Daggers and knives are some of the oldest and most widespread weapons in existence, and they are still in use today. They come in an endless variety of materials, shapes, and sizes but since our practice focused mainly on late Medieval and Renaissance combat, we can narrow that down a little to symmetrical blades around 30cms long.
Unlike swords, daggers were commonly worn by people from all walks of life throughout history. This was not necessarily for protection; a knife of any description is just a useful tool for many daily activities.
Most daggers have two cutting edges but this is not universal; daggers specialized for armoured combat, for instance, might have no cutting edge at all. All daggers however have a piercing point, which is often reinforced using a ridge in the blade. Many daggers also feature some kind of guard for the hand, although the extent varies widely. Some daggers, like the dirk, have no guard at all, while parrying daggers often have a at least a wide crossguard, with most examples having an additional protective ring, and in later examples a sail guard which almost completely encloses the hand.
Dagger or Knife?
The distinction between dagger and knife is extremely blurred, and in many cases there is a great deal of overlap between the two categories. The main difference is that knives are primarily designed as a cutting tool and have asymmetrical blades, while daggers are mostly designed as a piercing weapon and have symmetrical blades.
To give an example, the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife could fairly be considered a dagger because of its shape.
The K-Bar knife is strictly a knife even if it can stab very well.
For the purposes of our practice, we also have to note that daggers tend to be rather thicker and more rigid than knives, since this is necessary for some techniques and uses.
In our practice, we use daggers mostly as companion weapons for sideswords and rapiers. Used in this fashion the dagger is deployed defensively, closing lines of attack, freeing up the primary weapon, and controlling the opponent's weapon.
Since there is a considerable difference in size between the sword and the dagger, the latter is rarely used to initiate an attack unless the fight moves to close quarters.
In most historical texts discussing the use of the dagger alone, most of the space is usually dedicated to the subject of unarmed defence against the dagger.
While defending against a surprise attack is a near impossible proposition, the techniques described are in general useful in dealing with attacks coming from a source the defender is aware of; in fact, many of them would be familiar to anyone trained in knife defence.
These techniques mostly deal with deflecting the initial attack safely, executing a lock on the attacker, and finally disarming or taking control of the weapon.
Daggers find ready use in armoured combat. While no amount of hacking will get a sword through plate armour, once an opponent is immobilized through grappling, a dagger can easily find it's way in through any opening.
Some daggers specialised for this kind of fighting, like some kinds of Rondel, have little or no cutting edge. Instead they provide a strong lever to help in grappling, and their thickness adds extra rigidity which can help the point punch through mail and padded jackets at the weaker points of the armour.
To throw or not to throw
While a small number of texts describe the use of the dagger as a throwing weapon, we do not practice with daggers in this way for a number of reasons.
Even within the texts which describe such techniques, these techniques are outliers and the situations in which they are employed are very specific. In one case, it is an emergency reaction when attacked with a spear when one has only a dagger (and a hat!) to defend themselves. In another case, it is done to threaten an opponent who is constantly retreating out of reach in a rapier fight.
In both cases, and despite some gory illustrations to the contrary, these techniques are not final, and serve mostly to create an opening to use with wrestling or the rapier.
Throwing daggers at things is also not good for the dagger - in fact in one of the texts which suggests throwing the dagger, the writer also helpfully suggests lining the floor with a thick layer of straw when practicing, to avoid damaging the weapon.
Finally, it is not generally a good idea to throw away a useful weapon in the middle of a fight on a gamble.
Our dagger practice is taught by Maestro d`Armi Andrei Xuereb and has the base structure and concepts of the Sinclair method as taught at FISAS in Italy, with additional research and development from historical sources. The main use of the dagger is that of a secondary weapon to the sidesword or the rapier, or the techniques of unarmed defences against a dagger attack. The sources used as a reference to the system are taken from the same treatises mentioned for the Sidesword and the Rapier.Back to weapons