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Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing: An Interview with Luke Ireland

21 August 2018 | Emily May

Looking for an alternative to bowling for your birthday? How about giving a spot of axe throwing a go? Valhalla Axe Throwing was set up in Sheffield in June by martial arts enthusiast and instructor Luke Ireland, harking back to the windy city’s history of Viking settlements. We caught up with Luke to “axe” him some questions about where his “Viking” for the sport came from, how it compares to similar sports such as archery and darts, and why it really is safer than it sounds.

Culture Calling: How did you first become interested in Axe throwing?
Luke Ireland: I just started in my back garden really! I’ve always been interested in martial arts, and I’d done a bit of knife throwing before. I knew a tree surgeon who could get me some targets, so I put them up at home, got an axe, and just started throwing it basically! After a while, I saw that it was an actual thing that other people were interested in too, and that I wasn’t just a lone nutter. I saw a group up in Pontefract doing axe throwing called KATTA (Knife, Axe and Tomahawk Throwing Association). I went up to visit them, got even more into it, and found some like-minded individuals.
 
Then, when I was looking to open a martial arts gym, and it just turned out that the venue I was looking at had two separate rooms, and that the back room was really suitable for axe throwing. It had a girder in the middle, so we could separate it into two throwing lanes quite easily. So opening the business just kind of happened organically, and it meant that I could get out of the garden and get inside.

Image Credit: Valhalla Axe Throwing via Facebook
 
CC: And where does axe throwing come from?
LI: The modern sport of axe throwing tends to come from Canada and the US, and it has – particularly the indoor version – started to spread to Europe and the rest of the world. But axe throwing itself goes way back. There are accounts of Viking axe throwing, and Anglo Saxons would sometimes throw axes before battle. There are even these weird little weapons from the Medieval period called hurl bats which are all steel axes that they’d throw at each other. So basically, we’ve been throwing things at each other and at targets for as long as we’ve had axes I think.
 
CC: You’ve got lots of references to the Vikings in particular on your website. Do the instructors get into character?
LI: A bit. We have Viking shields and Viking axes at the range. And obviously we’re in Yorkshire, which has quite a long history of Viking settlement, so that was part of the reason we chose to focus on them.

Image Credit: Valhalla Axe Throwing via Facebook
 
CC: What do you think the appeal of axe throwing is in contrast to other similar lane/target sports such as archery or darts?
LI: It’s easier! The equipment cost is a lot cheaper than archery, and you don’t need as much space. Archery is great, but it’s a little more complicated because you have to maintain your bow and understand all the draw weights and the poundage etc. Whereas axe throwing is fairly simple. You just get an axe, and find your own way of throwing. It’s a little more similar to darts in the sense that you’re closer to the target – around about 4m away when you throw. But it’s much more satisfying to land an axe than a dart. You get a big ‘thunk’ sound. And the smile on people’s faces when they manage to get their first axe in the target is fantastic. So far everyone’s managed to get the axe in, and we’ve had everything from teenagers to pensioners!
 
CC: I was going to ask… what sort of demographic of people does axe throwing appeal to?
LI: You never know who’s going to come through the door to be honest. We’ve had everything from Viking looking, biker type guys to a bunch of teenage girls who just fancied it, to a woman who’s come with her family and kids for her 69th birthday.

Image Credit: Valhalla Axe Throwing via Facebook
 
CC: So how does the game work? How do you get points? Are there different variations? I saw a picture on your website with playing cards attached to the board!
LI: The way we normally run a session is that we give people a practice period to get used to the throwing and develop their own style. Once they’ve got a few axes in the target – I’ll try and give them a few tips if they’re struggling! – we get straight into a game. We normally play two or three different types of game per session depending on the size of the group. The first game is nice and simple; get to a certain amount of points first, for example 40 points. You get 5 points for the centre, and then for the radiating rings you get 4, 3, 2, 1 points. Another game is who can get the most amount of points in a set amount of throws. And then the card game has a couple of different versions. We do one with non-picture cards at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock and 9’oclock, and if you get one of those cards you get 10 points. Then, at the 6’oclock positon we have a picture card of the royal family. If you hit that you lose 5 points, because the idea is to protect the Jarl (the Viking royal family). Although we did have a French guy in who thought it was the French Revolution and kept trying to hit the royal family card! 
 
CC: Does anyone ever worry about the safety aspect of hurling axes?
LI: Some people hear the words “axe throwing” and think it’s dangerous and crazy – but it’s really not. We’ve got a fairly strict safety protocol, and we give people tips and a safety introduction. And once you give it a go you realise it is really quite safe and not as crazy as it sounds.

Image Credit: The Exiles Sheffield via Facebook
 
CC: What other activities do you offer at Valhalla? I’ve seen you run a range of martial arts classes?
LI: The gym side is rented out to different instructors, and it just so happens that I’m one of them. We’ve got a Krav Maga class in on Mondays, and we’ve also got children’s Tae Kwon Do three evenings a week. And I teach Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. HEMA tries to recreate lost European martial arts, but it needs to be based on a period source, so either a fight book or surviving manuscript. These could be anything from the early 14th Century to just before WW2. So it covers a whole range of things from longswords and medieval fighting to rapiers, sabres and wrestling. It depends on what you class as a period source. Personally I draw the line at the Victorian period. WW2 to me is a little bit recent, but I can see how it relates in.
 
Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing is located at Sheaf Bank Business Park, 20 Prospect Road, Sheffield S2 3EN
 

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