Juego del Palo


by Austin Doerksen

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Juego del Palo is a martial arts sport of stick fighting practiced in the Canary Islands. It contains a wide variety of different styles that feature many different rules and techniques. These styles come from the preservation of various methods adopted and passed down throughout Canarian history.

History


The origins of Juego del Palo can be traced back to the Guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of Spain who are believed to have descended from African nomads. Due to a low level of technological innovation, their methods of combat were based on stones and wooden weapons. Fighting was an integral part of their culture, being used for rituals, leisure activities, and resolving disputes. During early invasions of the Canary Islands in the 15th century, the Guanches provided strong resistance to Spanish conquistadors, utilizing the same sticks they used to herd their sheep as deadly weapons. In 1590, Spanish engineer Leonardo Torriani wrote a history of the Canary Islands which included an early record of Juego del Palo. He described ritualistic combat between two Guanche warriors:

Juego de Palo (historical).jpg"To begin, they each stood upon a platform, armed with three of the smooth throwing stones they call tahuas, and also with the stick called magodo or amodeghe. Then they dodged the stones as they were thrown, skillfully twisting their bodies without moving their feet. Next, they stepped down and fenced with the staves, each one trying to gain advantage over the other..."

Due to the skill that the Guanches had in stick fighting, once the Spanish were finally able to subdue them they immediately made carrying sticks and staves illegal. Although this forced stick fighting to become an underground practice, it carried on as a tradition for centuries. The variety of staffs and methods of using them led to a development of many different styles of stick fighting. However, the sport of Juego de Palo as it is known today wasn't heavily promoted until the 1970's, when it was used as one of the main tools of reviving traditional culture in the Canary Islands.

Techniques and Styles

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Juego del Palo is characterized by an interplay of attacking and defensive motions. No protective equipment is worn. Instead, the fighters must rely on controlled strikes that are implied rather than delivered with full force to the body. Play is fast-paced and fluid, and attacks are generally aimed at the head. Attacking strokes include sweeps and thrusts, while defensive positions include positioning the stick vertical to the ground to fend off sweeps. A mediator known as a "hombre bueno", or person with recognized prestige, serves as the referee.

The different styles of Juego del Palo are classified based on the size of the stick used, categorized into three main types of matches:
  • The first type is short stick fights. The sticks are generally waist high or shorter in length. There is little modern practice of these fights, but they have been used historically for sparring and in battle.
  • The second type is medium stick fights, which are the most common type of match in Juego del Palo, found in nearly every island in the archipelago. The sticks are generally chest high in length. Players adopt a stance offset to the left or right, holding the stick by the ends.
  • The third type is long stick fights, practiced mainly on Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura. The sticks range from chest height to about a quarter taller than the player. Both players stand face to face, separated by the distance of their shoulders' width.
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Cultural Significance


While stick fighting is a fast-paced and thrilling sport, it is also an art form. A Juego del Palo match is an event that holds cultural significance, because it reflects common values of the Canarian people. Juego del Palo is a gentleman's sport at its core, in which the players must exercise physical control in order to avoid hurting each other. The fact that a player must avoid hurting the opponent while attempting to outmatch him demonstrates the values of humility and respect, while the precision in striking demonstrates the value of perseverance, shown in the years of mastery of the technique.

References


1. Wolf, T. (2000). Juego Del Palo - Stick Fencing of the Canary Islands. Journal of Western Martial Art. Retrieved December 2, 2012.

2. Torriani, L. (1978). Descripción de las Islas Canarias. Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Goya

3. Green, T. A., & Svinth, J. R. (2010). Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation. Santa Barbara, California:
ABC-CLIO.

4. Stick 'Em Up. (2012, January 30). www.lanzaroteguidebook.com. Retrieved December 3, 2012.

5. Gil, A. F. (n. d.) Historia del Juego del Palo Canario. www.palocanario.com. Retrieved December 4, 2012.