This is the sixth part in an ongoing series of posts about La Verdadera Destreza, the Spanish rapier style, as I practice it. See the home page for the previous articles in the series.
Frequently, when one used a rapier for dueling, one would have something else in the off hand. Popular choices were a cloak (because it’s something that you likely have with you), a mail glove, or a dagger. Destreza as I learned it doesn’t address the use of cloak or a protected hand, but the use of a dagger is featured prominently. Dagger has a number of advantages over the other options – it’s rigid and strong, so you can parry even powerful cuts with it, and of course you can stab people with it.
The dagger in question probably looks something like the header image on this post – it’s on the order of 12-18 inches long, has quillons, and a knuckle guard or bell. These allow the diestro to use it to parry attacks safely, to trap the opponent’s blade, and to strike with the hilt of the dagger as well as with its point and edge.
The basic guard when using a dagger is similar to the right-angle guard discussed in part 5 of this series, except that the body is slightly more square, the point of the blade is pulled slightly off the center line, and the dagger angles inward from the other side, forming a narrow triangle with the opponent at the point. This guard is intended to give the opponent the impression that approaching from either side will get them stabbed, whereas attacking on the center line could potentially succeed. Of course, this is a trap.
The fundamental strategy of Destreza using a dagger is the same as with a single rapier: move off the line of the attack, control the attacker’s line, and counterattack into an open line. The difference is that with two blades, it’s far easier to combine steps 2 and 3 into a single motion, and the diestro has far more options as to angle and distance. For example, if the attacker does try for that invitingly open center line, a transverse right step allows the diestro to simply drop the point of the dagger down to cover the attacker’s line while simultaneously attacking along the oblique. These three actions can be performed in a single beat, rather than requiring a two-beat action as with a single rapier.
The other advantage of fighting with a dagger is that it gives the diestro additional options at close range. If, for example, you were to take atajo and close along the opponent’s blade, you might find yourself too close to strike effectively with the rapier. While punching with the quillon is extremely effective, having a short bladed weapon available to strike is even more so.
There’s one other point about using a dagger that may not be immediately obvious. The dagger, due to its short blade, is much stronger than the rapier. This allows the dagger to take the opponent’s rapier and control it with forceful opposition. For example, if the opponent attacks high and inside (that is, on the dagger side) and simultaneously binds the rapier blade with his own dagger, the diestro can intercept the attack with the dagger and step in with opposition into the rapier blade. This has the effect of forcing the attacker’s point high and to the attacker’s outside line, leaving him open for any number of counterattacks (e.g., a quillon punch from the rapier).