When Chuck Norris throws a throwing knife, the knife doesn’t kill his victim, the force of the air did.
The first actual martial arts movie I remember watching when I was actually studying martial arts was a 1982 Chuck Norris flick called Forced Vengeance. If you haven’t heard of it, to be honest, you ain’t really missing much (it gets a whopping 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. If you want to skip over the story and get right to the action sequences, watch this shorter version on YouTube. Or, if you’re from Hong Kong, it has lots of shots of pre-1997 Hong Kong, which is interesting from a nostalgia point of view).
But when I was 13, I knew nothing about Hong Kong and certainly didn’t care about movie ratings. This was in the days before we had internet access and demonstrations and video instruction of martial arts were still firmly in the domain of companies like Panther Videos that sold overpriced, overdubbed VHS tapes in the back of martial arts magazines. So although I often looked at those ads and decided that one day, when I had a job, I would buy a bunch, I figured the next best thing in the meantime to supplement my current martial arts training (tae kwon do, at the time) with techniques from martial arts movies. You can only learn so much from static pictures in books. Sometimes you just need to see it in action.
I’m not entirely sure how I figured out which movies were martial arts in nature or when they would be on TV, since we didn’t get TV Guide or a local paper, but I distinctly remember taping a few, like Bloodsport and the aforementioned Forced Vengeance, getting up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, putting the tape in the VCR, and holding pen and paper in hand to take notes on what kicking and punching combinations the actors used. Yup. I’m sure you can find a lot of weird things in that chain of events, not the least of which was that I figured if it were good enough for the likes of Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme, it certainly was good enough for me. Of course, it never occurred to me that the least practical fighting combinations were the ones used on television, but such was life as a kid. The more jump and spin in the kicks, the cooler they were. There were plenty of both in the movie’s slow motion intro, which, I have to admit, if nothing else, was a solid contribution to my personal inventory of 1980s cinema.
In any event, there was this scene near the end of the flick where Chuck Norris threw a knife (his only remaining weapon, by the way) at a guard standing on a cliff face 50+ feet away.
Even at the time, I assumed that when someone threw a knife, it would spin end over end like a pinwheel. That was what happened on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when Raphael threw his sai, which, coincidentally the cartoon made out to be a great throwing weapon that always landed point first. Chuck’s knife also landed point first, as you can guess from the pictures, but, interestingly, it seemed to fly straight, like a dart.
And that didn’t compute at the time. But although I didn’t know it, that was my first introduction to no-spin knife throwing.
No spin knife throwing, the subject of this post, is a technique of throwing a pointed implement like a knife so it does not rotate end over end, but rather flies straight, like a javelin. In actuality, the term “no-spin” is a bit of a misnomer, since what the thrower really does is retard the inevitable spin of the blade long enough for it to reach the target while the point is still in front.
But first, before I progress further, let’s be real for a second. Despite the fact that I often discuss martial arts on this blog, I’m not going to discuss the actual combat applications of knife throwing. That’s not because I’m opposed to the discussion of activities involving harm to other people. To be clear, I don’t like that, either, but there are lots of commonly found hobbies based on activities previously used in war – target pistol shooting, javelin throwing, archery, not to mention martial arts like karate and jujitsu. No, I’m not going to say anything about actual knife fighting since, frankly, I know nothing about it aside from the fact that I hope to never be in a situation where my one option is to start chucking knives.
The other thing I should discuss first is safety. Although there is probably a public perception that throwing knives is dangerous for all involved (as evidenced by the fact that throwing knives and throwing stars are illegal in many areas – probably since they look dangerous in the movies), it’s less dangerous that one would think. That’s not to say that throwing knives at stationary targets that can’t run or fight back is entirely safe, either. But if you take reasonable precautions, it’s not much different from throwing darts. For now, it’s probably enough to say that you’re throwing something sharp, and you don’t want the sharp end anywhere near the bodies of you or anyone else, especially vulnerable parts like the eyes and neck. When I talk about throwing below, we’ll discuss some common sense ways to stay safe.
Now that’s on the table, let’s talk a little about what no spin throwing is, for it’s different from the style practiced by circus knife throwers that throw at set distances and must factor in how many revolutions the knife will rotate before reaching the target. No spin throwing is defiantly not new, given that martial arts such as ninjutsu have used no spin techniques to throw bo-shuriken (spikes) for centuries. But I will say that the majority of what I learned about it comes from the teachings of one man, Ralph Thorn, who wrote a little book called Combat Knife Throwing and starred in an instructional video by the same name. He described a technique he created to throw a wide variety of sharp implements in a rather instinctive way from a range of distances. Unlike throws where the knife rotates, it isn’t necessary to change how one holds the knife (handle- or blade-first) with this method. It does have its limitations but is quite versatile and easy to pick up.
Mr. Thorn’s technique makes use of a flexible wrist motion that essentially puts some backspin on the knife to counteract the knife’s natural tendency to want to rotate when thrown. Using this method, the knife can essentially be thrown like a ball. Within a range of about 10-15 feet or so, if done correctly, the blade will remain flying point first. Those with more skill and/or using longer weapons can achieve greater distances.
Interestingly, Mr. Thorn also recommends starting with larger weapons, like old bayonets or cut down swords, since the greater length naturally resists rotation more, making them easier for beginners. But since I could never find reasonably priced bayonets, even at flea markets (and certainly had no access to old swords), I just used what I had lying around – large screwdrivers and old pocket knives. People will always say you shouldn’t throw pocket knives, and, in general, they’re correct, since throwing is stressful for any blade, and whatever you throw will suffer a beating. However, you can often find cheap pocket knives (under $5) at discount stores or flea markets that can actually work quite well and can be thrown successfully at short distances. When they break (as just about all throwers inevitably do), you aren’t out much money. Not everyone will want to go cheap, but, part of the point of this article is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun throwing sharp implements. Your throwers won’t be as well matched as buying a set of factory made throwing knives, but that can be part of the challenge.
Knife throwing can be done with household implements. The spike to the left is a large, heavy nail minus the flat end. The screwdriver on the right is about a foot long and was from a dollar store. The two pocketknives to the left were both only a few bucks each.
It’s easier to understand all this with pictures, so let’s walk through the basic overhand throw.
1.) Find an acceptable target. Even if you own your house or are single, resist the temptation to throw knives into your walls! Drywall makes a poor sticking surface and will make a mess. Knives will inevitably ricochet off the target, so beware of standing too close or using something too unforgiving. It never hurts to wear eye protection. A piece of styrofoam insulation, a broken suitcase filled with old clothes or rage, or a stack of flattened cardboard boxes duct taped together will work fine.
2.) Find the balance point of your knife. The balance point is the fulcrum of where your knife wants to rotate when thrown. Control it, and, to some degree, you control the rotation of the blade. The other reason finding this point is important is that it is a reference point for where your grip should begin. Here, I’m using the unfolded wooden handled Aitor pocketknife referred to in this post on Logan’s EDC:
… I did, however, find a pocket knife that needed no modifications in what looked like a razed general good store … It fit well in my hand and was heavy and balanced enough that I could probably throw it if need be, but I doubted I would, as knife throwing had not been a strong suit of mine in the Army, and I didn’t want to throw a knife away now that I had been lucky enough to locate one.
To be honest, it was designed to live its life as pocketknife, and it does a fine job of that. Like Logan surmises, it’s serviceable but not great as a thrower. Throws with it can be successful at short ranges, which is why I’m using it – to show that even an unlikely blade can be thrown – but heavier, longer knives will work much better.
3.) Place your index finger on the spine edge of the handle at the balance point. Your fingers should grip the handle loosely.
4.) Bring your throwing arm up as if starting to throw a ball and lean back on your rear foot so most of your weight is on your rear facing side. Point the tip of the blade toward the target.
5.) As you cock your arm back, let your wrist extend backwards like in the photo.
6.) As you move your arm forward in preparation for the release, let your wrist uncurl and keep your index finger extended so it glides down the spine of the knife handle.
7.) As you throw, the action involves your entire body. Follow through after releasing the blade by letting your arm drop and swing low. Your rear leg may even come off the ground like a baseball pitcher:
Nolan Ryan (back when he played for the NY Mets) following through on a pitch. You can do the same with your knife throws.
To throw larger objects, I find myself leaning back more on the initial throw and delivering the throw with more of a straight arm lob. But the wrist motion is still the same.
Here are some video clips I captured of the throwing action described above:
Throwing two pocket knives (the wooden handled one above is the first throw) from a distance of about 8 feet.
Doing the same thing on the go.
The overhand lobbing motion used to throw larger, heavier objects (large nail and screwdriver). Distance about 10-11 feet.
From here on out, it is just practice to achieve consistency. Although it’s nice to stick the knife in the target, sometimes the knife doesn’t stick for reasons unrelated to your throw. The target may be too hard, too bouncy, too absorbent, etc. It’s a good idea when throwing to not stand too close should the knife ricochet back at you. For that reason, don’t throw knives if there are pets or small children scurrying around in your periphery.
So, if you’ve read this far, you might be wondering if this will one day turn you into Chuck Norris, able to sling knives with sniper-like accuracy at 50+feet. Well, for me, using the smaller knives I have access to, I don’t have much luck successfully throwing past about 15 feet since they inevitably start to rotate at that distance or I have zero consistency/accuracy. But that’s just me. At this point in life, aspiring to be Chuck Norris is no longer one of my goals. To be fair, he doesn’t really need weapons, anyway. He’s Chuck Norris! But if you’re an average human, a 6-10 foot range is fine for an indoor basement or kitchen type setup and makes a nice cold weather project to work on! Check out the links below for more details on technique as well as knives to use.
There are many great resources out there that have much better video examples starring people much more skilled than I. I’ll put links to them below:
Ralph Thorn’s instructional video clips
Ralph Thorn’s book on Amazon and his video:
Houzan Suzuki, a knife thrower from Japan, has an extensive youtube channel showcasing many no-spin throws inspired by traditional shuriken-jutsu. A little different from what’s discussed above but related and amazing to watch.
Xolette (not sure how to pronounce that) has a youtube channel that highlights a lot of knife throwing videos, including this early one where she has a knife throwing range in her kitchen – it reviews the overhand no spin throw as described above.
The Combat Knife Thrower has a large collection of knife throwing videos on his youtube channel, some of which showcase and teach no-spin throwing.
Have fun and throw safely!