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Raiders of a Lost Art:
Rediscovering the Bullwhip with Anthony De Longis

 

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indyDuring the filming of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, actor Harrison Ford once said when asked about using the bullwhip, “If anybody could explain it in words, I'm sure it would be a lot easier to do. It's a combination of relaxation while snapping the wrist at the proper time. It's really all a matter of timing.” When the time came to once again done the trademark fedora and uncoil his 10-foot leather bullwhip in 2007 for the filming of newest installment in the Indiana Jones series, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Ford knew he would need to hone his skills with the bullwhip once again. Over the past 18 years, Ford had lost track of his original whip coach, stunt coordinator Glenn Randall. This time, expert whip master and coach Anthony De Longis, was given the honorable task to train Ford for his role as Professor Indiana Jones.

De Longis himself has been a staple in the film and television industry for many years. He served as the whip coach on Batman Returns, responsible for training and choreographing Michelle Pfeiffer in her role as Catwoman. His credits with the bullwhip also include such films as Wild Bill (with Ellen Barkin), The Rundown and Buffalo Girls (with Angelica Huston) among many others. He was responsible for training the stunt doubles on The Legend of Zorro and his whip student actor/stuntman Scott McElroy utilized his distinctive methods in the film Underworld (with Kate Beckinsale).

Anthony graciously shared his experiences with whips, whip cracking and working with Harrison Ford in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with fellow whip specialist Daniel Borton & Indygear.com, Here is what he had to say…

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Whip Master and Trainer Anthony De Longis

“Dear Fellow Indy Fans

I’ve been asked by the Administrators of the website www.Indygear.com and by Dan “Bullwhip” Borton (a bold soubriquet), to offer a few thoughts on the whips in general and my contribution on the latest Indy adventure specifically, so here goes…

I’ve been an actor, action coordinator and professional teacher for thirty-five years and counting. As it happens, I can explain it in words because communicating knowledge is my job and I love to learn new skills, then take them apart and reassemble them in ways that are easier for both me and my clients to understand and implement. As Mr. Ford stated, it’s largely about relaxation and timing. I’ve found the best way to “keep from lashing yourself,” so that you can “practice with it and get it right” is to learn to feel what the whip is trying to tell you. I say I’m self-taught, which is why I do things differently, but in reality it was the whip that taught me. It showed me how to listen and that offered a more efficient, effective and effortless way of working. Along the way I discovered that man’s first supersonic tool is also the ultimate flexible weapon. —Anthony De Longis

 

 

 

Just another day on the job!
Back when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was know mysteriously as the “GENRE PROJECT,” I’d been trying to get my materials to the producers and was navigating the murky waters between “enough persistence to get an opportunity to show my stuff” and not being “such a pain that they’d just want me to go away." I was about to trust luck and mail in my credentials when I got a call from Production Supervisor Noelle Green telling me they were gearing up and to bring in my materials the next day. We had a lovely meeting and she promised to play my reels for the producers that day. I found out later the whole office had enjoyed my demo reel, especially the Whip Master segment. (http://www.delongis.com/ADLfightresume.html). anthony

A few days later I got a call that went something like this. Distinguished and vaguely familiar Male Voice:
“Is this Anthony De Longis?”
AD: “Yes.”
Distinguished Voice: “This is Harrison Ford.”
AD: (saying nothing but mentally squealing) “Oh my god, I’m talking to Indiana ‘freaking’ Jones.” (after a second to reacquire my professional demeanor)
“Yes, Mr. Ford. How can I help you?”
HF: “I’d like to schedule some training for my new film.”

At our first session he said, “I’ve watched your reels, you’re an incredible swordsman.” After expressing my thanks and establishing the ground rules, “call me Harrison,” we trained together for the next four weeks, usually 3-4 sessions per week depending on his busy schedule. Harrison mentioned his whip training before me was minimal and that he’d learned his skills the hard way.

The first thing I showed him was how never to hit yourself or anyone else by accident—an invaluable tool on a crowded movie set. I offered him a structure and method that was more efficient, more effective and more visual on screen since both he and the whip could always be in frame throughout every action, no matter how close up the camera shot. Harrison liked what he saw and embraced my methods with enthusiasm and commitment. I’ll offer some specifics and details on my system at the end of this article.

Working with him was a joy. Harrison was everything I expected from the actor whose work I’ve admired for so many years in so many diverse projects: intelligent, respectful, appreciative and professional; a star in very best sense of the word.

Images dating to 3000 BC in both the Chinese and Egyptian cultures illustrate whips helping man control and motivate a variety of animals. It is the perfect action accessory for an adventurous archaeologist, as demonstrated so dynamically by Harrison Ford in the INDIANA JONES feature films. It is also a ferociously effective and versatile weapon. It was my honor and pleasure to offer my methods to Mr. Ford and to help him prepare for his return to the screen in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

“It’s a relatively uncommon skill and I wasn’t terribly good at it—but I guess I was good enough for show business when I did it the last time. We had a new whip trainer on this movie who had a different technique. So after a couple of weeks of pretty diligent practice, I was able to get it all back.” —Harrison Ford

 

 

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Bullwhip…

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Due to the strict and rather Draconian confidentiality agreement, it was impossible to let Terry (Jacka) know that I was asking him to make the whips I thought would work best with my “rolling loop/follow the handle” style. David Morgan (who made the bullwhips used in the first 3 films) makes a superlative whip and the first good whip I was able to afford was a Morgan; a black, 10 foot (thirteen plus feet from butt to tip) “Indy” style, shot-loaded beauty. Although over twenty years old, this whip was still in superb shape and was the whip Harrison utilized throughout our training period while we waited for Terry’s whips to arrive from Australia.

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I asked Terry to copy the dimensions of the Morgan whips that had been made in advance in preparation for some of the planned effects. The design of the “American” style bullwhip, which is the Indy standard, is best suited to single throws from all eight angles of attack on both the forehand and backhand sides. However, this shorter handle makes rapid multiple throws difficult, especially when transitioning from single throws to complex compound combinations, which I wanted to be able to incorporate into Harrison’s whip vocabulary. I knew from my long association with Terry and his methods that he would extend the belly of the whip during construction and give me as tight a weave as humanly possible. While the handle would look almost identical, the stiffer extended belly would provide additional leverage to the help reform the “loop” quickly and facilitate a wider variety of successive throws.

 

Preparing the bullwhips for filming…

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I was informed by our prop master (Doug Harlocker) that everything had to match the previous films as closely as possible, including a wrist loop on the handle of the whip. It is impractical and severely limiting to put one’s hand through the loop while the whip is in action. Although I never use them except to hang a whip to dry if it has gotten wet during use, I also seldom cut them off unless the production I’m working on requests it. When the whips finally arrived, I put the loop to good use while dying the whips to color match the worn look the prop department had requested. I spent many delightful hours imparting muscle memory into the whips. I dislike the term “breaking in” since I’m not breaking anything; rather I’m training the whip to form the loop earlier so it can flow longer and more efficiently to produce effortless, consistent cracks. The wrist loop proved useful to safely support the whip for conditioning to speed this process.

I favor a relaxed, pivoting grip with the ball of handle in my palm for maximum leverage and articulation. To keep the wrist loop intact but out of my way, I tie a “figure 8”knot in the wrist loop. I offered this method to Harrison until he could have a conversation with Mr. Spielberg and reach a final decision. Judging by current posters and the whips in the film (which I saw at the New York opening in Harlem on May 20, 2008), Harrison liked this solution. By the way, the film is, as Mr. Ford so eloquently put it in an interview that week, “a cracking good yarn.”

 

 

 

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Offering a New Method to an age old Skill…
The following are excerpts from my upcoming article for Black Belt Magazine on the Combative Versatility of the Whip at Multiple Ranges. They offer some insight into the methods and discoveries I shared with Harrison Ford during our training. They are the product of a journey and passion for the whip that has lasted some twenty-five years and counting. I hope you enjoy them.

 

THE BULLWHIP: A WEAPON FOR THE AGES by Anthony De Longis 5/08

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The first man-made tool to break the sound barrier is also a powerful and effective fighting weapon. For me, the whip is the ultimate flexible weapon: precision, power and virtually unlimited versatility in one explosive, super-sonic package. Martial artists who are looking for something unique, efficient and devastating can have it all with the bullwhip.

Bullwhip and stock whip, mace and chain, rope dart, flail, Okinawan nunchuku, South American boleadoras, Chinese chain whip, Japanese manriki gusari, Indonesian sarong; siblings all in the international martial catalogue of flexible weapons. All can generate tremendous velocity and impact but only the bullwhip and stock whip are super-sonic, shattering the speed of sound and clocking velocities up 700 mph. For this and many other reasons, the whip is unique in the martial arts weapons lexicon.

Any fighting art you’ve studied will find a powerful new voice with the whip. These include the western or European sword arts, Japanese katana, Filipino Kali and Escrima, Karate, Kung Fu, Ju Jitsu, grappling and even western boxing. The whip can offer new ways to apply your tried and true combative skills and techniques. Learn to listen and the whip will whisper its secrets. Master the whip’s vocabulary and you will unleash a versatile new ally unmatched in speed and power.

I’ve spent the last twenty-five years developing and refining my own distinctive methods for my work in film, television and for fighting applications. Here’s a taste of what I’ve discovered.

THE DE LONGIS ROLLING LOOP: Alignment is the Key

The martial goal is always maximum results with minimal effort. Don’t waste yourself in areas that are counterproductive. Most whip practitioners generate their power predominantly with the arm and shoulder. It’s hard and fast and produces a big bang but it’s a lot of work and can create openings that allow an opponent to crash and enter.

For fighting, I have a different agenda: less effort, more control and the ability to strike swiftly, accurately and repeatedly from a variety of angles while maintaining maximum range. The shoulder method slashes through the selected target and offers both speed and power but not the focused maximum impact achieved by a rolling wave of kinetic energy released when the tip of the whip strikes at the precise instant it shatters the sound barrier. My rolling loop method stabs rather than slashes, concentrating its power like a punching fist rather than a slap.

The science of the whip works most efficiently when it aligns with itself and forms a loop. I discovered that if I turned my palm downward, the body of the whip forms a loop ABOVE the handle instead of hanging below it in the traditional manner and always curls outside the hand. By employing this simple adjustment, the critical alignment loop forms much earlier in the throw and therefore travels much further along its own structure, producing the explosive crack much more easily and efficiently. The “rolling loop” results in a “follow-the-handle” protocol that is both easy and consistently reliable. Water runs down hill, so why force water up hill just so it can run back down that same hill but for a much shorter distance producing less energy and impact? My method maximizes alignment to maximize speed and impact while minimizing effort.

anthonyRelax the grip and the loop forms naturally above the handle and outside the hand in both forehand and backhand throws as your handle passes your shoulder on its way to your selected target, even when alternating complex combinations of non-stop multiple throws. Gravity becomes an ally, instead of an adversary. The whip will form the loop for you, if you let it.

One of the beauties of a well-made whip (with a braided inner core or “skeleton”) is its ability to re-energize or reload for the next strike with just a gentle re-infusion of energy and a small adjustment of alignment. Stretch and energize the whip for greatest ease and efficiency of operation. An extended or stretched whip equals an energized and aligned whip seeking whatever target you select. Achieve super-sonic speed without super-sonic effort by making the whip your willing and enthusiastic ally, not your adversarial slave.

With my “rolling loop / follow the handle” method, the whip always travels along parallel lines or “railroad tracks” outside your hand and body in both the forehand and backhand angles of attack. This is the key to never hitting yourself, your surroundings or your training partner by accident, a simple but effective safety protocol. It’s also the key to deadly accuracy and automatically hitting any selected target. Natural footwork positions whatever you want to hit on your imaginary railroad tracks. You literally run your opponent over with your supersonic bullet train. Efficiency, safety, consistency, and tremendously powerful accuracy, these are the advantages to my system.

The whip has tremendous versatility as both an Offensive and Defensive Weapon but its greatest asset is the striking power it generates at full length. Few weapons offer the reach advantage a whip affords. Keeping the whip in front of you maximizes your distance advantage and striking power (loop forms sooner, lasts longer and subsequently generates greater energy). Lead with the weapon, not the body, and the whip provides a fluid, constantly changing wall of energy that is both intimidating and difficult to breach.

Hollywood Whip Adventures
I utilized my system of training and choreographing to prepare Michelle Pfeiffer with the whip for her role as Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS. We wanted to create a new style for Michelle that would reflect the complexity of her character; alluring, hypnotic and sensual, combining feline grace with the danger and awesome striking power of a jungle cat. She performed all of her own whip action, including wrapping Christopher Walken around the throat on her first day of work. Michelle developed an impressive array of skills and her dedication allowed us to choreograph on the spot, rehearse the action once for camera, then shoot it without cuts or inserts.

“Dear Fellow Indy Fans,

We’re currently evolving our “TRAIN TO BE YOUR FAVORITE ACTION HERO” Rancho Indalo curriculum which embraces our own favorite characters and genres including the globe-trotting action archaeologist Dr. J, the sensual and dangerous Catwoman, swashbuckling swordsmen like Zorro and D’Artagnan, archers Robin Hood, Green Arrow, western heroes Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Calamity Jane, The Lone Ranger, the knife throwing grudge carrier “V,” equine adventurers like the Man from Snowy River and the “headless horseman” from Sleepy Hollow. Or you can choose whatever mixture of skills you’d like to explore to create your own action persona. Couples welcome and encouraged. Contact information for seminars and private instruction at www.delongis.com/indalo.

It is often said “a small amount of focused energy produces explosive results.” The whip is living proof of this concept. It has been a genius of design and function achieving Mach 1 for over five millennia. Mastery is all about simplicity. Execute the basics simply and efficiently and let the whip do the work. The satisfaction that comes from the ability to wrap a partner around the throat with the delicacy of a caress or to utilize that same power to disarm and disable an aggressive adversary makes the journey worth the effort.

Good luck!

Biography:
Anthony De Longis has been an actor, fight director and weapons professional for over 35 years. Decades of study
with fencing Maestro Ralph Faulkner and Guro Dan Inosanto heavily influence his sword and whip work. He continues to train in western fencing, Japanese katana and a variety of martial arts. He and his partner Jason Heck train weekly with combative weight aluminum bladed sabers, rapiers and small swords with Lynn Thompson, President of Cold Steel knives, exploring the combative techniques of a variety of historical manuals and masters. Anthony performed the opening saber vs. gim fight with Jet Li in FEARLESS, staged and performed flashback scimitar and saber action for SECONDHAND LIONS. He was Co-Stunt Coordinator for THE QUEEN OF SWORDS and co-starred twice on HIGHLANDER, the Series. View his credits and accomplishments at www.delongis.com and his action reels and methods at www.delongis.com/ADLfightresume.html.

 

“Seeing Indy’s trademark bullwhip brought feelings of nostalgia and excitement to everyone on the set. To see Harrison walk on the set, pick up the whip, snap it and wrap it around one of the bad guys was pretty incredible…It was amazing to see how fast Harrison was with it—and then to be on the set and see Indy’s rucksack and his other props, well, it wasn’t just nostalgia. That was when I realized we’re bringing this character and everything he’s about back to the audience that grew up with him and to new audiences.”
—Steven Spielberg

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Special Thanks to Anthony De Longis
Photos of Anthony De Longis on his Ranch courtesy of John Leonetti


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