What the bleep is going on in tai chi's single whip posture? It seems to be emblematic of tai chi, being a pose frequently struck by practitioners in the presence of cameras.

single whip

single whip application

The actual sequence is shown in this short video clip. Coming from an outsider's perspective, this looks like a tough position to apply in a fighting context. What is the martial application of this sequence or posture?

  • There's an example at approximately 0:33 of this video.
    – MCW
    May 29, 2012 at 15:31
  • That looks more like a Diagonal Flying application to me, though I see how it could be applied to Single Whip. 1:20-1:30 of your video is definitely Single Whip, though. May 29, 2012 at 15:53

6 Answers 6


One application is to capture a punch. If you enter the puncher's space, there's an arm break and/or a relatively violent takedown similar to some silat takedowns.

It can be a deflection and striking/throwing entry without any capturing or breaks.

One application

  • Attacker steps in with a right-hand punch. Defender outward-deflects punch using the right arm and hooks over top of the attacker's arm. (This can be enough to temporarily capture the arm, it can be a grab, etc.)
  • Defender steps in and brings left arm across attacker's neck.
  • Arm break is sticking chest forward while bringing arms back (depending on alignment).
  • Takedown by dropping center, bending the left arm and sticking elbow into neck or shoulder depression makes it even easier, as does off-centering attacker backwards. Can be assisted with a hip nudge and/or knee to back of attacker's lead knee.

A more silat-ish application would have defender's left hand rise from under the attacker's punch; this can be an uppercut. It may also turn in to coming over the top of the attacker's neck, after which much merriment arises.


There are many applications, depending on what part of the single whip sequence one looks at.

There is hooking and pull-down and push with the right hand at the beginning of the motion.

Then there is a potential albeit well hidden elbow strike when turning around.

Then there is a combination of a ward-off, pull-down and push, the end of which can be seen on the picture. These are just the "text book" applications the way I've learned the form. With enough practice and proper mind intent, the movements may reveal more subtler applications.

The important thing to realize here is that applications in the form are given only as a guide to understanding the intent of the movements in the form while learning it. The true work and insight will come from adding to the form everything one learns from push-hands exercises, swordplay and sanshou practices, to name a few.

  • Could you go into some detail on one of those applications, perhaps describing it in stages? May 24, 2012 at 21:16
  • Well, you can use a hook to pull down or shake an opponent before striking or pushing with your fist for one. Jun 5, 2012 at 17:48

I've studied Yang style Tai Chi for two years. There are some very simple applications for Single Whip:

In the images above, the guy is facing forwards, imagine if the attacker was coming from behind. You start in Wu Chi and when they try to punch the back of your head, you step backwards into single whip, using the whip hand to very subtly deflect the punch. very basic, very powerful.

The power of the movement comes from being a small shape and expanding into a larger shape that over laps the other person. Moving towards a punch is the important part.

The whip hand is also seen in 'Snake Creeps Down' (03:20 > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBvF6r6DOvc) near the end, you could use the upwards pointing whip hand to grab a kicking leg and then move into single whip to lift the leg high enough to push someone over.

Hope that helps.


Turns out my teacher was pondering the same question. What are some applications for Single Whip?.

My teacher shows a variety of applications for single whip. The second video emphasizes how to use the "hook" portion of the single whip. (and stars me as the portly victim).

  • 1
    Could you summarize the video here? Jul 25, 2013 at 21:19
  • 1
    Alas, the summary is the title; I find it very difficult to summarize kinesthesiology in text. Essential Mr. Gilmer demonstrates a number of variations of single whip in response to attacks.
    – MCW
    Jul 28, 2013 at 20:39

Single whip is an excellent pattern for learning to fa jin. I am guessing you're asking about the crazy hook hand. According to Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit,

The hook hand at one end locks the force so that it can shoot out more powerfully at the palm on the other side.

  • 2
    That's a silly idea. Jan 4, 2015 at 21:05
  • @DaveLiepmann If you ask me, trying to use single whip for anything except exploding force through the front palm is silly.
    – sirdank
    Jan 5, 2015 at 15:41
  • No, that little loopy thing you do with your hand as it curls into a crane's beak? That's a chin-na technique. It's to deal with a wrist grab. You are disengaging the grab and simultaneously grabbing his wrist and extending his arm out. This can be done from the inside or the outside position. On the inside position, the follow-up palm strike is to the face (stomach-5) or neck (stomach-9). On the outside position, the follow-up palm strike is actually a standing elbow lock/break and possible throw. Jan 10, 2015 at 23:46
  • @SteveWeigand Could you post that as an answer please? Jan 23, 2015 at 17:26
  • Yeah, I'll see what I can do later on today. I learned that application from a direct student of Chen Qingzhou, fyi. I think it's the only one that really makes any sense martially speaking. Jan 23, 2015 at 17:56

Left hand sticks and pivot on right foot leads away an attacking punch into emptiness. Opponent now falling forward can receive push back and up from left palm while you bounce them back after dropping into left foot. Right hand rotating anti clockwise and back at shoulder height deflects a punch coming in from behind. Was working on that last at night's class. After posting the above I did a bit of Google on this move. On Wikipedia I found out and its an interesting side fact that the title "Single whip" was meant to read "Carrying baskets" but was misheard during a translation from Chinese to English many years ago.

  • @MikeOConnor Please note that you've used a different account to edit your original answer. I think it would be best if you ask a moderator to merge both accounts.
    – THelper
    Sep 23, 2015 at 4:49

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