OSKALOOSA — Mark “Magnus” Judisch’s gaze was locked on the bullseye of a target.
He drew his arm back and in a smooth, easy motion, threw the axe he held. It gave a satisfying “thunk” as it hit the target.
During the final Friday after Five of the season, Judisch, manager of Ironside Axe Club, and his colleague, invited downtown visitors of all ages to step up and try their hand at axe throwing.
Judisch said the hope is for Ironside Axe Club to open in Oskaloosa’s Penn Central Mall the first week of October.
“We’ve been talking with Old School Pinball and Arcade, and they were already here, and they said ‘you guys ought to come down and check it out,’” he said. “So that’s what we decided to do. And the folks of the mall have bent over backwards to work with us and help us out. They’ve been very cooperative with everything.”
Ironside Axe Club has been open for about 14 months in West Des Moines.
“As far as axe throwing and stuff, I’ve been throwing 38 years; Scott’s been throwing 20-30 years,” he said. “Between the three owners and then our manager, we’ve got about 107-110 years experience throwing axes.”
Axe throwing is a growing trend, Judisch said, with clubs popping up all over the place. Movie stars like Jason Momoa, Judisch said, have been throwing axes during late night TV visits, which boosts the popularity of the sport.
“We think that’s great, we love to see the sport grow,” he said. “One of the differences between us and those is we were throwing axes long before it was cool to throw axes.”
Ironside Axe Club is part of the World Axe Throwing League, which is also getting bigger and bigger.
“That’s now in 19 countries. We have 180 or 190 clubs now that participate,” Judisch said. “We just hosted a tournament over the weekend in our West Des Moines location, the largest tournament in the world, 128 competitors. The final six on Sunday were live on ESPN.”
Judisch said walk-ins are welcome. For those that pay for a one hour per person session, coaches will teach how to throw and teach about safety. For those that want to book a party with six or more people are guaranteed two hours in a private lane with a private coach for the whole time.
“Then you get to learn all kinds of trick shots,” he said. “Two at a time, underhanded, we’ve got shovels we throw, we’ve got weird stuff like that.”
While playing in leagues, it doesn’t matter how well or poorly your competitors are playing.
“So if you come in and you throw poorly, that doesn’t make me any better or worse,” he said. “Or if you throw great. In these tournaments, we’re going up against some of the best in the world. Well I don’t care. It’s not like they get to bump me because they’re the best in the world. They have to stand there and they throw theirs and I throw mine.”
The competition is against yourself, Judisch said.
“So the competition is only you against you. And your nerves,” he said. “The skill part is not that hard to learn. Getting the nerves and the confidence and just the rhythm, nice and smooth.”
Throwing axes is all about the form and the timing. It’s not like chopping down a tree; but the motion is graceful – the axe floats into the target.
The youngest competitor in the league, Judisch said, is a 7-year-old girl.
“We don’t have a women’s league, we don’t have a kid’s league. We have the league. We’re the first in what’s becoming a national sport that didn’t from the beginning have any rules against sex or age,” he said. “So if at 7 years old, she’s not winning, she can get better. We’re not going to put her in a kid’s league; we’re not going to have women in a women’s league, because we’ve got women just as good as the men.”
Everybody is equal, Judisch said, and everybody can do it.
“My wife competes. The women compete right next to the men; the kids compete right next to the grownups. The leagues are something a grandparent and grandkid can compete in, which makes it kind of fun,” he said. “The other thing that’s really nice is this works with handicapped people too. We’ve got a blind guy that throws, folks in a wheelchair can throw. You absolutely do not need to be able to see.”
The only downside to throwing axes, Judisch said, is that it is addictive.
“Once you get started throwing them you’re like you can always throw a little better, you can always get a few more bullseyes,” he said. “There’s always something you can’t do, there’s always one more trick to learn, one more shot to perfect.”