Zen and the Art of Axe Throwing

  • 7 min read

Whether it’s your first time throwing or you’re a league champion, having the right attitude is the most important aspect for improvement.

“I’m not good at this” – Accepting that everyone starts as a beginner.

This is one of the most common things uttered by someone after missing two or three throws. No, you’re not. You’re also not supposed to be good at something during the first minute you try it. There are natural exceptions, but if you’re instantly good at axe throwing, it’s likely because you have skills in a similar area. For the rest of us, being terrible at something is the first step towards being good at something. If you want to get better, faster, stronger, you’re going to have to start bad, slow, and weak. When you go to the gym, you don’t start off benching 250 pounds. You start with the bar, then slowly add weight over a long period of time.

“Move closer, babe!” – Terrible advice given by first-time throwers

New throwers have no concept of how to throw until they’ve done it. Because of that, speed is something that has to be fine-tuned. For some, the first time they throw an axe may be the first time they’ve ever picked up an axe or hatchet. It can be a little anxiety inducing and the first throw may not find the bullseye, the target, or even make it all the way TO the target. After one miss, I often hear men lean over to their significant other and say “move closer, babe!” The best advice I can give is: stay in your lane. Even a trained sniper has to recalibrate after their first shot. Give a beginner a chance to get comfortable. Some people need to work up to throwing it hard enough, but trying to change speed, distance, and rotation at the same time are nearly impossible, especially on your second throw. Sometimes I’ll let someone throw the axe 3 or 4 times before I even try to correct them, just so they get comfortable without someone telling them that they’re doing it wrong.

“Everyone else stuck it in 5 throws!” – Having reasonable expectations

This is something for a coach to be very proud of, though can increase anxiety for beginners or unathletic people. If you saw ten people walk up in front of you and throw a bullseye, you might be discouraged if you dropped your first axe. Then you get caught in quicksand. “Was that not hard enough? I should throw harder,” as you snap your wrist, causing the axe to over rotate and drop to the ground again. “Ok, I didn’t start in the right spot. Move a little closer.” Now you’re struggling to incorporate every piece of advice all at once while you feel everyone staring and the axe is nowhere near the target, let alone the bullseye. You might not stick it in the first 5 throws. It might even take 10. Some people even need to sit down for a minute and take a few deep breaths. I often see people take a short break after missing, then stick their very first throw back in the lanes.

“This doesn’t feel natural.” – Listening to people with experience

No, no it doesn’t feel natural. It’s not supposed to feel natural. You’re taking a tool and turning it into a potential weapon. Axes weren’t designed to be thrown (until now). If you’ve ever thrown a baseball, the first time you did it probably looked ridiculous. Why? Because you did what felt natural. The problem is that what feels natural at first is almost never the best way to do something, like lifting with your back. Nolan Ryan didn’t throw 96 mph the first time he picked up a ball. You have to learn what’s most efficient and practice at it until it BECOMES natural. The best throwers in the world are constantly trying new things and paying attention to what works and what doesn’t. Coaches will show you how to throw well and tailor advice for each individual.

“I need to move back.” – Don’t create arbitrary roadblocks.

Sometimes ego gets in the way for new throwers. Rather than listening to their coach or trying to diagnose the problem, they’ll create a reason why the axe didn’t stick. Often, it’s not that they’re inexperienced, it’s that they’re TOO good and that they need to back up. While true for some throwers, usually the problem is that they’ve moved too far from the target and the axe is now over rotating. Many venues have multiple lines on the floor and fragile egos assume that the best people are throwing from the furthest line. In reality, this is either an out of bounds line, a line for a larger axe, or something not even related to throwing. In baseball, you don’t see pitchers backing up to second base while claiming that the mound is too close, or basketball players shooting free throws from half court. You move as close to the target as you can and hit the bullseye. Once you’re throwing perfect games, we can make the game harder.

“Don’t stack your hands.” – Best practices work for most people, but not everyone

When coaches teach new throwers, they start with the same, simple approach for everyone. Each axe throwing venue teaches in a slightly different manner as well, based on what they think is the easiest for beginners. The good venues will quickly revise and adapt advice if someone continues missing the mark. Every person has different strengths, weaknesses, and life experience that will all affect how they throw and what they can do. I’ve seen prior experience in baseball/softball, basketball, soccer, darts, fishing, and even skateboarding have an effect on axe throwing. Because of everyone’s unique life experiences, stacking your hands like the grip on a baseball bat may cause you to rotate the axe less, rotate it more, pull it to one side, or twist it when you release, but for some people, it may be exactly what you need to throw a bullseye. As long as everyone is throwing within the safety rules, everything else is a best practice and may need to be tweaked for the individual.

“Is that a bullseye?” – Why the target and score doesn’t matter

One other common thing I hear from new throwers is: “that’s not completely in the bullseye. It’s only a 3!” First off, it’s a game. Relax. Second, whether it’s IATF, WATL, Michigan Rules, or something completely different, the rules vary from house to house. Some rules you have to touch the ring to score, some are majority rule, and some have to be completely in the ring to score, so which one is best? None of them. Or all of them. It doesn’t matter as long as everyone uses the same system. It’s a rare occurrence that someone would shoot better than someone else because you played majority rule instead of just touching. Making the rules easier is going to lift everyone’s score.

“Why are you celebrating?” – Setting your own bar for happiness

I’ve seen people celebrate their first bullseye like it was a lifetime milestone. I have seen league throwers barely crack a smile after winning a league championship. One of the loudest celebrations I’ve heard was a first-time thrower who had struggled for 10 minutes just to get the strength to throw it all the way to the target. The first time it stuck, it was just outside of the outer ring, but it was in the board. The entire party celebrated like they had won an olympic gold! Some people are happy to occasionally score a point, while some league players are disappointed if they don’t have a perfect night. You are the only person that can set expectations and you are the only one in control of those expectations. If you’re happy just making the axe stick in the target, don’t let anyone take that away from you. If you’re not happy unless everything is perfect, that’s ok too. Don’t let anyone diminish your accomplishments and don’t diminish someone else’s. We are all beginners at some point.

At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s meant to be fun. Book your party today and relax while having fun and learning a lot about yourself!