Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ruminations Upon Dagger Training

Returning From Training Hiatus

In early 2015, I threw my back out during fencing practice. I did not know it at the time, but evidently I strained a muscle or muscle groups in my lower back which caused me intense nerve-related pain. Hundreds of dollars and more than a year later, I have recovered sufficiently to enable me to end my combative training hiatus. During this time off, I've had a great deal of time to read, research, and ponder. Due to considerations of time and place, I have decided to get back into the swing of things by focusing on staff and dagger training. Here are some of the thoughts I've been mulling over during said time off, specifically in regards to the dagger and the manner in which one trains with that weapon.

Two Forms of Combat

It seems clear to me that there must be a theoretical division between types of combat. By this, I mean that we must have a theory of combat that separates different forms of combat. In my mind, there are two primary divisions (with numerous sub-divisions). These two divisions are Ritual Combat and Non-Ritual Combat. Ritual Combat includes tournaments, sparring, judicial dueling, extra-judicial dueling, culturally-based ceremonial combat, and combat drills. Non-Ritual Combat includes any situation where one or all combatants find themselves in combat without prior mutual agreement, without specific perimeters, and without outside entity governing the combative incident itself. The difference, more plainly put, is the difference between sparring in your study group and having someone sucker punch you at a bus stop.

This is not to rehash the "street vs dojo" debate or anything of that nature. I say this because in watching a number of training videos (and videos of knife-related crime), reading numerous texts, and seeing how other people train, it seems as though this point is not being sufficiently taken to heart. In this day and age, where people with machetes and axes are attacking people in the streets, we must have some kind of theoretical understanding to base our training upon, and this theory must represent the kind of criminality we see in our societies. This is especially relevant for people who train using Renaissance manuals, considering that we have a resource from a past world where people with large edged weapons routinely engaged in combat and penned their thoughts on those experiences.

To summarize: we must decide why we're training, why we choose the tools we do, and what the end goal of our training is, and how the answers to these queries relate to safety in our everyday lives.


In my time of thought and research, a number of problems arise in my mind. I have touched upon these problems in previous writings, but if I sound repetitive it is because they are important.

  • Movement. If we are training for Ritual Combat, how does that relate to the way we move? If we are training for Non-Ritual Combat, how does that change things? If we all know that we should be moving and dynamic in dagger combat, why do so many people freeze up or act like a praying mantis? Is this biologically based? If this is an artifact of training, how can it be deprogrammed and substituted for aggressive movement?
  • Aggression. Ritual Combat doesn't provoke the fight\flight\freeze response in the brain. How can we trigger that response? Are there options, aside from a Shock Knife, to make this occur? How can we train aggression in people who may not otherwise possess it?
  • Closing the distance. We know from the Art of Defence that we need to close in and fight body-to-body. Masters like di Grassi have shown that weapons have a minimum and maximum safety radius; we must fight up and personal to safety get past their most dangerous distances. If this is so, why don't we see more people closing the distance in sparring? How can we train people to get over the fear that a weapon produces, so that they can get in there and perform take-downs? 
  • Injuries and Mindsets. People seem too engaged in a mindset where they train with so much gear that they resemble astronauts. And yet, when they need their skills most, they will not have that gear. How can we move people away from astronaut fighting? When we do wear gear in sparring, what does that gear represent in Non-Ritual Combat? Furthermore, people have this fencing method of sparring where they hit once and then disengage. They seem too willing to stop and give up. What does this mentality mean for Non-Ritual Combat?
  • Sizes. Bowie Knives and Rondel Daggers are much larger than the pocket knives we are likely to carry everyday. How can we modify our techniques to fit those smaller blades? Can it be done at all?

On the Rondel Dagger

  • Cuts. Rondel daggers are not cutting blades; they are thrust oriented. In training, cuts should be used to set up thrusts and cause pain to our opponents. This is particularly true of rondels with 3-4 edges on them, which I suspect would cause even more pain (due to thickness and morphology) if struck upon the knuckles or the face of another person. We see little cutting with rondels in the manuals, so why do we train as if they are Langes Messers? We need our training to correlate to the actual performance of the blades themselves.
  • Harm-Arm Stabs. Are your thrusts fully committed? Do they have body weight behind them? Are you stabbing with murderous intent? These questions must be examined in sparring. If our thrusts wouldn't penetrate woolen clothing, then we cannot rely on them. Sparring partners must hold each other (and themselves accountable).
  • Whole-Body Stabs. When you stab a man, are you putting your body into the blow? Does it hurt your sparring partner when you stab him? Maybe it should. Consider the Back-Hand attack, which Fiore claims to be quite deadly. When you perform that blow, would it actually penetrate the organs of a human being? If not, how can you claim that you're performing the technique accurately? 

On the Bowie Knife

  • Wrist Cuts. Cuts with the wrist should not be considered fight-ending cuts. They should be trained to set up combinations. A wrist cut to the arm, followed by an elbow cut to the face and then a thrust, for instance, is better than just going for a few wrist cuts at whatever target is closest. We should be taking advantage of the heft of the blade with our methodologies. 
  • Elbow Cuts. Cuts with the elbow appear to be quite damaging to flesh with the Bowie. Still, a single cut cannot be counted on. We should be training ourselves to throw at least three cuts in row. One may not stop due to a cut hand; one will stop if he has become beheaded. 
  • Shoulder Cuts. Cuts from the shoulder appear to be devastating, limb-removing cuts. This could be mitigated by thick clothing, though I have not seen evidence one way or the other with the Bowie in this regard. Shoulder cuts, while slower and bigger, should be trained a great deal, preferably with passing steps to power them. We should be trying to incapacitate as quickly as possible. 
  • Thrusts. Cuts with the typical Bowie are large and deep. They too should be trained a great deal. A spatula-shaped hole in someone's chest is better than sniping at knees and fingers. 

Closing Thoughts

Two final thoughts come to mind. First, I'd like to experiment with smaller knifes and see what kind of overlap historical fighting methods (like in the manuals) have with the use of these smaller EDC blades. Second, I'd like to train more use of doubled-handed techniques with both style blades. In the manuals we see two hands being used with one-handed daggers. We need to incorporate more of this into sparring, both offensively and defensively. Every one-handed weapon can become two-handed, if we train it so. I hope that, in the coming months, I have answers to the problems I have discussed here. In the meantime, I invite the reader to check out some videos that I think are very illustrative of the problems we face as historical martial artists training in an unsafe, tyrannical world.

Regarding Theory and Practice:


Compare and Contrast: