Portuguese staff fencing in Brisbane, Australia
Jogo do Pau (the ‘game of the stick’) is a Portuguese martial art and combat sport which developed in the northern regions of Portugal (Minho and Trás-os-Montes), focusing on the use of a hardwood staff swung in both hands. Although the origins of the art are uncertain, its purpose was primarily self-defence (against both human and animal attackers), although it was also used to settle accounts, vendettas and matters of honour between individuals, families, and even entire villages.
The popularity of Jogo do Pau was due to the relative ease of obtaining a staff and its versatility in daily life, as well as its effectiveness for defence against multiple opponents. Staves were almost always present and were used for support during long daily walks, for crossing rivers, and by shepherds to protect their flocks from wild animals. Rumour has it Jogo do Pau was even used by Portuguese guerrilla fighters against Napoleon’s soldiers during the Peninsular War in the early 19th century.
Jogo do Pau was largely unknown outside its heartland in the mountains until the latter 19th century, when the art was brought to Lisbon by northern masters. Over time, a more sporting version of Jogo do Pau was developed and practiced in clubs such as the Ginásio Clube Português and the Ateneu Comercial de Lisboa.
Modern Jogo do Pau practice in the 20th century suffered a sharp decline due to migrations from rural areas to the cities, the uptake of other modern sports and greater access to firearms for personal defence. Jogo do Pau players born between 1910 and 1930 were the last generation to experience the full flowering of the sport.
Fortunately, Jogo do Pau survived and even experienced a significant revival in the 1970s, driven in large part by masters including Pedro Ferreira, and later his student Nuno Corvello Russo, who traveled widely throughout northern Portugal studying the original skills of Jogo de Norte (‘Game of the North’).
Jogo do Pau is still a rather marginal sport in Portugal today, although there is a stable body of practitioners organized in two federations: the Federação Portuguesa de Jogo do Pau and the Federação Nacional do Jogo do Pau Português. The art is also practiced in the Açores and Madeira. Jogo do Pau practice is also increasing around the world, as information on the art is spread through the internet, books, DVDs, classes and workshops with leading Portuguese masters.
If you are interested in learning more or trying Jogo do Pau out for yourself, email us at jdpbne(at)gmail.com.