When I first encountered Jogo do Pau a couple years ago I was still in the middle of learning German longsword and various single handed styles. My fencing was a patchwork of different techniques and odd habits, but sometimes that’s just part of the process. You have to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and that means trying everything you can get your hands on. That being said, I think it’s a good idea to always approach a new combat system/style with a blank slate and an open mind; even if it seems familiar.
I had been practicing German longsword for over a year when I decided to give it a break and train JDP with Matt, but it was a big challenge to keep all those built up habits from sneaking back in. One major difference between the two systems is that while German longsword puts the dominant hand above the other, JDP places it at the bottom of the weapon. At first I tried to keep my left on the bottom and meet the new system halfway, but this was a mistake. Matt eventually convinced me that I’d have an easier time picking it up if I just dove in, rather than wading around in the shallow end. In many ways, switching hands allowed me to approach the system from scratch, so it was a bit of a blessing in disguise.
I switched hands, set aside the fancy false edge cuts, and committed to relearning my footwork and lowering my stance. This all-or-nothing approach has been far more productive than my previous attempts to only learn what felt comfortable. Does this mean I’m done with German longsword? Probably not. It’s not as if these systems don’t have things in common, but keeping them compartmentalized for now has allowed me to focus my energy in a far more efficient way. They’re filed away in their separate bins near kickboxing and that one month of rapier from way back when.
We’ve had people from all sorts of backgrounds train with us, and it’s always interesting watching the mental shift that takes place. As an avid practitioner of Kenjutsu, my brother had the challenge of lowering his stance and performing full rotational strikes. Some people find it easier to mix and switch between styles than others, but the truth is that we’re all beginners at some point. Cue inspirational poster of a cat or mountain. Although I still have a long way to go with JDP (look at that high stance in the picture), it makes a little more sense every time I pick up a staff, and that is all the encouragement I need. Happy sparring!