by Pamela Muir
Let’s enter an imaginary scenario. Somehow you have been challenged to a fight with medieval rondel daggers and you have only this single training session in order to prepare for it. In a case like this, your primary goal must be to survive. We will need to keep the techniques simple and easy to remember. We are going to make the assumption that you and your opponent are not wearing armour, but typical medieval clothing which would involve layers of linen and wool. In addition, most sets of actions will have two options. Option 1 will be “I love you like a brother, man. I don’t want to hurt you.” Option 2 will be you hate each other more than most political opponents.
First we need the basics. Though a medieval rondel dagger could cut or slice, it was most effective as a thrusting weapon. You have two ways in which to hold it. The first way would be similar to holding a tennis racket. When you have your hand on the grip, the tip of the dagger points forward or away from you. We will call this the forward grip. The second way would be similar to holding an ice pick. When you have your hand on the grip, the tip of the dagger points backwards or towards you. We will call this the reverse grip.
As dagger fighting involves close work and therefore quite a bit of wrestling, you need a stable stance. Stand with your feet about shoulder distance apart, one foot in front of the other by a distance of about one and half to two shoe lengths. Imagine a hat stand vs. a coffee table. The coffee table is more difficult to push over. Be the coffee table. You will also need to keep your off hand out of the way. Have it resting on the back of your hip, at your waist or held in close in front of you.
Now since your primary goal is to survive and the best way to survive would be to not fight at all which would eliminate the point of this exercise, we are going to start each action with your opponent attacking first. For simplicity’s sake each action will be described with both opponents fighting right handed. Of course, these actions can be adapted for different handedness as they “work from both sides.”
Draw an imaginary line vertically through the center of your body and another one horizontally at approximately waist height. Your body has now been divided into four quadrants and your opponent may attack into any one of the four.
Our first set of actions will be your response to your opponent’s attack into your upper left quadrant. Your opponent may be using a reverse or a forward grip. Hold your dagger in the forward grip. From your stable stance, as your opponent attacks, shoot your left hand forward and up so that the pinky edge of your hand catches the inside of your opponent’s wrist. This is to accomplish that primary goal of survival. Option 2 is quite simple in this case. Upon a successful blocking of the attack, with your left hand grasp his dagger arm and stab your opponent with your dagger where ever he is open. Option 1 can be nearly as easy. At the moment you have successfully blocked the attack, again grasp his arm with your left hand and step so that your right leg and hip are positioned behind and against your opponent’s right leg and hip. Depending on your initial stance this can be done as either a passing, basic walking, step or a gathering step, one in which your back foot moves forward up to the front foot and then the front foot moves forward. As you step punch through that soft spot just below and inside of your opponent’s left shoulder with your right fist, this should turn your opponent’s body a bit to his left. Then with your arm across the front of his chest turn on the balls of your feet to your left, maintaining an upright and stable stance as you do so. This should throw him backwards over your right hip.
Let’s take the same line of attack, but this time you are in the reverse grip, such as if you have just drawn your dagger. Make the initial defense as before. The simple option 2 with the reverse grip is the same as with the forward grip, stab him. For option 1, keep hold of his dagger hand and hook your dagger behind his neck so that your arm is pressing on the right side of his neck and your dagger is pressing on the left side. This time as you step, with either a passing or a gathering step, make sure you finish with your right leg and hip in front of your opponent’s. Turn your body to the right as you wrench downward with your dagger and throw him forward over your right hip.
For both responses above, you could combine option 2 with option 1 by stabbing with your dagger instead of punching or hooking and then proceeding with the throw, but we are trying to keep the list of possibilities short and simple.
Oh, wait! Suppose in your panic you have not drawn your dagger at all? Or worse, for some reason you don’t have it. It will be okay, you will simply take his dagger instead. Make your initial block exactly the same way, but immediately afterwards grasp your opponent’s wrist and turn it outwards as if turning a doorknob. Now, you should easily be able to remove his dagger from his hand using your right hand. For option 1, well, you have his dagger, hopefully he will think twice about continuing the attack. For option 2, that’s right, you have his dagger and he doesn’t, you can continue the attack.
Changing to attacks to your lower left quadrant, your opponent will likely be in a forward grip. (Attacks to that quadrant are awkward while in the reverse grip. Try it against yourself in a mirror, you’ll see what I mean.) You can perform all the actions mentioned above, except this time you will shoot your left hand forward and downward to block the attack with the heel of your hand or the edge of your wrist on the inside of the attacker’s wrist. Remember that primary goal?
You could also block the attack using your own dagger. With the dagger in your right hand in the forward grip, grasp the blade with your left hand. Block the attack by pushing your dagger, using both hands, down onto his blade. Then, while maintaining firm downward pressure on his dagger with your dagger in your right hand, use your left hand to pull up on his wrist. This will either disarm your opponent or render his dagger useless. At this point you can use your imagination to accomplish option 1 or 2. In case you are without a dagger, you can simulate the same block using both of your hands. Catch your opponent’s wrist in the crook between your thumb and fingers of both hands, left hand in front of the right, and push downwards. Slide your right hand so that you can grasp the blade. As you push down with your right hand, lift the attacker’s wrist with your left hand. This should push his point back towards himself and you will either be able to stab him with his own dagger, option 2, or disarm him, option 1, or both, option 2 again.
Moving on to attacks to your upper right quadrant, this time your simplest blocks are going to be with your dagger hand. Those aren’t your only options, but recall for this scenario you don’t have much time to learn techniques and put them into practice, so we are keeping it simple. This line of attack most likely means your opponent will be using a reverse grip. Use the reverse grip yourself, and with survival in mind, block the attack high and forward with your wrist against his and your dagger positioned over his wrist. Scissor his arm between your right arm and your dagger and wrench his arm down and towards your right side. Shoot your left arm across his chest, turning him slightly to the his left, and step so that your left leg and hip are positioned behind and against the attacker’s right leg and hip. Turn your body to the left to throw him over your hip. You have accomplished option 1. For option 2, stab him when he’s down. You can accomplish the same set of moves without a dagger in your hand by using the pinky edge of your right hand to block the attack and then grasp his right wrist to finish the set.
This leaves only the lower right quadrant, but at this point you have already learned enough techniques to survive those attacks as well. Using the forward grip you can perform the throw described above in the attack to the upper right. Block the attack with your dagger or the wrist of your right hand. This time you will immobilize his hand by scooping your dagger under his arm and upwards, pulling his dagger arm towards you and pinning it to your chest as you step. You are now set to perform the actions as described above to complete the throw. Without a dagger, you will block with your right arm and then grasp his arm, everything else remains essentially the same.
Alternatively, you could use both hands to block the attack just like you could for attacks into the lower left. As before, using the forward grip, grasp the blade with your left hand, and using your dagger in both hands, push down on his blade to stop the attack. While keeping pressure on his dagger with your dagger in your right hand, lift up on his wrist with your left. You now know you can do the same set of actions without the dagger by starting with the block with both hands, catching his arm in the crooks between your thumbs and fingers, then finishing with a disarm or stabbing him with his own dagger.
You can now block and perform follow up actions for attacks to any of the four quadrants. Your follow up actions may be of a friendlier tone, option 1, or a downright mean tone, option 2. The key to all of them is to safely block the attack and make sure that you can walk away from the fight without resembling a sieve. This does not mean we have exhausted all the possible actions that could be performed in a dagger fight. This was designed as an elementary dagger primer, a simple set of easily performed and memorized actions.
We will conclude with the usual caveat and disclaimer that this is not meant to be a modern self-defense lesson. The best way to survive a knife fight is to avoid it completely. However, if you should find yourself transported back in time and unwittingly do something that places you in a situation where the dagger fight is unavoidable, the above lessons should come in quite handy.