Given how important the dusack has been both in the fencing schools and tournaments, all the way from the very early 1500s up until Napoleon and the late 1700s, as well as on the battle fields as a weapon of war, it is somewhat surprising to see how comparatively little love it is given within historical fencing circles, at least when compared to the longsword and the rapier. Possibly this is due to two causes; both a still common belief that it was just a wooden toy sword - not quite understanding its historical role and use, but more importantly a lack of a really good replica to use in training. Luckily that is about to change...
Manufacturer: SPES Historical Fencing Gear
Model: Synthetic Dussack
Length: 81cm / 31.9 in
Blade width: 1cm / 0.4 in
Weight: 0.6 kg / 1.3 lbs
For quite a few years now we have used leather dusacken that initially received quite a lot of love and appreciation as they are great fun to use. However, for actual dusack training, they are too short, with a blade core the length of a rondel dagger, which really is a considerable issue, as most techniques require a much longer blade for them to at all work. Furthermore the leather dussacken are by design rather wobbly and thus hard to control well.
With time all of this as proven to make the dusack fencing quite frustrating, if still fun. And as a result, and since there have been no alternatives, and partly also due to other causes, there have been a switch among historical fencers towards using sabres or synthetic messers in tournaments instead.
Enter the SPES dussack. And not a minute too soon. It comes in two versions; plastics or beech wood and this review concerns the plastic version primarily, even if there is some overlap, with the wooden being identical in design, but 25% lighter, 2mm broader and less durable.
What is it like?
The length is of proper Meyer-length, with a blade ranging from the armpit to roughly the middle of the palm, in total 81cm / 31.9 in and with a blade width of 1cm / 0.4 in. It is made of plastics which is quite compact, giving it a weight of 0.6kg / 1.3 lbs. That weight is distributed to give quite a bit of cutting power and there is a distinct forward-heavy feel to the blade, which is fair as some historical wooden dussacken appear to have been similar to this.
Despite this, the dusack is quite quick and reasonably easy to control in striking, parrying, thrusting and binding. The difference to the old wobbly leather dusacken is quite noticable and it is quite a relief to find oneself not struggling against one's own weapon, instead flowing naturally through the stances and cuts.
The blade has some flex to it but not enough to cause any serious vibrations or wobbling. Unless you put quite a bit of pressure on it you will probably not even notice it, which also means it doesn't really add much in terms of safety in thrusting.
The grip is made big enough to allow for use of fairly thick gloves, which certainly is needed as these dusacken can hit quite hard. However, the hole for the grip is just about big enough to fit the gloves from Sparringglove.com and it is slightly awkward if your grip shifts. You need to get the grip right from the start. Lacrosse gloves or the gloves from Black Lance work better. Forearm and elbow protection is also recommended, alongside of a throat guard and a cup. And don't even think about proper blossfechten with these...
Below is a first test we did of these dusacken. We were both cautious as we were somewhat concerned about the possible cutting power involved. Also, my opponent is a very experienced military sabre fencer, not a dusack fencer, and the differences in style caused some "miscommunication" between us in the fencing, resulting in far too many double hits for either of us to feel happy about it. Nevertheless, you can get a sense of how well the dusacken handles.
With a proper "blade" using it mechanically to your advantage suddenly becomes quite vital and working properly with your wrists is hugely important, as you just won't succeed in striking or parrying otherwise. This again is a relief as you feel like you are actually practicing to use a weapon.
Quality and durability
The quality and finish is quite nice. The blade is smooth without any sharp burrs remaining from production, although the unwrapped grip can be somewhat uncomfortable for longer training sessions due to the angles and the thinness of the grip. The logo on the blade is a simple transparent sticker.
The near square edges of the blade will compress with use giving it some soft bumps in the blade. How this affects the blade long-term is currently unknown, but it is of no real concern as it stands.
Not having had the chance to test these over longer periods of time yet it is hard to tell about the overall durability, but experience from other synthetic wasters lead me to believe these will be near indestructible. If a break happens, it will likely happen on the forward part of the knuckle bow, but I doubt that we will ever see it.
Room for improvement?
The grip comes completely unwrapped, so be prepared to add some leather or floorball grip tape of your own. This isn't a big deal, but it would be nice to at least have some delivered with the dusacken, instead of having to run off to a sports store to buy some.
Although I am considering shaving off a centimetre or so of the blades myself it would be interesting to see a somewhat less forward-heavy blade on offer as well. Real steel dusacken often feel surprisingly agile and light and it would be nice to have something closer to that steel agility as an alternative.
Likewise it would be nice to have a somewhat broader base for the thumb to rest on when extending it forwards on top of the grip. And dare I dream of a proper nagle to protect the side of the hand, as seen on about half of the illustrations of historical dussacken? A simple wedge super-glued or pinned onto it would be enough and would simulate what we see in Meyer's 1570 treatise quite nicely.
Some will feel uncomfortable with the synthetic looks of these and for them I still recommend the old leather dusacken available elsewhere, or to have a look at the SPES wooden dussack (which I haven't tested), or even try using steel. A prototype steel dusack trainer from a swordsmith is currently developed and under testing by me and it shows great promise for future steel dusack fencing.
All in all I am pleasantly surprised about how good these feel, so for those of you who have no such concerns and who are looking for a good dusack waster I can only recommend them, not least considering the quite reasonable price. Currently, the price for these is 49.95€, which is a bargain for what you get.
Perhaps now the dusack will finally receive the love it really deserves?