One of the most controversial and misunderstood aspects of combative knife tactics is knife throwing. As a sport, it’s a fun and challenging discipline—but throwing a knife at a dynamic, moving attacker is a whole different story. Despite what you see in the movies, the odds of throwing a knife from an unknown distance and not only having it hit your attacker point first, but actually penetrate a vital target, are incredibly slim.

With that said, knives have actually been thrown effectively in combat and have produced rapid one-shot kills. The most famous successful combative knife throws were those of Medal of Honor recipient John Caviani in Vietnam (see Tactical Knives Nov. 2012 “It Happened to Me”) and famed Native American knife thrower George “Skeeter” Vaughan’s 87-foot throw during World War II. Interestingly, both of these throws were targeted at enemy sentries facing away from the thrower. While this doesn’t diminish these astonishing achievements, it does help put combative knife throwing into a more realistic context.

In assessing the practicality of combative knife throwing, it’s important to note that many traditional Eastern and Western combat methods did include the practice of throwing knives and other edged and pointed weapons. However, if you research these systems and look at the totality of their tactics, you’ll find that, while they considered weapon throwing viable, they never relied on it as their only tactic. Throwing blades were typically used as a distraction or a means of “softening up” an enemy before following up with a more capable weapon. If a thrown weapon happened to be a fightstopper, that’s great, but it was typically not expected to be that effective.

Physics & Practicalities
The most practical way to throw a knife-like object is to hold it by one end and throw it overhand. Thrown in this way, the knife will typically spin in flight, which means that the point will only face forward—toward the target—about 25% of the time. If your throws are consistent, the knife will spin consistently and the ranges at which the knife’s point faces forward will also be consistent and predictable. With practice, you can learn to accurately judge and throw from those distances to get your knife to hit point first.

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