Guy Windsor: I’m here today with Luis Preto. Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Luis Preto: Yeah, pretty much, yeah.
Guy Windsor: Oh, fantastic. Who is a Jogo do Pau instructor and author of multiple books, including a tutorial on multiple opponent combat with one handed weapons. He also has two master’s degrees, because apparently one isn’t enough. One in teaching sports and the other in Kineseology. We’ll get into all of that sort of stuff in the interview. So without further ado, Luis, welcome to the show.
Luis Preto: Thanks for having me.
Guy Windsor: Whereabouts in the world are you?
Luis Preto: Right now I’m living in Portugal, Lisbon, one of the world’s capitals in terms of great beaches, awesome food, and just having an overall amazing time.
Guy Windsor: So you’re quite fond of Lisbon?
Luis Preto: Yeah, quite a bit. I grew up here and home is where the heart is. And so after close to eight years abroad I returned home.
Guy Windsor: Fantastic. So let’s just start with the question, what is Jogo do Pau? We have had Jessica Gomez on the show in episode 38 and she talked about it a little bit. But I’m guessing that the average listener may not remember that far back. So what is Jogo do Pau?
Luis Preto: Yeah, I would say that Jogo do Pau is known internationally as being the Portuguese stick fighting, staff fencing combat system. Personally, I have a slightly broader interpretation of this because if you look around in Spain, in the Canary Islands, they have their own martial system with the same name. But in Spanish, Juego del Palo. And in France, there is also a martial system, a combat system with the same name, but in French, Jeux de Baton. And the thing is that the Spanish system being from the Canary Islands, it’s completely different. They have three different staffs of three different lengths and weights. And so it’s completely different from a technical standpoint, from a tactical standpoint, from Jogo do Pau. But if you look to the if you look at the French Jeux de Baton and they didn’t manage to preserve the outnumbered combat version, assuming that they once had one. But within the duelling version that they managed to preserve, it’s exactly like Jogo do Pau, all the techniques, all the strikes, all the parries, all the footwork are exactly the same as the ones we perform in Jogo do Pau. And so I have a strong belief, just a personal belief, that Jogo do Pau is actually a cultural heritage of what was once a Central European fencing system specialized, centered around the staff.
Guy Windsor: Okay, a couple of questions leap to mind. The first is, why do you think the French lost the multiple opponents version? Or is it possible that the Portuguese developed the multiple opponent version because they had a specific need for it and it just never developed anywhere else?
Luis Preto: Yeah, obviously that’s one hypothesis. But my understanding and my perspective on martial arts is that at least when they are initially developed, they are fuelled by people’s need for self-defence. And you look at the Russian martial arts system and also some others like Aikido, and even arts like karate and judo, they all have katas centred around multiple opponents. And so I have a strong belief that those focussed, fuelled by the need to develop a self-defence skill, invariably are puzzled by the need to develop a skill that translates into effectively fighting against multiple opponents. And I’ve been told and I believe it is true that that’s the origin of Jogo do Pau. And by looking at Jogo do Pau in such a way, in a way that you think that the origin of Jogo do Pau is that of multiple opponents fighting. By looking at Jogo do Pau like that, you can very easily make sense of the whole system from a technical and from a tactical standpoint. And so with this perspective, that martial arts get fuelled by the need for self-defence, which include multiple opponent combat, and then also adding to this knowledge that you’ve got historical manuscripts like German ones, that depict techniques and tactics to fight multiple opponents. And so that gives one the information that it wasn’t just in Portugal that people focus on multiple opponent combat. The Germans did so and Germans being neighbours of France. My guess is that obviously that the French at some point also focussed their martial training around multiple opponent combat. And so under these assumptions that the French once also had the multiple opponent combat version, then the hypothesis that I come up with is that things probably got lost as a result of society going from rural-centred societies to urban societies. Because the same thing happened in Portugal. For example, my main instructor, he was also raised in Lisbon and that’s where he began his practise of Jogo do Pau and his practise of Jogo do Pau in Lisbon was exclusively based on duelling on one-on-one combat. Because Lisbon being an urban city, Portugal’s capital, people got together to practise Jogo do Pau as a leisure activity. And within this leisure context, people began focussing exclusively on duelling. And so in Lisbon outnumbered combat had already been lost. No one knew how to fight multiple opponents in Lisbon. And then one day he decides to ask his instructor whether one could use Jogo do Pau to fight against multiple opponents. And his instructor, who was originally from the north of Portugal, which at the time was still very much still rural based and thus had kept that tradition. His instructor, who was originally from the North, told him, yeah, there is such a version of Jogo do Pau. I did learn a few things when I was a youngster, but I haven’t practised them in a long, long time. So I’m going to teach you the little things that I still recall. But then I’m going to refer you to other instructors situated located in the northern part of Portugal, for you to go there and learn from them, learn from the source, learn from the people who have managed to preserve that style of combat to this day. And to his credit, that’s what he did. And he managed to then put together a training system, a method, that included both outnumbered and duelling, but still. But then now coming full circle in your question, in Portugal, what happened was the, the urban versus rural brought about these different focuses the focus on outnumbered combat in rural environments and the focus on duelling in urban environments, to the extreme that in an urban environment, people also lost the outnumbered combat version. And so the hypothesis I would invest more energy on, or at least the first one I would look to test and to investigate was whether in France the same thing happened.
Guy Windsor: A couple of thoughts. Yeah. Firstly, the stick has never been a formal duelling weapon amongst the duelling classes, so it would make sense to me if it’s designed for you’re walking from one village to another and a bunch of guys jump you and try and take your money. So you use your walking stick, or your long walking staff to beat the crap out of them. So it strikes me as likely that it would have been developed for that kind of defence rather than one on one. Because in actual self-defence situations you don’t want to duel, you just want to hit people very hard and then move on. And we do have stories from England about people with quarterstaffs fighting multiple opponents. So it would make sense to me that it’s primarily originally not operating with the assumption that you just have one opponent. But my other thing is when you’re training a duelling art it is pretty straightforward to set up scenarios in which you can practise, right. There’s no real challenge there. With multiple opponents, there is the problem of, well, what you’re supposed to do is hit very, very hard and then move on, right? You’re not supposed to interact with the individuals, you just belt them as hard as you can. And then if you get stuck on one person, their friend is going to come behind you and clonk you on the head. So how do you set up the training for multiple opponents?
Luis Preto: Funny enough, it’s actually easier and even less complex than in duelling. So like you rightfully said, like if one is dealing with a self-defence situation, but that doesn’t matter. That’s regardless of whether you’re fighting against multiple opponents or just one, like in a real life self-defence situation. A real life self-defence situation always involves the risk of serious injury or death. And so in order to reduce that risk of injury or death to zero, the only thing that reduces the risk to zero is not fighting at all. And so your first premise in a self-defence situation is to try to avoid the conflict at all costs and basically, like eventually to run away. But now let’s assume that the opponent or the several opponents that you are facing are blocking your access to the only path that you got available in order to run away. Then you have to do something in order to try to get to that that path for you to run away from your opponents. But you have to get to that exit route without getting hit, without getting injured. And so therefore then, in that outnumbered case in fighting against multiple opponents, what you are trying to do is to simply keep the opponents at the distance, because, assuming that you’re not dealing with projectiles, assuming that people do not have guns, then if I’m out of your reach, you cannot hit me. And so and then what happens is that, let’s assume that I stay put on the same spot and I don’t move. If I don’t move and if I’m facing two opponents, both are able to approach simultaneously. Both are able to strike at me simultaneously. But then I only have one weapon. At best, I’m able to protect myself from one strike and not for the second. And so I protect myself from one strike and I get hit by the other. And so for me to be able to protect myself from two opponents engaging me at the same time, I need to use my weapon to protect myself from one opponent and distance to protect myself from the other opponents. And so by approaching you, I am able to use my weapon to protect myself from you. But then if I have another guy at my back, by approaching you, I’m able to distance myself from the guy standing at my back. And so I am able to protect myself by stepping out of his striking reach. And as I approached you, I can approach you in one of two ways. Either you are attacking me and I have to approach you by parrying, or I am able to pre-empt your strike with a strike of my own. And so I am able to push you away and put you in a defensive position. And then I simply repeat this over and over again. After pushing you away and stepping out of the other opponent’s reach, I switch and I strike towards the other opponent in order to push him away while stepping away from your striking reach. And I continuously do this. And then if I have three, four, five, six opponents, I do this switching in order to move constantly in different directions. But the principle is always the same. I look to push away the opponents I am pre-emptively striking towards, while simultaneously I am stepping out of the remaining opponents’ striking reach. And as they feel that I did that successfully, as they feel that they don’t have me within their striking reach and they look to re-approach, I pre-empt, I switch directions again, and I pre-emptively attack them and force them to step back or hit them in case they try to parry on the same spot. And so and then basically, the principle is very simple. It’s just this. And then the reason why I said that it’s actually simpler to put together training scenarios for outnumbered combat than for duelling is because then basically we have only three scenarios. If I’m facing two opponents who are looking to surround me, then the two opponents end up being in a line. And so I need to do this while moving in a line. If I’m facing three or four opponents, those three or four opponents who are looking to surround me will form either a triangle or a square. And in those cases I move around from one side of the triangle to another or from one side of the square to the other. And ultimately, if I’m surrounded by five or more opponents, then I do the same thing while going around in a circle. And although I’m by default going around in a circle, I have also the additional degree of freedom of suddenly moving in a different direction. And basically, outnumbered combat relies on two fundamental principles. The first is that you are for starters, you are aware of your environment and you are able to realise that you are about to be approached by multiple opponents and you have the enough cold bluff to realise that you need to create to be offensive. And so you are able to pre-empt your opponents’ strikes and from the moment you pre-empt your opponents’ strikes and you continuously do that and you continuously limit their role to a reactive role, then you add on top of this, the cherry on top of the cake, which is being able to constantly strike towards your opponents while randomly moving towards different opponents and so not being able to be anticipated. And so it’s this aggressiveness of being able to pre-empt your opponents’ strikes and doing so while constantly moving in different directions and without a specific pattern that makes you predictable, that allows you to have the active role and constantly keep your opponents in a reactive role. And then you simply do this either in a line or in a triangle or square or through the middle circle again. And so then basically you basically using these principles, then you only have like three main scenarios. And so it actually ends up being simpler.
Guy Windsor: Sure. Okay. Well, you’re swinging a big stick at people’s heads. And when you’re working against multiple opponents, you have to be moving quickly. So how do you make that a safe training environment for the students?
Luis Preto: It’s very simple. It’s like this. So basically, when fencing, you can systematise the body parts that you need to protect into three groups: the head, the hands and the legs. And the head is actually the easiest thing to protect. The toughest thing to protect are the hands and especially in stick fighting. And so the thing is that now making a very short detour, even in stick fighting and for those scenarios that you mentioned of a guy walking around in the woods and then suddenly being confronted with burglars or even with the guys from the next door village who don’t want this guy to go there and dates and flirt with the girls from there and all these things. And so within that scenario that you mentioned of a guy walking around in the woods and being suddenly confronted with multiple opponents, people even went to the extreme of adding blades to the tip of the staff so as to make this staff even more dangerous. And traditionally there were some instances in which this staff was actually a bladed weapon. And so in that regard, it’s it gets closer to the sword, right?
Guy Windsor: Yeah, it’s a spear or a glaive or something like that.
Luis Preto: But using swinging strikes and swinging strikes that suddenly have the extra degree of freedom of being able to cut the opponent. But the other physical trait that distinguishes the staff from swords is that in the staff we didn’t adopt any sort of hand guard in order to protect the heads. And therefore what happens is that obviously sword fencers are correct when they state that the parries that you perform closer to the hand guards are stronger biomechanically and they are. And sword fencers are wise to make use of that degree of freedom. But the thing that with a staff and in the absence of hand guards, you don’t want to parry so close to the hands that every once in a while you actually end up parrying with the hands themselves.
Guy Windsor: Hang on, this business of parrying close to the guard. That is later, right? Medieval sword sources all agree you parry with the middle of the sword because if you try parrying close to the hilt, if you don’t have an enclosed hilt, you are going to put your fingers in the way of the weapon. As I experienced myself more than once, but the sources themselves, this business of parrying close to the hand, it only appears once the hand is protected by rings and knuckle bows and that sort of thing. So yeah, the medieval sword sources would agree with you there.
Luis Preto: And that’s in line with the experience that I also had in Vancouver over there. I trained sword fencers for a year and I also constantly advised them and had them train to parry with the mid portion of the weapon because even with a cross guard their hands and their gloves, obviously were hit still quite frequently, and that’s in line with my empirical experience.
Guy Windsor: How are you protecting the head? Because the stick the stick is a kinetic weapon. Generally speaking it doesn’t have an edge. The mechanics behind the blow if they’re actually going to work in a real situation have to be pretty robust. So how do you protect people’s heads from these stick blows. Do you modify the stick? Do you modify the helmet? What do you do?
Luis Preto: The thing is that obviously that when you’re doing it full out without any control, you need to implement the same strategies that sword fencers implement. You need to use body armour, gloves, helmets and eventually, when possible, adapted weapons. But it starts with foams and made of a different material source to be a little bit flexible. But the thing is that but even in those situations, okay, like just to be 100% safe, you can use a helmet, but it’s not that important to use a helmet because the thing is that before being thrown into that training scenario, you learn how to parry, which includes learning the distance at which you need to be at from your opponent in order to parry successfully. And the thing is that because Jogo do Pau comes from outnumbered combat, our focus lies on maximising mobility instead of looking to maximise reach. And so we do not lean forward like some rapier fighters do in order to maximise reach. We stand in an upright posture in order to maximise mobility. And this means that the rapier fighter who leans forward actually places his head closest to his opponent. It’s the closest body part of his closer to his opponent. But in our case, because we’re standing in an upright posture, it’s our leg, our front leg, our front leading knee that is closest to our opponent. And our head, our upper body, is a little bit further behind. And then the thing is that if you’re looking to parry with the middle portion of your weapon and if you have been trained to do so effectively, upon doing so effectively and intercepting incoming strikes with the mid portion of your weapon, then that means that your upper body, your head.
Guy Windsor: Is out of measure.
Luis Preto: Is out of measure. But if you mess up and you end up parrying too close to the incoming strike, too close to the opponent who is striking at you, then you simply need to place your weapon either above your head in that oblique roof-like position or next to your body, like with a side parry, whichever one performs to have your head being effectively parried. But then the thing is that in that situation, you never get hit on the head because you only need to get the parry in the right place. When that happens, what usually gets hit is your hands.
Guy Windsor: Sure. Okay. But I bet you anything you like, if you and I fence with the Jogo do Pau, I’ve never trained it, you would probably hit me in the head several times. So I am curious as to what kind of head protection you are using? Because sometimes your opponent isn’t perfect and you’re not perfect. Head hits are going to occur. We have a problem with historical martial arts where we don’t really have adequate head protection for sword strikes. These modern fencing masks are not adequate for longsword. So I’m kind of hoping that you have some perfect helmet solution that I can then take an idea and maybe adapt it into a better longsword head protection. So what are you using for your head protection?
Luis Preto: Yeah, I don’t think I have a perfect helmet solution. Our, let’s call it, perfect head protection solution is one that merges wearing a helmet with assuming a compromise in terms of the weapon. And so instead of sparring full out with really hard, inflexible, almost inflexible staffs, we compromise on the weapon. And we have these staffs which have a skeleton that gets progressively thinner as you move towards the forward tip. And so that makes these staffs pretty flexible. And on top of that, they also have foam around them. And so we look to get to that, to develop that not the perfect helmet but the perfect head protection strategy by merging the two. By merging a helmet with a slight compromise in terms of the weapon. So one of my main advices for people looking to train in this case Jogo do Pau. Because all of us who have fencing experience, we understand that by changing the physical traits of the weapon, you have the tendency to try to change eventually the technique and eventually the tactics. And you only need to change the weapon in terms of weight. If you make the weapon lighter, then you don’t need to accelerate it as much with your body rotation and all that stuff. And so obviously the ideal thing in order to develop your skill, so as the way that you test drive your skill using this type of competition oriented gear. But you also want to ensure that your technique, your tactics, your skill, are being developed in a martially valid way according to the origin of the art. Then you need to constantly switch between your practise between the traditional wooden staff and the competition oriented gear.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, yeah. We do the same with switching between sharp swords and blunt swords.
Luis Preto: Yeah, of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Makes sense. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Also, this is reminding me, are you familiar with the German Jaegerstock?
Luis Preto: I’m familiar with some things regarding German martial culture because I have one very close student who’s German. To my knowledge he’s the only person I’ve talked to this day who has really delved both into sword fencing and Jogo do Pau probably with equal intensity and dedication. And he has shown me a few things, a few manuscripts, a few references, appertaining German stuff. Yeah. What is that one about?
Guy Windsor: Okay, because the Jaegerstock comes from a book by a chap, Pascha, writing in the 1670s, if I recall correctly. And his Jaegerstock stuff. He is explicitly taking it from a French source which is now lost, but it is about 30-odd short kata for this ten foot long stick, which has a spear point at each end. And it is all multiple opponent stuff. So it just struck me that that might be something you might be interested in, because it’s from a French origin, 17th century, and it is using effectively a stick. Okay it’s got pointy ends on it, but it’s a stick that is explicitly for multiple opponents.
We have such forms in Jogo do Pau. You go around spinning this, you strike forward with a spin, and then you continue moving forward with constant spins in order to push away all those opponents. And so like for example, my instructor when he initially learnt that, that kata and so, and then you do this for the most part in a square, you go forward in one direction and then you move to the other side of the square, and then you end up covering the whole square. And my instructor, where he initially learnt this, he was taught to do this with three rotations. But then, as you probably made me recall, this required such a huge amount of space that when he transitioned from training outdoors to training in the gym, in the gym he didn’t have enough space to perform the three rotations. And so he reduced it to two in order to fit his training environment, which was still a huge gym, I can assure you that. But yeah, conceptually the principle was that, was that of striking forward and constantly rotate spin and continuous striking forward.
Guy Windsor: The Jaegerstock most of the katas go some variation on forward back, left, right. Or forward, back, forward, forward, back, forward. As you turn 90 degrees to the left each time. Sometimes there are turns to the right or whatever. I just think maybe might be an interesting place for you to go looking for the lost French Jogo do Pau against multiple opponents.
Luis Preto: Yeah for sure. That’s a great reference to have. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
Guy Windsor: And now my next question. We actually met in person in 2006 in Dallas.
Luis Preto: Yes, Lewisville.
Guy Windsor: That’s right. A dry county. They actually had us staying in a dry county, it is extraordinary. Anyway, what I remember from your class, was you quite explicit that you didn’t see the point in teaching choreography or teaching in a choreographical way like do this because it looks like this. You were much more, if you want your students to step forward, give them a reason to step forward like a target in front of them. And honestly, I don’t think I was quite ready to properly absorb that at the time. But these days, that’s entirely how I teach. You’ll be pleased to hear. So it seems to me that, at least at that time, you were creating environments in which the execution of the action that you want is a natural response from the student to the environment they find themselves in. Is that a fair assessment?
Luis Preto: Yeah. It’s a fair assessment. Right now, I look to explain that situation using the following two thoughts. One is this. If you think exclusively of being able to be coordinated in terms of timing, let’s think about a tennis player or a baseball player looking to hit a ball, which is an object which is in motion. So they need to coordinate their movements in terms of space and time so as to make contact with the object, with the ball successfully. It wouldn’t cross your mind to get or to expect any success to come out of a training methodology that would get you to train with imaginary balls. Right.
Guy Windsor: Yeah.
Luis Preto: And so my understanding is that this initial thought, okay, if we can agree on this, then we can now build on this. Okay. So you wouldn’t expect success from training with imaginary balls to improve your time. So we agree on this. Okay. Now let’s move forward then. This my second thought is as follows. You open up on any book on motor control and development skill, movement skill. And you invariably see the following diagram. You see inputs leading to processing and processing leading to output. And when I see in martial arts but also in other sporting activities, teachers, coaches presenting the trainee with the output with a specific movement pattern for them to repeat and to assimilate basically through imitation. Trainees, actually, obviously they train, they eventually learn to imitate and they learn to perform that motor pattern. But they haven’t been taught to integrate that movement pattern within the preceding stages. They haven’t become skilled in identifying the stimulus, and they haven’t become skilled in processing the stimulus that organically leads to that output. And then a practical example, for example, you throw me your car keys, and if I catch the car keys over my shoulders, I catch the car keys like this. But if the car keys.
Guy Windsor: Sorry, for the listeners this is a hand up and facing forwards. So like with a downwards snatching motion of the hand out of the air.
Luis Preto: But if the car keys happen to reach below my shoulder height, I end up switching my hand.
Guy Windsor: Luis don’t worry about the video. No one can see the video except me.
Luis Preto: Okay, I end up switching my hands in order for them to land on the palm of my hands. And the thing is that.
Guy Windsor: So you’re catching them palm up.
Luis Preto: And then and then we benefit from realising two things. One is that we are never even aware of what we are performing. You throw someone your car keys, and then after they successfully caught the car keys, you ask them, how did you catch them? How was how did you manage your grip? They go like, I don’t know, I simply caught them.
Guy Windsor: I just caught it. Yeah.
Luis Preto: And then and then if you ask them to describe what they actually experienced, what they went through while they performed it, they will state something that makes total sense. And it’s pretty simple, which is like, dude, I didn’t think about my body? I looked at the car keys and by simply following their trajectory, they lured me. They lured my body. My body has a brain of itself. And they lured my body to adjust and to mould itself into the catching position that was warranted. And so our outputs are actually problem solving solutions. These are intelligent ways in which our body moulds itself based on two things, based on having a goal, having a task that needs to be accomplished. And then the specific traits of the environment that you need to deal with in order to be successful at a task that you want to be successful at.
Guy Windsor: Here’s the way I phrase it for my students when I’m teaching people to teach. Every technical correction, every technical thing you teach your students should be a solution to a problem that the student has experienced. So they’re not looking at it. Okay. I move my sword like this and this because that’s what the form is. They’re like, okay, well, my opponent’s sword is coming at my head and I do this and this and that way I parry and strike. And so they’re not learning it as a choreography. They’re learning it as a solution to an experienced problem. That way it is absolutely clear what the input is and the processes make sense.
Luis Preto: And then this leads us to also to an interesting understanding, which is that okay, for example, now here we’re having in the abstract discussion and within this abstract discussion we can refer ourselves to strikes, to parries, to footwork. And this means having technique systematised into three groups. But in terms of the performer, for the performer, there is no footwork. For the performer there are only two technical subgroups. There are only strikes and there is there are only parries. And another analogy, if we meet again in the street and I decide to approach you in order to shake your hand, I perform the approach without focussing on the steps. I don’t even think about steps. What I think about is the task I want to accomplish, which is to give you a handshake. And because of prior experiences, I already know the distance I want to be at from you in order to give you a handshake. I don’t want to be so close that we’re bumping chests, and I don’t want to be so far away that I have to lean forward. And so I am aware of the distance I want to be at in order to have my arm almost fully extended and standing in an upright posture, being able to see with my mind’s eye the end position I want to be at. I compare that with my initial position and I move forward or even I move to the side or I or even move back. Imagine that we’re already crossing paths and I go, oh, dude, there’s Guy, and I even need to step back in order to distance myself from you, to put myself at the desired handshake distance. And so in terms of the performer, the performer doesn’t have to think simultaneously in parallel about strikes and footwork or about parries and footwork. Both parries and strikes have a spatial component to them. The offensive distance you want to be at when you finish the strike. Or the defensive combat distance you want to be at when you finish the parry. And by having become aware and knowledgeable pertaining those defensive or offensive skills, then you constantly see those defensive and offensive distances in your mind’s eye and you constantly compare yourself, your present situation with that offensive or defensive position you want to finish at. And so you only think striking and you think parrying. But both the spatial distance component of striking and the spatial component of distance gets you to move naturally. And another thing. This isn’t to say that biomechanics are not important, but biomechanics are important, and they deal with maximising the transference of energy between your body segments so that you are able to move as fast as possible, smoothly, and developing the maximum angle of speed and the maximum transference of angle speed between body segments. But the thing is that that’s not the foundation. So the foundation needs to be being able to perform. And so going back to the baseball player or the tennis player, it’s useless to get him to focus on his body to develop a great motor pattern, movement pattern that would generate maximum kinetic energy. And so he’s able to generate great kinetic energy, but he is not able to make contact with the ball. First he needs to be able to make contact to the ball for his generation of kinetic energy to have the potential to matter. And so the foundation needs to be, or the thing I advise people to focus on, is to focus on making their foundation in terms of motor skill development, being able to think of skill and be able to perform skill from a problem solving perspective, you know, from a contextual perspective. Then if they do that, then they can and should, at a later stage, add a slight sprinkle of biomechanical enhancement. But then it’s just a slight detour that they do, that they perform, that they undergo. And as soon as they are able to accomplish their biomechanical goals and they are able to fine tune their movement pattern in terms of biomechanics. They need to, as soon as possible, let go of that intention to control their body. And then they need to go back to just focussing on their opponent, their combat context, and let the combat context lure their body to just move in a contextual manner.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. It’s funny you mention the handshake example. I actually get my students to do that when I’m introducing them to measure. I just get a group of students who maybe know each other, maybe don’t, every time just to go around shaking hands with each other. And then I point out, you are perfectly capable of getting to the right measure at the right time without fumbling, without tripping, without any difficulty at all. And then we adapt it. It may be okay, now you want to shake hands, but you also put your other hand on your on the person’s forearm so you get a slightly different measure. Or maybe you’ve decided that you don’t really trust them and so you’re going to keep your distance and shake hands at arm’s length, go ahead and do that. And they all do it absolutely fine. And then you stick a sword in their hand and they get distracted by the sword and they forget that they do actually know how to judge distance and they get too close or too far away or whatever. And so they have to kind of get used to their natural ability to judge measure. They have to kind of get used to doing that with something distracting in their hand like a sword.
Luis Preto: Can I give you some input on that?
Guy Windsor: Yeah, please.
Luis Preto: So the thing is that your strategy is completely valid. What you are in a very smart, intelligent way pursuing is positive transference. You are looking to use one skill in which they are all already skilled in, in order to transfer it to a new but very similar skill. And so your overall strategy is 100% correct. I would simply fine tune it in the following manner. The thing is that it is said that, when kids go through puberty and their body suddenly goes through that well known growth spurt, they very easily become clumsy because obviously like they go to bed one day, their upper limb is a certain length and the next day their upper limb grew like five centimetres during the night. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but over a week or whatever and suddenly they’re reaching for the glass and they knocked down the glass because basically they mismanage their distance because they haven’t because their body grew and they haven’t adjusted their notion of distance in the same manner. And so your students are going through the same the same thing. You get them to perform the handshake. They do it successfully because I’m guessing most of your students, they are all grown-ups and so they are all pretty well familiarised with the with the size of their body segments. But then suddenly you get them to undergo puberty again, just without all the inconveniences of puberty. Suddenly you get their upper limbs to suddenly literally suddenly grow.
Guy Windsor: They are four feet longer.
Luis Preto: A metre and a half or whatever. And it’s challenging. And so in that situation, what I personally prefer to do is, for example, you place the weapons, the swords in their hands and for example, you mark, you use a tape, a coloured tape to mark the tip of the weapon, either the full tip or, for example, like a palm from the tip, you place a coloured tape, and then you give them the task to simply extend their arm forward in order to touch a target. For example, you get them to touch the training partner’s shoulder, or if the training partner has access to a hitting pad they can be holding a hitting pad and they simply have the task of touching the pad with the arms extended, or almost fully extended and the person serving as a target will move around and has the freedom to distance themselves.
Guy Windsor: We have a game like this. We have a game like this called The Buckler Game, where one person holds a buckler behind their back and the other person with whatever weapon. When the person holding the buckler exposes the buckler, they have to hit it with their rapier or whatever else. And the person with the buckler is moving backwards and forwards and to the side or whatever. And just the person who has the weapon is sort of trying to keep themselves in a position where when the buckler comes out, they’re going to be able to hit it. And the person with the butler, their job is to make that sufficiently difficult that it is interestingly challenging. So the optimal rate of failure is occurring. So maybe the person with the sword gets the strike to work four times out of five. Something like that. So we have something similar that already.
Luis Preto: Yeah. Because for example, you Brits, or I could say us Brits because I was also born in England and I do have British citizenship. So I can actually say us Brits. Although I only lived there for the first year of my life, have the strong, well known tradition of dart throwing at pubs.
Guy Windsor: Yeah.
Luis Preto: Everyone learns or develops the skill to throw darts without actually being taught, without actually going through a formal teaching process. And how do people do that? By simply undergoing, by simply experiencing a practise that affords them access to intrinsic feedback. You throw the dart and at the end you get the visual feedback, the intrinsic feedback straight away so that in case people, some people, some listeners might not know, intrinsic feedback is that which is immediately made available for you to you as a result of your skill, of your performance. In this case, you throw the dart and you immediately see if it was a little bit off to the left or right or up or down or whatever. And based on that, you look to adjust your movement on the next go around. And so again, now coming slightly full circle, you want your trainees to improve distance management. You’re going to do it through solo drills by getting them to train to hit the invisible opponent, which doesn’t give them access to any intrinsic feedback in terms of distance management? No, it doesn’t make any sense. And so you simply give them the task of wanting to hit, strike, touch, a specific physical target at a specific distance. You tell them that they want to maximise reach. You tell them that they don’t want to strike or to hit the target with the tip while holding the weapon very close to them. So you give them some references, but within those references of looking to maximise reach in a way that they touch, hit, strike the target with the lead tip, then you get them to actually practise that with a physical target that gives them access to intrinsic feedback. And even before the intrinsic feedback gets them to practise by thinking not in terms of feet, but by thinking in terms of distance.
Guy Windsor: Right. Like when I’m teaching people point control with a rapier, right? It’s very easy to start them at lunging distance. So that’s actually quite difficult. So what I do is I start them with on a wall target, so I don’t have to worry about hitting their target or whatever. Get their left shoulder actually on the target. And then it’s difficult to hit the target when you’re that close to it with a rapier because it’s so long. And so then they maybe turn around a little bit and they’re still very close and hit it through jabbing it with like a wrist action and then they take a step back and they can hit it just by extending the arm and then take a step back and they can hit it with a lunge and step back and they can hit it with a pass. And it’s not about this kind of mechanistic repetition of this specific action. It’s about wherever you happen to be, hit the fucking target. Because in a sword fight you don’t get to set everything up and have your partner stand still and then you just stab them. You have to be able to manipulate things so that you can always strike whichever leg is forward, wherever your weight is, you should always be in a position where you can strike. So I get them to train like that because it takes it away from this trying to remember a specific technique. And it gives him just this objective of just hit the target.
Luis Preto: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Then we can work on if we improve the lunge a little bit, you’ll be able to hit the target from further away with less effort. So why don’t we work on that? And then we will improve their lunge, and that will get a bit better. And then we’ll throw that back into the mix.
Luis Preto: Yeah. Perception leads to action and moves people into action and moulds people’s actions. But then ultimately, this can obviously get us to engage in more philosophical discussions. The thing is that my understanding, my belief is that this helps us diagnose an issue which runs way deeper, which is that we’re increasingly living in a society where people tend to be, where society tends to be more and more like a control freak. And this is to say, by focussing on the idea that you need to see something to believe it, you go like, oh, no, I only believe in what I see. And I focus on just what can be grasped through my five senses. And so then it’s like, okay, from an outside perspective, the instructor, the person who is observing the fighter, the martial artist performing the observer only has access to the action. You only see body segments moving in space and so on. And with this control freak mentality and looking to be 100% objective, what you see is body segments moving in space. Then you look to teach body segments moving in space. Oh, move your arm like this, your shoulder like this, your knee like that, your foot like that. But the thing is that the performer is not a robot. The performer is, in this case he’s more like an actor. Trying to make a long story short. For example, if we’re physically in the same room, if we’re together. But in scenario A. you come to Portugal. We haven’t seen each other since 2006. The context is that what will I do? I will give you a handshake. I will give you a hug. I will go hey Guy, long time no see. But in scenario B, I’ve just found out that I would know you slept with my wife.
Guy Windsor: I promise I didn’t. My wife would kill me. You wouldn’t get a chance to kill me. My wife would have already killed me.
Luis Preto: I’m divorced, so this is 100% hypothetical. I might eventually punch you, but from a physical standpoint, it’s always the same physical stimulus. It’s Guy Windsor showing up in front of me. But the same physical stimulus would, in one scenario, get me to react, to adopt one specific behaviour and in scenario B, adopt a different behaviour. And so fighters are not mere performers, they are actors, they are individuals who are experiencing a specific context. In this case, they are fighting and want to be successful in fighting. And being successful in fighting brings about the need to be successful in two very specific tasks. They need to protect themselves while also being able to strike their opponents. And so by focussing on these tasks, they will look to use their movement vocabulary in order to perform problem solving solutions within that context. And so this gets us back to the initial situation. Instead of teaching outputs, you are able to understand outputs from the perspective of them being a consequence of the inputs. And if you do that, you end up teaching using a perception action methodology or ecological teaching perspective or teaching games for understanding perspective. There are a bunch of names to designate this teaching methodology, but basically it entails looking to reach beyond what you see with your eyes, looking to reach beyond the movements that you see being performed by the performers, by their fighters, being able to reach beyond that in order to figure out which motivations are driving them to showcase those movement patterns and then the cherry on top of the cake, being able to understand what type of movement vocabulary they also already have in order to make to either make use of the movement vocabulary they already have, like you are doing with the handshake situation, you realise that they already have within their movement vocabulary the ability and the knowledge of the handshake situation. And you’re looking to use that to stimulate positive transference to and to maximise, optimise, facilitate the development of combat distance management. And ultimately then if you realise that, okay, there is a specific movement vocabulary that is a prerequisite to developing a specific skill, and they are missing that movement vocabulary. Okay, then I need to start by getting to experience certain things so that they first start by developing that movement vocabulary. And then later on I can then build on that and actually teach them the actual skill.
Guy Windsor: I think we agree pretty much across the board on how teaching works. I think it would be quite interesting that you get in a room together with some students and teach them skill sets. I would actually quite like to watch how you teach basic Jogo do Pau strikes to complete beginners because I think it would give me some good ideas as to how I can improve my own pedagogical methods. But looking at the historical martial arts scene from your perspective, because Jogo do Pau is not a historical martial art, not in the sense that it is not being recreated from books. One of the problems we have, of course, is that the book can tell us things like what we should do is tell us what we should do when someone tries to stab us in the face in a certain way, how they can give us like guard positions and we can interpolate the movement that goes from one position to another as illustrated. So it’s relatively straightforward to extract choreography from a historical martial arts text. It’s much, much harder to extract actual combat skills. So from your perspective, how can historical martial arts practitioners improve their training?
Luis Preto: Well, two things come to mind. One, as I stated earlier, so that if a German friend of mine, student of mine, Patrick Scheller, he has been for 12 years now, studying and training both the German system and Jogo do Pau and I believe he’s also, looked to study a little bit of Fiore’s system as well. So he might, he might actually also be a nice source for you to eventually interview, because he’s been dealing and looking into the two facets of the coin. And so this is so what is to say that Jogo do Pau is a part of what I understand to be historical martial arts. But like you rightfully said, it’s not a historical European martial art that has been recreated from books. It’s a historical European martial fencing art that has been preserved through direct teaching and not only through direct teaching, but a direct teaching which focuses highly on free play sparring. And as a result, the link between combat context and skill has been preserved much more easily and much more faithfully. And so that my first thought is that those looking to interpret ancient manuals, old manuals, in order to resurrect these skills, I think they could benefit from looking at Jogo do Pau, from studying Jogo do Pau in order to develop a foundation from which to look at these manuals. This is the first idea that comes to mind. The second idea that comes to mind is that basically, historical European sword fencers seem to face the same issues that I see also in Jogo do Pau. And the thing is that for me, if we look to who to characterize, to define sparring, fencing, as an equation for me it’s like you’ve got two parcels. You’ve got for one, you want to hit your opponent, so you’ve got the aggressiveness of wanting to hit your opponent. But then it’s plus being respectful of the opponent’s weapon. And this equals being aggressive in a mindful manner. And every time that you look to go to test drive your skill, but then you try to do it safely, and thus you introduce padded weapons or gloves, helmets or all of the above. Then you end up minimising or eventually even eliminating one of the parcels, which is that of being respectful, being fearful of the opponent’s weapon. And so from two parcels that were leading to being aggressive in a cautious manner, you eliminate the fear factor. And so you just end up being all out aggressive. From an operational standpoint, what does this translate into? This translates very simply into the mismanagement of combat distance. Because the thing is that if you throw me a strike and in scenario A, if I parry on the same spot, in scenario B I parry while distancing myself to have a greater chance of not getting hit by your strike, between these two scenarios, scenario A, me parrying on the same spot, scenario B, parrying while distancing myself, in which scenario will I be able to be faster with the counter attack? In scenario A, because it’s the scenario in which I kept myself already within striking distance. And so you strike at me, I parry without stepping back. And so you strike at me and so you get us both into striking reach. At that distance, I only need to parry and immediately counterattack. It’s very easy to be fast in doing that. While if I step back, it means that while you sought to break down combat distance, to shorten combat distance, I countered by keeping it a little bit wider than what you wanted. But then that wider defensive distance is probably in most cases also too wide for me to be able to learn the counterattack from. And so from that exiting action, I need to be able to swiftly revert to a re-approaching action. And so the ability to swiftly go from distancing action to re-approaching action will delay my counterattack. And so the thing is that if we’re sparring with wooden or steel weapons and without any body armour, although I am not a fan of the time that I lose with exiting and needing to re approach, I will still resort to that because I will approach our sparring as a trapeze artist who doesn’t have a safety net.
Guy Windsor: Right. Yeah, I’ve done some trapeze with a safety net and yes, you would not want to do it without the safety net. Yeah.
Luis Preto: But if suddenly I have padded weapons and/or gloves, helmets and you name it, then I stop being fearful of your weapon. And this happens just like psychoanalysts say this happens in the underwater part of the iceberg. This is all unconscious. I stop being fearful of your weapon. I intuitively realise that I am able to be faster with the counter attack by staying on the same spot. And as a result I start playing Russian roulette. You feed me a strike and I parry on the same spot, and then the cherry on top of the cake is that if I know that I’m competing within a competition in which we fight, for example, to the best of ten exchanges, I go like, okay, like I’m really good at parrying. I’m going to parry ten times on the same spot and I’m going to bet on me on myself to parry successfully six out of the ten so that in a worst case scenario, I win six four. But the thing is that I eventually win the tournament by always winning six four, seven three or whatever. But in some cases I started losing one zero or two zero. And the thing is that in a martial sense, I wouldn’t have won. But even deeper than that, in a martial situation, and I’m not going to name names, but I have sparred and freeplayed with exceptional HEMA fighters, HEMA trainees, who are also exceptional human beings. But by simply removing the safety net, by simply removing the padded weapons or the gloves or the helmet, they immediately started stepping back. And as they started stepping back, that increased the time I had available to defend myself from their counter attack. As I also stepped back, they were also afforded that increased time to parry my counterattacks and that organically led to longer exchanges. And so, answering your question, summarising everything, two thoughts that come to mind for HEMA trainees to improve their training. One is for them to think carefully about the possibility of studying a bit of Jogo do Pau in order to develop a foundation from which to look at manuals from a different perspective. And number two, for them to balance the scales a little bit better in terms of sparring, free playing with body armour and without body armour. So that’s one day they are able to eventually start sparring and free playing with body armour but with the same martial mindset that that they have when they do it without body armour. In terms in terms of actual fighting entails being more mindful of their defensive distance.
Guy Windsor: Do you know, one of the things that my senior students do quite a lot is slow free play with sharp swords and no protection. And because obviously when you’re using sharps, you have to slow down. You have to be super careful you don’t actually hit your partner. There’s all sorts of bullshit in that scenario, but it gives them a much better sense of how they would actually act if the swords were sharp. People are very happy to enter into a pommel strike or whatever and get their opponent’s sword two inches away from their face, if they’re wearing a fencing mask and there’s a rubber point on the end. When it’s sharp and they don’t have anything on their face, they get that thing about two feet away from their face because they’re frightened of it. And Viggiani said the same thing in his 1575 book, Lo Schermo. He basically disdains training with blunt swords because it encourages you to not parry properly. So, yeah, in my case, you’re preaching to the choir. But I’m hoping some of the listeners who maybe take that on board and go, actually, you know what? Okay. I am not saying everyone should try to be sharps. I’m not saying that. It should be done under professional supervision. But I think putting together training scenarios in which you remain frightened of the weapon is good for everyone.
Luis Preto: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So I have a couple of questions that I ask all of my guests. And the first of them is, what is the best idea you haven’t acted on yet?
Luis Preto: I would say it’s an old idea that I have of putting together a do-it-yourself training regimen, a do-it-yourself tutorial for people to be able to easily teach themselves, teach their family members with them and their friends.
Guy Windsor: What would that look like? Are we talking about a video course or a book or what is it?
Luis Preto: It will depend on the tools I end up having access to because obviously a video course, anything with actual video footage would be preferable. But if it needs be, if I end up putting this together through a book, I’m pretty confident that it would still translate into very good results because just like we’re saying a lot, just like we’ve been arguing, discussing, talking about, it’s a type of practise in which you get the intrinsic feedback from the practise itself. Like dart throwing at the British pubs and all that stuff. And so since this doing-it-yourself teaching approach that I would like to put together is centred around simply people understanding or managing their practise centred around tasks, centred around a task mentality and a task mentality in which the task itself, the experience of the task itself, supplies trainees with intrinsic feedback. Yeah, a book would get people to still achieve great results here.
Guy Windsor: I have some experience of putting together training manuals of various kinds. And one thing that I’ve started doing in the last four or five years or so is I combine the printed book because that’s better for organising information with video clips, and you can put QR codes to the video, to the link for where you’ve hosted your video clips. So you can actually do a book with a video so that you don’t have to have one or the other. You can have both.
Luis Preto: Yeah, I really appreciate the input. Very recently I put together a Patreon account on top of my older YouTube accounts, and I’ve actually also been playing around mentally with that possibility. I’ve been looking to find a way to bring that into effect. Yeah, but I really, really appreciate your input. Yes.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So yeah, well, if you want any help actually getting this from ‘haven’t acted on’ to ‘have acted on’, just let me know. I’m happy to have advise on publishing strategies and that sort of thing, if that’s any use to you.
Luis Preto: That’s wonderful. Thanks a lot. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So my last question is, somebody gives you $1,000,000 to spend improving historical martial arts, which we can expand to include Jogo do Pau, absolutely, worldwide. How would you spend the money?
Luis Preto: I would spend the money by looking to enhance the input of sports sciences and the whole academic scene in HEMA in order to strengthen HEMA in all sorts of aspects. And so I would look to put together scholarships for people to put together like master’s theses and doctoral theses on the subjects. I would look to try to stimulate partnerships between different academic institutions. And I will look to try to sponsor eventually even like master’s degrees on just like sports teaching and sports coaching specifically applied to combat sports and eventually to the historical martial arts. I would look to pursue all these avenues, but all of them are geared towards strengthening HEMA in terms of methodology and approach to knowledge and even knowledge itself by connecting it more and more and more strongly with the academic world. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So specifically, for instance, a historical martial arts instructor would be able to go and get a master’s degree or some kind of training using modern sports physiology, sports psychology and the latest developments in how sports are coached. Is that what we are looking at?
Luis Preto: Yeah that’s obviously like my personal thing. So what I have studied is teaching and basically sports training. And so that’s my specific area of knowledge. But I’m pretty sure that other people, some from the more in terms of anthropology and sociology, history, I’m pretty sure that all those other departments would also be interesting to pursue and to strengthen from an academic standpoint. But instead of pursuing only those avenues since at the end of the day we’re talking about trainees undergoing a physical practise geared towards the development of a specific motor skill, my personal main focus would be that one. Because the thing is that as a coach, as a trainer, you have students in standing in front of you. You’re looking to teach them a given skill. But then, they are all then working on that new skill. But they all then showcase different difficulties in order to develop that new skill set that you’re looking to get them to develop. Then one fundamental skill that instructors benefit from is that of being able to interpret the error, the mistakes, so that they’re able to understand the cause. For example, are my trainees struggling with this new skill because they lack like a physical trait like range of motion or strength, or are they lacking perceptual skills or are they lacking some other element? Because it’s very easy and it’s what most instructors do, it’s very easy to simply pinpoint the error. Oh, like you mismanage distance. You did it wrong again. But for the most part, trainees by themselves, they’re even able to access that intrinsic feedback and they’re able to understand and realise that they did it incorrectly. But even if for some reason they weren’t paying attention and they didn’t realise they did it incorrectly, just pointing it out doesn’t solve the issue.
Guy Windsor: Doesn’t help. It doesn’t help at all.
Luis Preto: And so, being able to research movement, the performance of movement and being able to become proficient in the interpretation of the error at the first stage and then a second stage becoming skilled in and developing effective corrective strategies, tailored, suited, to each trainee according to what is challenging them the most. That is a pedagogical tool that can and should be researched, can and should be taught to trainers, to coaches, and that ought and should be learnt by coaches for the benefit of their students and also for their own benefit. Because coaches, trainers, they themselves enjoy the process of teaching, coaching much more when they see positive results.
Guy Windsor: Absolutely. It’s in the coach’s best interest to be better at coaching, that’s for sure. Fascinating. Yeah, I think if I had the money, I’d give it to you. But the question is really how to best target that, because simply there being at the University of Lisbon, there being a one year master’s degree thing for historical fencing coaches to come and get this sort of training that will help people who can fly to Lisbon and live in Lisbon for a year while they do this. But the problem with all of the academic stuff, as soon as it within a university, it becomes much more difficult for the general public to access. Much more expensive. And it tends to be a lot more location dependent. So do you think it would be possible to set up some sort of online-based system for teaching this stuff?
Luis Preto: For sure. Very, very, very easy.
Guy Windsor: How do you examine it? I mean, I have online courses for all sorts of things, including how to teach. So getting the information out there through the Internet, that’s easy. But how would you examine people so they can actually get a qualification that way?
Luis Preto: How do you examine things? Um, personally, I would examine students, really, from a practical standpoint in terms of instead of merely presenting them with information for them to memorise and then spill out in the exam. I would do the opposite. I would present them with practical tasks, in which they would need to apply the concepts covered during the class.
Guy Windsor: I examine students who are training to be teachers in person. It’s easy, right? You just watch them teach a class or watch and teach an individual lesson or whatever. And the examination process is straightforward, but how do you test for that kind of skill over the Internet? Any thoughts on that? This is actually a problem that I am trying to solve for my own purposes. So I’ll be very curious if you have any suggestions.
Luis Preto: You can put together videos for them to analyse and write the report on in terms of the mistakes that they identify, what they believe the cause and effect are, and which type of corrective strategies they would pursue, for starters.
Guy Windsor: So you send them a video of a student who was having trouble with something and then ask them how they would deal with it. That’s not a bad idea. Okay.
Luis Preto: Immediate, like real life movement analysis for them to have to solve the issue just like you when you’re studying mathematics. Like you can study a few concepts from a theoretical standpoint, but then ultimately you need to buy an exercise book and you need to exercise it, exercise it, and be able to develop your skills to merge all the ideas together in order in solving the exercises. And this is the same thing. Instead of opening the books and learning theoretically in an abstract manner about like teaching principle number one, teaching principle number two, instead of things being generic. No, you present and you teach and you present students with those general principles. But then you apply it into practise. And the beauty of being able to have a course specifically designed for one specific sport is that it allows you to actually make the transition from theory to practise to that point, to the point of actually recording real life trainees who are showcasing different types of difficulties in learning tasks so that the students get to actually practise their teaching skills, the teaching skills that real life, real world teaching requires of them, which is in terms of motor skill development, which is based around movement analysis and being able to detect the errors, interpret the cause and effects of the errors and coming up with creative corrective strategies.
Guy Windsor: That is very interesting. Okay. I’m going to have to go away and think about that, because one of the problems I am personally trying to solve with some students.
Luis Preto: We’ll schedule the next podcast for the year for 2048.
Guy Windsor: I think faster than that.
Luis Preto: Hopefully, I hope.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. No, I’m just thinking about it because it’s one of the problems that we have as a community in the historical martial arts world is lack of useful teacher training and lack of certification for such things so that people can take a piece of paper that actually means something to the insurance company to say, look, I’m a competent instructor, give me a decent rate on insurance. The teaching isn’t the problem. It’s the certification that’s the problem. And now I have stuff to think about. So thank you very much. I’m going to go and think about it a lot. Yeah. It’s been itching at the back of my head. Thank you very much for joining me today. Luis, it’s been great to meet you again.
Luis Preto: Thank you, Guy. Thanks for having me. It was a true pleasure.