Barbaric Blades, a new business venture for Knox natives Mike Elam and Dan Berg, is drawing folks interested in the physical and unusual sport of ax throwing.
Elam, a police officer, and Berg, a local firefighter who served in the Army National Guard, see the business venture as a way to infuse excitement into the community. Like many small towns, there are not always a lot of interesting pastimes to keep young people, families and active residents interested.
“My goal was that I wanted something different,” Elam says. “It’s a unique recreational activity.”
Barbaric Blades is housed in a former auto repair shop. It took 17 days to clean out and spruce up the interior of the building to create an atmosphere in which people can have friendly competition, enjoy spending time with family and friends, and engage in a physical activity that is unusual and somewhat challenging. It opened in June.
“A lot of heart went into [preparing the business],” Elam says.
Seating is available for players and spectators, a cooler contains a selection of beverages, including beer for sale, and televisions and a pool table provide diversions while people wait for their turn to throw. Although rustic, the interior vibe is clean and welcoming, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and defies any preconceived notion of what an ax-throwing competition space looks like. That was part of the plan, Elam says.
“We wanted this space to be a place you can bring the kids into, and come for date nights,” he says.
The partners had their first experience throwing an ax at a location in Michigan City. It was, they say, a family-friendly place, fun for everyone, and different from what they had seen before.
Since his first throwing experience, Berg has perfected his skills and even mastered a few tricks.
“Anybody can come here and give it a try,” Berg says.
Eight lanes offer throwers the opportunity to hone their ax-throwing skills by aiming at a target from a safe distance of 12’ away. A variety of axes can fit throwers of all abilities and strengths. Points are awarded for sticking an ax in a series of spaces from the center bullseye out. The bullseye is worth six points, and each circle out from the bullseye decreases in point value – four, three, two and one. If a player hits either of the two blue dots in the upper left and right corners of the target, they earn eight points.
Everything is conducted with safety in mind. Novice throwers are given a demonstration and guidance, Berg says. He shows them how to hold the ax, where to stand, the proper throwing stance, and other pointers. Waivers are required to participate. Throwers book a throwing lane by the hour or half hour.
“Most people get it quickly, and they have a fun experience,” Berg says.
Barbaric Blades has a league as well, with players competing for the highest amount of points. League play is structured for teams, individual players and even kids. It is a similar format to pool leagues, Elam says.
Future expansion plans include a functioning kitchen and food service, an outdoor target range and other amenities. It is being set up as a space that can function for special events, such as birthday parties, bachelor or bachelorette parties, and even church group social events. Elam and Berg are working on a mobile ax-throwing experience, and planning special events to coincide with holidays.
One of the goals of the business is to support the community. They plan to host fundraisers, offer a kids after-school program, and collaborate with other businesses in the community.
“This whole place is built on our passion and our faith, and our community,” Elam says. “I want this community to thrive.”