Tomahawk Combatives

Earlier this year I began to research an area of weaponry that has always interested me. In this research I came across a lot of examples of tactics for the use of a small axe as a weapon, however there were also a lot of videos and resources that demonstrated a lack of understanding of the nature of using this tool as a weapon. Allowing my background in the Filipino Martial Arts to guide me, I have selected a number of the resources I found online and will be sharing them over time. Below are some of the better tactical videos.

The Tomahawk or hand axe has a special place in our country’s history, as it was often used in trade by early settlers. The native population did not have the metallurgy and blacksmith skills that European settlers had, and as such, the brass and iron tomahawk heads were greatly sought after. In addition, the majority of these were cast as pipe hawks, which had uses for peace as well as for war.

Kali Research Academy – Double Weapon Fighting (Knife and Tomahawk)

This is probably one of the better produced clips available on Youtube on the subject. This group has taken a similar approach to mine, in working with this weapon, they examined the routes and tactics already employed in the Stick and Dagger aspect of Kali. There are many similarities, but there are also things you cannot do, due to the tendency of the Tomahawk to hook limbs and weapons.

This tendency is a mixed blessing. On one hand you can effectively trap your opponent’s limbs and weapons. On the other hand, your opponent can also disarm you when you get hooked, simply with a well timed pull. Another danger is the risk of cutting oneself in these motions. Care must be taken to avoid the puncturing one’s shoulder or chest with the spike end of their Tomahawk, or slicing their own hands or wrists in trapping with the cutting edge.


Lynn Thompson, the owner of Cold Steel’s Special Projects, has some valuable material. He worked with Ron Balicki in the development of this material, and it’s worth seeing. It’s easy to identify the Kali influence.

This last one is hard to hear, but worth looking at the tactics. Lynn Thompson is never at a loss for exuberance about weapons.


An interesting look at the Tomahawk and Knife as a weapon format from the perspective of European fencing. Fighting Man vs the Gentleman: Tomahawk vs Small-sword demonstration by Steve Huff and Cecil Longino at Combat Con 2011 in Las Vegas, NV


Silat Suffian Bela Diri – Axes and Hatchets/Tomahawk

I really like this system. It is similar to many systems in which I’ve trained, and all of the clips I’ve seen, the common core among the different areas in which they train is really smart body mechanics, creativity and efficiency of motion.

Silat Suffian Bela Diri – Sabit (Sickle)

The Sickle is another weapon very similar in many ways to the hand axe, particularly with regards to locking, disarming and trapping with the weapon.


Atienza Kali Tomahawk

What I like about the Atienza Kali clip, is that while prone to overkill, they do take the time to discuss facing the Tomahawk, which is important for anyone preparing to carry a weapon – you should be versed in facing it, in the event that yours is taken from you. I also appreciate that the Atienza Kali group focuses a lot on thrown weapons. This would have been an interesting seminar to attend.


This last group of videos is also prone to overkill, and they indulge in one of my pet peeves, that being the unrealistic method of training to use a weapon against an unarmed person. You can see that the demonstrator is going through routes that are familiar to him, and probably better suited to empty hands (which is not to say that some of those routes can’t be adapted to weapons).

My objection to that type of training is not that there aren’t circumstances where that level of force would be required, but that the way the person attacks in these demonstrations, it shows little awareness of the fact that you’re holding a weapon and they’re not. If you’re brandishing an axe, it’s very unlikely that an opponent will square up with you empty-handed, and swing a punch.

Tomahawk – The Kali Way workshop at APLEA Training center


My recommendation for anyone who is looking at examples of techniques for using a weapon against another person, is to remember that such encounters rarely resemble the pristine examples often shown in the well lit, clean, often matted environments of a training seminar. For a better example, I give you a clip from Saving Private Ryan, which has one of the better examples out of Hollywood, of what this type of close quarters combat can look like. It’s often messy, brutal, and the good guy doesn’t always win.



Martial Artists idealize their technique when we train. This allows us to strive towards better technique as we progress. The problem is that we can sometimes lose our grounding, and make assumptions about the reality of an encounter, that will not prove true in actual combat. This is often called believing in your own bullshit. We all do it, this is why it’s important to spar from time to time, but even that is a step removed from combat.

Whenever possible, expose yourself to the real life lessons learned by others. This includes video of such encounters, advice from more experienced teachers, soldiers and fighters, and above all, apply the razor of critical thinking to your training methods. Is this thing I am learning truly useful? Does it represent the reality of the encounter I am preparing for? If it does not, is it a useful training method to acclimate me towards that end?