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Card Throwing

The following is a comprehensive course on how to throw playing cards. The author, Tony Lee, is practicing this art for quite some years now and has achieved a high level of skill. He gave this speech to live audiences and adapted it a little for the use on this website. References to other card throwing related pages can be found in our link section.

How to throw ordinary playing cards.

Course on how to throw ordinary playing cards

Table of contents:
1. Introduction
2. Card Types
3. History
4. Throwing Time!
5. Alternative types of cards and my personal experiences

1. Introduction

Throwing cards as deadly weapons seems impossible. Little bits of cut-out cardboard not even strong enough to be packaging for your computer suddenly becoming capable of piercing hard fruit, drywall, or even a brown paper lawn bag is beyond the believable unless you are open to anything you've seen on TV-or anything, period.

Well, let me tell you this: It is impossible. What!?! You come all the way to find out how to do this feat and find out it cannot be done? Uh-uh, I never said that. I am going to teach you, however I am also telling you that it is impossible ... right now.

The ability to throw any ordinary playing card with any amount of sting takes both luck and training. Any of you who've mastered the throwing knife know that even something meant to be thrown, isn't easy. So something not meant to be thrown, or even used defensively, is that much harder.

In fact, for those of you who'd like to really have some power to your throw, the first thing you'll need is patience. This is a tough martial art. But not a "martial = war" art. It is a martial art as in the spirit martial arts are meant in the Far East - as enriching experiences in life. And so I will not teach you how to hurt someone with this. That's right. It is impossible to turn these into deadly weapons without something extra. That something you will not get from this. So, anyone who wishes to be a deadly assassin or "gun-man getting past security," sorry, but please leave, now.

2. Card Types

 

Okay, with those guys now gone, we can have a little bit of fun. No, don't get out the deck just yet, we need a bit of background. OK, the first three questions anyone asks is "How is this done? What kind of special cards do you need? Where did this come from?" Well, let me go in the easiest to hardest first.

You do not need any special cards what so ever. However, I do have personal preference. Air cushioned poker cards ((external link / new window)Bicycle, (external link / new window)Hoyle, and others) are my favorite because they don't stick together when new and are a bit wear and weather resistant. Bicycle, Hoyle, all these are American company-made cards, so if you're elsewhere, you can use any other kind. Here "air cushioned" means that they are coated in a plastic that does not stick to other cards. And also, be sure you buy a few decks, you'll need them. Just don't say that you're Gambit ((external link / new window)X-Men reference) when the clerk gives you funny looks.

Other cards however, will work just fine, from CocaCola to Disney to plastic coated and so on. Don't use hard plastic, heavy weight, credit, or any other type of card you may think is superior. Those cards actually require a different technique - and misuse has consequences, trust me.

3. History

a. Western Origins

OK, now for question 2: Where did this come from? (Come on, read it, it's interesting. I wouldn't put it in if it wasn't.)

Throwing objects is something we've done since we lived in trees. Cards however, is much more recent. Throwing cards has two lines of history which blur as we reach the 20th century. Not surprisingly for a martial art, these two lines are eastern, and western. The West had its beginnings in the mystique of illusion and magic.
Book by Rick Jay, Cards as Weapons  
Card magicians and stage magicians both loved the flying card. It wasn't until about the late 1800s that it became popular. A stage magician by the name of Howard Thurston had finally mastered throwing cards from the stage, high up over the audience to the people in the cheapest seats. Just before him, and less known, was Alexander Herrmann who was the first to include it as a major performance in his act. These cards later evolved to "business cards" which were wider, heavier, and stamped with a ticket pass for a discount if you came with a friend. This throwing of cards was dubbed "scaling".

This continued until the grade of magic had to really go up as television, radio and all came and replaced the stage. So, no more prepped cards. Magicians now had to use unopened packs of cards to help impress audiences. Some techniques for these cards are still secret, such as how to bend a card so it flies five stories high and then to the back audience. However, some are not. This is where the famous (and infamous) (external link / new window)Ricky Jay walks from behind the curtain.

Master of the lethal scaling system, Jay has been seen slicing into watermelons, snapping pencils, and tossing numerous cards at once with powerful force. Ricky Jay was once a card magician until he caught the fever for pure card scaling. So after about 8 reported years of research and studying, he wrote a book, Cards as Weapons. This book is a coveted tome of knowledge which may range from 200-1000 dollars in sale value since it's out of print. However, excerpts can be found in many places on the web.

b. Eastern Origins

The East is best known for having the most dominant and diverse martial arts in the world. Sadly often degraded by the media and dying out of modern society's culture due to their lethality, an enormous number of martial arts and forms are now extinct. Some have never even been known beyond a handful of traditional family members. Of all of these martial arts however, are the martial arts of throwing weapons alive and well today, in movies and real life.

Stars, knives, and darts are the most commonly known, however few realize (save the cinema expertise of Jackie Chan) that anything is a weapon in the right hands. Coins, pencils, chop sticks, clip-on sunglasses, and yes, even cards are extremely dangerous throwing weapons.

This art of eloquent fighting shows how deeply dangerous and cultural the Far East has been in its earlier days. During those days, anything was taught as a weapon.

Cards for games, fortune telling, and so on have been popular around the world for a very long time. The Far East was particularly fond of diversity in both card design and in its games. This made the card ideal as a weapon. But how does a piece of paper become deadly?

Enter the Shaolin, Ninja, and the almost forgotten Korean masters. These people understood the physical laws and how to bend them as far as they were needed to go. Throwing stars are actually dull pieces of iron, not razor blades like Hollywood. The technique used was more than enough to turn these into the equivalent of a bullet back then. Modified and adapted, throwing cards were no exception.

Today, hit-men of the Far East and those who've studied such disciplines, are best feared for their "poker-face". Adapting a facade as another poker addicted person, or casino dealer these people can stun, bleed, and even put people into coma with deadly accuracy at up to about 20-30 feet. Not that great a distance, however more than enough when you're at a poker table. This is done with pressure points. But to hit those tiny zones, you need great accuracy with more power than you need with throwing dagger.

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4. Throwing Time!

To throw cards (Yes, history lesson's over, get those decks!) you need to understand that they have nearly no weight at all. Knives, stars, and even a snow ball have the advantage of weight. That's why you can use your arm and body in nearly any way you want to send it flying. Try it with a card, it'll flutter at a few feet (20 feet/6 meters if you're lucky).

The principle behind cards, is spin. And a massive amount of it. These cards become flying buzz-saws when thrown by a pro (although it is reported that Ricky Jay has less spin on his throws).

Oh sure, you say. Just spin it like a Frisbee. Nope. Wrong. A Frisbee has a lot more weight, and that toss won't work with throwing stars either. They're not supposed to spin, they're like throwing daggers.

The power, and secret, comes from your wrist. And nothing here, comes from brute strength. It is all finesse. Which makes this next step confusing.

The first thing you need to do is strengthen your wrist. This isn't brute strength. When you snap your wrist it needs to be a relaxed wrist to have the most speed. A fast runner lacks the bulk of a body builder. And it's not shape. One has more relaxed speed, the other has brute strength.

So there's two ways to strengthen your wrist. Get either a sand-filled stress ball and work with that daily for about 4 weeks, or, you can try the walnut method: crack walnuts with your middle, index, and thumb fingers as one until it gets really easy to do. These exercises does two things: it increases the strength of your grip and the innate power of your wrist snap.

The more natural power in your grip, the more power that's transferred to the card. However, above all else, your wrist must be extremely loose!!! Big, hard muscles don't help here, only a powerful and loose wrist.

 
Magicians' grips for throwing cards.
Magicians' grips for throwing cards. Picture courtesy of (external link / new window)Magictricks.com.

Now for the grip. There are a colorful variety of grips for scaling cards. The ones used by magicians (see on the right) are extremely effective and a bit easier than many found in the Cards as Weapons book (see pictures below).

As for the throw, if you've been good up to now and not tried throwing cards until after you've accomplished the wrist exercises, you're good to go. If you've tried throwing while you've been doing your wrist exercises, you've got too many bad habits to start over.

True, just practicing makes your wrist stronger, however you get too many bad habits along the way.

So, if you've been good and done your exercises and have now chosen the grip of your choice, let's begin!

Sit in a chair without arms. Now, relax your whole body. Have trouble? Try this: Breathe in through your nose as deep as you can go using both lungs and stomach as one. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. Say these words in your head: The sun is warm, the grass is green, all is calm, all is serene. It is important that you think less, and feel more. It needs to be natural, and the state of being natural should not be forced either.

Hold the deck in your lap with your non-dominant hand. Ambidextrous people, pick a hand. Monodextrous people, my apologies, leave the deck in your lap or on a nearby table. Everyone, in your ready (free) hand, pick a card. Place the card in the grip of your choice, and then with the fingers that pinch together (not the finger on the corner if you're using one of those grips) grip as firmly as you can without warping or damaging it. Don't kill it, it's your buddy right now.

Now, relax your whole arm, and bend it at the elbow until your arm has made a 90 degree angle. Stay relaxed. Now, keeping your grip firm, relax your wrist. As relaxed as you can. Bend it back all the way, and do not use your arm. At all. Period. Snap your wrist and release by relaxing your grip. Do not get excited. It is extremely important to stay relaxed the entire time.

You may see some people using their arms. Don't. This part of the motion will come naturally to you after a year or two of practice. You probably won't notice it either as it's not really necessary. The use of arm throws off accuracy and transfers power in the wrong manner.

Don't be surprised if you hear the cards cracking loudly after a few weeks. This is normal. That is why you must avoid the habit of throwing randomly and/or at people! Use an open space because you can knock over valuable china and similar items as well as give welts to people. Eventually, these cards may stick somewhat in drywall, and then you'll need to make a Styrofoam target. Not too fragile and not too resilient, you don't want these flying all over the place.

These cards also will get a massive amount of abuse from the power in which they're thrown, getting thoroughly bent and smashed in the process. So, keep a vise handy or give these cards a ceremonial farewell with thanks.


5. Alternative types of cards and my personal experiences

So, unless you'd like to read on, farewell, and adieu. The rest are my personal experiences and notes on "alternative cards".

Alternative cards are not a good idea until you've mastered the "normal" card. They possess different properties-including weight and hardness - which though being why they're chosen, makes these cards different.

Paper, believe it or not, is more durable than plastic. Those cellular fibers woven together are more like fabric and Kevlar than the molded plastic which is like foil. Some plastic cards are indeed woven somewhat, like credit cards and blockbuster gift cards. These cards are like fibers of plastic laid side by side, and so when thrown, will split down the length of the card. Yes, split. These cards are meant to resist bending, not impact.

Other cards like the key cards of some hotels aren't woven, and are thicker, but not as wide. This makes their spin more elliptical, and though because of this they correct the throw as they're spinning, the aim will be a bit off. These cards however, shatter.

Some cards, like membership cards, phone cards and the like are a mixed bag. Some will act like credit cards or key cards, others will be unique and make lasting, durable companions. I have an expired MCI Global calling card that is just divine. Nearly all of them are not as wide as playing cards however, giving them an elliptical spin.

This is due to the amount of money one can save as a company by the missing bit of plastic. However, adapting the throw is not too difficult. The throw is much like the normal throw, however, the added weight calls for a slightly tighter wrist, and a relaxed "send off" with the arm. Basically, as one, push your arm forward while letting your wrist go. When your wrist is about half-way, your arm should be nearly straight. As one, snap your arm and wrist straight. This should be done slowly at first then it should be come natural. Throwing works best as a natural motion.

Metal cards are not really welcome in this category as they act like throwing stars, not cards. These bits of sheet metal are far more like the first primitive shuriken developed reportedly in Japan, made not to spin, but to pierce like a dagger.

My personal experiences are just a great deal of time spent when and wherever I could. So, I've included a few highlights instead:

Do not do this in an apartment. You will leave marks all over the paint and drywall, and may knock over something. If not at first, you sure will later. I myself have left a dent in my dining room chair that was rather noticeable. Unlike daggers and darts, cards strike more with their corner's side rather than just the corner tip. A bit like a slap. So, these cards will leave quite a long mark in comparison.

Don't use a target just yet unless it's like a net or something that will catch the cards. These cards will bounce, and it's easy to lose them. Sometimes, the bounce will be just right and zip back at you with about the same amount of power they were thrown. And these things bite like fire ants.

Don't consider jeans to be proper protection. At the intermediate levels, these cards can sting and leave red marks even on Calvin Klein armored legs. So unless you like pain, leave the card fights to the beginning years.


Take care, and good throwing!

This should be all the info you should need to teach yourself. However, if you need tips on accuracy and the like, contact me at:

author


Rick Jay card throwing grip

These pictures show how to grip cards in the style of Rick Jay. The pictures have been taken from Davidslife.com, but the respective chapter has been removed since. Luckily, there still are websites on card throwing out there.

    
Figure 1
Push the corner into the fingertip...
Figure 2
...then hold the card firmly between your thumb...
Figure 3
...and second finger. The two remaining fingers are curled to be out of the way.
Figure 4
Bend the hand all the way back for throwing.

Josh grip

Grip to throw playing cards, variant by Josh Hodge.

After some experimenting as per the card throwing instructions above, Josh Hodge found an alternate card grip (shown in the photo) that works very well, also for beginners. His essantial hints:

  • All the speed comes from the fingers and wrist, not the forarm.
  • The fingers start horizontally and come down to a vertical stature, releasing in a diagonal motion. This makes the cards cut better through the air.
 


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German: Spielkarten Werfen