Montara world-champion knife and tomahawk thrower Rick Lemberg hits a bull's-eye in vast understatements when he casually notes that he “had a really cool weekend” Oct. 9-11 in Austin, Texas, at the U.S. Nationals in Knife and Tomahawk Throwing.
“Cool” is the understatement. Lemberg called it “one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.”
He is referring to sharing the Nationals with Floyd Lee Fugatt, and his experiences over time with the man he described simply as “my friend.” Like Lemberg, Fugatt holds top titles in the Wild West Arts Club World Championships in knife throwing (Lemberg in 1998, Fugatt in 1999). The men trace their friendship to 1996, when Fugatt, then serving in the U.S. Army and stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, sought out Lemberg for training.
“He was already better than me,” said Lemberg.
Unlike Lemberg, Fugatt is blind. He had sought out Lemberg to coach him in knife throwing, something in which Lemberg had trained Marines for nine years as a civilian instructor. It was a skill Fugatt had mastered before losing his sight in 2009 due to medical issues, and which he pursued again in the belief that it would help in his self-rehabilitation.
The two men “just started training together,” and Fugatt entered the U.S. Nationals where “he beat dozens of experts who just happen to have the ability to see,” Lemberg wrote in an email.
There was a shift in the course of their training together that Lemberg does not hesitate to point out. “He started as a student,” Lemberg said, “and ended up better than me.”
Fugatt, a resident of Redding, was inducted into the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame in 2003 as a knife maker, a craft he practiced as an artisan. A Native American, he tapped the native skills and arts he learned as a child.
He retired from the Army in 2000 after 22 years. In the military, he had done intelligence work which required him to speak fluent Czech, some Russian, German and more than one Native American language. After his retirement, he worked for Lemberg for four years, analyzing antiquarian books and maps for Lemberg's auction company.
Back on his six-acre spread in Redding, he hand-carved and sold Native American wood flutes, some of which included intricate carving in the interior of the instrument. He also founded and hosted six annual Hurlathon Championships of Knife & Hawk in Redding.
In coaching Fugatt, Lemberg fulfilled two roles. He helped Fugatt refine skills in zeroing in on the 4-inch bull’s eye target. Standing facing Fugatt, he would tap the center of the target in rhythm three times. Fugatt would throw the knife on the count of four, and Lemberg had between three and four to get out of the way.
The second role was to catch the knives if they rebounded off the target, thereby protecting Fugatt.
“I was breaking the safety rules,” said Lemberg dryly, “because I’m standing in front of a blind man throwing knives.”
But Lemberg had no cause for concern. Fugatt, who distinguished himself at the Nationals by scoring in the Expert tier 210 out of 300 in the Main Accuracy event at the Nationals, and had won a third-place trophy in No-Spin Knife throwing, threw true.
“The idea of a blind man doing this seems so improbable,”
Lemberg said, but “he had all the world masters staring at one another.”
It is a matter of Fugatt’s adapting an already honed skill set, Lemberg said.
For Lemberg himself, it’s all about communication in an almost intuitive relationship. Lemberg said he did not instruct Fugatt in moving physically or repositioning his body, but described to him how to structure his aim in familiar terms such as the face of a clock.
“It’s not moving but describing. I described to him the difference between what he did and what he needs to do,” Lemberg said. “I’m his GPS.”
During Lemberg’s stay in Austin, Fugatt was inducted into the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame with the 2015 Pinnacle Award of Achievement.
“Please know that anything is possible if you believe and put in the practice required to succeed,” Lemberg wrote in his email.
The weekend “was very emotional for me,” Lemberg said. “The inspirational message this gave to others made an impact on my life.
“I’m honored to be a part of it.”