Here’s a summary of the honda as I see and know it. Don’t miss the security instructions if you’re new to the stone sling!
The stone sling is called “funda” in Roman Latin, “honda” in Castilian (from the Latin word; means also “the deep one”), “fona” in the Catalan dialect of Mallorca, “bassetja” in the Catalan dialect of Ibiza, “prasha” or “prashnika” in Russian, “svedone” in Hellenian Greek.
A length of string doubled in the middle, having a double-string bullet holding section in the doubling point. As often, two strings of same length attached to a little piece of cloth or leather acting as bullet-holding pouch.
Materials are diverse, ranging from lose fibres (hemp) to cordage and nylon strings or leather thongs. Strabo reports for the Baleares also the use of horse hair (tail and manes) and animal “nerves” (probably sinews), both thin, elastic and strong materials that make eminent sense (see the stored energy remark in section 7 further below).
Fibres can be braided directly (allowing to increase honda string strength from the ends to the pouch, to get a whip-lash sound effect at shot) or twisted to make cordage (string). Strings then again can be twisted again or braided; they also can simply lashed up onto a pouch. However, rolling or braiding the strings eliminates – or at least severely reduced – a feared “misbehaviour” of the honda – the “entwined strings” phenomenon where, at the moment of shooting, the strings get twisted, making the shot unpredictable and – on occasions – dangerous even to the sling operator.
Special honda types include rod-hondas, where the strings are replaced by 4 or more rods of differing lengths, and the staff sling, where the sling hangs from a stick which is flicked overhead – an extended version of the “fustiballus”, a long stick holding a stone (much like an atlatl the spear or a trabuco (trebuchet) type catapult).
3. Key Advantages
Here they are:
- Reach (20-30 m [0,5 - 1 sec flight] in straight shot; up to 450 yards (8 – 15 sec flight) in arched shot)
- Impact (strong impact over any distance: 30 – 300 Joule or 1/30 – 1/3 of 44/40 Winchester bullet [around 890 Joule])
- Stealth in transport
- Stealth in deployment (-> unstretched sling plus loaded pouch in two fists -> “David effect” in surprising Goliath)
- Stealth in shot (bullet not visible like arrow or spear)
- Ammunition (shoots nearly anything of in-band size and weight)
- Wind and weather independence (strong winds or rain no issue)
- Silent release (except if you provide a thin end of the release cord which leads to whip crack sounds)
4. Key Disadvantages
Unfortunately, these do exist, too (but which weapon doesn’t have a down side):
- Operating space (no use in crowds, under low ceilings, in narrow or crammed spaces)
- Deployment and reloading delays
- Steep learning curve (years to become a precise shot)
- Precision physics (by construction less precise than any other shooting or throwing weapon, save boomerang -> steep learning curve)
We talk effective rotational length here. This is half the length of the entire honda, just like the radius is half of a circle’s diameter.
I personally divide basic length into four categories (values my personal experiences, save the overlong hondas):
About 40 – 50 cm (roughly 16 – 20”) or half an adult man’s arm’s length. Used for very short distances (7 – 12 m meters / yards), mostly in battle or combat. Devastating at close range. It is also devastatingly fast. And it can be used in most indoor spaces.
David trotting up to Goliath, having such a short sling in his hand, stone hidden in the left hand and then suddenly whacking the lumbering hulk in the head, from 3-5 yards away: that is my favourite scenario for this timeless duel.
Don’t own a pistol? David didn’t ……
70 – 90 cm (roughly 27 – 35”) or slightly above the length of an adult man’s arm. Used in a variety of ways:
- to throw stones of 1 Greek “mina” (434 g or +/- 13 ounces) at fortification, such as by Balearic warriors of old
- for targeting and hunting in a 15 – 35 meter / yard radius, with the shot very straight or minimally arched
- for arched fire in a range of 70 to 120 meters / yards
120 – 140 cm (46 – 55″). Used for arched shots between 100 and 250 m/yards. The classical honda for Greek and Roman battle troops, used with biconical lead or clay shots), “outgunning” the Persian bowmen (whose bows, one has to say, were famed or rather feared, but not very strong; rather like Scythian cavalry archers, they would be in the range of 35 pounds and probably have a reach of about 150 – 175 meters / yards),
140 – 160 cm (55 – 63″, roughly). Used for long-distance arched shots. Said to be shooting up to 450/500 m/yards. This honda length was used as a grenade launcher in the Spanish Civil War, operated with both hands by a man standing on a step or rock, with a second man loading the primed grenade into the sling pouch.
I never trained this sort of honda, so I cannot say anything about it. All I know is that already a long honda puts quite strain the arm. Can’t imagine what it would be to rotate an overlong one…
5. Adapting the Honda to You
Adapting the honda to you
The lengths I mention above are relative. Every sling is made “to the man (and woman)”. The best way to adapt them goes like this:
- Short: With the arm held out and the honda held in the “firing” grip, the pouch should rest in the middle of your biceps
- Regular: With the same grip, the pouch should rest on the centre of the chest muscle on the same side as your throwing arm
- Long: Now, the pouch should rest on the centre of your chest muscle opposite the throwing arm
- Overlong: Anything above that as long as the torsion force doesn’t throw you over.
That honda, you shoot by snapping it, not by rotating it. With my arms, this gives a sling of +/- 50 cms (19,53 inch) with an effective reach of around 50 meters / yards. On short distances – 3, 5, 7, 9 yards – this sling is simply devastating.
There is only one way of handling using the honda: By a wide, smooth, powerful rotation of the arm, driving the string and the arm forward and releasing it at the right moment. All the force of the arm goes into this rotation which moves as much as possible with human physiognomy as a stiff lever.
An honda is never released in a snap, as this creates slack in the string and makes aiming impossible. This is a typical beginners mistake.
You can, however, operate the arm wider (always stretched out) of nearer to the body (more like a baseball throw). That is up to you, whatever works best is what you should do.
Important also: Beginners tend to rotate the sling as fast as they can and then they simply let go. While the idea is not bad, reality is different: One cannot aim at all with this technique. So, an honda’s rotations is never used to release. To shoot, you do not need more then a single rotation. When you see honderos rotating the stone, it is simply to get a feel for the weight of the projectile. But take note: “rotating-in” is not required to shoot an honda!
In any case, after decades of slinging and experimenting, all I know is this: You build up an intuitive relationship. However you shoot, it must a) suit you and b) you must do it for years. And the ammo should not hook in the pouch. Perhaps about the only other two things I found out are: to keep the arm as “still” as possible (no artistic wrist flicks), and to never slacken the sling when rotating for a precision shot (no “flick” shots) – that’s what suits precision best.
It makes no difference if you don’t rotate, rotate once, twice or as much as you wish, the secret is intuitive understanding and repetition to exhaustion.
7. Gripping The Sling
The most common grip these days, one I have observed from Mallorca to Latin America, is the outward grip. In this grip, the sling’s retainer string is attached to the ring or the middle finger and falls away outward from this finger. The release string is held between thumb and index finger. I give no photo, everybody seems to use this grip.
Now, I am from Ibiza, and we use another grip, the inward grip (I’ll call it the “Ibiza grip”). Here, the honda is anchored on the small finger and passed inwardsover the hand. The returning (release string) is comfortably held in the same closed hand with all fingers.
I cannot imagine a more comfortable and indeed powerful grip for the honda. If you ever throw stones heavier then 150 grams (5 ounces), you will start to appreciate this grip.
Here is how the anchoring looks:
8. Power Principles
The power of the honda stems from two principles:
Radial speed (acceleration). The pouch of the honda describes a circular motion in space. It sits at the end of a length or string or arm+string. The circular motion contains the element of radial speed and radial acceleration. The absolute values depend on the length of the string and the frequency of the rotation.
In short: the longer the sling and the faster the circular motion, the higher the “meter-per-second” speed of the bullet.
The factor increases in more than linear fashion. An honda of 30 cm (15″) is useless; and honda of 130 cm (50″) fires several times further than an honda of 70 cm (27″).
Stored Energy principle. This is an insight I got from an article about the physical intrinsicacies of atlatls. Seems they would never work as they do if the system atlatl+javelin wasn’t elastic. When the hunter throws the arm forward, both the atlatls and the javelin compress slightly, storing energy of the fast moving arm through this. In a retarded action, the do release the stored energy at “lift-off” point, firing the javelin with much higher energy than could be explained by the rotation alone.
Well, that fits with my feelings about the honda. The best materials are slightly elastic – horse hair, leather thongs, some forms of polypropylene (paracord). When you throw the arm forward to release, you have the exact same effect as the atlatl. Your arm transfers more energy into the honda then the acceleration can absorb; in a second step, it then accelerates more than an inflexible metal rod would do, transferring stored energy to the stone.
It’s worth keeping that in mind when chosing sling materials; one can actually feel the difference between a leather thong honda and one, say, made from nettle fibres.
Here’s what I know.
Different websites and sources report muzzle speeds between 37 and 66 m/s. This fits about my experiences. However, based on videos I’ve seen on Youtube from Fonermenorqui (362 Joule on a forehead-sized target) and PavirryPe (1 shot of 420+ Joule), it’s clear that muzzle speeds can reach 75-80 m/s !
Kinetic energy: Your typical 44/40 Winchester YellowBoy 1866 fires a 13.5g bullet at a muzzle velocity of 363 m/s (1190 ftps), giving it (at 1/2m*v^2) a kinetic energy of around 890 Joule.
I translate: the 13.5g bullet weighs – would weigh, if you could put in on a scale – a wee bit more than 89kg. I use 10 to recalculate Joule to kilogram; in reality it’s 9.8066.
This is because 1 Joule = 1 Newton meter = 1 kg travelling 1 meter in 1 second. As a mass of 1 kg weighs 1 “kg” in the earth gravity with its acceleration of 9.8066 m/s, 1 kg is 9.81 J or Nm.
A sling shoots a missile of 80 – 150 g between 25 and 80 m/s. This results in roundabout 90 – 350 Joule for kinetic energy. Which means that an honda can shoot with forces between 1/30 and 1/3 (!) of a 19th century gun firing with 20th-century gunpowder!
Consider that 300 Joule (30kg) over 30 millimetres square to the head result infallibly in death and that the penetration power of a lead pellet as used in Roman times is so strong that it can incrust itself into bone and kill under ancient-times helmets!
Don’t believe it yet? I guess most people have a better idea of bows than guns, so here it is: your average hunting bow of 60″ (equalling 30kg or ~300 Newton = Joule “stored” energy) will fire a ~30g (0.03kg) heavy arrow at a speed of ~77 m/s, giving you a kinetic energy of ~88 Joule (or 9kg if measured by a scale at impact).
This is used to hunt big game, such as bears and raindeer.
A lighter bow of 40″ (20kg) firing 25g arrows still yields around 55J (5.5kg weight at arrow tip) and is used for medium game – I guess dogs and sheep come to mind. And a typical “lady bow” of 25″ (12kg) yields 33J (3.3kg weight at arrow point) and is used to hunt birds and other small game.
It will not escape you that even the hardiest standard bow fires less strong than an honda! Which is why I cannot repeat it enough times: NEVER put anybody in danger and BE PARANOID about security when using a sling! Particularly if you use lead pellets; they’re are SERIOUSLY dangerous!
One thing being able to stop an honda missile is a strong blanket, leather blankets (as the Romans used in the conquest of Mallorca) or tight nets. This is mirrored in the silk robes of Persian cavalry archers – these robes tended to stop arrows and, to a degree, sling bullets.
Thin or even relatively strong wood panels, old wood fences, thin iron sheets or similar rigid elements can and will be penetrated by strong honda shots; against lead pellets, the defences must be layered.
I have also used a target made for arrows, one of the stiff foam squares 10″ (25 cm) deep. My around 60 – 100 g heavy lead pellets penetrated this target up to 2″ (5 cm) deep when shot from around 15 m (17 yards) away with a medium honda in straight shot.
Lead performs differently from stone in that it deforms at impact and thus transfers much more energy into the target then a stone which tends to bounce off. It also presents a much more concentrated point of impact energy and tends more often than not to impact with an edge or end point, making it a seriously dangerous ammunition type.
In terms of danger, consider three historical facts:
- Roman surgical manuals – reported by Celsus in De Medicina – advise on the extraction of lead pellets which penetrated the skin and were encrusted into bones
- Archaeologists digging up battle fields have found skulls which had been cracked through (!) the helmet; the ensuing internal bleeding led to death.
Antique authors refer to the feared phenomenon of “bloodless death”
- Throughout the middle ages, the honda is in Spain and France used as “poor man’s infantry weapon of choice” against armed and armoured cavalry.
We talk here about a time and a population which could not afford anymore lead pellets, so forcibly even a pebble has a given degree of efficiency against an armoured knight. I say “even a pebble”, because they are far less dangerous then lead shots, as they tend to splinter or explose on impact against hard surfaces, losing most of their penetration power.
I separate ammunition in four types:
- freak ammo
Just to make it plain – I do not encourage the use of any dangerous ammo. For exercise, stick to exercise ammo; for sport and hobby, use stones and lead pellets – that’s it! Never endanger foreign life and health or foreigh property. Look at Essential Slinger and read the “responsibility” section!
Exercise ammunition has to be first and foremost save. Well, you’ll find out for yourself….. Exercise ammunition I have used:
- potatoes (best!)
- fresh clay balls
- dry earth lumps (tend to crumble, though)
- short sticks
- golf balls, other little rubber items
Hunting ammo depends on the game – if in a survival situation, you will mainly focus on birds, rabbits and any eatable animal not bigger than a fox.
As a rule of thumb, all hunting ammo is somewhere between 100 and 250 g, as you need serious impact to kill your prey:
- burned clay pellets
- cement / concrete pellets
- freak stones with not too much corners
War ammo is for obvious reasons something you will wish to never have to use. As a general rule, war ammo is either a concentrated energy bullet (lead, 60 – 125 g) or special-purpose (see list). For obvious reasons, special-purpose ammo cannot be trained in modern life – be happy! Lead bullets, however, are fun!
- lead bullets
- incendiary shot (red-hot lead or clay pellets)
- explosive shot, such as hand grenades (Spanish Civil War) or black-powder “Molotov” bottles (corsarios de Ibiza)
- chemical shot (acid-in-a-bottle)
Finally, freak ammo. Actually “anything which doesn’t hook and is not too big or too light”. Nice! With a stealth honda around your wrist, even an airport becomes a first-class ammo storage. Think of:
- batteries (the square 9V, for example)
- metal weights
- spark plugs
- short metal rods
- freak metal scraps
- folded pocket knives
And so on. You get the drift – anything goes. The honda is certainly the most flexible weapon in terms of what it can hurl.
How precise is an honda? The answer is: as precise as the arm shooting it. In principle, there is no reason why it should be less precise than a bow.
Here are some examples:
- on my home island, Ibiza, my father’s (born 1930) generation still used to put the boy’s school meal pack on a branch 50 paces away from the kid (often enough, the girl’s too – remember: Ibiza was under attack of the “moros” for hundreds of years – every arm capable of holding a weapon counted!). The youth got three shots at the pack and if (s)he missed, it was off to school without meal.
- on neighouring Mallorca, entry into a warrior society was made dependent on hitting all five horizontal posts of one of the many field barriers (stopping sheep from wandering from one field to another) from 50 (long) paces with five shots only (no failure allowed).
The regular door or barrier post has 4-5″ (10 – 12 cm) diameter.
- Roman writers report Balearic warriors being capable of hitting a human head on 50 paces infallibly. These should actually be Roman paces, i.e. double paces, which would make a distance of 75 meters (historians peg the Roman double step at 1,5 m).
- Greek writers report Rhodians being able to hit a pre-determined part of a human face-sized target on 50 paces (don’t know if these are Roman double paces….)
- In my youth, it was still possible to see elder Ibicencans shooting a rabbit at 30 meters effortlessly (rotating underhand shot, pebble)
- Finally, good old Vegetius’ IVth century handbook about training Roman legionaries mentions shooting exercise on 180 meters on human-size targets.
Even if used “en masse”, it means they were able to hit a single file of advancing enemies reliably enough for battle at that distance.
- Finally, in 2017, there’s a video by Luis Pons Livermore from Menorca on Youtube. He shoots at a watermelon from 25 meters (28 yards) and hits it squarely 4 times out of 17 shots.
12. Safety Rules
These are the most important rules you need to observe with the honda to avoid damage to life and property:
Don’t ever try to fire before you cannot “unmount” the honda (see Exercising section)
Don’t ever fire ammunition which can harm before you have not a basic capability to direct the shot. Stick to exercise ammunition until your angle of departure is reliably down to 30 degrees (that’s hitting a 40-ton truck-size target reliably from 30 m away).
Stick to exercise ammo until you’re sure what you are doing.
Don’t ever assume that a shot will leave in the right direction. The honda is a highly “fuzzy” weapon. Freak shots due to tangled strings are always possible.
Make sure that no people are located in the plane of rotation of your honda. For right-hand users shooting in vertical or 45-degree rotation, the place for onlookers is behind your left shoulder, at least 3 meters / yards away. For left handers, the place is behind the right shoulder.
Don’t forget that the honda snaps like a whip at release and can hurt a bystander that way!
Rotating horizontally above head is by far the most dangerous rotation for anybody else. Ask bystanders to sit down behind you.
Never (!) shoot in fun at a living being or at property. The honda can kill – it has done so for thousands of years.
Never (!) forget that someone can be out of sight behind a bush (which doesn’t stop a bullet), a windows (dito, hidden by the reflecting window glass) or hidden behind a thin wall, a hill or simply walk out of a cover into your shot.
Make sure your shot can hurt nobody – or make sure you are in a legitimate self-defense situation to use lethal force – against animals (e.g., hunting for survival) or humans (survival in armed or massed attack).
Definitely – definitely! – consider the use of the honda against animal or human under exactly the same rules you would apply to using a firearm. Check the gun and self-defense laws in your area to know what you’re in for if ever you find yourself in the need to train this weapon. As I say – if you don’t do it, the lawyers, judges and police men will do it for you!
Never (!) forget that a sling shot will ricochet like a gun bullet. It is not an arrow or dart. Also, never (!) forget that under certain circumstances a lead bullet is much more dangeorus than an arrow: it accelerates at descend much more than an arrow, gaining impulse. It penetrates materials (such as a car window pane) where an arrow would slip off. It can crash through a thin wooden sheet and fly on with significant impact power. And where a stone might just explode when hitting a resistant target, much like an arrow breaks, a lead pellet might go through with enough lethal energy to hurt or kill!
So, here’s a short list of – mostly historic – uses of the honda:
The honda is a traditional hunting weapon. The typical sling game consist of little animals; the main reason being that – different from a bow – “ambush hunting” is not possible. So, it’s all about distance combined with a blunt impact.
An honda brings down or kills any of the following animals:
- birds (any size)
- any badger- or fox-sized animal
Bigger game can be wounded and hunted down, depending on circumstances.
Lead sling bullets have been found on battle fields since the IIIrd millennium BC. Cohort-sized slinger units have been used since the Trojan war and the Roman Imperial forces have included slingers right down to the end of the Empire.
The main use of these units was to outgun archers and to delay the enemy infantry’s deployment and thrust by inflicting early casualties. The modern picture of lead pellets just clicking around Roman army harnesses is wrong; broken skulls have been found under helmets.
Xenophon’s “Ten thousand” included Rhodian slinger troops which effectively prevented Persian infantry from evolutioning into battle formation. They also outgunned the feared Persian archers. Well, as said above, like the Scythians, Persian cavalry archers didn’t use very powerful bows, their strategy was to ride up to the enemy line and shower them with vast salvoes of arrows. Xenophon reports the Persian to be able to shoot about 130 – 150 meters / yards. The Rhodians, switching from stones to biconical lead shots, easily outgunned them with sling salvoes of about 200 meters / yards.
How effective a weapon the honda has been is also demonstrated by the fact that Spanish infantry – the famous “Tercios Viejos”, between 1480 and 1630 the world’s best and undefeated infantry – carried hondas as a fallback option. This is the more revealing as the Tercios were top-modern units, organised similar to the Roman legion and equipped with as much fire arms power as possible; two rifles (arcabuces) and up to six pistols per soldier no rarity.
There must be something to the honda that even these guys thought it worth to carry one – just in case!
Well, having said that: Pizarro’s conquistadores feared only one Inca weapon: The honda! And they were Spanish soldiers from the tercios.
A variation of the infantry battle. From the walls, to disturb storming or evolutioning enemy formations. From the besiegers side, to prevent raids from the besieged by covering the city gates with slinger troops.
Greek authors mention that Balearic honderos were firing 1-pounders (1 “mina” / 500 g) over walls of besieged cities with the “force of a catapult”, killing the defendors and preparing the ground for assaults.
The most famous deed of Ibiza’s feared coastal defense “corsarios” was the bringing down of the Gibraltar-registered 40-cannon corsair “Felicity” in 1806.
The attack was carried out by Antoni Riquer Arabí with two rowing boats, customary Spanish courage and black powder bottles launched in grenade fashion through hondas.
I cannot to believe this was the only occasion where hondas served in naval battle. In short – the honda was a regular weapon in light-vessel naval warfare.
Roman writers report on a failed landing of Mago’s Punic-War-II Carthaginian forces in Mallorca. It seems that the fire from the amassed population was too strong to approach the coast enough to make a landing. While this was not a Roman-style massive amphibian operation, it says a lot about the efficiency of the honda that professional mercenaries could not manage a landing even if it was only a “sting” operation.
In the Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939, Spanish honderos threw hand grenades into enemy trenches and against enemy fortifications. My father told me that the used very long – 5′ 4″ / 1,60 m – hondas with the slinger standing on a rock or higher point and a second man (or woman) priming the grenade and loading it into the pouch.
The long hondas were – still following my father – operated with both hands.
Stones being abundant and hondas being virtually undetectable, hondas are used in urban rioting wherever a traditional rural environment still has maintained knowledge of the weapon.
The most televised case is that of the Palestinian kids, but I have seen hondas on CNN when they reported about urban riots in Santiago De Chile in 2003 or so.
There are two ways of using the honda in sports: individual backyard exercise, and more-or-less formalised clubs. On the Baleares – Menorca, Mallorca, Ibiza, Formentera – there is a sport federation, and I guess there will be efforts under way to mainstream the sport.
Actually, this would be a fascinating experience; just as bow construction owes a lot to the fact that it’s a mainstream sport these days, honda and sling construction would make a giant leap ahead, perhaps as much as doubling the distance records once becoming a mainstream sport and Olympic discipline.
In any case, with my kid growing into the sling, I’ll see if I can found a club near home – even if it ain’t exactly Spain where I’m living now…..
14. Legal Warning
That’s basically repeating what I say a above: consider the honda from a legal point of view a gun to all effects. If you don’t do, police and judges certainly will do it. In areas where the honda is traditional (such as Ibiza), police and judges will not be as skiddy as, say, in the USA and the UK, where the weapons “control” issue is vastly overdramatised these days.
In countries where they dream about (or impose rules to the effect of defanged (unarmed), non-smoking, non-xenophobic, slim, healthy, high-taxable, obedient, streamlined etc. citizens (all in brackets, naturally: these are political devices for creating serfdom in a socialist spirit, not real issues), you can bet that you’re in for trouble if ever found hitting somebody or something with an honda. In Britain, for example, you might sit for seven (!) years for carrying (not using!) an “offensive weapon”. Whereby “weapon” is anything judge and jury deem to be (!). Yep. The sort of “rubber laws” the Soviets were famous for. Served to your front door courtesy of your “democratic” government.
So, first, check the laws of the area you are living in. Then read some blogs to have your ear near the ground concerning the “political” issues, particularly gun control and self-defense legislation. Then decide if you want to sling.
If you do, train out of sight (that’s also an excellent security device – where nobody else is, nobody else can get hurt). Make absolutely sure you do not endanger anybody accidentally. And if ever you must train a shot on a human being or on foreign property, do it exactly under the same rules as if it was a gun. It must be a clear and present danger to life!
Let’s repeat the last thing (I won’t give you that “turn the cheek” speech; I will suppose you are “man enough” to decide when to fight and when not – and sometimes, you must not turn the cheek or else you will lose you soul, self-respect and God’s love!): You must be aware that – if indicted – you might not walk, particularly when issues get messy in a “political” sense (imagine you are attacked by a member of a community against whom any action by your community is deemed “xenophobic”….). To walk, you must be provably re(!)acting to a clear and immediate threat to your life (or whoever else’s you’re defending). Have a clear idea, always – the price you could pay might be years of prison; so be sure that what you “buy” for it by using the honda (i.e. “gun”) is worth paying for.