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Interview: Luis Preto

October 14th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Time for some actual blog content!

This is an email interview I did with Luis Preto on the occasion of the release of a new DVD, From Battlefields to dueling: The evolution of Jogo do Pau.

1. First, for the benefit of readers who don’t already know, could you introduce yourself and describe what “Jogo do Pau” is?

Well, my name is Luis Preto, I’m 36, Portuguese and a professional coach, as I studied sport sciences, first at an undergraduate level and, afterwards, at a graduate level (two masters, one in sports teaching methodologies and another in coaching). Since leaving Portugal in 2010 I’ve lived in several countries, including Canada (Vancouver), where I had the great opportunity to train a bit with the good people of Academie Duello while, at the same time, teaching at Blood & Iron and coaching Lee Smith for a full year so as to bring up his long sword skills.

As for Jogo do Pau, this name means game of the stick and, for those who happen to judge the art by its cover (the physical traits of the weapon), I guess it could more easily be defined as stick fencing. However, like in most things in life, there is additional information worth considering should one take the time to look a bit deeper. For starters, those viewing it as (Portuguese) stick fencing should actually regard it as European stick fencing, instead of merely a Portuguese living historical tradition. The reason being that the French tradition Jeux du Baton shared, not only the same name, but also the same techniques (strikes, parries and footwork). Hence, we are talking about a central European fencing tradition that happened to be preserved in Portugal. Having said that it is a historical fencing tradition, I’d like to point out that, at least to me, being historical simply means that it has a history dating back a few hundred years at minimum. Unlike the current resurrected historical traditions that HEMA is bringing back to life (thanks to the treaties on the subject), Jogo do Pau is a living tradition that has been passed on directly from older generations to younger ones. As a result, I consider that it can serve as either a blueprint or, at least, as one additional angle of analysis that HEMA can benefit from in its interpretation of old treaties.

2. Your forthcoming DVD is “From Battlefields to Dueling: The Evolution of Jogo do Pau”. How did you trace that evolution? How directly can you tie in modern Jogo do Pau with historic source material?

Tracing this evolution was a mixture looking into documents, gathering information from my instructors and making sense of empirical data that resulted from practicing and teaching the art.

First, through written sources I was able to detect that there was an evolution in waiting guards. During the early stages of the twentieth century, duelling relied heavily on “backward pointing waiting guards” (holding the weapon pointing backwards, either at the hip or over the shoulder), which later changed to a forward pointing waiting guard. There is also a bit of additional written information describing a few instructors as the creators of certain counter attacking solutions for duelling, which matches the accounts from my instructors that Jogo do Pau’s initial practice was centred around the preparation for outnumbered combat, and that it was the development of industrial cities that changed Jogo do Pau into more of a leisure activity centred around duelling. An additional info on this, people living in or around Lisbon, who obviously had their practice centred around duelling, needed to go to rural centres in order to learn outnumbered combat skills. As such, and since these centres were mostly in the north of the country, the practice of outnumbered combat was even commonly referred to as game from the north.

Lastly, through practice and many years of teaching (going on 14 now) trainees of different skill level and distinct backgrounds, I managed to develop a thorough conceptualization of how technique developed as an adaptation to different meta-games, where combatants periodically change their tactics in search for greater effectiveness in dealing with the problems they are most commonly faced with.

As for Jogo do Pau’s connection with historical sources, the connection with Jogo do Pau’s own and specific documents is obviously straight forward. However, from my perspective, its connection with HEMA’s treaties is also pretty direct. First, one needs to realize that, when surrounded by numerous opponents, one has to forcefully swing his weapon in order to push everyone away, from 9 to 3 o’clock, regardless of the weapon being a staff or a sword. As such, outnumbered combat full swinging technique is the same with either type of weapon,due to the heavy influence of context / tactics. Furthermore, with martial preparation having had its origin in the preparation for outnumbered combat and, with Jogo do Pau having preserved this type of combat, insight concerning this type of combat setting (in the form of understanding how specific constraining factors led to the development of an equally specific skill set) allows one to make sense of HEMA’s brief and vague references to outnumbered combat and, ultimately, develop a more concise understanding of each technique’s context, in form of understanding both its strengths and weaknesses … which is how I am trying to help out the HEMA community through this DVD on Jogo do Pau’s technical and tactical evolution.

3. What do you assume in terms of a viewer’s background for this DVD? How much HEMA background does one need to benefit?

That’s an interesting question to answer. First, regarding HEMA, I believe this DVD can be useful to anyone of any level of experience. The reason being that HEMA folks haven’t been able to focus on outnumbered combat given the vague references to it in the manuals As such, the contents I am sharing establish a rationale that can be helpful in interpreting HEMA’s manuals regardless of whether people have already looked at the documents or are about to start. However, I don’t believe this DVD is limited to HEMA, since one sees backward and forward pointing waiting guards in other fencing systems such as the Asian ones and the (Spanish / Iberian influenced) Filipino. For me this is pretty easy to explain, in the sense that, from a tactical standpoint, a wheel (combat) always has the same shape (tactical concepts), even if the size is different. Hence, the rationale of how techniques apply to combat in order to solve specific tactical obstacles is universal and helpful to any fencing art. Combat arts are only split into non cooperative organizations because each one wants its own business. From a combat perspective, they could stand together and fight each other in the combat arena, with each art looking to have its strengths successfully exploit the opposing art’s weaknesses … but business will probably never allow for this to happen and, additionally, combat will never be possible without body armour where the evaluation of success is objective, and not dependent on the judges ability to implement a set of rules that someone believes (sometimes without any proof) adequately simulates “real” combat.

4. I’m interested in the question of “backward-pointing guards” vs. “forward-pointing guards”. My own study is mostly in the Liechtenauer tradition, which uses forward-pointing guards. (I suppose vom Tag is arguably an exception.) But, I see in the later material like Joachim Meyer’s the use of backward-pointing guards. Could you elaborate? Is this something covered in more detail by the DVD?

Well, first of all, choosing between waiting guards is dependent of one very simple thing, and that is the analysis one conducts of one’s opponent (pertaining to his expected offensive tools), so as to choose the waiting guard that offers the best possible defensive coverage. The main rationale so as to handle this decision process is indeed present within the DVD. As for comparing different authors, I am not the person to ask, since I haven’t been able to study them in depth, given that understanding Jogo do Pau’s system and how to teach it effectively has kept me pretty busy. However, I do want to share one point of view on this topic. When comparing different authors or systems one has to start by realizing that the systems that do engage in sparring testing mostly do so through a sportive setting where the inclusion of safety through body armour needs to be made up for through some sort of a rule set that promotes “proper/realistic” fighting skills. However, when analysing rule sets and the strategies that derive from them, is the rule set one is dwelling on meant to simulate the original unprotected martial combat? Or is it meant to allow the creator to apply a combat strategy he prefers but has difficulty in doing so effectively on a consistent basis without limiting his opponents’s behaviour. For example, say someone has a tough time handling strikes to the hands, how should he go about facing his limitation? By improving his defensive skills or by coming up with a rule set that forbids hand strikes? In short, is the sparring setting and resulting combat strategies from a given author realistic, but more important, are two authors’ sparring settings comparable? Note however that this isn’t meant as a criticism to any author in particular. Here, I believe the crucial element is for people to be intellectually honest and be up front about what type of training and sparring setting is more realistic and which one is meant for providing fun and safe leisure. There are people interested in both, and both motivations are valid. The important thing is that people are guided to the training approach that matches their motivation, instead of being deceived.

5. I have to ask — you have the deepest stance in your footwork I’ve ever seen. It makes my knees hurt sometimes just watching! How did you come to do your footwork this way? In the video and pictures I’ve seen so far, I don’t see any other Jogo do Pau practitioners using such a deep stance.

If I had an Euro for every time I got asked that question 😉
Well, going straight to the heart of the matter, it isn’t my personal style of footwork, as some erroneously think. On the following footage one can see my two main instructors free playing and the stances they employ follow the same principles. Now, master Russo’s stance doesn’t seem so extreme, cause it actually isn’t, since he is shorter and, therefore, doesn’t have to squat as deeply to go as low as us taller folks. However, the principles he employs are the same. As to the younger of the two instructors on this footage, master Mota, he is almost my height and his stance is similar, as one can see on the second link.

We look to use these stances cause they improve one’s combat effectiveness. Among other benefits, offensively, they allow for greater stride length and, defensively, they position one a bit further away from strikes approaching from above, thus allowing for a bit more time to react defensively, which can make a huge difference.

This means that I simply inherited this approach to one’s stance from the art, and thus cannot get any credit for inventing them. However, though the stance’s principles were conveyed to me by my instructors, I had to figure out a way for my body to be capable of actually performing them. Since I am all but a natural talent, it wasn’t easy. However, by following an innovative physical conditioning approach that I developed, I managed to eventually get a grip on the main fundamentals and, nowadays, continue improving on them each week.

Like any for of exercise, if one suddenly starts exercising by using a new and more demanding range of motion for many hours, it can obviously be dangerous to one’s body. However, if one is properly guided by a competent instructor and, thus, eases into this stance by increasing range of motion and training time with due moderation, it is perfectly safe for the knees … and I am living proof of this, since I suffered a rupture of my ACL back in 2001 due to a skating accident and, nowadays, still enjoy JdP without any pain.

6. If someone is interested in studying and practicing Jogo do Pau and is not blessed with a club already nearby, how would you recommend they begin?

Funny that you should mention that. Up until now, people were limited to my introductory classes at HEMA events and a few weekend long seminars that popped up here and there. However, I am very happy to announce that in the upcoming week of 10th/14th of November I will be joining forces with Academie Duello in the form of delivering a week long intensive (25h) course in Vancouver, BC (Canda). I would say that, despite my effort to convey this art through books, training in person with me is a much better option and this upcoming course is the best opportunity that has been developed thus far. Those looking for details on the course’s contents, fees and how to sign up simply need to check out Duello’s website ( http://www.academieduello.com/ ).

Thank you for your time.

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