I've had a chance to read some of my new book on Medieval and Renaissance dagger fighting. I'm very pleased with it.
The author is both well-researched, and well-practiced. He notes that the majority of historic manuals concentrate on unarmed defenses against the knife. He says, and I think the logic is sound, this wasn't because most medieval men went unarmed, but because knives tend to be used as ambush weapons. When an attack is launched, the defender rarely has a chance to deploy his own weapon. The defender is forced to act, initially, unarmed.
The author then cites evidence that this fact of combat has not changed. Most modern knife encounters feature an assailant with a deployed knife against an unsuspecting, unarmed defender. Food for thought.
The author also points out that the manuals emphasize the stab over the cut. Most common medieval knives did have sharp edges; a few battlefield types did not. But medieval fighters recognized the greater lethality of the stab and used tactics to employ the move.
The most common medieval dagger attack was a downward stab from the reverse grip, or what's commonly called the "psycho stab" today. The author believes this is partly from the wide-spread convention of wearing the dagger on the strong side. It was natural to perform a reverse grip and draw, raise the arm, and then stab down. This attack has great power, and can crash through half-hearted defenses.
Legal documents from the Renaissance period show that in many cases, this stab could penetrate the bones of the skull. Just ask Kit Marlowe, who might've exceeded Shakespeare's enduring fame -- except for an ill-chosen knife fight.
The psycho stab is still very common, because of its increased potential for a kill. Some studies show it is very popular in prison shankings. In case you're interested (and I know you are...), the proper way to perform the downward stab is swinging from the elbow, not the shoulder. The attacks should come rapid fire to overwhelm a defender. Your target is the head, neck,and soft spot of the shoulder just behind the collar bones. Just keep stabbing -- you'll hit something important.
This action -- which is very instinctive -- is why you'll often read of murder victims with an astounding number of wounds. Remember, "I didn't stop because he was still moving, and I was still in fear for my life.
I haven't gotten to the elegant section on dagger vs. dagger dueling yet. the unarmed section is too fascinating to rush through. It just goes to show that there is truly nothing new under the sun. Maybe I'll describe more next time...