Circle of Steel
Rare Dagger Techniques from an Anonymous Manual
Copyright 2001 Pete Kautz
What is the Solthurner Fechtbuch?
So-named for the Archive in Solothurn, Switzerland where it was found, this book is believed to be from the 15th century and its author is unknown. It's techniques closely resemble the ones from some of Talhoffer's Fechtbuchs. There are conflicting theories about its origins, with guesses as to the date of publication from 1420-1490, but I believe from the costuming of the people and the technical material it is probably from the 1480's and is in fact a semi-rip-off of Talhoffer.
Though the exact origin of the book is uncertain, it is physically smaller than any of Talhoffer's works and contains much less material on each topic. There are techniques shown with long swords, dueling shields, dueling shield and short sword, wrestling, fighting on horseback, fighting in armor, and the duel between husband and wife; though most of these areas only contain a few techniques. The longest sections are devoted to the long sword, dueling shield, dagger, and wrestling (though only the long sword depicts more than a dozen movements.)
The Solthurner fechtbuch contains only 9 plates showing the knife being used. Of these, 7 times it is pictured in the forward grip, and 9 times it is pictured in the reverse grip. This is a higher proportion of forward grip to reverse grip techniques than most of the other Medieval manuals, which greatly favor the reverse grip. This may be by design, or simply because of the brevity of the instruction. In the Solthurner techniques, the forward grip is generally used for long range cutting or thrusting against the enemy, while the reverse grip is used for hooking, trapping, and stabbing.
Over the next few months we will be presenting all these as photo techniques, as well as giving you some other ideas on how to train these concepts.
There are 7 techniques shown in the Solthurner fechtbuch for unarmored combat. The first 3 emphasize the long range dueling aspect of dagger work. The first two techniques emphasize the long range cut to the opponent's hand as a defense against an attack, first against the forward and then against the reverse grip stab. The third defense uses the alive hand to parry the attack and then you return a stab.
The fourth technique is an entry into grappling following the open hand parry and an arm hook/cut with the dagger. From here we get closer, and the final three movements of the unarmored section are for grappling. The fifth technique shows the classic Scissors hold using the dagger, and numbers 6 and 7 are both counters to this. Next month we will feature photos of techniques 4-7, but for now, enjoy!
Dagger Technique 1:
Cut the Hand
This technique exemplifies the long range play, as you stay out of range, and the moment you can first cut his hand you do so right away. Practice defending through different angles using slashes and hacks to the fingers, hand, wrist, and forearm. Cutting the weapon hand or arm is one of the oldest military methods of blade combat that there is, taught to the Roman Legions of the ancient world and probably even earlier. Imagine the defender striking, and possibly cutting off, the attackers thumb. Try and hold onto that dagger now, Sparky!
Dagger Technique 2:
Cut the Hand
In this scenario you have the saber grip and play long range as the opponent takes the reverse grip and tries to close in with the high stab. The reverse grip will force him to close, because he will be unable to match your superior range using the forward grip. You try to stay at long range, and look to evade and slash or hack the opponent's hand as he attacks. Against the downwards stab pictured you slash across the hand with a backhand motion. Imagine the defender striking, and possibly cutting off, the attackers pinkie.
Unarmored Technique 3:
Hack and Stab
The opponent stabs at your body. Using your left hand you parry / hack it aside with a low outward and downward blow and immediately counter with your own stab. This is a quick stab and counter, and makes an excellent back and forth style flow drill. Once you and your partner can both do it, then try to do it in 3 or 5 step exchanges. When this is easy, experiment with changing angles on the return stab and how that then changes the follow ups and forces different types of footwork and evasion.
Though in still pictures it looks like a 1-2 motion, in fighting the closer you can deliver the stab after the parry the better. Timing and rhythm can not really be shown in these kinds of pictures. If you are too slow and make it a "1 and 2" kind of exchange you are giving the opponent a window of opportunity to interrupt your pattern and counter you of the half-beat. (If you think of the parry as "1" and the stab as "2" the opponent counters you on the "and" between 1 "and" 2.
In the extension we just start to work stabbing from different angles, evading and parrying with the empty hand and stabbing back quickly. Thrust along all 8 angles of the segno and try to maneuver around your training partner, so you can stab him where he can not parry...force him to move or get hit. Every so often let yourself get hit also...then you know that your partner is not just playing a pretty game with you and is trying to hit you.
This is NOT about trying to hurt your partner! If we see you try to hurt someone in our classes you will get your kicked out on your ass...there is no place for that kind of behavior. However, you must be willing to HIT your partner to help them learn. If you are not aiming to hit when doing drills in your school you are RIPPING OFF your training partner. It is your duty to hit him (or her) and it is their duty to block or not be there. If no one has really tried to hit you, how can you be sure your defense really works? You can go on for years being "helped along" by a nice friendly uke in the martial arts and have fun, but for real, you have nothing for the time spent...or worse, only an ability to give hurt and no ability to defend...you can "dish it out but you can't take it"!
These kinds of things are what make the difference. You must learn to "Invest in Loss" as the Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Fist) people would say. You lose to learn. Your conditions of winning change. You "lose to win". You try, and if you get hit it is learning not failure. Pain is feedback of bad performance...the trick is to learn to appreciate the feedback and be sensitive to change what you are doing. Greater awareness leads to deeper learning. The speed and power of the opponent can literally make you move faster than you could if you thought about it. You move faster simply because you must! This sounds crazy, but the experienced know it is true!
When training these techniques, a safe training weapon and facial protection quickly become a necessity. A padded dagger and a fencing mask or hockey helmet will suffice, with some kind of gloves (hockey, street hockey, lacrosse), forearm pads, elbow pads, etc. at your option. I prefer to use less armor and a safer weapon, so will use daggers made of folded cardboard for some of the full speed drills. These still hurt quite a bit (and could break a rib on a thrust) and can last for many months if made correctly, yet will *usually* break before your opponent's body does on a dangerous thrust (certainly far safer than a pvc core or wood in a similar circumstance!) When making these, fold (don't roll) them out of cardboard and fold With the corrugation. A piece about 15x24 will fold into a nice 15" dagger. Make the fold neat and tight every time and tape securely.
One other thing we have found is that if you are breaking a lot of these, it is likely because you are hitting with the flat of the dagger and that is causing it to bend (as it would when it fails). If this is the case, go back and work your basic cutting angles of attack, focusing on cleanly cutting with the edge for each one.
RESPECT IS THE BEST ARMOR - TRAIN HARD - TRAIN SMART