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Mark T

PostPosted: Wed 12 Jan, 2011 9:32 pm    Post subject: Earliest appearance of 'Spanish notches' on daggers/knives?         Reply with quote

I'm wondering when the earliest date we have for the appearance of the 'Spanish notch' on daggers or knives is? Specifically, I'm wondering if we have any pre-renaissance examples.

The 'Spanish notch' is the small circular cut-out just in front of the ricasso that can trap opponents' blades, especially if redirected there by a downward-curving crossguard / quillons.

Popularised in the 1990s by James A. Keating and Bill Bagwell, arguably the leading men in Bowie knife use and fighting Bowie design, they're sometimes seen on 19th C Bowie knives, and apparently draw on earlier designs for parry daggers, coming out of the fencing contexts that Bowie fighting is likely to have developed in (as documented by Keating, Pete Kautz, and others).

The earliest examples I've seen of 'Spanish notches' so far are from c.1650, on pages 138 and 139 of Toby Capwell's The illustrated encyclopedia of knives, daggers, and bayonets (London: Lorenz Books, 2009). Capwell labels these as 'blade-catching cutouts', and they are more C-shaped, or wave-shaped on the examples he shows.

While I can understand how they came to prominence with the rise of rapier-and-dagger/main gauche fighting - where the dagger was used to trap the sword - I'm curious about whether they might have been used earlier at all, more likely in knife-on-knife encounters. (Or, for dealing with the possibility of knife-on-knife encounters ... I'm keen for this thread to remain focussed on the earliest appearance of notches, and not descend into a debate about the likelihood or not of these kinds of edged-weapon fights.)

Some medieval knife designs suggest by their form that the makers and/or users had some appreciation of knife-on-knife encounters: while we often associate the downward-turned guard with renaissance daggers, we have enough medieval examples to show they were somewhat common. We also have examples of ball/spherical finials/terminals, which provide torque when deflecting blades off the guard/quillons, and/or out of the trap.

I'm reluctant to think that these features existed on medieval knives by accident - much like the fact that they are uncommon on the plethora of Bowie knives produced today, those 'in the know' are aware of their functionality, and are very effective at using them, and these features do get incorporated in modern Bowies for that reason.

(And, hence, the preference of some people interested in the medieval fighting arts who have also trained in the 19th C heritage arts to choose a dagger like Arms & Armor's now-backcatalogued 'Medieval fighting dagger' ... a separate, if related story ... although my little prediction is that as more WMA people get exposure to American heritage martial arts, and dedicated fighting knife design, we'll see pressure on A&A to bring this model back ...)

So: what's the earliest 'Spanish notch' you've seen? Please post images here, or provide links to sources.

Mark T

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