John lives life on a knife edge

4th August 2011'Lauren Potts feature on Knife throwing.'PICTURE: MATTHEW PAGE

4th August 2011'Lauren Potts feature on Knife throwing.'PICTURE: MATTHEW PAGE

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THE only thing I’ve “thrown” lately is a tantrum over my electric bill. So when I was offered the chance to throw sharp implements at hunks of wood instead, it seemed like an ideal change of scenery.

My teacher for the afternoon was John Taylor – an expert knife and tomahawk thrower who runs a club in Birkin for like-minded enthusiasts.

John, who recently returned victorious from an Italian tournament, was quick to point out the first rule of knife club: the importance of keeping calm.

John, 59, said: “It’s like a big game of darts, You can experience the sheer joy of making it stick every time.

“But it’s one of the most primeval sports. There’s only you, the knife and the target. You can blame something else in others sports but if you make a mistake with knife throwing, it’s you who’s the problem.”

Brandishing one of the bladeless instruments and hurling it at the willow bark bullseye, I soon realised my “problem” was relaxing into the act of throwing itself.

Contrary to assumption, there’s little room for aggression in knife throwing. In fact, chucking it with force will only result in a flat metallic clunk as the blade bounces off the target.

While the premise can be easily taught – knife grip, stance, the “follow through” – there’s an art to executing a controlled throw, which according to John, can take years of practice to perfect.

He said: “I was introduced to axe throwing on holiday in Canada about six years ago. I threw it into a piece of wood and I was hooked.

“I went to Texas in 2006 to attend the International Knife Throwing Hall of Fame tournament and I was horrendous.

“So I came back and practised for two or three years and now I’m the same level as their experts. And sometimes I’m better than them, which isn’t normal. Someone people don’t ever achieve that.”

John, who lives in Pontefract, started the Knife Axe & Tomahawk Throwing Association (KATTA) to share his skills with other throwing fans, who have the opportunity to hurl knives, tomahawks, nails and other pointy items, in a safe environment.

Beginners usually start with a 12 inch knife – as I did – and their natural throw is assessed under John’s watchful eye and tweaked accordingly.

Within ten minutes, he had me sticking three out of five knives into the wood, just by changing the distance between me and the target, and after only a few attempts, I knew the second the knife left my hand whether it would cling to the wood or not.

The tricky part is learning to recognise what makes a throw successful and pinpointing it for replication.

“I’ve always said I can usually get people to stick five knives within 15 minutes,” John said. “I try to find a person’s own internal, natural and consistent way to throw. It’s instinctive and about learning how to do it the same way every time.”

Years of dedication has seen John play a knife thrower in an episode of Yorkshire TV drama, Heartbeat, advise documentary producers for the History Channel and teach knife throwing to actor Lenny Henry and Burlesque star, Anna Fur Laxis.

When he’s not tournament-hopping or being sought out by stars and TV producers, he’s holding fortnightly meetings with his club. “It’s a very specialist sport and I’m the only one in the UK organising these meetings,” he said. “We’re not the mainstream type of person but it’s opened up doors to me that I didn’t know were there.”

l The Express would urge readers to stay safe and take professional guidance before trying this kind of sport. Do not try knife throwing unless it is in a specialist environment. Visit www.knifethrowing.co.uk for information.