Monday, September 08, 2008

Dagger Training

I'm going to spend a bit of time writing about dagger duels in the context of the martial art I practice. For those of you not interested, there's a nice video of Jon Stewart taking a piss out of the GOP here.

We spent most of yesterday training with daggers. The daggers we use are wooden, about a foot long and look like glorified icepicks. For those who know what i am talking about, we train with rondels.

Because we primarily train with a piercing weapon, we do train for some things I would not even imagine using on modern knives, i.e grabbing or slapping the blade. Nevertheless, some of the stuff we do IS applicable to a modern knife fight, which brings me to my thoughts, which are

  1. Speed kills
  2. The default for a knife fight is a mutual kill
  3. Let the other guy see what you are doing (HT: Chris Blakey)
Let me explain each.

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Speed Kills

This adage is generally true to varying degrees. Acting and reacting faster than your opponent generally gives you an edge. This is especially true in dagger fights because of several reasons.

The first is that a dagger, as compared to unarmed, IS a situation where the first good strike will kill or disable, and your target area is almost the entire body, even if you are wearing armour. Contrast this with unarmed. A fist generally doesn't kill or disable with the first strike unless you are hitting somewhere pretty specific. If you want to disable someone while you are unarmed, you generally have to break their structure first before you throw/lock/break/disarm, which involves working your way into a position where you can do that.

The second is that, compared to a longer weapon, like a sword or poleax, the dagger has a much shorter tempo. It's almost as fast as moving your hand around unarmed. Contrast with a sword or a poleax, which trades some speed for a lot more power and measure.

In short, because (1) getting the first strike CAN lead to victory and (2) dagger use lends itself well to quick strikes, speed especially kills with dagger strikes.

(Note. Speed gives you an edge. It doesn't win you the entire fight. I've won dagger and sword bouts with someone I judge about half again as fast as I am. I've lost dagger and sword bouts to people half as slow as I am. It's more important to do things right than to do things fast. Doing things right AND fast generally kills though.)

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The default for a dagger duel is a mutual kill

What happens in a dagger duel is that both sides will be wanting to strike first with the dagger, for the reasons I mentioned above. The first good dagger strike ends the combat, so there's plenty of incentive to move in for the kill fast. Because both people are thinking like that, it's likely both people will try to attack first. Baring massive disparities in speed, both are likely to inflict a killing or disabling wound. Both die.

Hence, the default for a dagger duel is a mutual kill.

Having that in mind, what we train for isn't maximising the speed of the first strike. That leaves a lot to chance, i.e it depends on having an opponent that is slower than you. What we do train for is to strive for control over the weapon, then launching a counterstrike.

That is to say, the key to winning a dagger duel is controlling the opponent's weapon.

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Let the other guy see what you are doing

This is something brought up by Chris on Sunday's training, and I agree with him. There's no point attacking if the opponent cannot see what is happening. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out.

Recall that the most reliable method of winning a dagger duel is to control the opponent's weapon?

By controlling your initial attack and making it visible, you have (1) limited your opponent's options for defence down to the most appropriate response and can therefore (2) predict the counter-remedy ahead of time. What's more (3) if your opponent commits to his defense too early, you can change your line of attack fairly quickly and get him where he's not defending.

Moreover, making your attack committed and visible is it's own defense. You stop yourself from leading before your dagger covers you, which is the worst mistake you can make in a dagger duel, and often ends with you walking into the point of your opponent's dagger.

Chris demonstrated this for us during one of the bouts, and I believe him. I also tried this in one of my bouts against Robin, which lead to a very nice feint.

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The one complaint I have about myself for dagger is that I've not been able to get into my head and muscles the proper counter-remedy measures. Because it's a fraction of a second (during the interrupted attack) of a fraction of a second (during the defense and remedy) I just kind of go into a spastic spasm when I'm supposed to execute a counter-remedy.

The only way to remedy this is more training I suspect. Anyone else encounter this?

3 comments:

Ilkka said...

This is a very good post and shows that you have put some thought into the matter, which is really good. (hence your choice of tags)

I'll be quite silent about this, since it is one of the subjects that lead to misunderstandings when not displayed physically, but grabbing/slapping the blade is a viable option also with edged weapons. Historically, you see Marozzo do this, for example, and of course there's all the half-swording and Fiore's blade grips as well.

Practically, if for example, given that the blade is not moving around, gripping it to disarms is sometimes a useful thing to do, and sometimes even risking getting your fingers cut can save you from a worse injury.

Think of it like this: a basic disarm like that of the first remedy master of dagger, or in modern terms a standard triangle disarm involves twisting the blade using your forearm against it. Think of this as a grip of sorts. Any contact can be seen as a grip regardless of how tight it is or how many ways of escaping there are.

As an analogy, when doing a pull-up, you can hold on to the bar without wrapping your fingers around it, but it still is a grip.

After some time it all melts together a bit. Sometimes you have to disarm using a grip of the other hand while the other controls the wrist, sometimes the forearm of the controlling arm, sometimes you do it with something attached to your hands, sometimes you may use your feet to disarm, sometimes you may use something else, and sometimes you just break the arm and leave the blade where it is.

Make the distinction between serrated blades, kitchen knives, daggers and so on. In training consider the differences instead of falling back on the classic thought of "you will not be able to see what weapon they are holding if any". Using that logic you will defend yourself similarly against a punch, a knife stab, a broken bottle swing or whatever, without ever considering the difference. Fair enough, if you need to learn quickly, this can be a good approach, but to really _understand_ you need to consider, think, put yourself in there and try the stuff out. How can you ever control a weapon unless you can even spot it's there? If you can't see whether there's a knife or not can you even see that there is an attack at all? In the end, it is about learning to see small cues in the body, noticing the attack before it happens. About seeing, and feeling. Spotting the type of weapon plays a part in here, too... and finally, there are ways of gripping the blade without risk of getting cut. Even if these are unlikely to be available in a "real situation", they are worth practicing for various reasons, not the least in learning to handle the weapon safely yourself.

When cooking the next time, try cutting carrots holding the knife in an unusual way, try holding it from the blade and see what you naturally do.

In a dagger fight there is one more factor that makes it hard to control: the fact that the off hand as well as the feet are all in range to do things. Looking for the initial, quick kill is only good if you remain covered and aware of what the opponent may do as you go in. The attack should always be done in order to gain the control over the opponent's weapon, even if you dispatch them at the same time.

In comparison to an unarmed fight, the distinction is clear, but even without the weapons the aim is the same. An opponent with a broken structure can not effectively respond or attack. Keep his structure broken and he is not a danger to you. Every contact only serves for this purpose, in a sense, whenever you make contact, with whatever body part against whatever body part, you break the structure. A lock, or a takedown is basically a way of keeping that structure broken, and if done with aggression, a way of making the structure _stay_ broken by making it impossible for the structure to regain order.

Similarly a dagger strike aims for a broken structure. Piercing the body and destroying the internals is lethal and works, but the strike itself becomes more effective if it has the result of braking the opponent's structure also by effecting the skeletal construction. Not always necessary, perhaps, but a thing to consider anyways.

What comes to showing your opponent what you are doing, this is the beginning of controlling the fight _before_ contact. You can even break their structure by attacking not the ordering of their bones but their senses. Compression, stroking etc. can cause pain and other bodily feelings that help restructure the person, but attacking their vision or even their autonomic nervous system can have similar effects.

Let them see in order to make them choose, but show them only that which you want them to focus on. Or let them see something that their choices are not available for them and make them react and brake them while they can not work against you.

Good stuff! And the counter-remedies of dagger work are tricky to pull off. The reason for this is, in my opinion, mostly that they are challenging to practice properly. What you need, in order to learn to perform a specific one, is a load of training where the initial steps are done properly and they lead to the contrary being available without chasing it, but by the opportunity presenting itself clearly. We will get there, eventually.

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