Skip to main content

Book review: Understanding and developing footwork - Luis Preto

Understanding and developing footwork - Luis Preto.

"Footwork has always been regarded as one of the most important elements to the success of a Martial Artist's performance. However, almost all comments heard about this topic are, usually, generic at best: "great footwork", "amazing speed", "better footwork", thus failing to build a better understanding about what makes up effective footwork. This easy to read book with over 100 photos looks to shed some light on this issue by analysing and systematizing: * The variables that make up effective footwork * The difference between offensive and defensive footwork * The relationship between footwork when using weapons of different length * How to learn footwork so as to have it transfer into sparring"

I ordered the book from Preto's website and by HEMA book standards it was relatively cheap. Postage was reasonable and it arrived in good time with recorded delivery.


It's a relatively quick read but with enough detail that I've found myself dipping into it again since finishing it. This is going to sound strange but I don't feel like I've learnt anything new from reading this book (apart from a few busted myths!) however I do feel like the author has taken a lot of knowledge that was sitting in my subconscious, or in the instinctive part of my brain, and has transferred it onto paper and made it explicit.

I really like the authors explicit focus on the function of technique rather than the biomechanics of technique. He clearly outlines that it is not important exactly how you place your foot or exactly how far to step, but to understand what function the action is trying to achieve. For example in footwork he does not name steps as "gathering step" or "single step" but rather as "advancing step" or "withdrawing step" as this focuses the mind on the purpose of the action. I think this is a valuable mindset which moves people away from trying to find a single proscriptive way of what an action should look like (like the infinity detail of trying to "describe"  a Zornhau) which is impossible but instead to understand how it is used so it can be applied to a variety of situations.

What I really like about this book is that it is a meta-analysis of the theory underlying the treatises rather than another translation or another straight forward "this is what I think Y special move is." The author has clearly studied the treatises hard and is beginning to put together a general theory, explained in concise modern language and informed by his professional sports knowledge. I hope to see more works like this, as true understanding is the step that will take HEMA towards true mastery of the Arts.


The photos in the book are not always entirely clear what action is being performed and I would have appreciated a footwork diagram to go with it.

The author makes it clear that it is not his intent to get more technical than necessary but I would have enjoyed even more detail, hopefully the author will publish that book at a future date.


Popular posts from this blog

Kit mod: heavy sparring glove 2

This is a follow on to heavy sparring gloves and SPES arm protectors.

Finally: a pretty good HEMA glove.

Essentially I've created this final stage by removing the cuff from the gauntlet and attaching Velcro so the SPES arm & elbow protection attaches to the gauntlet. The Velcro attaches under the lip of the arm protection providing a solid join between the pieces.

My photography is lame but I hope you get the idea:

Good protection.

I would say that this setup has good protection from injury from sparring blows from fingers to elbow. Against full force blows it takes it down from injury to some mild discomfort and possibly light bruising, against moderate blows you feel some pressure with no discomfort. The fingers are where I've invested the heaviest protection but there is still some room for improvement.

Light weight

Because the weight is distributed along the length of the arm rather than at the wrist/hands end and because they can fit quite tightly to your body they seem…

Halberd Waster

Several times through my historical martial arts career I've got it into my head that I'd like to do halberd. However, the issues with a suitable waster have tended to put me off, specifically creating anything that can be used at something approaching full intention. The issue is that if you make the head from the usual materials (steel, aluminium, wood, leather etc) you have to exercise extreme caution at very slow speed because all you've made is a giant heavy mace on the end of a 6ft lever.

Recently I was working on making foam swords for another side project and while doing this it occurred to me that foam was the obvious solution to the halberd head issue. Pretty quickly I developed this simple waster.

The head is cut from EVA foam matting. This material is importantly both ultra light and pretty robust. To get a good strength I cut two head shapes out and stuck them together. The bracket to attach the head to the pole is just PVC piping with a slot cut into it for th…

Absolutely no absolutes

The more I study and learn of historical fighting, and the more I teach, the more I become careful in throwing around "absolutes" in terms of technique. I find that to say that something is "wrong" is a sub-optimal way of thinking about fencing that hinders development. Rather I like to highlight that everything is situational, i.e. with a proper understanding of the principles of fencing that there is often a time and a place where a particular technique is optimal and that you should not completely discount anything.

For example:

(and I'd like to make it clear that I'm not being negative on these examples, I liked and remembered both these videos I'm just using them to illustrate a pedagogical mindset.)

In this interesting video, the view is put forward that you should cut and step at the same pace to ensure that your hand and body land together. This is so that you cut with maximum strength and for reasons of balance.  The idea of not stepping and cu…