OK, so while all the literalists out there who are familiar with HEMA are busy breaking out in hives over the title of this post, lets get something straight: the dussack was not a machete. That being said, it was kinda like a machete. It was as like a machete as anything coming out of HEMA, barring perhaps some of the large “knives”/daggers like the seax and (to a lesser extent) the cinquedea. Atleast with regards to machete-like HEMA weapons which have a substantial amount of surviving instructive material, and which are practiced to some degree of popularity today: nobody comes closer than the dussack.
Qualifiers out of the way, lets look a bit closer at this (sometimes) ugly little weapon…
Dussacks were/are single-edge swords which some people believe have some sort of genealogical connection to the saber of later years. Their name means “cleaver” or “hunting” sword, as such titles are descriptive of the common function of the weapon. They were in use from the early 1500’s, well into the latter decades of the 1700’s, which is a comparably long life for the ever-evolving world of battlefield blades in Europe. We know that such short-sabers like the dussack were frequently employed on the battlefield in the 1500’s, functioning both as a secondary weapon for soldiers who were not primarily infantry (such as archers), and also as less-expensive weapons for peasants (compared to longswords, etc). As warfare evolved, and the dussack fell in popularity for combat, it continued to remain in a place of importance in the fencing guilds, and perhaps Joachim Meyer’s 1570 work elucidates why, as he states that the dussack is the root of all one-handed sword work, and the most common weapon of the Germans aside from the longsword.
Whatever the case may be, dussacks were very important training tools in fencing guilds long after they left the battlefield. An odd little leather trainer was employed for such purposes, and replicas can be purchased and practiced with today. (Although my personal preference is for steel or polymer.)
There was quite a bit of variety regarding the design of dussacks. Some were straight bladed, while others were curved. Some dussacks had hand gaurds, while others did not. Dussacks measured anywhere from 25 to 38 inches, which is considerably longer than most machetes, but 25 inches comes close enough for there to be some relevance in technique for the modern machete wielder to pay attention to. Furthermore, the shape of the blade shares alot in common with that of the machete.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch these two videos and see for yourself: