How important was the "throwing star" in the martial arts arsenal?

Back in the day, I saw cable re-runs of television’s immortal Kung Fu, starring David Carradine, his martial arts double, and his unsung slo-mo camera crew.

I’ve also seen the odd Chinese low-budget chop-socky gung-fu flick, in which cloaked Ninja-like assassins threw a flurry of so-called “throwing stars” (Jap. shuriken?) at their unfortunate foes, who would then summarily die in agony.

A few years back, I actually held a westernized version of a throwing star in my uncalloused hands. The blade tips were sharp as hell, but I still can’t believe the “throwing star” was much of a weapon, given other weapons at one’s disposal.

Please clue me in, Mr. Lee.

My understanding (from studying a bunch of kenpo ~5 years ago) is that nobody really expected to hurt people by throwing shurken at them. Instead, you fling the sharp point things at their faces, they flinch, you close and do whatever nasty thing you had in mind.

Throwing stars and math

Used as coasters, they brighten up any ninja’s home.

From what I’ve heard, they weren’t really designed to kill people, and probably could not unless you were very lucky and hit someone’s neck.

Note that Ninja would be using them against armored Samurai, or at least unarmored Samurai. Honestly, the whole Ninja thing is overrated. They knew a little bit of self-defense (and where to stab someone). But they were not warriors, and they’d get slaughtered by any Samurai. But, there purpose was not in any way to fight people, but to spy, steal, and assassinate. So they used tricks to accomplish their goals.

The throwing star could be chucked at someone from concealment, hit, and bounce off. part fo the point was to mimick a sword blow, so the person you it had no idea what the hell was going on except that they got hit with a sword from an invisible attacker. Other techniques included using two ninja to confuse people (He’s over there! No! Over there! Where the hell did he go?!?!) and setting up bogus deals between two daimyo. That last means they fake a letter from one to the other, carry the r4eply back (carefully altered) and then go back and forth insinuating themselves into the courts.

My understanding was that shuriken were never designed to kill, but rather to harrass pursuers and slow them down enough to allow the Ninja to escape. Think about it, if he’s in a position where he’s throwing sharp objects at people, he’s already blown his cover and had very likely failed his mission. A Ninja’s whole reason for being was espionage and assassination rather than a face-to-face-fight.

Not only were the ninjas known for their throwing stars, they were famed for their throwing hearts, moons and clovers.

And everyone was always after their lucky charms…

I’d put 'em somewhere between those huge claymores you see people swinging in the movies and the 47-shot six shooter so popular in Westerns.

It was always my belief that they were dipped in poison to make them deadly, but they were not deadly of themselves.

Throwing stars were always minor in importance to straight throwing blades. In most cases as people have said they were just to distract or slow opponents. It is relitively easy to make them potentially lethal by dipping them in dung, but that would be a slow death from tetanus and of no value in an actual fight. I doubt that fast acting poisons are ever fast enough to effect the outcome of a one to one combat, but the legend of such poisons combined with a quick acting irritant (crushed wassabi maybe?) would sertainly put the dampers on an opponents morale if they get hit and the wound starts to sting.

R Lee. Demonstrated some throwing stars (I believe the correct term is “Ninja Stars”:smiley: ) on Mail Call. They burried pretty deep into those watermellons which leads me to believe they would fuck you up pretty bad.

Of course, they were nothing compared to his Claymore demonstration (the anti-personal mine, not the sword).

I think that’s called Kung-poo.


Blah! Mail call does modern weapons really good. But his commentary on ancient arms and how they were used is usually way off.

I recall seeing an episode where he discussed plate armor and battle axes.

The axes looked like letter openers, and the guys showing off swordplay in armor looked like members of the SCA, and NOT scholars of medieval martial arts.

Would other small weapons be more “aerodynamic” than the Shuriken ? If the idea is only to distract then what specific reason is there for the “star” shape ? Is it just a easy weapon to throw without aiming much… contrary to a throwing dagger which has to hit blade first ?

I’ve heard they served the same purpose as caltrops, while being smaller and lighter.

Throwing a handful of shuriken at the ground will result in a many sharp points sticking up. Anybody pursuing you would then have to reduce their speed.

I think the caltrop reason mentioned is the only reason to use Shuriken insted of straight throwing blades. Shuriken are far more difficult to carry than straight blades, especialy if poisoned/contaminated with manure. I have heard of shuriken modified to make a whistling sound when thrown for use as a signal, but I don’t know if such things were ever used. (Whistling arrows I am pretty sure were used for signaling in ancient armies).

When throwing a straight blade, do you need to adjust the spin of the blade for the distance to the target in order to insure the knife hits blade first? If so then the star shape may be an advantage against a target for which the distance cannot be judged (such as throwing blind at people behind you).

hhmm… the caltrops thing certainly sounds “viable”… the whistling is harder to attain.

That doesn’t sound right. A shuriken is obviously designed for throwing at something. A caltrop is designed to always land with one point up. While they might be used for either purpose, I think they are best used for their inteneded design.

As for “distracting” an opponent, I believe the distraction comes from having a 4 inch sharpened disk stuck in you. It may not kill someone outright (and in a knife-fight, I would not want to wait for my opponent to die from infection) but it would certainly slow them down.

Caltrops are designed so that any tossing or scattering at all will result in a sharp spike pointing upwards.

With shuriken, you need to throw. But any shuriken which lands on edge will likely have multiple points sticking up. They require slightly more precision to use as caltrops, but are smaller, lighter, and easier to make.

That would have to be some pretty soft ground you’re whipping it into for them to stick up (and stay up instead of just getting knocked over when stepped on). A well-watered field, perhaps. A well-trodden dirt path? Less likely.

The advantage of the shuriken (or shaken) was that it would always stick when thrown at right angles to the target. A more ordinary throwing knife is much harder to use, as it only has one point.

Shuriken were also used to dig with.

Signal-to-noise ratio in most ninja stories is extraordinarily high. Most of it is a tiny, tiny grain of truth buried in mountains of BS.