Tactical intelligence tends to be made out to be more complex than it actually is, by being seen as weapon specific. Furthermore, it also tends to lack specific and straight forward training guidelines … which has tactical skill being frequently cast aside as a natural ability that one either has or hasn’t.

As you can easily get, I don’t share this view. I view tactical training as mostly non weapon specific (through universal combat concepts such as distance, reaction time, strikes’ angles, reach, etc) and, additionally, as something that can be systematically trained in an effective manner by relying on very specific guidelines.

Ultimately, this might be seen as a body of knowledge that embodies a kind of fencing mixed martial arts approach if you will. This is my stance, and the latest DVD I’ve released focuses on just that, presenting many guidelines geared towards shedding a better understanding of the:

  • Nuts and bolts of combatants’ tactical tools,
  • Decision making process that oversees their usage.


This overall summary mostly suffices for pragmatic sparring (output) oriented trainees and instructors who are looking for a short-cut to 15 plus years of brainstorming on my part, meant to provide an informational edge in training so as to achieve improved sparring skill. However, if you are interested in learning more concerning what brought about this project, its historical ties with HEMA and its contents, do continue reading.

JdP & HEMA: A difference in focus

Though Jogo do Pau (JdP), as the European living fencing tradition that it is, is undoubtedly part of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), it never embodied the spirit of the dominant sword fencing section of HEMA.

The reason for this was a very simple one: HEMA’s & JdP’s focus was, for the most part, completely different.

HEMA sword fencers were faced with the growing pains of interpreting ancient manuscripts so as to figure out their contents (WHAT TO TEACH).

Alternatively, Jogo do Pau’s evolutionary stage had its focus directed towards the optimization of teaching methodologies (HOW TO TEACH), so as to build on the fact that the system’s historical legacy has its contents already thoroughly systematized (to this, my professional identity and activity as a sports coach / teacher only served to heighten the focus on teaching procedures, and thus increase the distance between these martial relatives).

Input for HEMA research

Those fine tuning the research of HEMA’s contents (especially the ones pertaining to outnumbered combat), can still find interesting input in Jogo do Pau’s evolution from outnumbered combat to duelling (and duelling’s subsequent very own evolution in technique & tactics, from its practice as a leisure oriented activity).

However, after recording such contents by means of my first DVD (From battlefields to duelling: The evolution of Jogo do Pau), I deemed that chapter as a closed one and, keeping true to my Portuguese genes, began looking ahead: how to serve HEMA by using my different kind of input, so as to help HEMA reach progressively higher levels of motor skill output.

Combat tactics: The foundation of technique & performance

Though several ideas popped in my mind, one stuck out (perhaps because its usefulness reaches beyond HEMA): Tactical skill. Allow me to explain why.

Although an instructor is a teacher of motor skills who is also responsible for providing both a positive pedagogical training environment and the promotion of improved physical health, the goal of learning new coordinative abilities in the form of martial skills should be none other than to have them being successfully performed in combat / free play (outside of mere drills).

It so happens that the successful application of skills in combat relies, first and foremost, on reading the situation at hand & deciding (in due time) on the most favourable solution (tactical awareness & decision making).

Biomechanical issues geared towards optimizing kinetic energy are just the cherry on top of the cake, one that is important to have for maximum performance but, at the same time, one that is irrelevant if the cake is missing. A simple example of this phenomenon is that of opting for a perfectly stable parry (biomechanics) that, in the situation at hand (one's starting position together with the opponent's speed), is too slow to reach the strike in time.

Application before optimization!

This is why, in sports training, the concept of analysing and discussing technique has long been replaced by the analysis of technical-tactical actions or, in better English if you will, tactically oriented techniques … a symbiotic relationship that can forever be broken down into separate compartments.

At the same time, I have countless times heard trainees being told that they need to improve their tactical awareness & decision making, without being given specific input as to how they can achieve it … and sometimes they are even discouraged by being told they lack the natural talent and will never get there.

Well, I was too stubborn to accept such fate for myself, and equally refused to do so for others. Consequently, this drove me to put together this most recent project in which I am conveying:

  1. Guidelines for putting together a defensive system:
    • How to use one’s defensive tools of parrying and distancing (both from a starting position and after finishing a strike), according to the opponent’s dominant side and the weapon’s physical traits (existence or absence of a hand guard)
  2. A systematization of one’s tactical tools (offensive and defensive)
  3. A guiding rationale for selecting between one’s defensive tools according to context (a combination of distance, reach, speed, management of risk-opportunity)
  4. An overall systematization of combat’s different phases, together with each phase’s determining variables and how to manage them
  5. Lastly, the differentiation between sparring in a competitive setting and sparring in fencing arts’ original combat context, and how training should vary so as to consciously fit the latter.

And so, here it is, a coaching contribution for the continued improvement of both fencing arts in general and, in the matter that is closest to your heart, of HEMA in particular … a new martial & pedagogical approach concerning WHAT to teach and to HOW to teach in a more effective manner:

The nuts and bolts of combat: Tactical awareness & Decision making

Luis Preto
Masters in Sport Sciences & Jogo do Pau Instructor.
Founder of Preto Martial Arts (www.pretomartialarts.com).

Jogo do Pau
Parrying skill
Understanding footwork
Teaching sequence of technique & tactics
Outnumbered combat
Teaching of technique & tactics
Physical conditioning: A movement based approach

From battlefields to duelling: The evolution of JdP
Combat tactics: Decision making in weapon based martial arts