Techniques and tactics in martial arts evolved over the centuries in response to,
either prevalent strategies used by the majority of foes, or to a significant change in those strategies.

This model for interpreting the development of martial skill according to the specificity of combat environment is called “meta game”. Consequently, the context centered approach of focusing on creating solutions to existing or new threats is called “meta gaming” .

Jogo do Pau

The historical root of Jogo do Pau originates in a meta game of being outnumbered by multiple opponents, such as fighting on a battlefield or being in a self defence situation when confronted by robbers.

From battlefields to duelling: Introduction

From battlefields to duelling: Introduction

It is not surprising that combatants in Jogo do Pau initially used a very straight forward meta gaming approach for the occasional squaring off with a single opponent:

They transferred their specific skills from outnumbered combat, such as fighting from a backward pointing waiting guard and the corresponding in-motion parries, to single combat.


On the potential significance of this content to the HEMA community, it is relevant to acknowledge that history does not make a difference between martial arts. The development mechanisms are driven by the same game:

Problems and problem solving strategies, based on current knowledge.

That means we assume that the mechanism of meta gaming applies in general to all martial arts and that the understanding of this mechanism is one helpful foundation to a correct interpretation of a martial art`s context.

From battlefields to duelling, analysis of outnumbered combat

From battlefields to duelling, analysis of outnumbered combat

Jogo do Pau has the great advantage over other historical arts, that it is a living art, with unbroken lineage, with a very well known history and meta game development. Therefore it can serve as a blueprint for understanding how to analyse:

  • A historically grown martial art by its meta game,
  • The meta game by its development over time.
From battlefields to duelling: Analysis of duelling

From battlefields to duelling: Analysis of duelling

Another relevant point for HEMA practitioners is:

As a rule of thumb, it turns out that the same threats lead to similar solutions, with respect to the residual meta game situation1.

It is, for example, possible to find references to outnumbered combat within historical long sword fencing manuals, such as the following one present in the Döbringer manuscript:

…just make sure they can’t get at you all at once […] [and]  that you quickly attack the ones on the outer ends, before the others turn against you, then they will have to turn after you since you are leading. Then you can well notice, when it is or is not safe to move away from the opponent and then leap away from him as I say.

The solution given here is basically the same as used in Jogo do Pau, since the same threats are taken into account and that for the same principles2 apply. It would not be surprising, if the used techniques were to be quite similar, if not the same.

A change in paradigm

The creation of industrial cities brought about a leisure centred approach to practicing Jogo do Pau which, in turn, centred the art’s practice around single combat. Therefore, this new and greater emphasis on single combat generated a better understanding of this specific combat setting, with the main topics that characterize the evolution of Jogo do Pau’s techniques and tactics being:

  • Optimization of defensive/offensive effectiveness:
      • How to choose between different waiting guards, according to the combat context generated by one’s opponents
  • Distance Management:
      • How to manage the selection of defensive footwork according to the weapon one is yielding and the opponent’s own skills,
  • Speed Management:
      • How to choose between different counter attacking options as a result of one’s own technical constraints and affordances.
From battlefields to duelling: Speed testing

From battlefields to duelling: Speed testing

We hope that this historical outline will prove itself helpful to HEMA researchers and trainees alike in their extremely demanding task of understanding their chosen art`s development, its specific  contexts and the changes over time presented by historical fencing’s main authors.


  1. Of course this also depends on other variables, like the used weapon, the specific game (e.g. multiple opponents or duel), options provided by the known meta game to adapt to a new situation, and s.o. []
  2. Even if »principles« are differently expressed or described over different martial arts, they still follow the same physical laws, which we refer to as (overall valid) »principles« in this case. []