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Throwing weapons are designed to give a warrior the ability to strike from a distance. An important counterbalance to weapons for hand-to-hand combat, throwing weapons of various types exist in different cultures.
The spear, a long flexible pole with a sharp point attached, was a fairly international primitive throwing weapon. It evolved in several directions, into javelins—used for sport as well as warfare, pikes, and lances. One of the throwing weapons that has lasted, the spear also had a role in fishing and hunting, and fish spearing is still practiced today.
The sling is a weapon that has existed from ancient times. It is immortalized in the story of the young Jewish shepherd boy, David, who conquered the giant Goliath with this type of throwing weapon in the Old Testament story. A sling, which consists of a strap used to whirl and hurl a stone, is different from the class of throwing weapons called slingshots, which are a y-shaped stick with an elastic strap that can fling small stones.
Tomahawk is an Algonquian name for a hatchet that could be used in hand-to-hand fighting, but if a throwing weapon were needed, could double as a missile. The tomahawk was used by a variety of Native Americans, and were sometimes decorated, or included a pipe. As the use of firearms spread, tomahawks had less importance in warfare and more in ceremony.
Shuriken, which means “hand hidden blade,” known in the West as a Ninja Throwing Star, is a traditional Japanese weapon that is meant to be easily concealed. Although designed as a throwing weapon, the small 4- or 8-pointed shuriken can also be used for stabbing if necessary. This type of throwing weapon was considered a supplement to the larger, more powerful weapons a warrior would wield, such as a sword and spear. The art of the shuriken is a secret part of the curriculum of a number of martial arts.
The boomerang is a flat, curved piece of wood used as a throwing weapon in Australia, but similar weapons occur in Africa, India, and North America. The designs vary quite a bit, even within Australia. Naturally, the type of boomerang used as a throwing weapon is not intended to return to the thrower. The range is about 150 yards (137 m).
I think most ancient throwing weapons required a great deal of practice before they could be used effectively. It wouldn't surprise me if young men in those tribes spent at least a few hours a day doing nothing but target practice. I tried throwing an original hunting boomerang once and I couldn't get anywhere near the target. The tour guide said ancient hunters could knock birds out of the sky with those things. That level of skill would take years to achieve, I'd think.
When I was a young teen, I found some Chinese throwing stars at a flea market and bought three of them. Martial arts movies were the big thing at the time, and we all took turns throwing those weapons at a target taped to a dead tree. I never did get very good at ninja star throwing, but it was still fun to practice.
I met a martial arts instructor years later and told him about how we used those ninja throwing weapons. He told me that real ninjitsu experts only use throwing spikes and throwing starts to inflict pain on their opponents or to distract them so the ninja can escape. Unlike in the movies, Chinese throwing weapons weren't often used to kill anyone on purpose.
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