Tomahawk, hatchet, axe, Pick a noun. Tomahawk sounds cooler. The last few years, my Facebook and Youtube pages have been peppered with various superstar guys doing/teaching theee….Tomahawk! Or Axe! I absorb the clips with some amazement, confusion, trepidation and distaste. Am I seeing an audition for Flash Dance or real-life, “Axe Combatives?”
The fad goes viral. Seeing the videos, geared to make ignorant jaws-drop. Mistakes? Before I start with this somewhat satirical, tongues-inside-cheeks review, I will state my “bona fidis” that qualifies my twisted opinion. In police work I have had an hand axe thrown at me. I was also attacked by a man rushing at me with a full, big axe. I have worked an axe murder, and several criminal investigations involving axe attacks. For many years I attended an annual “Death and Violent Assault “week long training school, where medical examiners from big cities flew in to discuss, show and explain their major cases for the year. Slide shows and narrative. Synopsis. These included reviews and slides on the occasional axe/hatchet murders and autopsy reviews. I am also history buff and have made several deep-dive studies into edged weapons in modern combat.
I have co-instructed a few seminars with the late-great, Dwight McClemore doing “historic tomahawk.” Dwight has spent a lifetime studying this very subject. And after hanging out for years with full-blooded Apache, Snake Blocker – an obsessive American Indian researcher and Apache, these guys might be 100 times greater than most of these other folks parading the globe with this-or-that axe/tomahawk course. I therefore, offer my sardonic observations…So, what about “axe-ical” training in war, crime and the martial arts? Well, sir and ma’am, it’s all about the “KATHUMP!”
In short, for starters, with the fads, I am asked about my own tomahawk, axe program. I have none and here’s why. if I were to dare initiate my very own, axe fighting course, I would officially call it, yes – Kathump! “Kathump” because when you actually hit a human being with an axe/tomahawk it goes…kathump. In fact, it might go so far deep, a kathump, it might take a foot on that body part to work, wiggle and pump the axe out. I am bedazzled by the flowing figure fours and multiple-step, follow-ups that the axe masters demonstrate when showing their moves in combat scenarios. Most of all that should really stop at the first good, kathump.
For example, there’s a video clip of an art-axe-man teaching a seminar, showing a sweeping, replica blow to head (simulated of course by going over the head because we can’t really hit the head) then he majestically sweeps down with the weapon and hits the Achilles tendon or at very least, hooks the ankle and pulls in a successful foot sweep, and said stuntman/uke cooperates and is pulled down. The mouth-watering, viewing masses, watching with their various rubber and plastic facsimiles in their hands cannot wait to simulate this two step, axe attack! I said to myself upon viewing this,
“Hold on a minute…wouldn’t that vicious swing into the head…just go…kathump? Thereby ending the flow, thereby stopping at step 1, thereby no cool step 2, ankle chop-chop or ankle, sweep-pull?”
Two steps? What of the three or more step sets they do? I have seen 3, 4 and 5 step, fake-axe moves taught, which clearly couldn’t be finished because of the step 1 or step 2 kathump. I watch and I just kept spotting motion-stopping kathumps. Doesn’t ANYONE realize the folly of what they are doing? Do they care? Should they care? Do they not know they have to remove-wrestle with the many embedded axe strikes? More on these problem steps later. Right now, who can claim rights to the tomahawk-hatchet-axe heritage?
The Universal Axe. there a culture, or a country on the planet that in their early history, didn’t need and develop an axe of some sort for work or war? Axes were and are everywhere. Thus, it becomes easy for any martial arts maestro to whip a cool, axe-axe, choppy-choppy, course because…because who in hell will actually research-challenge their info, especially those folks enveloped in fads and “system-love” and “system-leader” love. You just follow the leader with the exotic premise that, “the martial grass is always greener elsewhere,” one can conjure/invent/claim any axe course from anywhere.
Different countries. For example, here is a brief, McLemore-ian history of the tomahawk. USA. “The term tomahawk was derived from the Algonquian words “tamahak” or “tamahakan.” The Native American Indians regularly used tomahawks made from stone heads which were attached to wooden handles secured by strips of rawhide. They used tomahawks for general uses such as hunting, chopping, cutting, or also as a weapon.”
It would be odd, at least an eyebrow-raiser for me if a guy in Norway suddenly started teaching “American Indian Tomahawk.” Who from? Viking Tomahawk? Well okay. I also have my suspicions about lifelong FMA teachers who suddenly conjure a hatchet course from thin air, from say, ohhh… “Mindanao (?)” swinging…American tomahawk trainers from Cold Steel? All because it’s a fun fad they want to cash in on.
But exotics aside, having a simple, flat hammer head on one side stout rubber coated ergonomic, handle like a worker’s tool, seems very useful, unlike these classic 1776-like hawks. After all, as with knives, soldiers use axes in the field for all kinds of lifestyle chores. Modern axes tech evolved for problem-solving. (How about those hand axes with the hollow handles? Inside – fishing line, hook, compass, Hersey bars, toothpicks, condoms, whatever!)
Tomahawk-ian Figure Eights? All these flows and motions? Look, I know it’s important to spend time holding a tool, a weapon, swinging it around. Hitting things, etc. Bonding with the weapon. I see films of people by themselves, just doing that work with axes. A lot of things like figure 8s in the air, etc. I get the idea. I also see that the axe or tomahawk is used in hooking-trapping-moving the limbs of an opponent. I get that too. But to me, they seem to do and expect way too much of a performance. When the expert stands before an “opponent” and does 9 steps of buzz saw, figure 8 magic, that would really have ended at step 2 because of the…ka…thump. Jeremy Mayes calls it, “the tomahawk ballet.”
Axe versus axe? We live in a very mixed weapons world, would you always be fighting axe-to-axe? Ever? Nope, I don’t think so. That duel expectation is a little crazy and off the crime and war kilter. But if just a hobby? Who cares, as long as they know it’s a fun hobby. Have fun and exercise with your hobbies. Just don’t forget the kaaaa-thunk reality!
As a European friend and life-long martial artist told me recently – he questioned a martial arts axe teacher at a axe seminar, with these same kathump doubts. “You couldn’t continue after that first chop!” The internationally known instructor actually replied to all present – “but where’s the fun in that?” I once asked a guy about his axe god/hero and how the demos and training would be cut by 2/3rds if they recognized the kathumps as real. He actually said, “Then there wouldn’t be enough material for a seminar.”
And you know, people like to throw axes-tomahawks for fun, sport and hobby. Okay. Fine. Fun hobby. And who knows someday you may have to toss one like our Mr. Tomahawk here, America’s favorite frontier hero!
The soldier’s story. “The Tomahawk was a popular weapon in Viet Nam. Some Spec Op teams still use it today,” is a common, loose comment we hear today. I say loose because of the choice of the words “popular weapon.” It’s a misnomer as opposed to better terms like “popular tool” or “popular carry.” Of course it could be a weapon, and has been used as such within the vast variety of events in the modern combat, firearms age. I think military history proves the hatchet-axe has been carried-used all over the world by ALL of the world’s soldiers for centuries, but I remind, way more enemy soldiers were killed by bullets and explosions in modern combat. And more fires, construction and deconstruction jobs were done with axes. A very brief, short-list of war weapons, use-continuum for combat (not chores) –
- in comparison, rare use – knives,
- in comparison, then rarer use – axes. But when it’s down to “axe time?” It’s axe time.
“Some argue that hatchets aren’t practical, while others defend their usage — and, of course, the image associated with it. ‘While I appreciate the history of the hatchet, I wouldn’t carry one for any practical purpose,” said Alex Green, a former U.S. Army Ranger who deployed four times with 3rd Ranger Battalion. “For jungle or dense vegetation, machetes are much more practical. For urban warfare, hoolie tools (fireman wrench bars) and bolt cutters are much more useful. In today’s world, I honestly don’t know why I would carry a hatchet.’ ” -Coffee of Die”
Sergeant Wayne Capacillo said. “I used it more than I thought — mainly breaking into gates, doors, and locks.” – Coffee or Die
The axe-tomahawk-hatchet is handy in the field for a multitude of chores. Surely many, many special ops folks carry one today when heading out to the field for whatever comes up, within the weapon’s continuum and the other mission requirements.
Okay. Hang on! Let’s Make Some Ax Courses! What I would do if I invented an axe course? If truly pressed into the fad? The course would be much shorter. So short, the course might only be 60 minutes? No chance for a whole day or a two-day seminar. The scenarios would absolutely include the deadly, flow-stopping, kathump realities. Basically, I would process the axe through the classic Force Necessary formats, with nuance changes specific to the axe, and add mixed weapon fights. And, I wouldn’t call it “Texican Axe Fighting,” just because I am from Texas. Here are some great names for axe courses I’ve invented to catch the attention of fad martial artists…
- “Secrets of Monte Carlo Axe Fighting.”
- “The Bali Tomahawk.”
- “Sudanese Axe Combatives.”
- “Tai Chi Axe.”
- “Axe Maga.”
- “Krav Axe.”
- “BJJ Axe Combatives “(taught by nephews)
- “Shit I Made Up, Tommy-Hawk Course!” Well, if it kills people (the whole point right?) I guess it’s okay.
- Navy SEAL…Something! (ANY SEAL deal will sell like mad.)
- Or, mine – “Kathump!”
- Or… I reserve the right to “Toma-HOCK!” You know, just in case someone really-REALLY wants me to convert the SFC foundation to a tommy-hawks.
In Summary. Back on Target. The unrealistic training distortions invented by fad martial artists bugs me, not that people should ignore axes. I support the axe! For fun? For history? For exercise? For hobby? For…self defense? The next time you see one of these axe or tomahawk martial masters do their flash-dance-ballet thing in scenarios? Stop and take a hard look, an examination of exactly who, what, when, where, how and why that edged weapon goes…kathump and ruins the flash dance.
(And that is my somewhat, tongue-in-cheek review of axe fighting courses. Axe-on, axe-off, amigo.)
Hock’s email is Hock@Survivalcentrix.com