Throwing knives is exactly as awesome as it sounds. “As far as throwing knives in combat, for the most part, it’s kind of dumb,” says Shawn Zirger, who is giving me a brief lesson as people throw knives all around me. “You’re throwing your weapon away.”
Zirger, who runs the Zirger Academy of Jeet Kune Do, is hosting a knife throwing workshop. Men and women alike have shown up to throw some knives. The youngest participant is 21, the eldest is 70. He has erected four massive targets, and has prepared a wide assortment of sharps for us to hurl. The element of danger is real. I sign a waiver and dumbly nod as he states the rules, which I obey because I’d like to keep my toes and eyes.
Zirger started throwing knives while growing up on a farm on Wolf Island. “We would just throw the knives at trees, the barn, anything they would stick into. That went on until we moved out of the house.” Recently, some women in his other classes approached him to teach them to throw knives. The popularity of the workshops have been spurred on by films like the Hunger Games, Kill Bill & buckskinner re-enactments.
Zirger has brought a slew of sharpened butter knives, hatchets, cooking knives, BBQ skewers and large hardware spikes. He stresses that you don’t need fancy equipment to start, you can make your own with a metal file and some dollar store butter knives. He also has fancier knives, which can be further stabilized (and beautified) by adding tassels. Despite being pricier, their blades are too delicate – one snaps off in the target an hour later. He recommends Hibben, which are knives built by a pro knife thrower. The distinct ‘ting’ sound of the steel is a tell on longevity.
He begins by demonstrating on the easiest target: an Ikea panel box filled with cardboard and taped. The most dangerous part will be the potentially groin-slicing ‘bounce back’. Zirger tells us to stay light on our feet. Despite the admonishment to wear long pants, I count at least three of the more experienced throwers in shorts.
The most common rookie mistake is “over rotation,” says Zirger. “Too much flicking the knife. A lot of people want to hold the tip of the knife, and that’s going to make it spin more than anything.” People tend to emulate the cinematic. “What you really want is a nice, close slide and release.”
He tells me to set the handle along the lifeline of my palm, releasing it from beneath my index finger. “It’s like the angriest point you’ve ever made,” laughs Colin Danforth, one of the more experienced knife throwers. It’s a simple motion, but not easy to master. I grip the knife too tightly and release it too late, sending it clattering to the floor. It would help my form if the target was covered with photos of my mortal enemies.
“The main thing to remember for a no spin throw is: The harder your try, the worse your form is gonna get,” says Zirger. “If you go light and easy, you’ll be able to detect your form and correct it.”
We all practice in succession, and the class progresses quickly. We start at close range; front throws, around the back, and then long range. He demonstrates the long range throw, which begins with the blade in your palm, which shoots out and rotates 180 degrees (ideally) before sinking into the target. The tone in the class is one of (safety-conscious) unmitigated glee. The THRNNNNG! of the knife as it sinks into the target is hugely satisfying.
Zirger reiterates that knife throwing is too tricky and inaccurate for the amateur to use effectively in combat. “Sayoc Kali believes you should be able to throw at least six to nine knives before you can get into range to actually go hand to hand. In fact, if you look at a lot of the Eastern systems, any of them that carry around multiple weapons will usually have some for throwing, either as a distraction, or something to do at close range to give you a slight advantage.” And then, as a caveat; “Throwing it is absolutely not recommended. Self-defense is about awareness, space and time, and preparation. If you manage those things, you’ll probably never have to fight.” Damn.
Wanna throw some knives? Check out Zirger’s upcoming workshops here.