Knife Throwers Just Want a Little Respect

When not blogging on BB, Bill Gurstelle writes books like Backyard Ballistics and The Art of the Catapult. His latest, Absinthe and Flamethrowers is now on sale everywhere.

I experimented with knife throwing as a consequence of writing Absinthe and Flamethrowers. It's quite entertaining and I've been recommending knife throwing anyone who'll listen (well, almost anyone.) It's much different experience than, say, throwing pub darts. To me, one really can't compare the bold, red-blooded flush of satisfaction derived from a perfect, cold steel stick in a target with the rather dainty, epicene feeling one gets when tossing a dart. It's harder to learn, but once you get the hang of it, it's a terrific.

Knife throwers, as portrayed in popular culture are usually strange and menacing; from crazy Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York to the murderous twins Mischka and Grischka in Octopussy, to Rookwood in V for Vendetta.

I did some research on knife throwers in the media - invariably they're portrayed as weirdos.

How strange are they? Behold just a few a of the movie summaries I've gleaned from Internet sources having knife throwers as their focus:

The Unknown X.jpg

The Unknown (1929) : Alonzo is an apparently armless knife thrower who uses his feet to encircle Estrellita with blades. Estrellita falls in love with Alonzo (she fears men's arms), so he goes to a hospital and has his amputated. Meantime Malabar cures Estrellita of her fear of men's arms, so Alonzo tries to have him killed during a circus act.

Santa Sangre (1989): A young man is confined in a mental hospital. Through a flashback we see that he was traumatized as a child, when he and his family were circus performers: he saw his father cut off the arms of his mother. Back in the present, he rejoins his surviving and armless mother. Against his will, he "becomes her arms" and the two undertake a grisly campaign of murder and revenge.

Mad love (1935): An insane surgeon's obsession with an actress leads him to replace the severed hands of her musician lover with the hands of a knife murderer which still have the urge to throw knives.

The Flintstones (1962): Fred becomes suspicious when Wilma's former boyfriend and circus knife thrower Rodney Whetstone shows up and strange things start happening.



  1. You think knife throwers are portrayed inaccurately in the media? Try gun owners.

  2. I’m more intrigued by the conflation of knife throwing with armlessness. That’s just bizarre.

  3. I think recommending knife throwing someone just because they are listening seems a bit harsh…

  4. I have done some knife throwing. I have worked professionally with knife throwers. I am friends with some well known knife throwers.

    With all due love and respect, knife throwers ARE strange people.

    Or, at the very least, strange people are drawn to knife throwing.

  5. That’s a little unfair. Crocodile Dundee did himself some knife throwing in that (otherwise forgettable) sequel to the first movie. For the record, knife throwing is flashy as hell but not very useful in an actual combat situation. It’s almost as bad as those idiots who throw their guns at people when they run out of bullets. You don’t give ammunition to your enemies.

  6. not so, you gain combat advantage by throwing a knife because if the opponent picks it up it gives you time to shoot him.

  7. Santa Sangre is indeed, amazing.
    Most of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films are – particularly The Holy Mountain [which was financed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono].
    At one point he was slated to do the first Dune film, you should see the list of folks he had signed on for it – HR Giger doing the art, Salvador Dali playing Emperor Corrino, Pink Floyd music, Orson Welles to play Baron Harkonnen, Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha… It would have been epic. And he is working on a “metaphysical spaghetti western” with Nick Nolte, Udo Kier, and Marilyn Manson, playing a 600 year old black pope.
    But um, Knife Throwers, i’ve met a few, and though not murderers, they are certainly interesting and strange people, in a positive way.

  8. Another great movie involving knife throwing is “Girl on the Bridge” (1999 French “La Fille sur le Pont”) starring Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis. Great suspense in the knife throwing scenes, fabulous characters and there’s even a love triangle and some humor. Available with English soundtrack, highly recommended!

  9. Rookwood? You mean V. Rookwood was a guard who was found dead after V had been impersonating him.

    Don’t forget Trinity saving Neo’s ass in the first Matrix movie with a timely toss.

    Mention should be made of Ricky Jay’s use of thrown playing cards as weapons.

  10. Rookwood? Really? That was just an identity/disguise that prisoner five stole.

    Oh, and knife throwing is pretty cool.

  11. Santa Sangre is one of my favorite movies of all time. I loved to show it my friends in high school and scare them away. Along with Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Liquid Sky.

  12. I agree with #6.

    I went to a knife show recently because I really like knives. They had a knife throwing workshop and guess who were the only people in there? Yep, crazy-eyed fat survivalist cordura fetishists covered in nylon webbing who were waaay too eager to show the only woman there how to properly throw giant knives they had forged themselves. Apart from the custom knives – they were all kinda weird looking. They were nice as long as you didn’t mention Obama.

  13. Back when I was a student, [mumble] decades ago, one of the suites in my dorm took up knife throwing in preference to dart throwing. This was partly inspired by the fact that D&D was still highly popular at the time so thrown knives were a “sure, why not” concept, and partly the fault of our resident “weapons master”, who knew more than a little about collecting and using edged steel.

    After I graduated, I picked up a set of practice knives — basically just stamped steel with a point, a wrapped handle, roughly appropriate shape and decent balance. Adequate for practicing the basics with. I put a lot of holes in cardboard boxes before I set them aside.

    More recently again, a local SCA group has been playing with thrown axes.

    With any missile weapon: Know what’s beyond the target and along any possible direction the missile might go, at any range it might reach, and be sure you have adequate space and/or backstops. The dorm group put a lot of holes in the plywood surrounding the nominal target, and even an expert’s fingers can slip.

  14. Knife throwers are portrayed as weirdos and eccentrics in film? Well DUH. So are people whose weapon of choice is a collapsible quarterstaff or razor-edged bowler hat.

    Any real-life killer is going to either a) use that knife to stab you, or b) buy a gun. There just aren’t that many situations where knife-throwing would be a useful skill in real life, which leaves it to the realm of spectacle. Isn’t that the point?

  15. if you throw something pointy at someone with intent to annoy, be very sure you have something worse to follow the attention-getter. I still haven’t found a quick enough (available) toxin to help either.

  16. anybody remember the episode of NewsRadio where Dave Foley’s character is revealed to be a knife-thrower? And another Kids in the Hall alumnus cameos as legendary knife-thrower Throw-dini?

    just me?

  17. It’s primarily for fun, not self-defense. It’s no weirder than riding a bike when cars are available, anyway. In fact most of the fanatic bikers I know are tremendously weirder than the weapons people I know… but of course, that’s why I like ’em, I enjoy unusual people.

  18. If you like knife throwing, you should definitely watch ‘the girl on the bridge.’ I just watched it last week actually! It’s really interesting and it portrays knife throwing as this sexy, intimate bond between the thrower and the target.

  19. I started learning this “valuable” skill
    when I was 11 years old living in Africa
    about 10 miles out in the bush.
    Nothing for kids to do, AT ALL, except
    go for walks in the bushlands and try
    to think up some less boring activity.
    A blacksmith in Livingstone made me a
    throwing knife which I still have somewhere,
    and there was a dead tree out in the bush that
    made a decent target. Except for the rainy
    season (too many mosquitoes) it was fine
    entertainment. For the rainy season, we made
    do with malarial fever for yuks.

    Many years later at King Richard’s Faire
    (a sort of SCA-ish but commercial operation
    near Cape Cod) I walked up to the booth,
    nailed three throws to the center of the
    target, collected the prize and walked on,
    then realized that it had been over 30 years
    since my last throw. It’s like riding a
    bicycle I guess, or something like that.

  20. Just had to chime in and say that Sante Sangre is my absolute #1 favorite film, to me it’s Jodorowsky’s best.

  21. Oh, man, The Unknown is one crazy fabulous film. The very young and fabulously sultry Joan Crawford co-stars as Estrellita. As in many of Chaney’s films, his character is deeply twisted right down to the core.

    You can Netflix it. I highly recommend it.

  22. I’ve tried knife throwing (similar to #20, with my local SCA group). It’s not the easiest thing to pick up (of course, I throw like a girl…). Axes, on the other hand–did a lot better with those the first time round, and they also look cool whipping through the air.

  23. I tried knife throwing. Right around the time my little brother was balancing apples on his head. He hates me, but who cares? Who cares what a cyclops thinks?

  24. Lizardman said, “With all due love and respect, knife throwers ARE strange people. Or, at the very least, strange people are drawn to knife throwing.”

    Well, my mother had always said I didn’t get along well with other children! So let’s see how strange I am… “My real name is The Rev. Dr. David Adamovich, retired professor with PhD in physiology (Teachers College, Columbia), paramedic, pool hall owner, professionally trained chef, ordained minister, and in my spare time… I throw knives.” (Opening line used in my knife act for some time). Oh, you want strange? How about 21 world records as The World’s Fastest Knife Thrower, written about in Guinness and Ripley’s, toured with Stars of The World Famous Moscow State Circus, guest appearance on Conan O’Brien… I guess you get the point. Does it prove the point about how strange people are drawn to knife throwing?
    The Great Throwdini

  25. Bob Dylan: he is throwin’ as the character Alias in the 1973 Peckinpah movie ‘Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid’.

  26. OTOH Mifune Toshiro, the hero in the classic Yojimbo, becomes very proficient at knife-throwing.

    OTOOH he gives it up as soon as he no longer needs it….

    1. ACE: Sir, I don’t understand. Who needs a knife in a nuke fight anyway? All you gotta do is push a button, sir!

      ZIM: Put your hand on the post, private.

      ACE: Huh?

      ZIM: Put your hand on that wall!!!

      ACE: Aaaaaaah!

      ZIM: The enemy cannot push a button if you disable his hand. MEDIC!!

  27. I have been throwing knives for 4 years, I made a target from 3 tree rounds framed together with 2x4s.

    It really is a fun sport and it is unfortunate that when you tell someone you enjoy knifethrowing they look at you with a crooked eye half the time… but i find even the most timid person will give it a try and all of them have fun doing it.

    For anyone interested I highly recomend:

    Lots of good tips, trick and target designs.

  28. @#37 posted by Antinous / Moderator, June 4, 2009 7:47 PM

    Nice movie refernce… space something right? With the bugs :P

  29. Before the days of video games, the most popular after-school activity (at least in my elementary school) was mumblety-peg. (Second most popular: playing with mercury.)

  30. What a coincidence! I also experimented with knife throwing as a consequence of drinking Absinth.

  31. Knife throwing with a human on a target is sleight of hand – the knife is palmed and a proxy knife pops thu the paper target from the back. That’s the way it worked at the circuses I’ve attended anyhow, the way the paper rips makes it obvious. I found ‘Sante Sangre’ utterly dull but maybe I just need to watch it a few more times?

  32. @44 Braininavat

    You may have watched one too many fox specials on magic. While that explanation / rumor has gained some traction I have never seen it used other than on ‘expose’ style shows but I have seen (and worked with) nearly a dozen real knife throwers performing with real human targets (and witnessed two accidents that unfortunately proved how real it was).

    I also found Sante Sangre to be dull.

    OTOH, If you want a hilarious knife throwing gag act in which no knife is ever thrown, Penn & Teller have a fantastic one.


    As you probably already know, I respect you and I love your act – you are strange in all the right ways.

  33. What, you mean everyone doesn’t have a knife throwing range in their garage? Huh.

    (I mean, I knew we were a little odd for hanging the zombie target over the water heater as a dry fire target.)

  34. The Spoon Throwers were a tiny sect of Jesuits who developed their unique form of martial arts to fend off roving bands of Huns and Vandals.
    They lost every single battle. Badly.
    It was reported, however, that in one battle, a Hun warrior was stricken, and his eye was badly swollen for nearly a week. That young warrior grew up to be none other than…
    Norbert the Merchant. Nah. Me neither.

  35. Have just started throwing again. Using a hand forged knife by George Bolton of Fall River. The knife is as ugly as sin, but it is balance and throws beautifully. Tomahawk Jim O”Neil Dennisw MA

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