By: Bob Huber
I’ve been involved in organized sports since I was a kid: little league, bowling, wrestling, and Judo. I had to attend tournaments for all these events. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I met some real competitors. A couple of guys and a woman in their early 30’s. They had heard about our class and came back to try competing in Judo again.
I had competed in a few Judo tournaments. Our class was in a Jr. High School and taught by one of the school’s teachers. Our classes were never about true training for a tournament. But when these three new students arrived, I saw how they changed their sessions as the tournament neared. Their styles became more aggressive and powerful than how we practiced. They were training. After the competitions, they changed gears back to working out and practicing.
It was then that I realized there was a difference between working out, training, and practicing. There is an evolution from working on the basics to training for the real conditions of a competition that involves a personalized plan. Once I learn the basics, I must work out. I have to build my body and knowledge base until I am skilled enough to perform without focusing on the basics. Then, I’m ready to hone my skills through practice. Lastly, I must train in conditions that closely match the competition.
I’ve been throwing for about 2-1/2 years. I have never thrown steadily for more than 3 months on a good range. Over the winter is one time most people don’t get to throw. I’ve had the same problem. So every spring I start getting out before the Blade Aces event in Vegas and try to prepare for the competition. I need to get into shape.
My throwing muscles are weak. I have to retrain my body to the proper throwing posture and form. My mind needs to remember the timing, the rhythm, how my posture should be. And more. I know before even stepping onto the range that I couldn’t stick 3 knives from 6 or 7 meters. Combined. I know how to throw, I could teach someone how to throw, I just can’t throw. I am totally in workout mode.
I get my knives and hit the range. My posture is awful, my muscles have fallen back into their old, bad habits. My timing is non-existent, I’m awkward, accuracy is a faint memory. I am not even concerned about scoring myself. So I start at 2-3 meters. I may throw ½ spin for 10 minutes. Never getting over 8 points in 3 knives. Even if I even stick all three. Then I go to 3m for ten minutes. I’m getting better. But I’m still not confident about my distance, at 1 spin, and I think I’m throwing too fast.
I just pass on 4m because I’m sucking at my 1-½ spin. I keep over spinning and I’ve moved up to 3.6m. I go back to 5m, and I can stick 2 out of 3 in the 2 ring, barely. Throw at 6 and 7 meters? Forget it. I throw for another 10 minutes at 3 and 5 meters, because I can’t do anything but slap knives at 4m. I’m tired, frustrated, and I think I have some soreness coming on. Not even 45 minutes, and I’m shot. I need to work out.
After a couple more weeks on the range, I’ve found my distances through 5m. Instead of moving around, I’m realizing that my knee wasn’t bent, or I leaned, or my arm was locked. I figured out my ½ spins were suffering from a bad grip and throwing too hard. My timing is getting better, I’m forcing my proper throwing posture less. When I make a mistake I’m figuring out how to correct it faster. My mind is coming around and I’m realizing what I need to do, but my muscle memory is slow to return. My accuracy is only improving because I’m technically throwing better, not controlling better. Trying to aim at this point usually just screws me up.
I’m still in workout mode. I am sticking 2 out of 3 or better at 6 meters, but I can barely keep it inside the 2 ring. I can randomly stick at 7 meters, but usually below the bullseye if on the target at all.
After another couple of weeks, I’m still throwing my distances erratically. I may start at 3m for 9-15 knives. Then move back to 4m for 15-21 throws. I keep going back like this. Deciding how many times I want to throw by how it feels or how well I think I’m throwing. I may stop after throwing 6-9 knives at 6m and 3-6 knives at 7m. I do this two or three times. I can stay out for over an hour now. There is still no formal pattern to my throwing.
I’m focusing on my aim more up front and trying to keep it in the 3 ring at 6-7 meters. As my timing, strength, and posture improve and become second nature, I can focus on my accuracy. I still just throw for the 3 ring as I get back farther and work on my problems past 5m.
Within another month, I should be at a point where I am not constantly hindered by my bad habits. My posture, form, timing, and strength are now at a level where I do not have to primarily focus on them to perform well. I can consistently throw a whole set from 2-7 meters without dropping more than 2-3 knives. I am ready to practice.
I now need to focus on my accuracy and scoring. I am throwing well through 7m, but my accuracy is still poor. Now is the time for some training exercises that focus on setting accuracy goals. I begin close and move back.
One exercise I like starts at 2m. I can only move to 3m after I’ve got 15 points. Then 14+ points at 3m, 13+ points at 4m and 5m, then 12 points at 6m and 7m. It may take me a week before I can get to 6m or 7m in one practice session. Even once I do succeed, I won’t do it every session.
Another exercise I like starts at 2m on the left target. Throw. Move to 3m on the center target. Throw. Move to 4m on the right target,. Throw. Collect my knives.
I start the same pattern at 3m on the left target and end at 5m on the right target. I follow this pattern until I’m back at starting at 2m on the left target.
This exercise helps my accuracy as I change distances. The greatest adjustment for me is from 7m down to 2m. This exercise has helped my problems with that adjustment.
Eventually, after warming up with an exercise or two, I’ll throw a complete competition round. After a few weeks of throwing competition rounds, I will begin scoring myself.
I will start throwing a whole event round and recording my scores. One of my greatest motivators is competing against myself. Calculating and following my average tracks my progress and reveals weak areas in my throwing. Tracking my average also keeps moving that goal post ahead for me. The better I do, the better I have to keep doing.
I will now primarily practice throwing competition rounds, recording my scores and updating my average. I will occasionally throw some exercises to increase my stamina. The exercises can also be played as competitive games when I have someone to throw with. The gaming helps my skills while putting me in a different rhythm. Sometimes, I just go throw for fun without any pressure to do well.
Now, while I am going through the above steps for conventional knives, I am also working on my no-spin and hawks. I might mix hawks and conventional one day, and conventional and no spin the next. I usually just throw once a day, sometimes more on the weekends. I should be able to go out just about any time, throw a warmup set, and be ready to throw a respectable competition round in any event.
About 4-6 weeks before an event is when I want to begin training for a tournament.
To me, tournaments are not a vacation. A vacation is where I get to do what I want when I want. I wake up when I want, I have no schedule to follow, I eat and sleep when I’m ready. But not at a tournament. Tournaments are stressful.
I’m in a different place and time zone. I’m not throwing when I want. I will have to throw at times I’m unaccustomed to. It’s not work, but it’s not a vacation either. With all that stress, I have to throw well. But, It’s nothing like how I practice at home. I have to throw 3 events in one day. Some events don’t have a warmup set; I may have to throw a cold set 5 times in just one event. Others have a warmup set, and then I have to throw 4 more competition sets; that’s 75 knives in a row, on someone’s commands.
I have to go beyond practice, I have to train. I must replicate the conditions I’ll face at the competition. I go out cold, throw one set, and record my scores. I then throw 4 more sets and record the scores.
My first set is most similar to a cold, head to head match. I can now keep a “Cup Average.” I add this score with my next three sets for a cold round score and calculate a ‘cold average.’ Then I add the 4 last sets for a conventional round score. That score is calculated into my average.
But I still haven’t come close to competition conditions. Normally, at home, I throw, walk up, score as I pull, and write down the scores on my way to the next distance. Sound familiar? That ain’t the way it happens in competition, though. I wait to throw, I throw, I wait to go score, I wait for the knives to be scored, I pull my knives, I wait at my next distance. If someone appeals a score, I wait even longer.
So how do I train for that? I throw, I count to 5-10, I walk up, score it, wait for a second or two, pull my knives, go to my next distance, count to X, get ready, and throw.
Slow, boring, the risk of distraction, too much time to think between throws? Well, that’s the rhythm of a tournament. If I’m unaccustomed to these delays and distractions, I might get anxious, or jittery.
I must be conditioned for spare time in between throws or I will want to go faster, but I won’t be able to. Nothing good can come of that mindset.
I have to train to ignore the pauses. I have to train to focus on setting up my throws without overthinking. Don’t think about my score. Don’t worry about my last throws. Every throw is starting from a score of zero.
In training, I have to throw more too. I have to build my stamina. I have to throw a 5 set round at lunch of hawk, conventional, or no spin. Then, I have to do one round after work of a remaining event. On the weekends and holidays, I will throw before 9:00 am, late morning, and in the evening to get three events in a day.
Rest is also important. I rarely practice or train more than three days in a row. When I’m working out, I may throw 5-6 days in a row, because I am not forcing myself to throw 200 times or more a day. I’m getting into shape slowly. It’s not a rigorous schedule. But, practice and training should be stricter and more physically demanding. Weather and life will impede throwing, but not always enough to rest and recuperate.
This is my personal plan from a general outline. I hope you can take this information and develop a plan to make your throwing better at home and in a tournament. Get strong. Get Accurate. Throw for the money.