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Dagger (Espada y Daga) Training
By Pete Kautz 2007
When my Arnis teacher Professor Remy A. Presas was a young boy, the first style of fighting he learned was sword & dagger taught to him by his uncle Leon Bunko Presas. This was during WWII when Remy's father was teaching Filipino soldiers the art to fight against the Japanese. Years later, Professor brought this to America.
In the Filipino martial arts the sword & dagger are referred to as espada y daga (abbreviated EyD). It is one of the major traditional training modes that an Arnisador would work through along with the single stick, double stick, knife , staff, empty hands, and so on. Of all the Classical Arnis the EyD is probably my favorite style.
Some folks say "It's too hard" or "It's not practical" to learn EyD today and only teach it as a historical footnote. Others have dropped it from their Arnis systems entirely! I feel this is unfortunate because so much of the good developmental stuff (as I see it anyhow) is contained in the Sword & Dagger methods.
Beyond merely weapons skill, the EyD 'rewires the brain' in a way that is different from symmetrical delivery systems. This is one of the reasons that people sometimes have trouble with it at first. It's different from double stick because while you have two weapons they do different things and while there are symmetrical patterns they may not be recognized as such by the novice.
Learning EyD allows for the use of all dissimilar weapons, including weapon and empty hand by extension of the 'long & short' principle of EyD. That's one of the big reasons in my book to learn it! When you can understand how EyD and weapon & empty hand systems relate, you're at the place where "It's all the same, baby!" (To quote Professor Presas)
You see, if both hands are the long and short, the empty hand in a single weapon mode can become the short (dagger) hand on a basic, literal level of transference. Beyond this, if you have a deeper appreciation for the nuance of EyD you can see how all of it can transfer to a cross-dominant style where the normally dominant hand that holds the weapon can be considered as the short hand and the open hand is used in all the movements normally reserved for the long hand!
Anyhow, this is why I was extremely excited when Jim Keating said we were going to film not just one, but two EyD videos when I was out there earlier this year! Of all the days on the shoot, it was the one where it was the hardest to pay attention to being a training partner because I kept wanting to listen to what he was saying - and I knew I couldn't let that happen. Jim moves waaaay too fast when he's teaching and a lapse of concentration for even a moment might mean standing there going "Huh?" when he says to do something which wouldn't be cool. (Don't want to keep da' boss waiting, eh?)
Luckily Eric and Jason from the school were out at the ranch as well, so there was a chance to relax and play student later in the day as Jim worked with the other guys! Since we had him outnumbered, he took us all on in a freestyle Carenza exercise that was a blast to do, with each of us using a different weapon set- sword, sword & dagger, and double sword against Jim with the sword and dagger.
Personally, I was really excited about the material because I had learned a number of these EyD sets years before but had NOT at that time seen the kinds of advanced applications Jim was showing associated with them. They were done more like Karate, hup hup hup. Not a bad way to learn, but what Jim was showing here was how the basics sophisticated are the advanced! Plus a nice format for learning as always and lots of other insights mixed in as is his signature. Many are good technicians, but few are master teachers.
So, my first tip is pretty obvious; Get these new Sword & Dagger DVDs and study them!
Comtech Sword & Dagger Vol.1-2
The sword & dagger or espada y daga is considered one of the highest level forms in the Filipino martial arts, and now for the first time James Keating has put this material on DVD for you. This 2 volume set teaches you everything you need to know about the sword & dagger to add them into your art or expand your skills.
If you've ever wanted to add EyD into what you do or improve your skills this is what you've been waiting for. Jim has put a lot of things on video over the years but the sword & dagger has never been one of them! That said, here are six more tips to improving your EyD, in no specific order:
Use dulled metal weapons in training - This may seem obvious but many train EyD for years and never use anything but sticks. Stick and knife (baston y daga) is good but the stick doesn't handle like a sword or do what a sword can do. Obviously be careful and wear face / hand protection if doing high-speed partner work such as a fencing mask and lacrosse gloves. Remember even a dulled machete could still take off a finger or give a grievous thrust so never horse around while training. Still, working with steel is essential to understanding this art.
Pay attention to the angles of your weapons as they intercept and counter - As opposed to the round stick, with the EyD you learn to use the edge, flat, and spine of the blade. There is a lot of fine rolling and contact manipulation work done on the blade as well. Learn from the metal weapon the nuances of edge control and apply that knowledge back to the stick. Remember, if you don't align the edge with the angle of the strike, you won't cut anything. Plus the edge allows for powerful pushing and pulling actions designed to cut and trap in one movement (such as is seen in the German technique 'Pressing the Hands')
Let each hand do it's job - EyD requires each of your hands to perform a different style of work because of the long / short nature of the weapons. You have to understand what tasks are for the sword and what tasks are for the dagger to accomplish and let them each do their own work in their own time. If you don't understand the blade paths and have clean lines of motion your hands will get in each other's way or you may inadvertently trap one of your weapons.
Learn each set originally so later innovation will be easy - This is a concept borrowed from the Wing Chun Kiu Kiet or rhymed couplets used in transmitting an art. Basically, it means to learn the technique exactly as taught at first. Don't go and do it 'your own way' at the start, do it the original way you were shown. Later, once you have internalized the lessons from the movement, making up logical working variations on it will happen easily for you. With something like EyD learning the correct lines of motion in each set is critical because you are handling a pair of blades and a wrong move could cause you to accidentally strike yourself.
Use the tools for chores - If you have yard chores to do that involve them, get used to using EyD style blades. If you've seen me doing EyD Cinco Terros Method on Modern Knives #1 you'll note that I am using long and short machetes. These are trainers I've had for years and are perfect for the art. An 18" machete is a real workhorse around the yard without being too big or obnoxious. The actual experience of cutting, hacking, and moving with the blades for a purpose will educate you. As I've said before, let the metal weapon be your teacher here.
Research Western Sword & Dagger - When reading FMA histories, the EyD technique is said to have been influenced by Western sword & dagger fighting via the Spanish. Regardless of what influenced whom and to what degree (an endless debate of national pride to both sides) research into European sword & dagger methods of the time period will yield a high-grade skill-set to both compare and contrast. On a conceptual level these arts share ideas that wonderfully illuminate one another.
If I had to recommend a single manuscript to start with, it would have to be Renaissance Italian Master Giacomo DiGrassi's True Art of Defense. You can find it online here as a PDF file along with a number of other historical treatises courtesy of my good friend 'Wild' Bill Wilson. Download it, read it slowly, pay attention, take notes, practice doing each part exactly as DiGrassi says, and see what you find...
All the very best,
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