The first plate of the Talhoffer dagger plays in the Munich manuscript, 1467 Cod. icon 394a, contains the first play of dagger. A simple displacement and a disarming of the opponent.
- He wants to stab down from above / So he moves up with the displacement and wants to break it
- He had stabbed from the roof / he had displaced and winded the dagger off him
Introduction into the play
The play starts with both fencers standing in Ochs (ox) and Pflug (plough) – please note in the photos provided here both fencers are left-handers. These two guards are defined for the stab from above (Oberstich) and the stab from below (Unterstich). Combined as a Treiben (driving) these create an immanent threat to the opponent.
The attacker wants to do a stab from above using the Ochs line, while the defender stands in Pflug using the lower line of attack. Those two lines have the same level of threat to the other. The Pflug is more dangerous because of the softness („Weiche“) of the lower body.
If the attacker from Ochs is short for any reasons, he is in great danger. He may reach shoulder or arm of the defender, but the defender will reach vital parts of the attacker. While a double hit is to avoid, it happens very often in a dagger fight. The idea of getting unscratched out of a dagger fight is wishful thinking. Therefore each fighter must see that the vital parts of the body are constantly out of reach of even suicidal attacks of the opponent.
The thrust from below goes directly to the vital points of the body. Thus the attacker needs to use the concept of Überlaufen (a liquid overflowing a vessel) to reach over the defender. He makes himself long and straightens his arm as depicted in the fencing book. He is still in the risk of receiving a hit, but his threat potentiality in comparison is much bigger now. If the defender wants to provide a lethal threat, he has to close in and will risk a lethal blow himself. Thus the blow with a high and long arm may be seen as effective in approaching. Especially if the empty hand is taken in consideration, which is not done here, to simplify the play.
The displacement of the Oberstich
The play starts with the attacker using a long Oberstich from roof. This stab comes from a high position in which the dagger hand is taken out of reach of the opponent as long as possible.
On seeing the high stab coming down in the play, the defender thrusts his dagger up, puts his weight at the rear leg, and beats against the strength of the blade. Immediately the defender threatens the attacker with a counter stab to the face from the inside. The displacement of the stab from roof is by no means a pure block. Otherwise the attacker could safely retreat and attack at another place. The threat to be stabbed into the face must be plain visible to the person attacking from roof.
On contact (Indes) the defender turns the elbow inside and by this the wrist and the dagger. The blade is now over the wrist of the attacker who could not remove his arm: firstly because of the thrust to the face, secondly because of the dagger now over his wrist.
From this position various options arise that we will have a look on in the following chapters. The defender can bring the arm back to the hip, step back with the front foot, and disarm the opponent with the free hand. This is the most gentle option. But it bears the danger of the attacker using his own free hand to give the defender a blow. Secondly he can close and stab the attacker with his own dagger, and third he can dislocate the arm or throw the attacker to the ground.
Disarming of the opponent
In the plate Talhoffer shows a lock to the dagger of the opponent between the underarm and the own dagger blade. Following the lock the arm is turned and the opponent is disarmed.
This works excellently with daggers of a certain length and does not need to involve the empty hand. Because of the blade length the elbow functions as a lock. But with shorter blade or in armor this version becomes difficult to achieve in a fast play.
The variation easily achieved with every weapon is to
pull the arm back to the hip and use the second hand to unwind the blade out of the opponent’s hand. To support this
motion the defender steps back with the opposite leg. This will create a twist to the opponent’s arm and body and will make the disarming easier.
This version is compatible with the idea of the play as it combines the displacement and the disarming of the opponent. But it is not a “by the letter” transmission.
Killing him with his own dagger
The second option is a step further away from the original concept but it demonstrates the dangerous course such a “winden” may have.
Instead of using the empty hand to unwind the blade out of the opponent’s hand, the defender lifts the free hand at the moment of turn and hits the pommel of the opponent’s dagger really hard. While at the same time closing the hand over the hand of the opponent holding the dagger.
By this the opponent’s hand is locked and the dagger is driven into the chest of the attacker. To
make this a safe move the defender steps with his rear leg into the stance of the attacker, breaking his balance. The stab should not be the end of it. A wrestling throw should make sure that the game is done.
This version is quite tough and if done with speed should be done with sufficient protection gear as the hit on the pommel drives the dagger fast and hard forward.
Thwow him to the floowr
The third option is a throw. Please note we are switching sides in our video stills. You now have right handed fencers showing the play.
The displacement of the defender was made on the Pflug line (plough in longsword or spear up to the face of the attacker). Thus the threat in the displacement was immediately done. Now simply speaking the defender moves his dagger back along the Pflug-line.
The defender (now on the right side) lifts his free hand to enclose the pommel and the hand of the attacker in the moment of the turn done. This will prevent the attacker from twisting out his hand and dagger and will keep him occupied for the amount of time we need for the throw.
The defender rises by moving in the rear foot, followed by the other foot. This will add momentum and offers the option for a well known arm-lock over the shoulder of the attacker and a throw over the right leg if the defender steps again. The attacker now feels the pressure against his balance and wants to hold up against the coming throw by pushing forward.
But there will be no arm lock and no further step forward by the defender. Instead the defender now moves back along the Pflug-line, blocks the arm with his elbow, and moves all hands to his hip. This will start to bring the attacker out of balance.
The defender now turns his hip and sinks in while pushing his rear leg further forward and bending it. The attacker will need to fall unless his shoulder is broken.
The play could be ended by the defender running away or stabbing ruthlessly into the attacker on the floor.