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Win A Towel Fight: How to Master the Art of Fighting With A Towel Whip or Rat Tail

Sham-Ow: Towel-Whipping or Rat-Tailing

Be the Zorro or Obi-Wan of a weapon from a more civilized time--yes, the towel whip or rat tail.

Read on to learn how to win a towel fight quickly and decisively.

But read carefully, because I am both role model and cautionary tale.

Before going further, I offer some warnings:

  • I don't condone actual violence, even if I love watching it on TV. What follows is a manual to defend yourself honorably, nothing more.
  • This guide is for good and not for evil. If you are here to defend yourself from locker room bullies, please read on.
  • If you are a bully or intend to attack someone for no reason, stop reading here. What I have to teach you don't need or deserve to know. In any case, karma is a b****, and if you use what you read here to hurt people with a towel whip or rat tail, the universe will pay you back at some point (see my cautionary tale, below).
  • Also, even if you are just defending yourself, don't go for the eyes. No one, not even your worst enemies, deserves to get tagged in the eyes. I say this because I have been hit in the eyes. Not as bad as an actual stick in the eye, but not as nice as, I don't know, marshmallows or cucumbers or breasts pressed into your eyes, either.

OK, with that little warning out of the way, here we go. The topics I cover here are: (1) types of towel fights; (2) how to select and prepare your weapon, when possible; (3) weapon handling technique; and (4) my story.

(1) Types of towel fights

Basically, there are two types of fights: the duel and the ambush. I suppose there are variants--The Mexican Standoff, the Russian-Turkish Rumble, the Talinn Take-Down, etc.--but basically any variant of the towel fight falls generally into the categories of duel or ambush.

The duel: Usually, two opponents face off, as if fencing (i.e., facing sidewise so as to expose only one shoulder).  They dance a bit, advancing and retreating, snapping at each other tentatively and even making light contact. The duel ends when one opens his guard and suffers a crushing, blow, usually accompanied by a resounding "whap!"-like noise and a purple welt.  It is also customary for witnesses to frown and smile at the same time while cooing "oooooooohhh" at the thought of the pain the loser is suffering.

In an honorable fight, it is bad form to continue to whip or flail a defeated opponent once he has submitted.  In ancient times, going back to the Trojan War, it was customary to continue to flail a downed opponent who was especially hated.  After dragging Hector's body around the walls of Troy, Achilles then wrapped up a towel and flailed Hector with a towel whip, covering his body with unslightly welts. 

Anyway, whatever happens after, duels tend to be relatively fair fights. Here are a couple of examples of normal duels:

A classic towel whip duel with dish towels.

Towel fight duel II - with longer, unwrapped towels

Some quick observations on the videos before moving on. I have noticed after many years of study that towel-related violence tends to erupt only where there is a critical mass of (a) towels and (b) shirtless teenage guys, usually three or more. For some reason, fights never seem to happen when there are just two guys. Also, the presence of teenage girls or adults tends to dissipate any towel-whipping, even if it is already in progress, for reasons I can't yet explain. Perhaps the perfume and estrogen cut like a knife through the fog of testosterone, towels, and body odor. I have suggested that my biologist friends conduct further research, but no one has yet displayed any real interest.

The ambush: An ambush is any situation in which two more guys lay in wait to surprise-towel-attack yet another guy who is alone and unsuspecting. Here is a video of this act of pure cowardice and dishonor:

towel fight ambush

And that is all I have to say about that.  Only for cowards.

(2) Select and prepare your towel whip or rat tail

Towel selection.

Sometimes, especially in the case of an ambush, you have to grab what you can--dishtowel, rag, whatever. In a duel, or other situation where you have a choice and a bit of time, you should choose as follows:

  • A thin, properly rolled-up beach towel is the one true weapon of the towel Jedi. In my view, you want a weapon that is long, whip like, but thick enough to put in rapid strikes
  • A properly rolled-up bath towel is a serviceable weapon but has two disadvantages compared to the beach towel. First, when rolled up, it is a bit too thick. Second, bath towels tend to give you a bit less reach.
  • A dish towel is not my preferred weapon. It is very thin and very painful if used correctly. But the reach is a too short and the towel is too thin. I don't want to discourage you from using one if you are good with it, but in my experience, dish towels tend to unravel quickly, forcing you to waste time trying to twirl them. Also, critically, because they are lighter, they are harder to control. In any case, a dish towel is better than . . .
  • . . . an unwrapped beach towel or bath towel, the least desirable towel weapon. These will do in a pinch, but if you have a second, it is really better to properly roll your towel. Unrolled, you will have no control and no speed with these things. You may, if the wind is up and you're skinny enough, simply blow away, or float a bit in the air, allowing your opponent to strike at you like a pinata.

Towel rolling technique and proper grip.

Scroll to Continue

The two slideshows below will show you how to properly roll your beach towel or bath towel, and then how to properly hold the beach towel. Follow the instructions carefully.

Some interesting books for you, the kind of guy who whips people with towels

(3) Proper Towel Whip/Rat Tail fighting technique


Before you get into a true combat situation, train a bit. Take your towel, which you are now gripping properly because you reviewed the second slide show above, and practice by striking a wall. You have to feel it a bit, but I can offer these tips (and you can leave comments below if you have any questions):

  • Start practicing by hitting the wall. This is much better than practicing on other people or other animals (because if you did want to do this, you would be a classic psychopath).
  • Stand an optimal distance away from your target and hit with the sweet spot of the towel--the very tip of the towel, the last two inches or so. When you strike the wall, only the very tip of the towel whip should make contact.
  • When you wind up to strike, pull the towel whip in front of your body, almost like you were preparing to hit a back-hand stroke in tennis.  Or in baseball terms, it is almost like you were preparing to bunt--hold the narrow end of the towel whip in your left hand (if your right hand is dominant, otherwise, vice versa).
  • Do not open your striking arm away from your body or raise it above your head.  That is, to be clearer, do not use the rat tail like a real whip or a club, where you bring the weapon above your head and bring it down on the target.  Any strikes made in an Indiana Jones-with-a-whip style will be totally ineffective and leave you totally exposed to your opponent.
  • Now, you will know if you are doing it right by the sound. A proper strike with the sweet spot of the towel will make a loud whip-like, which is the point (it is called a towel whip).
  • If you are just hitting air, stand closer to the target.
  • If you are hitting the target with any more than the sweet spot of the towel whip, then you need to stand farther away.  When you are too close, your towel will make a dull, thudding noise.
  • Practice against the wall until you can consistently make the correct, and very loud, whip-like noise.
  • After practicing with a wall, graduate to a piece of binder or copy paper.  Throw it up in the air.  Try to strike it as many times as you can before it lands on the ground.  If your technique is developing properly, you won't end up just pushing the paper farther away--you should be able to tear bits of the paper off or tear holes in it, and at least twice before it hits the ground. 
  • If you can actually consistently hit paper and tear it with just the sweet spot of the towel, and you can grab some pebbles from my hand, then, grasshopper, you will be ready to leave for a towel fight.

Towel Fighting Strategy

You might think that your strategy will be different depending on whether you are in a duel or stuck defending yourself in an ambush. Not really, at least for me.

My strategy has always been the same--take the initiative and hit first, making repeated, rapid-fire strikes (striking once per second or faster so that your opponent does not have time to take shots). Use total force to reach a quick and decisive victory. Why?

  • This is a towel fight. There is very little point in waiting patiently until you can make a beautiful strike because people may lose interest before you can deliver the perfect strike. Also, even if it is exhausting to fight like this, it is also exhausting and painful to get hit.
  • You can win by controlling your own fear and exploiting your opponent's fear. The entire point of a towel fight is the fear and anticipation of blinding pain. It is really, terribly painful to get hit by a towel whip. Really painful. But if you are afraid of getting hit, your opponent is equally so. Take advantage of this fear by moving in and striking quickly before your opponent gets the chance to hit you. By moving in and flailing you will induce fear into all but the most fearless and, very quickly, If you take a few shots, so be it.
  • It makes no difference if you are in a one-on-one duel or defending yourself from an ambush. The whole point is to get your opponent to fear and respect you. Lashing out like a mad man will do that. You may have mulitple attackers coming at you, as I did, and the point of your striking rhythm is to simply make life as unpleasant as possible for you multiple opponents. The second guy in an ambush will think twice about coming after you once he sees the first guy wince at facing your barrage of strikes.
  • This rapid-strike strategy is why I suggest using a beach towel, rolled up properly. This thickness of towel is perfect for keeping your opponents far away while still delivering rapid strikes.

Here are some other tips I can offer:

  • Never give your back to an opponent. Watch yourself in a duel or other situation. Your fear may cause you, subconsciously, to try to protect your chest and face and angle your body away from the business end of the towel. Big mistake. You present a much more difficult target while facing and lashing out at your opponent. If you turn your back, you can't see where your opponent is aiming and you present an easier target to hit. Again control your fear. (Easier said than done, and there are other sources that explain how to do that).
  • Use footwork to keep an optimal striking distance from your opponent. Don't let your opponent come too close to you, and don't you rush in too close, either--control the fight with your feet.  You want to maintain a distance sufficient to have the sweet spot of your towel strike your opponent.  Now, this may just seem like common sense, but it is important to make the right noise with your towel.  Even if a well-coordinated strike doesn't hurt much (which it will), a loud sound can have an important psychological effect--your opponent will think he is huring more than he is because of the noise.
  • Do practice emergency fighting with an unwrapped towel. Sometimes you just won't have time to do a proper wrap.  Just twirl the towel around with one hand until it is a bit tighter. You need to know what it feels like to fight without a wrapped towel.

(4) My Story: Why should you listen to me?

A good question. When I was in high school, I was on the small side--I was still 5'6" and 115 pounds until. I was nerdy--I played role playing games, read comics, all of it. I had a flat-top, did not kiss a girl until my senior year.

On top of all this, I was on the swim team. Now, put this nice package all together, and you have a recipe for a bullying victim--and in particular, bullying by way of towel-related violence.

Quite to the contrary.

I was respected in the locker room because I was a holy f****** terror with the towel whip or rat tail. I may have been smaller and nerdier than everyone else (at least until my junior year or so), but I was never once defeated in a fair one-on-one towel-fight, or even some other more challenging two-on-one fights. Consider these anecdotes:

  • Eighth grade. On a swim team trip, I room with three guys. One, though younger, is much larger. Lights out. He won't go to sleep and keeps making fun of me and what he calls my "Chinese war tactics" (I am Asian but not Chinese). I ignore it until he pitifully tries to hit me with his towel from his bed. I get up, roll up my towel, and unleash a hail of pain on him, many blows still stinging him through his blanket. He mixes laughter with squeals of pain and still mumbles "Chinese war tactics!" but soon after goes to sleep.
  • Tenth grade. Practice ends, and a giant towel fight has broken out in the men's locker room. I am slow getting back to the room, and prepare my towel. One guy I don't know (other teams swam at our pool), leaps out of the door and takes a couple of exploratory snaps at me. Contrary to my normal "strike first, strike hard, no mercy" strategy, I wind up slowly and unleash a single strike, a real stinger right at his chest. This perfect hit lands with a satisfyingly loud "whap!," and a purple welt appears almost immediately like a third nipple. I brace myself for a furious counterattack, knowing I have caused him pain. Instead, looking amazed, he drops his towel, extends his hand and says, "I want to shake your hand." A friend ever since.

Now comes the cautionary tale. After tenth grade, I got taller (to my current height), developed some muscle, and got cocky. I began to start towel fights in which I leave other guys covered in welts. While most people on the swim team knew I was good with the towel, I decided to remind everyone of this fact every so often.  Totally unnecessary, and totally wrong.  So then this happened: 

  • Eleventh grade ambush. As I said before, karma is a b****. After tiring of my own reign of towel terror, several teammates decided to teach me a lesson.  One day, after an exhausting practice, I was drying myself off, totally naked.  I stepped into my underwear, pulling one leg through.  I started to pull the other leg through when, taking advantage of my total vulnerability and immobility, five guys attacked me at once. The first, a friend, stood on a bench and hits me right in the eyes, totally incapacitating me. I see stars, and flail around, hopping still naked with my underwear serving as manacles (handcuffs for your feet).  As I tried to hop away, the other four rushed in and covered my body, front and back, with welts. I limped out of the locker room, wounded, and having learned a well-deserved lesson:  Use the towel whip or rat tail for good, for defense, and never for needless or mindless attack.

I hope you take the lessons I learned to heart.  I am an old lion.  OK, I am not THAT old, really, but too old to have another towel fight. Besides, I rarely enter the situations in which such fights erupt.  They are very unlikely to happen now while I am changing my kid's diapers or while at a dinner party where people are talking about Proust, politics and other sh*t that I don't care about.  I would rather be back in the locker room, delivering welts to the wicked.

So please, young ones and grasshoppers out there who are still towel-fighting, take what I have learned and use it to go forth and defend yourselfs and the helpless and the weak and the needy.  Make me proud.

And if you get to be a true towel Zorro or samurai or swashbucker or what have you, watch and guard your heart carefully.  Avoid the temptation of the dark side. As E.T. once said, Be Good. And as Google says, Don't Be Evil.  Otherwise, you will find yourself one day, as I did--stark naked, and covered in welts.


Badas Unicorn on August 28, 2018:

Now that's a frood who really knows where his towel is!

brennawelker on October 25, 2011:

Great job too.

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on January 18, 2011:

I agree with Simone! Awesome Hub, laughed out loud multiple times! The art of the towel whip, nice!

Lalulinho (author) on January 18, 2011:

Thanks much Simone. Rather than printing and binding a book, better (and more ironic) to get printed on terrycloth and hit someone with it.

Also, sorry for the late thank you, but thanks much jdaviswrites. Many, many summers ago...

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 18, 2011:

It has been SO LONG since I've had a good, proper towel fight. This Hub is AWESOME!!! I don't know if anyone has written such an informative, all-inclusive guide to towel fighting before, hahaa- I practically want to bind and distribute it! It'd make for an excellent pocket guide sort of book XD

Jeff Davis from California on June 26, 2010:

truly amazing hub. ah yes i remember rat tail wars all summer long as a young chap. as soon as just one friend makes one, everyone else has to make one as well (self defense), and the fury would begin. my ass still stings...i enjoyed reading this one eh

simplestuff on April 07, 2010:

amusing hub, i've linked to this hub here:

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