easy. When things appear overwhelming, and too vastly complex, the proper approach has not yet been discovered. In the bullwhip arts, putting out a candle with the crack of a whip is equivalent to declaring that the master has taken various complex elements of physics and simplified them to their desire. And once such things are done between a bullwhip and a flaming candle, they can be applied to everything in life. That is why such things are worth doing—and why I revere the work of bullwhip arts to be among the highest skills performed in reflection of American culture.

Rich Hoffman  



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