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Tomahawks, Trade Knives, & Tools by Mark Hatmaker

A thoughtful question from Affiliate Rough ‘n’ Tumble Coach Mitch Mitchell prompted me to offer the following advice regarding these two common items of frontier weaponry.

First, the part of Coach Mitchell’s Question/Observation that prompted what follows.
Am I on the right track or holding my danged knife wrong? 

Bowie designs are manifold. My personal preference falls toward a flat spine knife with a half-guard because a spine-side guard or broken spine jams up my thumb on a sincere stab in sabre grip.  For me anyway, a nice, straight, full-power stab with a hammer grip on the high line is impossible and anyway it's is a wrist killer.”

His observation/complaint is common and one that leads to wisdom.

I will also point out that to discover that certain tactics and grips are wrist killers can only be garnered via experience, that is, hard post training.

If we stick with mirror play, shadow play, or tit for tat [zumbrada] flow drills with a partner using mocks we would likely never stumble on the realities of certain tactics.

Good on you, Coach Mitchell. Train real to find real.

On to my replied two-bits with an expansion.

·        Trade-knife designs were myriad.

·        Tomahawk designs were myriad.

·        That is, beyond a knife being a knife and a ‘hawk being a ‘hawk, smooth machine produced mass-manufactured perfectly weighted commercial ‘hawks and blades for the particular purpose of combat was a rarity.

·        You had a variety of designs and weights, lengths, guards, depth of back cut [or none at all] etc.

·        One had to be able to be facile with a variety of weapon/tool interfaces and to fall into a “This is MY carry” mindset is to miss the point of these historical items.

·        Blades were tools first and foremost. Cutting rope, making fuzz sticks for campfires, skinning game and all the myriad purposes of frontier survival.

·        The blade as a weapon was a rarity and/or hoped for way down the list choice of use.

·        The same goes for the tomahawk, which we must never forget is first and foremost a hatchet or camp ax. As in the case of trade-knives, it was a tool used daily and one that was hoped never to be used in martial matters.

·        Today we invert the tool choice pyramid and choose ‘hawks and blades for “cool martial presentation” and wouldn’t dare dull their sheen on quotidian matters.

·        With the eye on historical accuracy in mind, yes, I have pretty toys that I do not ding, but I have a wide variety of fair-to-middlin’ but all mighty functional blades and hatchets I’ve acquired in antique shops.

·        I find it wise to use them as the tools they were intended to be AND to train martial aspects with these self-same variously weighted, disparately lengthed tools to find what tactics shake out as being in common across all tool/weapon interfaces and thus of high utility, and what are specific to a single weapon—these tactics need to be culled by my way of thinking.

·        Go with the blade you dig in your own hand.

·        Toss tactics that jam, hurt, or make you simply feel uncomfy for if, God
forbid, you ever had to do it for real, you won't do it with conviction.

·        It's perfectly OK to not know or use every trick in the book.

·        It's never OK to keep things just to feel complete or check off a list.

Never lose sight of the fact that tomahawks were hatchets, knives were
knives. They were used for work and fighting was blip on the radar.

Today we buy expensive toys for fake fighting and lose sight of daily


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