Should women fencers wear chest protectors?

by Pamela Muir

Yes, unequivocally yes. Chest protectors should be worn for practice drills, free fencing and tournaments. Yet quite a few women participating in western martial arts do not. How come? Well, those plastic Barbie chests are unattractive. Men’s chest protectors don’t look any better and any plastic chest protector is uncomfortable and can restrict your movement. Even those that are separate shells inserted into a sports bra can be uncomfortable. Besides all that, a woman fencer may feel that she needs to appear tougher and so she forgoes the obvious piece of safety gear that highlights her difference from the men. I used variations of those excuses for years until another coach bluntly explained to me the long term damage that I could be doing to myself. I put aside my wrongly placed pride and began to wear one.

The potential for long term damage is the primary reason women should wear chest protectors. What could initially be ignored as just a bruise, may actually result in a more serious condition called fat necrosis. When the fatty breast tissue is subjected to trauma it can die or form scar tissue. Symptoms of breast fat necrosis may include lumps, deformation, and/or drainage. Though fat necrosis is a benign condition, it’s symptoms can mimic breast cancer even on a mammogram, leading to more imaging with a sonogram or MRI, or even a biopsy. Besides the potential cancer scare, breast fat necrosis can be a painful and disfiguring condition.

Though not as serious as breast fat necrosis, injury to the breast can also cause calcifications, small calcium deposits in the breast tissue. Calcifications are not painful and they do not have any other physical symptoms that you would notice. However, the aftermath of a localized blow to the breast tissue, months or years later, may appear as as white specks on your mammogram. These may form a pattern similar to that caused by some types of breast cancer, sending you once again for more images and/or a biopsy. Microcalcifications may not be painful or disfiguring by themselves, but the follow up procedures, once the specks appear on your mammogram, are painful, scary, and potentially resulting in permanent scars. I can tell you from personal experience, if you are in a high risk category for breast cancer, these microcalcifications from old bruises will be a recurring cause of worry for you and your radiologist.

There is a less obvious reason why a woman should wear a chest protector when working with a partner. It is simply considerate. Imagine fencing a man who was not wearing an athletic cup. Would you deliberately aim for the groin or would you try to avoid hitting him there, if possible? I will make the generalization that most people prefer to not deliberately hit a woman on an unprotected breast. As the chest and torso is a prime target area, if you are a woman who is not wearing a chest protector, you are putting your partner at an unfair disadvantage. In a drill situation, when your partner is required to hit you in the torso, wear a chest protector. Don’t place your partner in that uncomfortable situation and compromise his or her training in the process.

Oh, and one more reason to wear a chest protector. That one blow, or worse, repeated blows, in just the right spot… it hurts!

Most of what I have said has been aimed at women, however men need to be aware of these issues as well. Whether you are a man or woman, in an instructor role or working as a training partner, ask, or nag, the women you are training with to wear a chest protector. It’s healthier for them and a better training situation for you.

The fine, but important, print: Women, if you do notice anything unusual about your breasts, see your doctor.

Book review

Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler, the revised and expanded edition.

Book review by Pamela Muir

Back when I started teaching historical swordsmanship the first edition of Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler was still a new book.  A fellow instructor advised me that if I was ever stuck for a class, I could just open the book at random and that could be my lesson.  While choosing random lessons didn’t fit with my teaching style, as I prefer cohesive units of study spread over several class periods, it wasn’t far from the truth.  Mr. Tobler’s book was the teaching resource.  Now we have the revised and expanded edition available.  As a reader for this edition, I had a preview of the text, but it wasn’t until I had the hardback color copy in my hands that I was able to marvel how fantastic the new book really is for both instructors and students alike.

The first thing that I noticed was the gorgeous layout and design by Mr. Robert N. Charrette. It is bright and crisp as a modern textbook, yet there are subtle nods to the medieval tradition.  The chapters and subsections are clearly marked and corresponding photos are easily found near the technique they illustrate.  Drills and flowcharts are precisely outlined.  Each page of a chapter has the chapter name faintly written in a medieval-esque text in the background.  Besides being an aesthetic touch, it is a useful feature when looking up a specific topic.  The first page of each chapter includes an illustration from one of the medieval swordsmanship treatises, an attractive reminder of what the book is all about.

The second obvious standout of the new edition is the photography by Messrs. Christopher Valli and Janusz Michael Saba.  The photos showing a specific position such as the guards, depicted from both front and side, are clear and well lit, but it is the ones illustrating the dynamics of techniques that stand out.  As Mr. Tobler and his senior students demonstrated they were photographed using a burst setting for the camera.  Thus each movement is captured “live,” resulting in a fluid feel as well as a more realistic image of the correct way to perform the action.

Besides the stunning presentation, it is its use as a curriculum guide that makes it of value to the historical European martial arts practitioner.  Like its predecessor, the first edition, it begins with the basics, presenting the footwork and guards. The footwork has accompanying movement diagrams using a medieval style footprint, a nice detail.  From there the book goes into depth on the core principles of the Liechtenauer tradition.  Those that have read the first edition will notice that some of the interpretations have been updated and the text has been greatly expanded.  Concepts are explained in greater detail and new material has been added, such as fleshing out Indes and Überlaufen and giving Nebenhut its own chapter.

As a curriculum guide, the dozens of drills are invaluable. A student could spend considerable time with the solo drills covering guard transitions and cutting patterns.  Partners can find drills to develop Fühlen,  or work on the master strokes, provocations, counterattacks, etc.  The list goes on.  And, speaking of lists, there is a pretty handy list of drills at the back of the book as well.

Another useful feature are the flowcharts/decision trees.  At the end of each of the master strokes chapters is a flowchart depicting the possible actions associated with that strike.  Though these were also included in the first edition, the ones in this addition are clearer and easier to read.  The text is larger and bolder and the question boxes are octagonal to differentiate them from the action boxes.

I have used the first edition as a training and instructing tool for a long time and it shows.  My copy is dog-eared and littered with scrap paper bookmarks and penciled notes.  Though I intend to make just as much, likely even more, use out of the second edition, I predict that my color hardback version will stay pristine much longer.  During practice sessions I will be able to use the ebook version.  While the hardback version is great for planning out a practice session in advance, the ebook will come in handy in the midst of a session.  The ebook features make it easy to use for a quick lookup of a topic.  The table of contents is linked so that you can easily jump to a chapter.  I can bookmark pages as well as highlight text and add notes.  Though the lovely layout is not as well preserved in the electronic version, the graphics, flowcharts, footwork diagrams, and color photographs, are still available.

So, though I am not inclined to open the book to a random page and proceed in a practice session from there, it certainly is possible.  The revised and expanded edition of Fighting with the German Longsword should be a useful resource in any practitioner’s library, whether beginner, following the curriculum in order, or advanced, using it as a lesson plan on specific topics.

Freelance Academy Press offers the book as a black and white paperback, a color ebook (Kindle), or a limited special edition.  The color hardback special edition is worth the cost.  Not only does it come with the ebook, but it is signed by the author.  Now, how cool is that?

Medieval Swordsmanship From Text to Practice: Library Presentation

When most people hear the phrase “martial arts”, they usually think of the Eastern martial arts such as Karate or Tae Kwon Do, but almost every culture has a martial arts legacy.  The martial arts of Medieval Europe have been preserved in texts and manuscripts of the period.  Come learn how modern students are rejuvenating these arts. Check out our reproduction practice swords and find out how you can train in the knightly arts.

When:  Sunday, November 15, 7:45pm.
Where:  Arlington County Central Library Auditorium, 1015 N. Quincy St., Arlington, VA  22201

Relax! It’s only fencing.

by Pamela Muir

Intellectually, we know that being able to relax during drilling or free play will improve our performance. However, that concept falls into the category of things easier said than done. For some of us, the concentration and determination we employ in a drill sets us up to tense our muscles. Are you the type of person that clenches your jaw while problem solving or hunches your shoulders while performing a task that requires fine motor skills? Chances are you are tensing your muscles when you drill as well. Free fencing or competition not only stress tests your skills, but may also put stress on your attitude or mind set and be reflected in the tensing of your body.

I have been through all of that. From the very beginning, as I was starting to learn the arts, my personal determination to do it right resulted in a constant tensing of the muscles, usually reflected in hunched shoulders. My instructor would repeatedly need to admonish me, “Relax! Put your shoulders down!” This would result in my determinedly holding my shoulders down, so that now my muscles were still tense, but in a different position.

So my shoulders are down, but my muscles are still tense. Why isn’t this an improvement? Because, physiologically, tense muscles are going to slow and impair your ability to correctly perform a technique with the correct timing. Let us look at the timing issue first. Say you are standing in a guard, and you are concentrating hard on keeping your guard absolutely correct. You are creating a tension that results in your muscles being engaged. For whatever it is you need to do next, you are going to have first disengage, or relax, your muscles so that you may move from your guard and then reengage them to perform your action, whether it is a cut, thrust, parry, or a guard change. You are essentially turning a single tempo action into a two tempo action. It is going to take longer to disengage your muscles and then perform the action than it would to perform the action from a relaxed guard position

That brings us to the second issue, it is difficult to correctly perform the technique with your muscles pre-tensed. As an example, try the following experiment. Stand in guard with weapon in hand and deliberately tense up your muscles as much as possible. Holding that tension in place, slowly perform one of those actions mentioned above, cut, thrust, parry or change guard. Did you feel the resistance? If you did it slowly, did you notice a point where, if you had done it quickly, you would have caused yourself pain? Instead of fighting your opponent, you were fighting your own body.

Try another experiment, from as relaxed a guard position as possible, thrust into a target. Repeat this a few times so that you get consistent results. Now from a tensed guard, while keeping the tension, thrust into the target again. How did the tension change your results? It is easier to achieve accuracy with a relaxed starting position.

So now that we have established that relaxing contributes to better fencing, here is the hard part. How do we relax? As I have found from personal experience, simply telling yourself to relax is not enough to achieve it. “Relax!” and “Don’t worry!” are commands, that no matter how well intentioned, do not work with only the issuing, even to yourself. Techniques that have helped me relax in fencing include tension transfer, visualization and self confidence.

Tension transfer allows you to give yourself permission to be uptight, but you store the tension in a smaller muscle group. Most of us tense up in the shoulders, which raises them up, or in the jaw, notice how clenching your teeth still applies tension to your neck and shoulder muscles. Instead of clenching up a large muscle group, find a small set of muscles that are not directly involved in your art and deliberately keep them engaged. I have found by curling up one of my pinkies as tightly as I can, neither myself, nor my instructor, will notice tension elsewhere in my body. This deliberate tensing in a small muscle group forces a relaxation in others. Furrowing the brow also works, but that is best left for solo drills.

Rather than storing your tension, perhaps you would prefer to visualize yourself somewhere that holds no stress, such as a lying on a warm, sandy beach, smelling the flowers in a rose garden, strolling through the autumn woods, or sitting by the fire on a cold, snowy evening. Taking your mind elsewhere, but leaving your body behind to handle the drill or the fight is not as hazard prone as it may sound. It is very similar to driving and discovering after traveling for a ways that you do not remember the last few minutes of the road, yet you trust that you have not left a wake of destruction behind. (Please note: I am not recommending you daydream while driving.) Of course, just as in the driving example, you cannot completely take your brain away, but you can trust your body to respond as needed. This works best for free fencing or a familiar drill.

The best relaxation technique is self confidence. If you have complete faith in yourself that you will be able to perform the action, if not the first time, then within a finite number of repetitions, there will be no tension to dismiss. It is true for any fine motor skill that you have developed, whether it is needlework, touch typing, or handwriting a grocery list. If you know you can do it on a level that you no longer need to actively think about it, you can perform the action without conscious thought, your muscles will not clench.

As an instructor there are ways of helping your students to be able to de-stress and thus to become better fencers. You can advise them by giving them specific relaxation techniques: tension transfer, visualization or others that work for you personally. What absolutely positively does not work is to tell the student “Relax!” The surest way for you to help the student achieve relaxation is to boost his or her self confidence. Try sincerely delivered praise. “You did that well!” “You internalized this technique quickly.” “I know you will enjoy this.” “Excellent, have you done this before?” An even better method is to demonstrate your own confidence in the student. Use him or her to help you demo or drill. Engage the student’s help in instructing a new student or reviewing a technique for a returning student. On my personal journey, it is the show of confidence by my instructors that helped me to have confidence in myself.

It is along the personal journey that the most important point of all is found, the simple joy of the expression of the art. Find that within you and express that to your students, that is where you will find it nearly impossible to hold onto stress and tension. Release that tightening feeling and delight in the flow of your art.

We’re All In This Together – Team Building Exercises Part II

by Pamela Muir

Part I can be found here.

This article contains additional games and exercises designed to encourage cooperation.  While part one focused on whole class exercises, these are designed for partners or for two or more competing teams.  These activities don’t just promote working together, they are great warm ups before class.   Each one either gets the heart rate up, practices spatial and body awareness, provides a comfortable stretch, or some combination of these.

Materials needed:
Two bandanas or short pieces of rope to represent the dragons’ tails
Divide the participants into two groups.  Each group forms a human chain with the players placing their hands on the shoulders or at the waist of the person in front of them.  Tuck a bandana into the waistband or collar of the last person in line, this is the dragon’s tail. The front person in each line is the dragon head.  The object of the game is for one dragon to steal the other’s tail.  Only the head of a dragon may catch the other dragon’s tail and the tail is only considered caught if the catching dragon is intact, i.e. all players are still in contact.  A variation of this game involves forming a single dragon that must catch its own tail.  Either variation, played enthusiastically, starts to resemble a cross between Crack the Whip and Tag.

Bean Bag Drop
Materials needed:
Two hula hoops placed on the ground at least 10 yards apart.  These mark your goals.
At least as many bean bags as you have players.  Increasing the number of bean bags increases the challenge level of the game.
The game starts with the bean bags placed in the center of the playing area.  Set the winning number to about two-thirds of the total number of bean bags.  Each team tries to get at least that many bean bags into its own goal under the following conditions:
Bean bags may not be thrown at all, nor may they be passed from person to person.
Bean bags may be removed from the other team’s goal.
No goal tending.
Any player may only handle one bean bag at a time.
Bean bags may not be taken from another player.
You can also set a time limit, because sometimes this game will last quite a while with no clear winner.  As such, it makes a great aerobic warmup exercise.

Team Twister
Materials needed:
A Twister mat for every team.  A team consists of at least four players.
One Twister spinner
In general, follow the regular rules of Twister.  However, instead of competing against the players on your mat, the object of this game is to keep all of your team members in play. A team is eliminated when one member touches the mat with a body part other than a hand or foot or cannot reach one of the designated circles.  This game works particularly well as a warm up and ice breaker before a wrestling unit.  Of course, regular Twister does that as well, but it does not have a team building component to it.

Car and Driver
This is a partner activity that promotes trust and also the ability to sense what your partner is doing, a useful skill in wrestling or when bound at the sword.  One partner stands behind the other and places their hands on the shoulders or waist of their partner.  The person in front is the car, the person behind is the driver.  The car, with eyes closed, is driven and steered by the driver.  Each car and driver pair moves around the room avoiding obstacles and other pairs.  A variation has three players grouped together, forming a tractor trailer.  The middle player is the driver, the front player is the cab, and the back player is the trailer.  Only the driver has eyes open.

Partner Stand Up
Two partners sit on the floor, back to back, legs straight out in front, arms linked at the elbows.  Together they must stand up, staying locked at the elbows so they cannot use their hands or arms to push off.  For even more of a challenge, they return to a sitting position without either partner falling or landing hard.

Partner Stretch
Two partners sit on the floor, facing each other, legs outstretched.  Partners join hands and have the soles of their feet touching.  They gently bend forwards and backwards, in a see-saw like manner, giving each other an easy stretch.

How to Win in a Partner Drill (Even When You are on the Losing End.)

by Pamela Muir

The title is misleading. We know nobody wins or loses in a partner drill. You are both equals, taking turns as to whom gets the last action. Yet, sometimes it can feel counter productive to your own improvement to be the one taking the hit. With a change in mindset, you can take this as an opportunity to convert your loss in the drill to a gain in your training.

We will start with terminology. In this article, instead of winners and losers, let us talk about Givers and Receivers. The Giver would be the one that would deliver the last blow or action, in the ideal form of the drill. The Receiver is the one who accepts that final action. I freely admit that in practice I cannot resist injecting humor, so if I am the Receiver I might call myself the victim, practice dummy, or pincushion. However, to boost the mental image of improving your own skills, Receiver is a more positive title.

The Receiver’s chief responsibility is to be a good partner. Be polite and courteous to your partner. Do not perform actions outside of the drill. Match your speed to your partner’s, speeding up or slowing down as needed. Give verbal feedback when appropriate. Treat your partner the way you would like to be treated. Remember it is your turn next.

The Receiver is also responsible for performing the actions cleanly and correctly. This is not only good for the Giver, this is where the Receiver can benefit.

Take a simple rapier parry-riposte drill. The Receiver attacks to an open line, the Giver parries and ripostes, landing a thrust on the Receiver. On the surface, it appears that only the Giver is getting any quality practice out of this drill, but let us look deeper and we can see where the Receiver has an equal opportunity for skill improvement.

The Receiver performs an attack. Right there is a whole lot of opportunity for practice. The Receiver must identify the open line. The arm must extend first, the rest of the body follows. At the completion of the lunge, the front foot should be pointed directly forward, the front knee should be bent, but not extended over the toes, and the back leg is straight. Then comes the recovery, pushing off with the front foot and recovering into a proper guard position. If you concentrate on all those actions, even if you accept a hit at the end, you have spent quality time practicing your attack.

The above is probably obvious, and reads a bit like preaching to the choir. When your job as the Receiver is to perform a correct action even though it will be countered, of course you are working on your own skill sets. It is when the Receiver’s job is to deliberately make an incorrect or sloppy action that it can be more of a challenge to see how the Receiver can benefit from the drill.

As an example, in a longsword drill, suppose the Receiver’s job is to be a Büffel, a brute force dependent fencer, so that the Giver can practice a Schielhau, a specific strike which effectively stops a brute force attack from above. In this drill, the Receiver must not perform a smooth and correct attack, else we would not have a Büffel.

So, how can the Receiver still learn from this drill? At least three techniques come to mind, observation, visualization, and persistence.

Observe your partner. As you perform the drill, watch and feel the Giver’s action. When was it effective and when was it not? What was the difference? Was it in the timing or the mechanics? Take those observations and apply them to your own practice.

Visualization techniques are known to work when it comes to improving a physical skill set. By practicing in your mind, you get some of the same benefits as you do in physical practice. Even though you are deliberately performing an incorrect action, as you do so, visualize a smooth and correct attack. Separate your mind from the motion of the body. As you are performing the action that needs to be done for the drill, picture in your head how you would make the attack if your job was not to be a Büffel. This is easier than it sounds. It is similar to stewing on some problem and finding you have driven three blocks without remembering how you got there. Your body has performed the actions that you wanted it to do and your brain was working elsewhere. (Please note, I am not advocating daydreaming and driving.) Visualization will help you avoid training a sloppy technique into memory.

Finally, employ persistence. When the drill is over, your job is not yet complete. At the end of the class, find a quiet corner of the salle, or when you get home find a secluded corner of the backyard, and practice, practice, practice. Do solo drills in order to enforce the correct actions and erase from your physical memory the incorrect action. Let the correct form of attack be your personal conclusion to the drill.

With the right mindset, your time is never wasted during a partner drill. Whether you are the Giver or the Receiver, this is your time to improve your techniques. I call that winning.

We’re all in this together – Team building exercises Part I

by Pamela Muir

When practicing martial arts, historical or modern, it is important to have the full trust and cooperation of your partner.  It is stating the obvious that you are entrusting your safety to your partner’s willingness to stick to the designated drill and not to attempt to “win” the exchange.  Starting a practice session with a cooperative or team building game can help set the tone and unite a group, making the transition to non-antagonistic drills easier.  Sometimes it’s just plain fun.  Loosening up in order to play a game can itself be a bonding experience. Below are team building games and exercises designed for whole class participation.  Part II (coming soon) will be focused on partner and two or more competing team activities.

Human Knot
This is a fairly standard team building exercise.  You will need at least five participants.  It works best with a large class, the more the merrier.  Participants initially form a circle and cross their arms in front of their bodies.  Keeping their arms crossed, they then join hands with two other people in the circle.  They may not join hands with somebody that is next to them in the circle and they must join hands with two different people.  The group task is then to untie the human knot.  Without letting go, but allowing rotation and movement of the hands and arms, the group needs to maneuver everyone in such a way that you end with everyone’s arms uncrossed.  You will end up with one or more circles, perhaps interlocking, and some people will be facing the center of their new circle and other people will be facing outwards.

Lava River
Materials needed:
•  Parallel lines on the floor, approximately twelve feet apart, to use as boundary markers for the river
Pieces of paper, construction paper, or half sheets of newspaper.  These will be your  stepping stones.  You will need about half as many stepping stones as participants.
Group all players on one side of the river and hand the paper stepping stones to one or more players.  The goal of this game is to get all participants safely across the river of hot lava using the stepping stones.  Only one person may occupy or touch a stepping stone at a time.  In order to move a stone, it must be picked up before being repositioned, no sliding it across the floor or throwing it in any manner.  The group’s job is to figure out how to efficiently use the stepping stones to get everyone across.  A follow up activity would be to time how long it takes to get everyone across the river and to try to beat the group’s best time.

Line Up
Participants must arrange themselves in a line by height, shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest.  The catch is that they must do it in silence, no talking!  This game is a lot more fun if you have a practice space without mirrors.  For even more of a challenge, you can vary this game by having participants line up chronologically by birthdate, month and day.  (Including years in the birthdates can make this too easy, depending on the mix of participants.)  Remember, no talking!

Chain/Amoeba Tag
This game starts off as a traditional game of tag with one “It” trying to tag the other players.  However, once a player is tagged, he or she then joins hands with “It” and together they become a new “It” that can tag only with the free hands.  As subsequent players are tagged they join the “It” chain, only tagging with free hands, the ends of the chain.  The members of the “It” chain must work cooperatively in order to successfully tag free players.  The last untagged player becomes the new “It” for the next round.  With a large number of participants, say ten or more, you can play the Amoeba Tag variation.  Once an “It” chain consists of four players, it divides into two “It” chains of two players each, following the same rules, tagging with the free, not joined, hands.  Note:  if you have a large or outdoor practice space, you will want to set up a boundary for this game.  If a player steps outside of the boundary that player must then join the “It” chain.

A Pointed Primer – A simple introduction to fighting with the rondel dagger

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.

Modern students practicing the knightly arts