Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book review: Jogo do Pau - The Ancient Art and Modern Science of Portuguese Stick Fighting

Over the past 23 years that I have been actively involved with martial arts (never as a professional, but most of it as a full-time practitioner), and some thing of a book lover alongside, the number of books relating to various aspects of martial arts that have passed through my hands are innumerable. Many of them were good, many not really, but a few have proven to be excellent. It means either extraordinary in their attention to the fullest possible coverage of a more or less narrow subject, or outstanding in the completeness of their treatment of a subject.

Luis Preto’s Book “Jogo do Pau – The Ancient Art and Modern Science of Portuguese Stick Fighting” falls in the latter category. Since the first reading of the book (and I still read it regularly, at least couple of times a year), I was very impressed with Mr. Preto’s clear and well thought out presentation of the material in the book. Sure, his expertise in the subject is unquestionable, and his enthusiasm and love for the art he practices/teaches is almost radiating from the manual itself, but there are other authors like that, too. In my view, the thing that makes Preto stand out is his craft in intertwining all the various aspects of Jogo do Pau and making them flow really well in his presentation.

The book is divided into three sections, each with several chapters:
Part I - History and some technical notions, i.e. terminology and gear used in practice.
Part II - The “meat” of the manual, explaining the techniques and strategies/tactics of this approach to fighting. The chapter on Single Combat is brilliant and offers excellent advice with regards to tactical preparation and understanding of any combative encounter, regardless of the martial art you practice, but especially pertinent to any armed method.
Part III - Covers the author’s approach to training methodology, based on his extensive study of modern training science. It is this segment of the book where Preto really shines. He pulls no punches in criticizing the outdated and inferior training methods (but never for the sake of being rude). On the other hand, his arguments in favor of the methods he offers are rock solid and well explained. It is also this particular section of the book that I believe is a must-read for everybody seriously interested in training martial arts, especially so if you plan to teach as well.

                                                     Luis Preto with his teacher Nuno Russo

Mr. Preto has somehow managed to cram a lot of excellent instruction in this manual, and cover a lot of ground – technical, physical, mental/psychological. Still, everything is composed and illustrated so well, that it all fits together superbly. As a result, you don’t get the feel that corners have been cut in some parts, in order to make other ones more fully explained. Another thing that I was stunned with in the end is that all this has been achieved in a book that spans barely over 200 pages in volume! A true miracle, if you ask me.

In conclusion, this is not the perfect book on martial arts, but it is the one closes to the optimal I have found so far. I am not going to say that it “belongs to every martial artist’s library”, because it really does not belong to a bookshelf – instead it should be in your training bag or always on your reading peace of furniture. It really is a practical manual, in the best sense of that word, and so you should use it. I did and I am glad to have done so. Today, my training and even more so teaching is largely influenced by the material from this book.

It is worth saying that Mr. Preto has recently started out a series of books on individual subjects in martial art training and I am looking forwards to reading to those as well eventually. The one I will dare recommending even without seeing it first (yep, that confident!) to everybody reading this review is his book of progression in training, i.e. “How to Sequence the Teaching of Technique and Tactics”.

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