Fighting with a Tomahawk

The tomahawk is a type of hatchet with a characteristically straight shaft that is native to many of the original inhabitants of the North American continent.

Used by both Native Americans and the early European colonizers as tools for every day use, it has also been widely used as a weapon, with the most common tomahawk fighting techniques involving both handheld and thrown techniques.

The earliest Native American tomahawks were fashioned out of stone–polished soapstone in particular–and featured intricately designed handles and blades. Some other materials used in the construction of tomahawks are flint rock, the jawbones of large animals, and even deer horns.

Many other cultures have some form of hatchet type tool or weapon, and their usage as a combat tool tended to be quite similar to many Native American tomahawk fighting techniques.

The Vikings were long known for their proficiency in the use of an axe as a weapon, the French had the fransica, and the British had the familiar belt axe.

Aside from its use as a tool and as a weapon, tomahawks were also used to smoke tobacco, through the pipe bowl that was typically built into the opposite side of the blade.

This dual purpose was in fact highly appropriate, given the state of relations between the Native American tribes and the European settlers at that time.

The tomahawk could serve either as a peace pipe offering, or if relations between the parties turned sour–as they often did–it could instantly be turned around and serve as a weapon of war.

A tomahawk can either be used on its own or in conjunction with another weapon, which was more often than not a long bladed knife. This combination has proven to be particularly effective in a wide range of combat situations, either with single or multiple opponents.

The tomahawk works equally well as a defensive and an offensive weapon, and a number of tomahawk fighting techniques have been identified as key components to these roles. Tomahawks can be used to chop, slice, cut, rake, catch and pull, punch and even deflect oncoming blows from opponents.

Taken from HOW TO FIGHT (

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Tomahawks in the Movies

Here is a list of some popular movies that have featured the use of the Tomahawk or Axe as a weapon. This is not a complete list but it is something to get your started. If you would like to add any other movies, please leave them in the comments area.

1.) The Patriot – Mel Gibson uses the tomahawk in several fight scenes
2.) Dances With Wolves – many Native Americans using tomahawks
3.) Braveheart- Scotts using war axes
4.) Last of the Mochicans – awesome tomahawk work in several scenes
5.) Jonah Hex – bad movie, but good axe scene
6.) Follow the River- Made for TV film you can find at your library. Good movie

Can you help us build this list? Add more.

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News Cliping About Peter LaGana’s famous Vietnam Tomahawk

If you have seen American Tomahawk’s Vietnam Tomahawk by Peter LaGana, you know of the history and research in this tool. Here is a link to a newspaper article featuring a young Peter LaGana from 1968.

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Weapons and the Traditional Martial Arts

Do you practice Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, Kung-fu or any other form of the ancient martial arts?  Does the system you practice make use of weapons training?  What weapons do you use?

  *Staff    *Sword    *Nunchuku    *Kama    *Spears    *Knives    *Sticks

Many martial arts system make use of the weaponry of times gone by, much like the sai and sword, but they ignore the weapons that surround us in the 21st century.  The Knife and Tomahawks are two weapons that have survived into the modern era.  Learning to use these weapons in your traditional martial arts is not hard, it just takes some outside the box thinking.

  • DO A KATA OR FORM with a knife or Tomahawk in your hand.  Using the same motions and movements as your standard form, but adapting them for weapons use is one way of getting the creative sparks flying.  Look for moves in your forms that make more sense in their ‘bunkai’ (applications) when you are holding a weapon.
  • DO YOUR FORM OR KATA WITH BOTH SINGLE AND DOUBLE WEAPONS.   Run your basic form once with a knife and tomahawk.  Next run your form with only a knife, and finally run your form with only a tomahawk. 
  • REMEMBER YOU HAVE TWO HANDS- When you are working your form using a single weapon, do not forget or neglect your “non-weapon” hand.  Look for ways to use your free hand to assist the weapon hand.
  • USE YOUR FEET- Pay attention to your footwork.  Are you using your feet to attack, defend, or maneuver for one or the other?  Pay close attention to your feet and what they are doing or not doing.

Using these simple ideas will help you start to think outside the box in the martial arts.  Look for weapons around you every day.   You will be amazed at how you can use your traditional skills in a modern context.

The following are some excellent books  to help you along your path in thinking outside the box.

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10 Reasons the Tomahawk is a Great Weapons Choice

  1. Versatile –  A Tomahawk makes a great tool for light cutting, chopping, and camp tasks.  It is easy to carry in the woods without attracting undue attention.
  2. Compact – an average sized tomahawk can be added to a pack, bag, or belt without adding too much bulk or weight.
  3. Flexible – strike, chop, hit, stab, slash, or jab.   The Tomahawk does it all.
  4. Simple- Nothing simpler than carrying an axe.
  5. Time Tested – The Modern Army uses them, Vietnam soldiers found great use for them, they found use with the Colonial militia, Roger’s Rangers used them, Native American tribes have been using them, European armies have been using them for eons.  All this from the simple Tomahawk or Battle Axe.
  6. Fail Safe- With no moving parts, it is rare that this weapon will fail.
  7. Easy to Learn- Swing your axe like an extension of the hand.  You have just learned 85% of the techniques of the Tomahawk.
  8. Non-Regulated- the government may be able to decide who owns a guns, but they can not regulate owning an axe.
  9. Power-  Nothing says power and authority like a axe.  Even in the hands of a smaller person, the tomahawk is a great powerhouse.
  10. Fun- The Tomahawk is a fun weapon to learn, practice, and wield.  It does not require great skill or strength. 

Use the BUY STUFF link to see our great Tomahawk Trainers. You can use these safely as your learn to use the weapon of the Tomahawk in a Martial Arts context.

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Adv. Tomahawk Training in Illinois

Advanced Tomahawk
October 23 10am-5pm
(site opens at 9am; class limited to 10)

The tomahawk is a classic American weapon. Used historically by both white settlers and Native American warriors, it is a fearsome close combat weapon. In the modern age the tomahawk is once again being used by the American military.
The Advanced Tomahawk seminar will focus on the use of the combination of the tomahawk and knife. It will include using these weapons against single and multiple foes as well as foes using other weapons. Also included will be fighting on the run and using combat throws.
Participants should wear comfortable workout clothing including a long sleeved sweat shirt or equivalent. Historic garb is not required but is encouraged. Men must wear an athletic cup.
Required gear: Tomahawk with sheath or ball peen hammer, belt or sash and rigid eye protection.
Other suggested equipment: Full martial arts head protection with a closed face or fencing mask, gorget or other rigid throat protection, padded torso protection, hard shell elbow and knee protection (e.g. roller blade gear or equivalent), padded gloves.
Instructor will have some loaner equipment.
Prerequisites: Attendance at previous Gallowglass Academy seminar, study with other tomahawk instructor, or permission of the instructor.

One day advanced tomahawk seminar at Gallowglass Academy in
Leaf River, IlL (25 miles from Rockford, IL) on Saturday October 23, 2010. .
Registration is $50 until October 9 and $75 thereafter.

More information at

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You’ve Just Been Tomahawked

I sure hope this show does not catch on, but if it does…you know where to find your TOMAHAWK information.
This is THE FAMILY GUY’S reply to Aston Kutcher’s Punk’d…

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Knife Fighting Article

The following article was written by Sang H. Kim.  It deals with knife fighting.  The principles spoken of in this article translate very well to Training with a Tomahawk OR a knife.  You can even use our Training Knife, found on the BUY STUFF page, to safely practice these techniques.

The training tips were taken from this DVD.

The cardinal rule of combat, whether against a knife or an empty-handed adversary is “Stay close to your opponent!” Especially when your opponent is armed with a knife, there is often no way out but to stay close and fight. The keys for surviving in close quarters combat against a knife are:

First, read the intent of your enemy. In combat, the enemy has only one motive, to eliminate you and obtain his objective. This often made the first assessment for me simple – there was not option to escape or placate my attackers. In civilian life, however, you must read your attackers intentions. Assess what he wants from you: your money, your car, your pride, your honor, your life – assailants have many motives for attacking their victims. If you can buy your way out of a situation, whether through material possessions or your wits, this is your best option. Do not hesitate to give the attacker if he wants if it means he will spare you injury.

Second, assess the intensity of his hostility. Try to determine if your attacker means to hurt you or to kill you; if he will be satisfied by getting what he wants or if he is bent on violence for the sake of violence. Many times you might find yourself faced with an assailant that has no mercy and is bent on inflicting pain no matter how you respond to his demands. If you cannot escape and your attacker is intent on hurting you, you have no choice but to fight back with all your might.

Third, acknowledge that you will get hurt. Once you commit to a defense against a knife-wielding attacker, you must accept that you will get hurt. Without overcoming this psychological hurdle, you cannot hope to survive. Accepting that you will get hurt, allows you to let go of the notion that you must defend yourself perfectly. There is no perfect defense against a knife. Things will not go as you planned or practiced. You must be prepared to respond without prejudice or preconceptions, something you cannot do if you cling to the notion of a perfect defense.

Fourth, do not try to intercept the knife. Focusing on the knife is the most deadly mistake you can make. The knife is simply an inanimate object. You place your focus on the stopping your attacker, not the inanimate object in his hand.

Fifth, attack the forearm, shoulders, neck, and head. To defeat the knife, you must attack the limbs or if possible the intelligence that is controlling it. The most practical initial attack will be to the attacker’s forearm (of the armed hand). The second most practical attack will be to upper arm or shoulder. Both of these targets will allow you to gain partial control of the knife wielding hand or at least to momentarily divert the attack. Your final goal should be an attack to the neck or head of the assailant to either control his body or render him unconscious.

Sixth, cut in to the side or rear of the enemy. To attack the head or neck, you must bypass the knife. To do this you have to divert the attack with a looping, deflecting, parrying or cutting technique. Once past the knife, you should always move to the side or rear to take the attacker’s balance and keep the knife as far from your body as possible. This is the stage where staying close becomes essential. Once you establish contact with the assailant’s body, you have to stick to him like glue. Any space between you and your attacker works to his advantage, giving him space to maneuver the knife or take your balance.

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Training Tip for Knife or Tomahawk.

Have you ever played “soliders” as a kid?  The following dialogue will sound quite familar:

“I shot you”

“No you didn’t, you missed me”

And the arguement continues on from that point.

The trouble is when you started training in the martial arts or historical weapons, you heard the same arguements.  “You missed me….”

I have a simple training tip that can help resolve this problem. 


Wear a clean white T-shirt.  Cover the edges of your blades with a coating of cheap lipstick. 

Now Spar!!

When you are hit, a streak of lipstick will appear showing the exact location of the hit.  Not bad for about a $1.00 investment.

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Fighting with the Tomahawk Article from 1999

Here is a link I came across.  It is to the article Fighting with the Tomahawk
by Lynn C. Thompson.

Lynn is the founder of Cold Steel a marker of quality knives, tomahawks, and other assorted weapons. If you look at the bottom of this article, you will find some of the cool stuff they make. I highly recommend the Cold Steel product line.

Here is a YouTube teaser for the DVD that this article was based on.
Click Here

You can purchase this DVD from Amazon using this link :

The information in this article follows a Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) format.  If you have studied Kali, Escrima, or Arnis this should look familar to you in your training.  That being said, Lynn does have some great insights into using a Tomahawk as a weapon.  Check it out and let me know your thoughts by posting here.

FIGHTING WITH THE TOMAHAWK (This is the link to the pdf file.  You will need the Free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file)


Jeremy Bays

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