The deadly throwing knife attack is such a reliably badass visual in movies it’s a shame to ruin it with physics. Even with sweetest Valyrian steel, mass plus velocity equals one completely intact White Walker. Still, when did a skill have to be practical to be impressive? The point of learning how to throw a knife is that you know how to throw a knife.

No one understands this better than Tom Warren, owner and proprietor of Meadowlake Ranch, a bed and breakfast dude ranch in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. He’s been throwing knives and tomahawks for more than 50 years, and has trained his guests in the art of impalement for roughly the past 20. Warren spoke to Inverse about the importance of knife selection, and why you should always keep your weapon in hand.

If I come to you and I want a course in knife throwing, what do I need to know?

Did you play baseball? Because if you have, you can throw a knife. It’s very much like throwing a ball from first base to third. You don’t have to put that much else into it, the knife is going to do most of the work. Then I’d tell you to pick out a throwing knife that suits you. They aren’t sharpened, and there’s three kinds: handle-heavy, blade-heavy, and balanced. I wouldn’t recommend any particular brand, but the longer the knife is the easier it is to throw. Most people prefer balanced. But I’d start you off with a tomahawk before we got to any of that.

How long are we talking about, if I’m a beginner and I want to start learning?

A minimum of 10 inches long. After a while, you’ll get it figured out. I mean, you need to remember another thing is that a lot of times these knives will bounce back at you, so make sure you’re a good distance from your target.

Right. Any recommendations on a backyard knife target?

Oak works really well but you have to cure it a certain way. Leave it face down in the backyard for a few months, let it get wet and dry and wet and dry. After a few months of that, you set it up and the wood will be ready to accept the point of the knife.

What don’t I want to do when I’m throwing a blade?

People for some reason think you have to flip and twist it or something, but all you have to do is deliver it. Gravity does all the work. It’s the exact same mechanism as a hard baseball throw. You just release it same as you would a baseball but don’t try to spin it or anything fancy. Once you get really good at it you can stick a target from 20, even 50 feet away.

I’d want to spin it because that’s what I always see in the movies.

Yeah, it’s the movies I guess! I’ve taught, five, six thousand people and they all think that’s the way to do it. Every once in a while you’ll get someone who picks it up right away, in the first couple of minutes, but it’s not often. Usually it’s men. I don’t want to sound sexist, it’s just because they have more developed upper body strength and they’re more likely to have played baseball. I tell people, if you want it to stick you have to throw it so hard their ancestors feel it. Like you goddamn mean it, you know? A lot of it’s in the shoulders. If you have a rotator cuff injury, it’s almost impossible to throw a knife.

You wouldn’t advise learning this on your own then?

No, no, no. I tell everyone, find someone local because 90 percent of how I coach you is going to be based on observation. I’m just going to stand to the right of the target and watch you so I can see what needs to be corrected. And I don’t teach anyone under 18. If you teach a kid how to do it, they might think it’s cool, but are they going to understand the real risks that come with throwing a knife? I don’t want to take that chance.

What are the practical benefits of knife throwing?

None. There are none, it’s just fun. You’re not really going to use it in a fight. You know that scene you see in movies, like in The Patriot the guy hits the English soldier in the back with a tomahawk? Come on. If you’re in battle you don’t throw away your weapon, that’s just common sense. You hold on to the tomahawk to hack with one hand, then you have the knife to slash in the other. What kind of idiot would throw their weapon away?

Photos via Getty

Peter Rugg is a nomadic freelance writer. His stories have appeared in Vice, SB Nation, The Village Voice, SF Weekly, and Backpacker Magazine. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa, and was a notable selection in "Best American Sportswriting 2012" as well as contributing to a 2015 National Magazine Award-winner.

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