Bo Staffs

 

The Japanese Bo Staffs as a Weapon


From the 14th century onward in Japan, the use of a wooden pole or staff as weapon came to be set down in a more formal system. In fact the oldest schools of martial art in Japan, the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, first put into writing the basic movements, stances and uses of the Bo as a weapon that are practiced to this day.

There are a few reasons for why this staff came to be used as a weapon in Japan, with the main one being that most people not of the samurai ruling class in the 14th or 15th centuries weren't allowed to possess a sword, or bows and arrows. Just about any so-called “real” weapon, for that matter, was off-limits. People being people the world over, there soon came to life an effort to take everyday tools or items, such as a type of farming sickle, or a walking stick (in the case of the Bo), and turn them into something they could use to defend themselves against those who were trying to do them harm in some way.

After some time, the practice and use of the weapon known as the Bo came to be called Bojutsu, or “the study of the Bo.” In Japan, the practice of almost any martial art has as its second and third syllables the word “jutsu,” (joot-soo”). For instance, someone who practices ancient Ninja (a kind of assassin-for-hire in old Japan) techniques was said to be studying Ninjutsu. More on that in later articles.

Over the decades and centuries in Japan, a couple of different types of Bo Staffs developed. All share a basic shape, for sure, but some differ in their diameters, length, and how they taper or don’t taper at their ends. For the most part, the classic Bo Staffs is about six to six-and-a-half feet long and anywhere from three-quarters of an inch in diameter, ranging all the way up to three-and-a-half-inches around. Now, 3.5 inches is quite a big difference in size, so you probably will not see too many of those examples around today.

The Bo Staffs may also have a straight, blunt end with no tapering, or indeed have a taper running along its shaft down to each end. That is usually a matter of preference among each student of the Bo. Here at Buki Yuushuu we are skilled in the art of wooden Bo production, and many fine examples of the staff can be seen here on our website.

The length and size of the classic Bo usually was fitted to the size of the student who was learning how to use it. Shorter lengths and thinner diameters were normal for younger and smaller students. The longer and thicker ones were mostly used by more mature and bigger students. Really, though…the skill of the martial artist was more a factor in which Bō he or she preferred to use, and many artists were just as able to use smaller ones as larger and longer ones.

Here at Buki Yuushuu, there are a wide variety of Bo staffs made with the needs of each individual martial artist in mind. Modern versions of this very old weapon take as the source of our design the very first wooden staffs used by students of the 14th century’s Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū school of martial arts.


The Bō Staff as a Tool, Not a Toy


When we look at what a wooden staff or pole is, we see just that:  Something made of wood that’s shaped like a stick or a pole, for the most part.  But, when we hear the words “Bō staff,” as martial artists, we think of something else completely different.  In fact, many of  us could be picturing ourselves in a nice stance, holding the staff as taught to us by our Sensei (“sen-say”), or instructor, getting ready to throw it around in what’s called a Figure-Eight move, or use it in a Front Spin move.  The list of possible techniques we can use to defend ourselves against attack is endless, because there are so many combinations that can be joined to together to make up a form, or kata, in Bōjutsu, the study of using the Bō as a self-defense weapon.

In almost every situation, it helps us to think of the Bō as an extension of ourselves when we use it.  If we move forward in an overhead downward strike, after blocking a blow from some opponent, we may follow up after the strike with a side kick or a leg sweep to make sure the person who we’re defending ourselves against will go down or at least won’t counter our own overhead strike with one of his or her own.  The point is that the Bō can’t usually be separated from the body.  We use both, and it doesn’t matter to us if we like the Japanese version of self defense in using the Bō more than we like the Chinese system of using the Guan, which is their name for the wooden staff.  Also, we always must use it with clear thought and clear focus.  In other words, we don’t let what we’re thinking about in our heads get in the way of what we’re doing in the time we’re working with a wooden staff like the Bō.

Many times, students run into problems when they begin studying how to use a wooden staff for self-defense against attackers because they forget that it’s nothing more than another way in which their bodies and minds come together for a single purpose.  They also fail to understand that their bodies and minds are unable to complete the joining up without the active help of the spirit they all have within them.  This “spirit,” in martial arts is more than just the kind of spirit a group of high school cheerleaders work so hard to cause at a basketball game, for example.

What we really mean by spirit in the martial arts is what happens when you’re really focused on the Bō right at that moment in time, and when you’re really, really happy and confident that you know what you need to do with the staff almost without knowing it on any conscious level.  Think about a time when you were practicing in the dojo (“dough-joe”) with a Bō and every movement or strike or block came very easy to you, and your technique was great, and you weren’t even sweating, and you could almost see the attack by your opponent before he or she even thought of doing it themselves.  That’s what we mean by making your mind and body into a single unit, which is held together by the actions of your spirit.

In the end, you must realize that any good Bō is a tool to help you, and be an extension of yourself.  Your energy will flow from your body to it and then from it back to you.  If you can make that positive energy on a regular basis, your skill with the Bō will increase with each day or week.

The people at Buki Yuushuu recognize that a Bō is not a toy, and yet can also be a highly personal weapon to each student.  Please see the online catalog at bukiyuushuu.com for finely crafted examples of what a serious Bō can look like.


Are You Ready to Pick Up the Bō Staff?


Have you ever seen a martial artist in person or in a movie pick up a wooden staff or pole and do things with it that seem to be impossible for normal human beings to pull off?  And do you wish you had the ability to do the same things with the Bō (the Japanese word for the staff) that somebody like Jet Li does with the Chinese version of it (the Guan)?  Watch just about any Li movie and you’ll see how the producers usually find some way to get him into the position where he has to pick up his Guan and use it to defend himself and others from people meaning to do them harm, like in the movie “Once Upon a Time in China” or any of its sequels.  A couple of fantastic wooden staff action clips from the film can be seen on You Tube, by the way.  Or rent Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s “The Forbidden Kingdom,” a 2008 movie that highlights very strong wooden staff techniques.

Now, if you answered “yes” to any of those questions we asked you in the previous paragraph, then congratulations, because you’ve started down a path that can truly help you to better physical, mental and spiritual well-being.  In Japan, Bōjutsu (the study of how and when to use the wooden staff) is taken very seriously.  Mainly, this is because the Japanese and others in Asia -- and around the world, nowadays -- understand that executing a smooth, controlled and effective strike and counterstrike with the Bō requires something a little bit more deep than just stabbing to the front, or sweeping to the side, or doing any number of things in a purely memorized, rote kind of way.  When you use the staff like that, chances are you’ve only gotten about one-third of the potential from the weapon, and from yourself, to be honest.  For sure, the body has gotten involved with the movement, and maybe the mind, in a small way (you had to think about swinging the Bō or Guan, after all), but there should be more.

Ask yourself:  Did you really feel “good” about what you were doing?  Were your techniques more than just memory and automatic movement in executing a Figure-Eight defense and attack with your Bō?  If you didn’t feel joy in your movement and if you really weren’t all that aware of how your mind and your body interacted during the staff form, or kata, then maybe your martial spirit wasn’t all there.  Like a tiny plant in a garden that needs sunlight and water to grow, so too does your spirit.  And when it finally matures, you may just feel like you could do any technique and movement ever put down in a book or on paper.  You may even invent a few of your own!

Bōjutsu can be easy, and it can be hard.  Sometimes, it’s both at the same time and in the same movement, or block, or sweep.  The effort put into it, and what you get out of it, will be completely up to you, the student.  Know that there are several different styles, or schools, that exist for study of the Bō.  The most popular ones are either Japanese or Chinese in origin, and you can’t go wrong by studying either or both of the ways in which the staff is used by martial arts students in the two countries.

In you think you’re ready to mold your mind, body, and soul (spirit) into one unit through study of the Bō, go first to bukiyuushuu.com and look over their selection of quality, handcrafted and very-modern versions of this popular and effective self-defense weapon.  You’ll be glad you did!


The Japanese Bō Staff as a Weapon


From the 14th century onward in Japan, the use of a wooden pole or staff as weapon came to be set down in a more formal system.  In fact the oldest schools of martial art in Japan, the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, first put into writing the basic movements, stances and uses of the Bō as a weapon that are practiced to this day.

There are a few reasons for why this staff came to be used as a weapon in Japan, with the main one being that most people not of the samurai ruling class in the 14th or 15th centuries weren’t allowed to possess a sword, or bows and arrows.  Just about any so-called “real” weapon, for that matter, was off-limits.  People being people the world over, there soon came to life an effort to take everyday tools or items, such as a type of farming sickle, or a walking stick (in the case of the Bō), and turn them into something they could use to defend themselves against those who were trying to do them harm in some way.

After some time, the practice and use of the weapon known as the Bō came to be called Bōjutsu, or “the study of the Bō.”  In Japan, the practice of almost any martial art has as its second and third syllables the word “jutsu,” (joot-soo”).  For instance, someone who practices ancient Ninja (a kind of assassin-for-hire in old Japan) techniques was said to be studying Ninjutsu.  More on that in later articles.

Over the decades and centuries in Japan, a couple of different types of Bō developed.  All share a basic shape, for sure, but some differ in their diameters, length, and how they taper or don’t taper at their ends.  For the most part, the classic Bō is about six to six-and-a-half feet long and anywhere from three-quarters of an inch in diameter, ranging all the way up to three-and-a-half-inches around.  Now, 3.5 inches is quite a big difference in size, so you probably will not see too many of those examples around today.

The Bō staffmay also have a straight, blunt end with no tapering, or indeed have a taper running along its shaft down to each end.  That is usually a matter of preference among each student of the Bō.  The craftsmen at bukiyuushuu.com are skilled in the art of wooden Bō production, and many fine examples of the staff can be seen on the website.

The length and size of the classic Bō usually was fitted to the size of the student who was learning how to use it.  Shorter lengths and thinner diameters were normal for younger and smaller students.  The longer and thicker ones were mostly used by more mature and bigger students.  Really, though…the skill of the martial artist was more a factor in which Bō he or she preferred to use, and many artists were just as able to use smaller ones as larger and longer ones.

At Buki Yuushuu, there are a wide variety of Bō staffs made with the needs of each individual martial artist in mind.  Modern versions of this very old weapon take as the source of their design the very first wooden staffs used by  students of the 14th century’s Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū school of martial arts.

 

Wooden Weapon Staffs in Japan


Probably everybody’s seen a long wooden walking stick or pole at one time or another.  Versions of such a tool have been described in the Bible and in writings by ancient Greek historians like Homer.  When it wasn’t being used by the hardy traveler to ease his journey on the roads or trails of olden days, it probably was being used in some manner to help keep him safe from bandits or even wolves and the occasional cougar or mountain lion.  Wooden sticks, in fact, have so many uses it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t use them as a tool to carry buckets over the shoulder, for example, or as a weapon of some sort.

In Asia, people in many countries or regions were just as familiar with the idea of the wooden pole or stick as both an aid in travel and as a means of self-defense from those who meant harm.  In pre-gunpowder days, a nicely shaped and carved wooden staff could mean the difference between getting to where you wanted to go with all your property intact, or maybe losing your money and in some cases, your life.  Times could be hard, and those who weren’t willing, or were unable, to defend themselves could struggle sometimes.

As a result of these conditions, the wooden staff, especially in Japan and China, began to become more than just a thing to walk with, or swing wildly and blindly at some robber or thief or animal taking off after the food you had stored in your knapsack.  In fact, a whole system for using it as a weapon grew up over the centuries, and continues to this day.

Most historians believe the earliest recorded on-purpose uses of the wooden staff as a weapon (in Japanese, it’s called a Bō…“bow”) come from the writings of one of the oldest formal martial arts in Japan, the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, first founded in 1387 by Iizasa Chōisai Ienao.  It’s absolutely certain that the Bō was being used in self-defense before that date, of course.  But the first time many of the techniques a person could employ to use it in such a manner go back to Ienao-san.  After his death he was honored by Buddhist temple priests with the name Taiganin-den-Taira-no-Ason-Iga-no-Kami-Raiodo-Hon-Daikoji, which is quite a mouthful!

The typical Bō staff of the time ran nearly six feet in length.  In Japanese, we’d say that it was rokushakubō (“row-koo-shah-koo-bow”…six feet).  Back then, they usually were about one and a quarter-inch in thickness, which made them easy enough to handle with one hand, but also heavy enough to do serious harm if used the right way.  A Bō staff was a common sight among travelers or classes of people in Japan of every rank and status, including the elite samurai (“sah-moo-rye”).  Its simplicity and ruggedness reflected the martial spirit of Japan known as Bushidō, or “Way of the Warrior,” and the study of how to use a Bō in self-defense was, and still is, called Bōjutsu (“Bow-joots,” or “Bow-joot-soo,” if you pronounce the ‘u’ correctly at the end).  Many of the staff techniques involved in Bōjutsu center on slashing, swinging, stabbing, or poking with it.

If you’d like to see modern and highly personalized versions of this classic Japanese martial arts weapon, just go over to bukiyuushuu.com.  With many different colors and the application of a secret lacquer, the staff made by the craftsmen at Buki Yuushuu draws a direct line from today back to the time when 14th century students of the art of the were picking out their own first staff.