In ourselves our safety must be sought.
By our own right hand it must be wrought.
Let’s face it ladies and gents, throwing edged metal implements with force towards a target carries one or two potential dangers that would make your average Health and Safety Executive begin convulsing in anticipation of the litigation that will inevitably follow!
However, assuming you follow certain protocols and guidelines, knife and tomahawk throwing need be no more risky that any other sport or hobby, and indeed is a lot safer than many. Our perception of ‘risk’ if often warped and because we are throwing things that most people associate with weaponry, we have a potential PR issue to overcome! It is a fact, for example, that far more people are injured while horse riding each year than while engaged in archery and knife throwing combined!
So, how can we enjoy throwing down range while ensuring that we, other people and our environment remain unperforated?
Misses & rebounds
Next, think about not where you hope your knife might end its journey (in the middle of the bulls eye) but where it could go instead! Misses and rebounds are an inevitable part of throwing and you may be surprised at just how far those suckers can go after striking the target. Even while throwing from 5 m I have had knives come right back at me and land at my feet; at 3 m I have jumped out of the way of rebounds on more occasions than I care to recall. Most of the time the force involved is such that you would be unlikely to be seriously hurt (unless you ignore the first bit of advice and are throwing with sharp blades!) but it is not impossible that you’ll find the tip of your knife colliding with an unprotected eyeball or groin (apologies for the graphic images now conjured up but hopefully you get the point?). So, draw an imaginary circle from your target With a perimeter that extends at least 4 m in all directions and make sure no one else is standing in that space except you when throwing. Then, don’t switch off after you release the knife – until it is safely embedded in the target, your throw is not over!
When collecting your knives and returning to the throwing line, try to follow best practice by carrying your knives point towards the ground and don’t run! Imagine tripping on an exposed root or an untied shoelace – where will you and the knives end up? If the answer is ‘in me’, adjust how you are holding them! If practising ‘dynamic throwing’ (where you are moving while throwing) just be aware that the risks inevitably go up and so literally, you shouldn’t try to run before you can walk!
Caring for your blades between sessions is also key to staying safe. It is likely that at some point knives will clash or hit the ground where they can receive burrs and dinks; sometimes these can have sharp edges which can tear into your hands when you slide the knife through your palm and fingers before release. If your tools do strike hard surfaces, just carry out a quick check before you throw them again and, if necessary file down any sharp edges before sending them down range again.
Is a sharp knife a better knife?
First, think about your throwing tools – there is absolutely no need to throw with sharpened knives and axes. The design of throwing tools is such that they will stick into targets simply because they have points, are substantially weighted and move at velocity. I have actually blunted the edges of some commercially available knives because I felt the edge was unnecessarily sharp – this is particularly important if you are going to be performing half spin throws where you will be holding the blade rather than the handle. In nearly every other case, the sharper your knife is, the better, but when it comes to throwing, blunt is best!
You also need to think about the environment itself; a knife or tomahawk that comes to rest in a car windshield, greenhouse or neighbour’s cat is not a recipe for harmonious domestic life! Ideally you should have a dedicated throwing area that has been screened off or at least situated to minimise likely damage to anything in the immediate vicinity. Look at the section of this site for target designs / ranges and play out ‘what if’ scenarios for your own throwing space – what is the worst that could happen, and how can you inoculate against those hazards?
Finally, be mindful of your focus and energy levels; it is better to stop a session before your attention starts to slip or you are physically too tired to throw accurately and with control. If you follow these simple guidelines, you are likely to throw safely, responsibly and be a good ambassador for the throwing arts – if this all seems like too much hassle, might I recommend horse riding instead?!
We are bound by the law, so that we may be free.
It is important that you not only handle and throw your knives and tomahawks safely, but you should also do so while observing the laws and legislation that apply where you are throwing.
This can be a thorny issue because ‘knife carry and use’ can be a legal minefield, particularly here in the UK where I am based. What follows is a simplified guide for UK throwers; if you live outside of this fair isle then please do carry out due diligence so you know where you stand.
What you can and can’t carry
In the UK you can legally carry a folding blade on your person that is shorter than 3″ (7.62 cm) provided you are at least 18 years old. Obviously most throwing knives are longer than this and are ‘full tang’ so would not be deemed ‘legal carry’.
Even a knife that is short enough to be legally carried (such as a pen knife) cannot have a locking blade, cannot open automatically (such as flick knives), must not be a butterfly knife (where the blade is hidden inside a handle that splits in two around it, like a butterfly’s wings) or be disguised as anything other than a knife (such as a concealed belt buckle blade and other such ‘ninja’ implements).
In addition, you should have a good reason to carry any knife that will stand up to discrimination; you may use it, for example, as a utility tool for your work, or for religious reasons (such as the kirpan carried by some Sikhs). If you are stopped and searched or seen handling a knife without good reason in public, you may face a maximum penalty of 4 long years in prison and a fine of £5,000 so this is no joke.
- Never throw knives in public, unless you are doing so at a designated range that has been set up for the express purpose of throwing practice.
- When transporting throwing knives, either on your person (eg in a bag) or in a vehicle, they should be placed in a locked container, in much the same way as you might transport sharp edged tools like chisels); this precaution should be sufficient to prove that you have ensured that they cannot be easily accessed or tampered with. I have known people adapt sound equipment cases, ammo boxes and even jewellery cases; as long as you can fit it with a sturdy padlock, it should be fine but I would suggest you get something a little bigger than you currently need so that as your knife collection grows, you have spare capacity!
- Don’t take your knives into locations where security measures are typically heightened, such as airports, schools or other public forums, without contacting the relevant security officials ahead of time to determine their requirements. There may be perfectly good reasons why you might want to take knives into such places (an overseas flight for competition or a demonstration at a local college for example) but airing on the side of caution is always advisable in such circumstances.
Isn’t all this just pandering to nanny State interference?
I would be the first to welcome a relaxing of the current ‘weapons’ legislation in the UK; as a survival instructor, hunter and long term martial artist, it frustrates me that I am required to observe such restrictions.
But, the way to affect change is not to defy the laws of the land – to do so will only play into the hands of those who would rather butter knives were also banned in public spaces! Instead, we must work to educate those who make policy so that they can appreciate that knives are just tools and are not inherently evil or dangerous. The fact that the humble screwdriver is close behind knives as the ‘weapon of choice’ in UK homicides speaks volumes – where there is a will, there will always be a way and if they too are banned, those with ill-intent will switch to pens and pencils instead and then where will we be?
The point is this: the laws we have have at least been designed to protect the general public and if we want to live in this land and enjoy the relative freedoms it offers (and believe me, there are a lot of places in the world with fewer laws that you wouldn’t want your family to exposed to) then we need to play ball and respect the rules that are in place.
For now, no one is saying we cannot carry or throw knives for recreational purposes; we just need to make sure we are observing a set of easily implemented rules and regulations. If you choose to flout these rules, please consider that you may be doing harm not only to yourself but to the rest of the throwing community.
So how can I carry throwing knives legally?
There is a good argument for the fact that many of the tools we throw aren’t really even ‘knives’ and are more closely related to oversized darts than cutting tools! However, there is much variance out there – some throwers have no edge and a blunted point while others have a honed working edge and must be held carefully to avoid self-inflicted injury when executing half turn throws. The authorities have neither the time or inclination to further refine the laws around throwing knives in an effort to produce a list of ‘acceptable’ tools that are exempt from current legislation. Instead all ‘knives’ are treated with the same broad brush: whether you are throwing modified nails and spikes, commercially available knives or home-brew tools, the same rules apply.
Don’t worry – all is not lost but, given how steep the penalties are for abuse of the laws surrounding knife carry and use, I would strongly advise you to follow these basic guidelines:
What about tomahawks and axes?
Everything written above applies equally to carrying and throwing heavier implements such as axes and tomahawks: keep them under lock and key and don’t brandish them in public, unless you are at a designated range and you should be ok.
Shuriken stars, on the other hand, are banned outright which creates an interesting grey area for some implements like triple pronged axes with a spiked pommel…shorten the handle sufficiently and what are you now holding?! You can see how quickly this can become a murky landscape with plenty of trip hazards right?