by Peter Smallridge
Combat Tactics: Decision Making in Weapons Based Martial Arts is Luis Preto’s new DVD. Luis is known for his Jogo de Pau (traditional Portuguese stick-fighting) expertise, publishing many books and another DVD on that art. Combat Tactics aims to provide universal applicability to practitioners of any weapons based art, while remaining recognizably grounded in JdP. Since the DVD largely deals with swinging attacks and spends little time on thrusting, it is most applicable to cutting weapons and the applicability to rapier or smallsword is reduced.
The DVDs content can be grouped into four rough stages:
- Defensive techniques e.g. parrying, footwork
- Systematized offensive and defensive tactics e.g. combination striking, parry riposte
- Guidelines on defensive decision making
- Phases of combat – set up, first blow, exchange of blows, finishing the opponent
An experienced practitioner will find much of the technical content will be familiar, but between the remaining new technical content and the systematization and tactical tools there is much to take away. Mike Edelson’s review quote on the DVD cover goes ‘Have you ever heard the expression, “You don’t know what you don’t know”?’, and for the reviewer it was equally true that he hadn’t fully known or appreciated what he already knew. Several times Luis expounds a principle that the reviewer was aware of but failed to explicitly call out in drilling or freeplay.
In terms of immediate take-aways for the HEMA practitioner, the DVD features some example drills almost offhandedly, the main focus being on the principles they illustrate, which can be immediately lifted for one’s own use. The explicit highlighting of principles also lends itself to immediate inspiration for further training drills. Luis does highlight several places where the principles may be altered by different weapons: whether lighter, with hand protection, or two handed, but for application to sword-fighting more distinctions and adjustments might have been made.
The DVD’s layout is interesting in there are options to run it both “forwards” (technique chapters before systematization) and “backwards”. There is also the option to play it without the “add-ons” chapters. These include both summaries of the main chapters and details on certain techniques and tactical options elsewhere discussed. They’re also probably the most informative part of the DVD, so should be regarded less as add-ons and more as prime content. Production values are, it should be noted, quite high. Visuals are clear, sound quality is great (birdsong in some sections is captured at a volume that charms rather than interferes) and the participants repeat things with enough repetition and variation that you won’t need to be poised over the rewind button to understand what’s being done.
Overall, the DVD forms a useful supplement to historical sources for the historic European martial artist, not just for its immediately applicable technical and tactical content, but also as a model of how to systematize and analyse combat.