Throwing weapons is a term used for any weapon which is utilized by throwing and belongs among the oldest weapons in the history of mankind. Depending on its shape and ballistics (ballistics is a branch of physics which studies the movement of thrown bodies), it is thrown in a straight or a rotating line. Some examples include the tomahawk, the boomerang or the spear. The efficiency of the weapon is determined by its shape; its blade can cut the target in half, it can stab or hit it due to its kinetic energy (the energy of a body in motion).
After centuries of practicing the technique of throwing various objects for the purpose of aiming at something, man has already become so skilled that he found many different way of how to throw the object toward the target, as powerful and far as possible.
The basic rule is that the pitcher adapts the object to himself and not the other way around. This is how some of the first martial arts based on throwing techniques came into existence. Many of the more primitive folk use them even today.
Men used and threw different objects such as spears, arrows, various needles, daggers, knives and many other mainly metal tools. One of the oldest throwing weapons is surely a weapon made out of eucalyptus or some other similar tree that was shaped like a root or a sickle and is called a boomerang according to the name of the Australian native people of Womer from the outskirts of Sydney. Different samples of the boomerang were sometimes made out of different material, such as ivory or metal and were found in Ancient Egypt, Sudan, South India, South America, in some parts of Oceania as well as Europe. Weapons were clearly used frequently from ancient times, even at around 2000 years B.C. in various parts around the world. The first settlers that came to Australia came across these weapons around the year 1770.
The boomerang was of a different length and weight, depending on the country of origin, ranging from 16 to 120 cm with a thickness from 6 to 7,5 cm. The weight of the boomerang never exceeded 250 grams and the range between its arms varied from 45 to 60 cm as well as the angle that stretched from 70 to 130 degrees. Depending on the distinctness of its shape and, accordingly, its flying properties, reversible and irreversible (or the so- called war) boomerang types exist. The war boomerang is visually heavier and larger with less bent arms which is why it does not return to the pitcher after being thrown. Even though it was used ever before Alexander the Great, this weapon was never preserved. The reversible boomerang is lighter and slimmer, its left arm is slightly bent downwards and the right arm is bent upwards. This lighter reversible type of weapon is much more popular worldwide. Today the boomerang as a weapon is mainly associated with the Australian shape of the weapon.
The throwing weapon called Bolas (Bola or Bolo) has also been knows since ancient times. The very name Bolas comes from the Spanish word bola= ball. This weapon was used by Native Indians in South America and later on even North American Native Indians. It is hard to determine when did this weapon exactly come about although it had been known even in the time of old Incas and Mayas as well as the warrior tribe of Zatopek, around 1000 B.C. The first colonists became acquainted with this weapon around the year 1500. Bolas consists of three slim but firm ropes which are made out of animal skin and tendon several metres long. They are at one end connected in a way of forming a kind of handle. There is a stone connected at the other end of every rope. This weapon was later on made out of rope with heavy balls tied to each end.
Bolas is firstly spinned and then thrown. As soon as the laces come across a barrier they start wrapping around it thanks to the potential energy of the heavy stones and the centrifugal force. They have the potential of entirely and instantly disabling an object, animal or man. Various tribes of Central and North America also used this weapon and called it shumash (especially the Natchez tribe). Bolas was later used by the Argentinian gauchos (the bolas or boleadoras skill).
It is known that prehistoric people knew and used the noose at the end of the mesolithic period. They probably used even the lasso which can be seen on the drawings in the Pindal cave in Asturias, Spain. The lasso (or lariat) is a rope tied with a special knot in a shape of a noose. The thrower would wave it around his head and then release it at one point and throw it towards the target. North American cattlemen used the lasso as early as 1750. The techniques of throwing the lasso are, apart from North America and Brazil, known even in Australia.
The sling is a weapon made out of intertwined pieces of leather, fibres or chords with a widening in the middle in which a stone or some other object (missile) is placed with strings at both ends. The thrower spins the sling above his head a couple of times and releases one of the strings abruptly while the missile pops out at a great speed due to centrifugal forces. Many primitive tribes from the Mediterranean region, Oceania, North Africa and South America skilfully used the sling. As a weapon, it was popular even before the Old Ages when many armies used it and were armed with it, such as Ancient Egyptians, the Assyrian, Persian and Roman people, the Greek and others as early as 300 B.C. The sling became most popular as a weapon after the remarkable and legendary duel between the Israeli fighter David of Judea who won the powerful Philistine Goliath of Gath using solely the sling as described in the Bible.
Men have been using throwing weapons in different parts of the world and, depending on the climate, developed the technique of throwing it on his enemy. For example, martial arts masters in India threw iron hoops on their enemies. These hoops were usually sharpened and the technique resembles throwing a frisbee. The metal hoops were of a different diameter, varying from 12 to 30 cm. The weapon was known as chakram and it was used by the Sikhs as early as 200 B.C.
Various techniques of hand- throwing arrows of different sizes and weight have been known since ancient times. Such arrows could reach the distance of around 25 or 30 metres which was almost half the distance that a spear could reach. Throughout history, arrows used by hand called plumbata date back to 500 B.C. Plumbatas were darts that were loaded by additional weight (lead balls) carried by a Roman soldier. A weapon called kestros was also used for launching arrows.
In Hawaii, a competition in which men throw and catch arrows is known since 1500, although many believe that this skill dates even earlier in history. The skill of throwing arrows by hand is also known in Japan since 11th century and is called uchi ne. The length of the arrows varied and so, for example, in Hawaii their length goes from 80 to 100 cm and in Japan in varies from 75 to 90 cm. Their weight was usually from 30 to 35 grams.
The spear was the favourite throwing weapon of many peoples. One of the most well- known and older spears is certainly the Roman spear called pilum (600 B.C.). There is hardly any country in the world where the skill of throwing a spear hasn't existed. In ancient China, men didn't use to throw the spear because of their belief that a weapon shouldn't be thrown at an enemy- he could take it and this could potentially arm him. This problem was wisely solved by inventing a weapon whose hind end was attached, similarly to the Eskimos who throw a kind of spear called harpoon. This Chinese weapon was called meteor hammer.
The Japanese also developed a skill called fuki bari where one must throw small needles out of his mouth. However, according to a legend, it originated in China around the year 1200. This weapon is used in combat as an instrument for surprising the enemy in dark and gloomy conditions. Sometimes these small needles (arrows) were thrown directly out of the mouth, although various blow tubes were oftentimes used simply because they could launch them at a greater distance. Some experts think that the arrow thrown out of a blow tube can hit a target at a distance of 35 metres. The blow tubes were made out of reed, bamboo or some other hollow tree that was easy to process, it length ranging from 1,5 to 2 metres.
When it comes to throwing arrows with a blow tube, one of the most famous tribes in the world are surely the native peoples that live in the Brasilian rainforests. However, the most skillful amogst all the tribes that use a blow tube as a weapon as the native peoples of Jivaro who throw poisonous arrows called curare. Today's training blow tubes are made out of plastic and are usually 1,5 metres long, while those used for blowing out arrows are 10 cm long.
Some of the more known throwing weapons are also the Japanese shuriken- a star- shaped weapon made out of metal which has been in use since the year 1300 and usually consists of three, four or eight sharp edges. After throwing it, the weapon spins around its axis and hits the target with one of its sharp edges. Since 1250 another throwing weapon has been used in feudal Japan- shaken. Those are tinier metal needles and smaller daggers that a pitcher threw at an opponent. After being thrown, these needles and daggers would fly in a straight line, stabbing the opponent's body. The pointy edges would also be soaked in various intoxicating drugs and poisons. One variety of this weapon is called - bo shuriken and it is an iron or a lead dagger with a pointy spike whose cross- section usually looks like a square or a circle.
When it comes to throwing weapons, one of the most popular martial art is throwing knives. Various parts of the world practice throwing different kinds of knives. One of the well- known knives used for throwing used since the 18th century originates from North Africa and is called in different names (depending on the region). The best known name is the hunga- munga or kpinga. Thanks to its shape, the knife needs to be thrown in a modified technique used with a war boomerang.
Also, one of the best known throwing knives, which is, thanks to its properties, also a role model for today's throwing knives, is an old Japanese knife called kunai and it has been used since 1200. This knife is often connected with the nin jutsu skill, although it was solely used as a tool. Such a knife is excellent for throwing and it can be used in combat.
Basically, only two ways of using a throwing knife exist- by rotating it or not. However, various modifications of the toss exist. A knife which is thrown with a rotation spins around its axis and hits the target after its rotation. The rotation of the knife depends on its size, weight and balance (the relation between the handle and the blade). On the other hand, a knife or a dagger that is being thrown without a rotation flies towards its target in a straight like, blade first. It is essential that a throwing knife is made out of one piece and that its centre of gravity is shifted towards the blade.
When a knife is thrown with a rotation, it will make half a spin (180 degrees) at a distance of approx. 5 metres and will wedge in the target with its blade. At a distance of 7 metres, a knife will make a full rotation around its axis; at a distance of 10 metres a knife will make a rotation and a half, while at approx. 14 metres a knife will make two full rotations and will wedge in the target with its blade. A knife needs to be held with a thumb from one side and with the rest of the fingers from the other. Also, the sharp part of the blade needs to be placed externally and the daft part of the blade internally so as to avoid being cut while throwing. If throwing a knife at a shorter distance, up to 5 metres, hold the knife by the point of the blade. If the distance is greater than 7 metres, hold it by the middle part of the blade. Only if the distance is greater than 10 metres is it better to hold a knife by the tip of the handle. In this manner, the knife will have a somewhat slower rotation when being thrown.
It is believed that a knife that is thrown with a rotation has a 50% of chance to wedge with its blade, but it is not true. According to some research, a knife that is thrown with a rotation has only 33% of chance to ram with its blade. The trainee needs to practice more if he wants to increase this percentage. Throwing a knife at a fixed target is not a big problem, especially if we know the distance. However, hitting a moving target is much more difficult. Most trainees can thrown a knife at a fixed target very precisely, but only at a distance of up to 5 metres. Hitting a moving target is considered to be mastery.
When thrown without a rotation, a dagger or a knife is held by gripping the end of the dagger or the handle with the thumb and fingers and, after swinging it, releasing it out of the hand and letting it fly in a straight line towards the target. This way various daggers can be thrown at a greater distance, however, it is not the case for knives. The basic rule is that larger knives are more suitable for greater distances and smaller ones are more suitable for smaller distances. A lighter knife will be thrown more easily and the chance of it being lodged deeper in the target is much smaller. A heavier knife is harder to throw, but, once he hits the target, he will be lodged much deeper and firmer. It is essential that the knife is made out of a stronger material (quality steel) in order to endure the blow.
When throwing an axe, one must keep in mind that it will always rotate around its axis until it reaches its target. Bigger axes are thrown with two hands above the head, while smaller ones can be thrown with one hand. Some of the most popular throwing axes are the old Frankish axe called the franciska and the native North American axe called the tomahawk (taken from the Algonkin tribe).
Today, various associations that organize competitions in throwing various throwing weapons exist. Those, for example, include the boomerang, spear, knife, axe and so on. Also, militaries of numerous countries around the world pay attention in educating and training their staff in the skills of throwing weapons.
David „Sensei" Stainko – Mag. of kinesiology Master 8th Dan – mixed martial scientists