The art of the gaucho, a simple but hard and proud men, the Latino equivalent of the Wild West cowboys where reputation was everything, living off the land was an accepted part of living and being an outlaw and afoul of the law was a distinct possibility. These were rebels; individualistic and independent from the government, law and political affiliation. Outsiders. Creoles, specifically, are always associated with being from mixed race; local or aboriginal peoples mixed with what is often European heritage. The U.S., Africa, the Philippines, Brazil, Chile, the Caribbean and, of course, Argentina all lay claim to Creole peoples. So how does something from another era pertain to modern day blade usage and personal defense? Let’s go over a few points of interest for those uninitiated and unfamiliar with Esgrima Criolla, and those who speak predominantly English and aren’t privy to the main areas where it’s practiced:

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  1. Focus on multi-use of the blade: eating, hunting, utility…not just self-defense so it pertains to modern legalities and ethical/moral issues regarding use-of-force and reason for carry.
  2. It was not meant to kill outside of something infinitely serious: to teach a lesson, to inflict injury, to disembowel, to mark permanently, to humiliate so it had a biomechanical, psychological and non-lethal focus that very much counters all the murder & knife-fighting we see from so many modern instructors of the blade.
  3. They stressed improvisation: even the varied blades (caronero, facon, daga, verijero, picazo, punal) were crafted with parts of swords and other tools by design. Improvisational weapons were used for great effect for a multitude of daily utilitarian purposes, the boleadoras (bolos, anything projectile and weighted: rock ‘n’ sock/blackjack/poolball in towel), rebeneque (compared to the modern-day sjambok or short whip), poncho (the modern jacket/hoodie)
  4. There was a code of conduct or ethics even within the conflict as they had respect for human life and the value of another man’s right to live, which coincided with the psychological barriers the vast majority of the population has with regards to utilizing violence as a positive tool (depending on circumstance) and reticence to inflict damage on another human being.
  5. Based more on knife dueling than what precipitates flashy knife defense with the idea that it was nigh impossible to deal empty-handed with a man whose very existence was born from the knife and used it every day. The truth is that far too many systems base their counter-knife program on hard-to-learn, harder-to-implement and complex knife defense, which simply won’t hold up to what reality dictates.
  6. The 3 methods of dueling are focused more on context and circumstance, conditioning this psychologically from the start in a very subtle, maybe unconscious way. 1. First blood (developing evasion, distancing, movement, natural bodily survival mechanisms), 2. To a point count of 10 with different values given for head, chest, hands (developing targeting, knowledge of anatomy, accuracy, not exchanging blows), 3. Duelo (showing the biomechanical stopping power of the blade, how to adapt and survive when injured, the desperation of not getting cut) Overall, this is a great way to demonstrate the sliding scale of lethality and use-of-force.

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7.  They focus some attention on grips, deployment and concealment & carry – the fastest way to deploy a blade when needed and the carry stressed this (examples: facon carried blade down at the back of the belt for more rapid draw, the caronero hidden in a subtle pouch while on horseback (same can be done in the modern-day car)

8. It was inevitably big-knife fighting as most of the blades (outside of the verijero & picazo) started at 6 inches and made their way up to almost 4 feet (caronero). The punal was a South American version of the American Bowie knife. This length and size also allowed for blade-on-blade re-directions, flat-of-the-blade and spine usage and beat attacks (using the weighted flat of the blade as an impact weapon)

9. There is nothing complex about it, it is easy to learn. It was simple, functional and pragmatic…more a way of life than a “style of fighting” or “system” with adherent protocols, which was the beauty of the effectiveness. These people lived the blade, utilized it daily, carried numerous for different and specific purposes; it was a part of their existence, which conditions and hardwires the brain in a much different way than training complexity for an hour a week.

10. No politics, no belts, no arrogance. This is not a system as much as a method: what didn’t work was simply discarded as it had to be functional to keep someone alive. The effectiveness is in the trial-and-error and a mutual understanding and cultivating of knowledge. While it is an ongoing historical study, it is a study with direct implications to what modern reality dictates. It will not go the direction of larping, re-enactments and fairs. It is meant for function.

11. Dueling was a foregone conclusion if delving into this way of living. It was almost a right-of-passage so, while this is not accepted in modern society, it puts the impetus back squarely in the hands of the practitioner: you become practical and survive or you don’t, quite simply. No reliance on others, no soft training, no theory – you learned what worked under duress, through trial-and-error and put it into play in real-time…or you ceased existing.

12. Greater attention to the point. As many modern knife combat systems, Esgrima Criolla comes from Spanish influence. As with much of European/Spanish fencing, greater attention is placed on thrusting and becoming proficient at putting the point into the target.

For further information on Creole fencing/Esgrima Criolla, contact Jorge Emilio Prina (whose blog address is below) or myself.

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