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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

JOGO DO PAU or Lusiatanian Fencing

Jogo do pau” can be roughly translated into stick/clubb game/play and it is an ancient fighting art form typicall to Portugal and Galicia (Northern Spain). There are theories that it came to Portugal through it's maritime discoveries and influences from India, but there is documental proof that it was already been taught in the Middle Ages in Portugal (see “A ensinança de bem cavalgar em toda a sela”, a riding book written by the Portuguese King D. Duarte at the turn of the 14th to the 15th century).


16th/17th cnetury images, probably Italian or German showing stick and baton fights. Images taken from

It must have developed from a daily necessity of self-defense in more secluded places and it only implies a broad stick (about 1,5 meter long – 5 feet – and heavier on one of the ends) and some quick movements to achieve that. The urban version of this “game” has a smaller clubb (about 80 cm) and it is more of a baton or truncheon style with some sort of ribbing at the heavy end to prevent splinters to fall of.

 Baton and stick. Images taken from

It is the poor men's weapon of choice, since swords or any other metal weapons would be only allowed to certain types of social classes and a stick is something every men or woman can use, whether it is for walking, whether it is to keep cattle or move boats along riversides.
Why is it called a game or a play? It doesn't come from the innocent idea of children's social interaction, but more of a swift use of technique. Watch the video below and you'll get the picture.


Games like these would be played in social gatherings like market places and even villages or towns would have their best “players” fighting in competitions. There were also many men who would make a profession out of it by traveling from town to town or market place to participate in competitions and win their prizes. Another form of “professional” usage of this fighting technique was also used, but we'll get to that in just a while.
Usually a fight would be called a “rixa” or a scuffle and it can also be one against several others. The stick allows to keep a distance from your enemy, whether it is a wolf or a human. It's efficiency is great and it can cause serious damage and even death. It takes many years of hard training to become a master , but using a stick to just fight is a simple enough idea for young men to start fights for any small reason and “clubbing” each other.
To beat up anyone one would have a grudge for, to force people into making payments of debt or any other sort of “payments”, to participate in political related movements where many of the reasons why to hire men who could play the game well enough, to the point that the “jogo do pau” was forbidden or even been seen wearing a stick would grant one immediate imprisonment.
There are episodes in the Portuguese History where this sort of fight was used against political rivals. The best example is during the Portuguese civil war, also known as Liberal Wars (1828-34, a succession war between two brothers who claimed the Portuguese throne after the French Invasions and after the death of their father D. João VI) where the supporters of D. Miguel (Miguelistas) had what was called “caceteiros” or clubbers, who were nothing more then payed men to beat up any opposition supporter. It had nothing to do with the natural development of a self-defense fight, but more of men who had no moral or physical prejudice in beating up others.

 The Miguelista terror: the Caceteiros, by Carlos Alberto Santos.

At the beginning of the 20th century, this fighting technique started to loose it's importance, not only because of the more general use of fire weapons and of the great migration of the rural population to the cities looking for work, but mostly because of the heavy policing and laws against the bloody scuffles that would happen.
Today there are several schools, most of them included in National Federations, that teach this technique and it is something you can hardly find outside them anymore.

Turn of the 19th to the 20th century: 2 Jogo do Pau players; a shepard and a shepardess from Serra da Estrela.
Source unknown.

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