Hanwei / CAS Iberia Trident Main Gauche
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy

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Introduction
Innovation is a particularly unique trait of human nature. There is something innate within the human psyche that pushes us to find new, original ways of doing things, whether for function or for aesthetics. This aspect of human nature is evident in many things, and certainly historical arms and armour reflect this as well. Throughout history many forms of arms and armour have evolved and developed. Some of these were adapted for practical needs while some were adapted purely out of the human desire to create.

During the Renaissance it was not uncommon for weapons to be tweaked and modified to have extra functions. Generally referred to as "combination weapons", these weapons ranged from axes combined with flintlock pistols to swords with daggers hidden in the hilt. Whether these combination weapons could be considered practical or not, they certainly show off the ingenuity that craftsmen applied with the technology current to the period, and are examples of the human desire to innovate, not just propagate.

Overview
This particular dagger is made by Hanwei Forge, run by Paul Chen in China. The official catalog name of this piece is the "Trident Main Gauche", though the term main gauche, to my knowledge, is not a historical term (being French for "left hand", despite the fact that daggers of this type were used all over Europe and not just in France). The "trident" portion of the title refers to the fact that with a push of a switch the blade has two spring-loaded arms that quickly open to form a trident shape that can aid in parrying a sword.

A large number of such weapons survive today and are in displays at museums all over the world. I have never seen a picture in a fencing manuscript depicting these daggers, and I suspect that their use was more of a gimmick than anything truly practical. That does not change the fact that they are wonderful displays of the kind of creative craftsmanship that was applied to weapons during this time period. I do not believe that this particular dagger from CAS Iberia / Hanwei is supposed to be based on a specific example, but rather represents the general style.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:1 pounds, 2 ounces
Overall length:18 inches
Blade length:12 inches
Blade width:1 inches at base, tapering to 3/4 inch
Grip length:3 1/4 inches
Guard width:4 5/8 inches
Point of Balance:1/2 inch from guard

Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.

Handling Characteristics


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Detail of blade tip



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Quillons and open blade arms


For a small off-hand weapon, this dagger is a little bit on the heavy side. Nonetheless, it handles well enough. Even without deploying the spring-loaded arms it can perform any maneuver that a typical dagger would use. Both offensive and defensive actions can be employed as with any normal parrying weapon. The edges are unsharpened and the obtuse geometry of the blade would not allow for a very effective cutting edge, though this is not much of a concern for a dagger that is primarily intended for parrying and thrusting. Some weapons of this type were sharp, but there are examples of many that were not, probably because they were intending primarily to parry another blade and had no need for a sharpened edge.

If the dagger is intended to be used as the main weapon (as could potentially happen in a situation where there is not enough room to draw the long blade of a sword from its scabbard), the arms of the blade need to remain closed. In this configuration thrusts are not a problem with an overhand grip where the blade extends from the thumb side of the hand. The quillons are short enough that they do not impede the underhand grip very much, although they are still noticeable and can sometimes graze the underside of the forearm. While this does not really affect technique, it does make the dagger feel more natural in the overhand grip.

When the arms of the blade are opened the dagger would work well for catching an oncoming rapier thrust. I would not, however, feel very secure in catching hard cuts, as the arms do not feel substantial enough at the joints where they meet the main portion of the blade. They may survive a few hard hits, but in the long run I suspect that they would come loose fairly easily. I do not know how much better a historical counterpart would fare. Having the dagger blade open does severely limit any offensive use of the dagger, as the arms are not sharp, and they would inhibit the small bit of the tip from piercing beyond them. This is not a major concern when being used as a companion weapon, however, because historical masters rarely ever advised the use of the dagger to attack when employed as a companion to a longer sword.

Fit and Finish
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Wire-wrapped grip


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Blade ricasso


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Knob used to
open blade


The dagger, much like many of the older Hanwei pieces, is fairly large for what it is. The proportions look right, it is just bigger than most historical examples. The fittings are cast stainless steel and would be very good looking if everything were scaled down some. Otherwise the actual shape and flow of the fittings looks good.

The grip wrap is very well done and is nice and tight. It has alternating brass and silver colored wires, although I am not certain what the actual material is. The grip is secure, and the wire wrap prevents the hand from sliding around during use.

The blade is aesthetically well done for the most part with very clean lines. There is a little bit of a gap between the spring-loaded arms, but not enough that I'm concerned that there will be a failure. There are areas where the blade was clearly drilled through to attach the mechanical pieces underneath and then filled in. There are tell-tale circles at certain key points of the blade. At first this concerned me, but then I looked more closely at pictures of originals and found that they had the exact same circles, so I gave it no further thought.

There is a large knob on the back of the blade and when the thumb pulls back on this knob, the arms spring out. While I wish the switch could have been activated by pushing it towards the blade instead of towards the hilt (it seems counter-intuitive the way it is currently designed), I am still very impressed with how well the piece works considering how inexpensive it is. I haven't seen any sign so far of it wearing out despite having opened and closed the arms many times. I suspect one day the springs will wear down to the point that the arms do not open as quickly. This may possibly be true of the period pieces just as it is true of most spring-loaded objects. To close the arms one has to manually click them back into place with the hand, which may be a good reason why the arms are not sharpened.

The blade does appear to be slightly soft. The arms, when opened, will hit the quillons, and in this area there is some wear on the blade. It's nothing serious, but it piqued my curiosity enough to attempt some controlled drills against a practice rapier blade. Sure enough, the dagger is definitely softer than most quality sword blades, though not ridiculously so.

Conclusion
This is a fun little piece for a collection of Renaissance arms. Reproductions of these types of daggers are incredibly rare, and to my knowledge CAS Iberia / Hanwei is the only company that makes them at all. If we put the spring-loaded feature aside, the dagger itself is only an okay reproduction of period weapons of its type. It isn't bad per se, but it certainly isn't anything wonderful. But because of the spring-loaded arms, I have to say that this is a very neat piece since there are so many of these types of weapons still around in museums. It may not be a perfect replica, but it isn't too bad of a buy for anyone who wants something a little different for their collection.





About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.

Sources
Kombinationswaffen des 15.-19. Jahrhunderts, by Heinz-Werner Lewerken

Acknowledgements
Photographer: Bill Grandy



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