A Little Dussack Lovin’

Dussack Image B from Meyer's Art of CombatI’m really beginning to like the dussack and reckon that Joachim Meyer has got it right when he says that it’s the basis of all single-handed sword styles. It’s an unforgiving weapon which is blade-heavy, unweildy yet strangely elegant. If you can make this thing work, you can master any cutting weapon.

(Gratuitous self-promotion: I make dussacks that seem to work well in sparring. Email me for details.)

The one thing the dussack does is to teach you how to move with the weapon. Being so unbalanced, it is impossible to control in a nice manner. You need to step and turn your body behind, in to and out of, every blow. This drives home the necessity of “the agreement between hand and foot.” Unless you get this right, you’re fighting physics and your opponent at the same time.

Meyer starts his chapter on the dussack with a series of drills which are worthy of a post in their own right. They start with simple cutting and gradually become more complex to involve feints and counter cuts. he then outlines a bunch of principles which can be applied to any single-handed – or perhaps just any – sword.

In Defence

  • The vertical downward strike counters any diagonal or horizontal blow.
  • The horizontal or diagonal, whether from above or below, strike counters any vertical blow.
  • If you must block (ie, a static parry) your opponent’s attack, once you’ve stopped the weapon’s momentum, wind your point towards the opponent’s face and thrust hard.

The first two precepts give the basics of all cutting defences and can be seen in all longsword and sidesword traditions I’ve experienced. Meyer makes two clarifications of these two precepts. When cutting from above or across in defence, target the other guy’s weapon or sword arm. When cutting from below, target your opponent’s hands directly.

The third precept can be seen in much of the teaching of sidesword and early rapier techniques.

In Attack

  • Attack where the other guy is open so as to force him to defend that quarter. If the opponent does nothing, you are bound to strike home. As soon as you see the opponent go to parry your blow, however, pull back your attack and strike the opposite quarter.
  • Always follow a diagonal cut with a vertical or horizontal strike and vice versa. The rationale for this comes out of the first two precepts of defence – the vertical cut used to counter your diagonal strike is perfectly defeated by making your second strike a horizontal cut.

Of course, dussack-play nowhere near as rock-paper-scissors as it appears here. It’s more a tactical game like chess played with wooden bludgeoning weapons at high speed.