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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another Note on Spanish Knife Fighting

The following short piece appeared in Appleton’s Journal, 1874.
CUCHILLOS. [Knives.]

The national weapon of the Spaniards is the knife, and certainly they know how to use it. Talking one day with a young man who seemed likely to know, I asked him what there was peculiar in the management of the knife.

"Why," said he, with a smile, "I could kill you, and you couldn't kill me."

"Well," said I, " please point out the difference between us. What would you do first?"

"Why, I'd make you wink, and stab you while you winked!"

"How would you make me wink?"

"Why, so," said he, throwing up his left hand near my eyes.

"Well, I could do the same."

"Try it," said he.

I tried, and found it impossible to make him wink, though I passed my hand up and down several times so as almost to touch his eyelashes.

His bright, black eyes looked out at me unflinchingly all the while. It was clear that his eyes were educated, and that mine were not.
NOTE: What the young man seems to be talking about is an eye flick, an extremely fast attack at the eye that causes an opponent to flinch. With practice, it can be delivered faster and less telegraphically than any other blow. Here is a video of how an eye flick is delivered.
I then asked if there was any possibility of an unarmed man's defending himself against one armed with a knife.

"Oh, yes," said he, "I'll show you"; and, in an instant, whipping off his coat, he held the end of one sleeve firmly in his left hand, wrapping the rest of the coat rapidly around his forearm, and, bringing the end of the other sleeve also into his left hand, where it was firmly held, binding together the whole mass, which formed a sufficient defense against the thrust of any ordinary knife.

I then recollected that one of the marks of the men of the Puerta del Sol, at Madrid--which answers to our Bowery [skid row]--was a slashed cloak, evidently not so honorable in its origin as a "slashed doublet" of the olden time.

The use of the knife appears to be so ingrained into Spanish history and habits that one mode of expressing the idea of being "lord of a manor" was tener horca y cuchillo -- "to hold the gallows and the knife."


  1. While in Barcelona last year I visited a knife shop near the Sagrada Familia. I was traveling on to other countries so I didn’t buy anything. They had some interesting knives on display that included design elements from the Middle East and Japan but nothing that I would call a classic Bowie. Also absent were robust lock blades, such as the Spyderco, which are popular in the US. A lot of the pocketknives had a thin, stiletto style blade that I thought would be fairly fragile. Had I been on my way home, I’m sure I could have found something.

    Bob Dickerson

  2. The young man talks about "PASES DE MANO".

    The unarmed hand is passed near the opponent´s eyes, that causes him to flinch or close his eyes, etc. This is described in Manual del Baratero ...