Parrying dagger

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An example of unsuccessful main-gauche use
A parrying dagger demonstrated in a modern bout

The parrying dagger is a category of small hand-held weapons from the European late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. These weapons were used as off-hand weapons in conjunction with a single-handed sword. As the name implies they were designed to parry, or defend, more effectively than a simple dagger form, typically incorporating a wider guard, and often some other defensive features to better protect the hand, as well. They may also be used for attack if an opportunity arises. The general category includes two more specific kinds of weapon: sword breakers and trident daggers.[1]

The use of this off-hand weapon gradually fell out of favor as sword fighting evolved into the modern sport of fencing. The use of progressively lighter primary weapons such as the small sword, épée, and foil allowed for greater speed as the fencer needed less and less protection for himself as double hits became more and more allowed in the sport fencing.

Dagger Types[edit]

Main gauche[edit]

The Renaissance main-gauche (French for "left hand", pronounced: [mɛ̃ ɡoʃ]) was used mainly to assist in defense by parrying incoming thrusts, while the dominant hand wields a rapier or similar longer weapon intended for one-handed use.[2]


A sword-breaker replica

The sword-breaker was a very sturdy sword that had small slots on one side much like the teeth of a comb. The teeth could catch the blade of the opponent's sword and hold it fast, allowing a variety of follow-up techniques. It is uncertain whether "sword-breakers" could, in fact, break sword blades as suggested by some scholars,[3] as swords of this era were intended to stand up to substantial forces, well in excess of what could be generated by a fighter's off-hand. Swords are sometimes depicted in Fechtbüchern as withstanding a two-handed attempt to break them (or show off their resilience).[4] Late Renaissance rapiers and smallswords may not be as robust as the cutting swords of earlier times, however, and have indeed been known to break on occasion, so the claim may have more veracity in relation to the typical civilian weapons of this period.

Trident daggers[edit]

Trident dagger, 16th century, made in Germany. Picture taken at the Château d'Écouen, France.

Trident daggers are built so that a portion of the blade on each side springs outwards. This creates a dagger capable of trapping blades more securely and more easily.[5]

Modern usage[edit]

An off-hand weapon is rarely used in modern sport competition; in fact, the use of the off-hand as a defensive measure is often prohibited by the rules of many sport fighting styles that are common in the Western world today. However, in HEMA (historical European martial arts) Rapier & Dagger is a common sparring method, and backsword and dagger is also practised. Another exception is kendo where the use of two shinai of different size is allowed but uncommon; this style is known as nito-ryu (literally "two sword-style"). Several other fighting styles not only incorporate but even promote off hand weapons, for example the Filipino style eskrima. Simultaneous use of two weapons is also frequently featured in fiction, particularly in video games, literature, and other media from the fantasy genre, where it is commonly dubbed "dual wielding". In the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), rapier combat makes use of various forms of off-hand device, including parrying daggers, batons, cloaks, and a second sword, which in fencing is termed "case of rapier".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Forms of European Edged Weaponry". Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  2. ^ Giacomo Di Grasse, True Art of Defense, IX. Rapier and Dagger, 1570, first edition in English 1594. (accessed Aug. 14 2013)
  3. ^ Weliwitigoda, Chatura. "Weapons of the 17th Century" (PDF). Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Fight-Book Clues to Quality and Build of Knightly Weaponry". Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  5. ^ "Combination Weapons". Retrieved 2012-11-10. 

External links[edit]