The Bo staff

An Ancient Weapon

Bo Staff

The Bo staff is a long weapon that is part of pretty much every martial art system on the planet. It is believed its use as a weapon stems from Okinawa and feudal Japan.

Typically a Bo is around 1.8 m long. Similar staff weapons, such as the Jo, which is 1.2 m long and the hanbo (half bo) which is about 90 cm long also belong to the same weapons family. It is usually made with hardwood or a flexible wood, such as red or white oak, although bamboo and pine wood has been used, more common still is rattan wood for its flexibility.

There are variations that exist on the design style of the Bo. Some have Tapered ends that are thicker in the middle than the ends. This is known as a Chukon-Bo. Other Bo staff can be very light, have metallic sides, stripes, and even a grip. These are widely used for XMA and competitions/demonstrations.

The use of the Bo staff even has a specific martial arts system attached to it. BoJutsu. The basis of Bo technique is te, or hand, techniques. Thrusting, swinging, and striking techniques often resemble empty-hand movements, following the philosophy that the Bo is merely an “extension of one’s limbs”.

As mentioned earlier bojutsu is often incorporated into other styles of empty hand fighting, such as karate. It is generally gripped in thirds. While held in front horizontally the right palm is facing away from the body and the left palm facing the body. The power is generated by the backhand pulling the staff, while the front hand is used for guidance. Typical Bojutsu techniques include a variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and traps.

Although the Bo is used as a weapon these days, its use is believed by some to have evolved from the long stick (tenbin) which was used to balance buckets or baskets used to carry baskets of harvested crops or buckets of water or fish etc.

The history of the Bo Staff stems from around 1609 in Okinawa. A temporary peace had been established following the violent overthrow by the Shimazu clan of Satsuma when it invaded and conquered Okinawa. The Shimazu lords placed a weapons ban, leaving the Okinawans defenseless against samurai weaponry. With no weapons left to protect themselves the people of Okinawa used simple farming implements, which the samurai would not be able to confiscate, as new methods of defence. This use of weapons developed into kobudo, or “ancient martial way” as known today.

The Bo staff is what we would deem a core weapon of karate training and one that can be fun to use on its own or when weapons sparring. The Bo is used in many weapon katas and forms and is effective against most other forms of martial arts weapons. In the hands of an experienced Bo practitioner, there will only be a split second between block and strike. This is one of the reasons why the Bo is one of the most difficult of martial arts weapons to defend against.