A tomahawk may be used as either a weapon of offense or defense. Many tomahawk fighting techniques may be used in both these roles. A tomahawk can be used to rake, chop, punch, and slice, or to catch and pull or deflect blows.
The first European colonists started using the tomahawk, using it for defense while they reloaded their muskets, and it has been a weapon of choice of the American military for hundreds of years. In the late 18th Century, the British army issued tomahawks to their Colonial Regulars during the American Revolutionary War as a weapon and tool. In 1757, the tomahawk was mentioned in the 28 orders of Robert’s Rangers.
In the 1800s, long, heavy bladed Bowie knives begin to replace tomahawks in popularity as a backup weapon. During this time, Jim Bowie was living in New Orleans, which was noted for its duels. There were a large number of master swordsmen from many countries making a living in New Orleans teaching dueling. Bowie may have recognized the superiority of the large fighting knife over the tomahawk when he developed the Bowie style knife. By the time of the Civil War, one of the most popular items to give a departing soldier was a fighting knife, not a tomahawk. During WWII, allied soldiers used tomahawks in hand-to-hand combat in the pacific. During the latter half of the 20th century, military fighting forces relied mostly upon long-range weapons, such as large naval guns, bombs, and missiles, and upon staying inside armored vehicles for protection.