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The History of Throwing Knives

Throwing knives are a staple in popular Hollywood action movies, from the James Bond thriller “Octopussy” (1993) to Quentin Tarantino's epic-length Kill Bill  (2003, 2004), to the latest Sylvester Stallone hit, “The Expendables” (2010).

Throwing knives bear an unmistakeable aura that can grab an audience's attention. Recall the mesmerizing knife-throwing feats displayed by Jason Statham's character in “Expendables,” or James Bond's (Roger Moore) gripping showdown with a knife thrower in “Octopussy.” It is hard to imagine the entertainment value of these films minus the throwing knife.

Beyond the movies there exists a different form of entertainment that highlights the thrill of throwing knives. Known as “impalement arts,” these acts involve a human target. The thrower aims at areas around the target's body rather than at the target herself (human targets are usually females). The thrower tries to land his shots as close to the human target's body as possible, raising the thrill effect of the act.

Knife-throwing acts stretch as far back as 1890 when a certain Monsieur Bushnell incorporated them in his show. Probably the most well-known act until today is the “Wheel of Death” featured in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. A human target is strapped on the “Wheel,”a circular wood, and the thrower aims to outline the target's body with his knives as the wheel is turned.

The history of throwing knives stretches as far back as 600 B.C., along with the emergence of the Iron Age. The discovery of iron allowed mankind to develop a whole new set of cutting tools and weapons. First used in hunting animals, throwing knives would later be adopted as weapons. The Japanese and certain North American tribes were among the first groups of people to use the throwing knife.

In modern times, much emphasis is placed on the throwing knife as a movie technique or an entertainment act. As a weapon, however, it is still very much in use by many military units around the world. Knives of special forces units are typically balanced for throwing. The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife of the British Royal Marines and the French GIGN's knife, are fine examples.

Throwing knives have also evolved as a popular sport. Organizations around the globe regularly hold competitions promoting knife throwing. Standard contests involve 50cm targets placed at distances between three to seven meters away from the thrower.

A good throwing knife is one weighted and fashioned to be effectively thrown. To achieve this, they are commonly of one-piece construction, typically made of steel and sans the handles. Throwing knives usually have the edges unsharpened so as not to cause harm to the thrower. 

Cheap throwing knives costs under $8 a piece. The more expensive ones are at around $20 each. Throwing knives also come in sets – ranging from three pieces per set up to 24 pieces per set.

Anyone interested to buy a throwing knife should first check state and local laws. Texas and some states have a ban on throwing knives. Also, some states impose restrictions on the sizes of throwing knives. 

By Daryl Taylor 

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