African Throwing Knives

I wrote this article a couple of decades ago for the Thrower list. Back then there was very little on the internet about African Throwing Knives.
African Throwing Knives

Miss Summers kindly models for us with a hammer and a Southern form of African Throwing Knife.
“African throwing knife” is a confusing term since most of these are not anything we'd call a knife, and "throwing iron" is sometimes used. The weapons are mainly used in Northern and Central Africa.
Problem is that many of them are never used as missiles or even weapons, but have symbolic/ ritual/ magical functions.
Using the African words is of little use since every tribe has a different name for them. The terms “Hunga Munga”, “Thrombash” and “K'pinga” are possibly the best known.
Throwing forms usually have an uncovered grip section or just a cord or lizard hide wrap. At least some of these knives have an aerodynamic "D" shaped section.
A typical northern form of knife is about 30" long and shaped like an "f" or sometimes an "?". The "knife" is carried sloped over the shoulder, sometimes in a sheath that holds three. These weapons have been used by both cavalry and infantry, and seem to have been the main reason leg armour was adopted for African war horses.

I've seen it claimed that many of these knives are used as general purpose tools for jobs such as clearing brush or butchering game. You can see these things as being awkward for some jobs and good for others and it is usually noted that many of these knives obtained for collections show no signs of the wear or resharpening you'd expect. On the other hand, man will often use the tool to hand rather than the tool for the job (I remember a nice photo in the Pitt-Rivers Museum of a guy making a pair of sandals with his spear edge).
Southern forms of knives are shorter (c 18" or less) and proportionally broader. Shape is more varied, resembling "Y", "r", "K" or branching antler-like shapes.
The elite warriors of certain tribes would carry four of these hanging on the inside of their shields.
When thrown vertically at the top of a shield they are said to somersault over and drop down onto the foe's head.
When thrown horizontally they can be bounced off the ground to take out the foe's ankles beneath his shield.
Being able to jump suddenly was a required skill of a warrior!
I think Phil was referring himself to an African throwing knife called "'Mbum", a middleway between the axe and the knife. Otherwise to particular "Taliks" used by Tahuas to kill the mices of the desert; or the throwing knives used by Ballegs and Vahims' tribes….
There's a name for these in every dialect of the North and Central Africa -not heard those ones though. Thrombash, Hunga Munga and K'pinga are some of the better known terms. If the desert tribes are using what I'm thinking of they'll be about 30" long -lot of knife for a mouse.
(Lee Fugatt) writes:
….kill mouses?? Prego Grisonio but I would love to see some one pick off a mouse with a throwing knife!!! I miss grey squirrels about half the time and kinda good at throwing stuff. Ain't saying it can't be done but I'd sure to see it!! Lee
Tahuas'tribes are nomads who live hunting preys like mice, locusts, lizards, scorpions, snakes and coleoptera, perhaps the only animals of the desert, if we exclude the more and more rare "fennec" (little-fox). Their life depend on their throwing-skill and during hunting period they cannot miss the target. When that happens, — (and IMO it happens very seldom) — they can only say: "#@$+§*%!! bye bye dinner…" @=^)
Lee, they are "professional throwers" and don't waste their time playing with squirrels and bambi…. @=^D

P.S. = Hey Phil, one of the throwing-weapons used by mouse-hunters of Central Africa is like this…

'MBUM" (Maybe you know it by a different term) is bound by a short rope utilized to set it in rotary motion.
How big is this thing and is it made of metal? It looks a lot like a southern throwing iron, though I'd expect a northern form to be in use in desert regions. When you say the rope sets it in a rotary motion -do you mean a rope is wound around to spin it like a top, or just a cord wrap handle?
Yeah, it is a sort of "ascia-falcetto" or double-scythe, but only one of the blades is sharpened. It is supplied with another short blade, a cutting tooth, near the bone handle. Length: approximately 16 cm. (blade) + 9 cm. (handle)
The cord is very short and bound near the tip of the handle. About its utilization, IMO, the African Mbum can be considered a middleway between the medieval Kusari-Gama of Okinawa and the prehistoric Bola Perdida of Peru. A similar throwing-weapon, without cord, is utilized in Central Africa by Kotos. Hope this helps.

Indeed it does -what part of Africa did you say these mouse hunters were from again? This thing is smaller than a Central African (southern) thrower and way smaller than the northern forms -plus you have the additional action of the cord to whirl it by -there seems to be a real shortage on decent information on African throwing blades.

Battlefield Wrestling

Continuing in a medieval theme from the last post today I will write about a related topic, that of wrestling. If we look back at the history of wrestling we in fact see two related forms. The first form is the type that you are most likely familiar with, that of unarmed wrestling. Unarmed wrestling is common to many cultures. Many males, particularly the younger ones seem to have an inherent urge to compete. Numerous outlets for such feelings have been created, but one of the most common seems to have been wrestling. Wrestling was a non-lethal way for men to compete with their peers or neighbours, let off steam and establish pecking orders. Most varieties are designed so there is very little risk of serious injuries that might prevent an individual working and keeping his family fed. This is by no means restricted to humanity, of course. If we look at nature we see that most intra-species competitions between males are non-lethal, and many of them involve some test of strength such as head-butting or wrestling.
The second form of wrestling is more serious and is best described as “Battlefield Wrestling”. As personal body armour became more effective longer and/or heavier hand weapons were needed to penetrate it. The use of the horse in warfare determined that longer weapons were preferable so that both mounted and unmounted warrior could reach his enemy. But what happened if you weapon still failed to penetrate an enemy’s armour, or that the press of battle placed you so close to an enemy that neither of you could use your polearms to good effect. One answer to this common problem was battlefield grappling techniques. In both Japanese and European medieval warfare we have accounts of warriors throwing down their long weapons and grappling an armoured enemy. I’m sure that if I looked I would find the same tactics used in China, Korea, the middle east and other cultures that used body armour.
If an enemy is armoured many of the targets we would hit in normal combat are protected. Kicks and hand blows will mainly be used to unbalance a foe. Throws, and to a lesser extent locks will be used to get an enemy into a position from which he cannot defend himself. He can then be bound for ransom or interrogation or killed.
One still has the problem of penetrating that armour, and this was why the dagger was such an important part of a warrior’s equipment. In Europe battlefield daggers often had long, stiff but narrow blades. Often such blades were unedged and of triangular, square or diamond cross-section. A variety of designs such as the rondel and eared dagger were developed and it seems obvious that these were intended to facilitate an “ice-pick” hold and a powerful thrusting action. The long narrow blade could be slipped through the eyehole of a visor or slipped through a narrow gap between the plates or a weak point such as the armpit. A knight’s dagger is often called a “misericorde”, a word that means mercy. While one theory is that it got this name from being used to euthanize the badly wounded it is just as likely that this would be the plea of a grappled enemy who say the weapon about to be used.

In Japan the grappler’s primary weapon was the “yoroi doshi”. The was a straight or nearly straight double or single edged knife optimized for thrusting. Some are up to half an inch thick at the spine. The yoroi doshi was edged since taking an opponent’s head was a fundamental part of japanese warfare. While the name means “armour piercer” it was probably often slipped between plates or into the eye. The yoroi doshi was worn on the left side, edge upwards but some warriors realized the danger of being caught in a grappling situation and unable to reach their weapon, so carried multiple daggers. A variant of yori doshi was the metazashi with the fittings reversed so it was worn on the right. Other weapons might also be used in grappling. Kubizashi were sharp spikes used to label an enemy’s head. Since a samurai carried several of these they would have been used as weapons too. Weapons such as the hachiwara (a clubbing and parrying weapon) had a point that seems well suited for slipping between armoured plates. Supposedly the small hook on this weapon near the hilt could be used to lever back a helmet to break the neck, and this would probably be most practical if in a grappling situation.
That wrestling and grappling was a battlefield tactic explains why medieval fight manuals such as Talhoffer show some of his combatants holding daggers in his depictions of wrestling.

Final Moments of Richard the Third

I finally got around to watching a program on the discovery and identification of Richard the Third’s body.
One part that sticks in my mind was one of the wounds that his skeleton displayed. The front of the pelvis showed evidence of a stabbing wound coming from behind. One scientist voiced the idea that this was a post-mortem humiliation inflicted on the body.
There is another possible explanation for this wound, however. “Wounds to the fundament” were by no means unknown in medieval warfare. If a mounted knight is struck with a powerful blow from behind he may be sprawled forward, exposing his unarmoured seat. The practicalities of riding a horse mean that the buttocks were seldom defended by anything more substantial than a short skirt of mail. Swiss halberdiers apparently dispatched quite a few knights this way. One of their victims was Charles the Bold at the Battle of Nancy, 1477. His remains include wounds to the fundament.
The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the death-blow to Richard with a halberd while Richard's horse was stuck in the marshy ground. Richard’s skeleton shows two wounds at the base of the skull, each of which removed a sizable disc of bone. A powerful cleaving weapon such as a halberd would probably be needed to make these wounds.

If we put these bits of knowledge together we get a vivid picture of what may have been the King’s last moments alive. Surrounded by Sir William Stanley's men a halberd blow hits the back of his helmet, cutting through to remove a slice of skull. As he is knocked forward perhaps a second blow descends on the back of his head. As his unarmoured backside is revealed another attacker seizes the opportunity and thrusts in with a sword or halberd point.

Walking Cane

A couple of weeks back I wrote about walking with a stick in the snow. People slip and slide around, curse the snow and even injure themselves falling but the simple expedient of having a walking stick for such weather never occurs to most of them. I have been using my hiking pole in the last spell of snow but since I don’t really like using my travelling gear for everyday use I recently treated myself to a walking cane. I had not expected to get any use from it this year, but this morning there was more snow. It hasn’t settled, but perhaps my cane will see some use this year after all.
Correct length for a cane is determined by standing up straight, arms by your sides and measuring from the crease of your wrist to the floor. Wear the shoes or boots you would normally use. This figure should be at least half your height. If it is lower you may be slouching or leaning so try again with your back to a wall. Your elbow should be bent at about 15 to 20 degrees when using a cane. Interestingly the correct length for a hiking pole is about elbow height, so if you are used these the above recommendation might be taken to be the minimum length. My initial measurements were that my wrist to floor distance was 88 cm, which since I am 180 cm I now realize that I must have been leaning since I was measuring it myself. I was also bare foot when I did it. I brought a 96 cm cane and it actually turns out this was perfect height for me. Sometimes you get lucky.
Here is a photo of my new cane, or a model just like it. The head is silver-plated and 6 cm in diameter. It fits the hand nicely and is quite substantial.

Many of you read this blog for the discussions on self-defence, so I do not need to tell you that a walking cane can be a very useful tool for defending yourself. Techniques for using a cane have been covered in some of the previous blog entries and also in my book. Some martial artists like hook handled canes and employ clever trapping and throwing techniques using them. I prefer the knob ended stick for walking and prefer a KISS approach when it comes to self-defence. Effectively I have a silver-plated knobkierrie.

Bo-Shuriken Video

I recently brought the book “Japanese Throwing Weapons” by Daniel Fletcher. I may post a review of this book once I have found time to watch the DVD that is included with it. I also came across this rather good video of bo-shuriken throwing. The basic throw he uses is the same technique from the Meifu Shinkage Ryu that is shown in the book.
This method is similar to the push throwing technique I show in my book, but differs in a few details. The technique I show uses a more circular throw and the blade leaves the hand flying point first, the fingertips directed forwards. The Meifu Shinkage Ryu throw is made as a more linear pushing action that swings down to the opposite hip after the blade is released. The fingertips and the spike remain pointing upwards until after release and the missile makes a quarter turn to point towards the target. Both techniques will produce a "spinless" throw, however.
Later in the video the thrower makes both inward and outward horizontal throws and a number of other more advanced techniques. Enjoy the video, he is very well practiced and shows very good accuracy.