Jo is made of hardwood and averages about 50 inches in length
and 7/8 of an inch in diameter. It's round or octagonal
in cross section.
The Jo is sometimes called
the four-foot staff to distinguish it from the long staff
or rokushaku bo (six-foot stick) and the three-foot stick
or hanbo (half stick).
In the early 1600's, a
Samurai named Muso Gonnosuke meditated in the mountains
after his first and only defeat, at the hands of Japan's
greatest swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. Muso's favorite weapon
was the bo (the long six-foot staff). Miyamoto, using both
a long and short sword, had blocked the staff in such a
way that Muso could not withdraw his weapons safely. Miyamoto
spared Muso's life, however, and left him to meditate on
The result of Muso's meditation
was a "divine insight" that led him to develop
a shorter staff and a style of fighting with it. He called
his style Shindo Muso Ryu Jojutsu, and with it, he defeated
Miyamoto in a second duel. He, too, spared his opponent's
life and became the only man ever to beat the master swordsman.
Muso's impressive success
with the Jo is in part the result of the nature of the weapon.
It is from six to eleven inches longer than the sword, and
while the Jo can break a highly tempered blade, a sword
cannot cut through a one-inch diameter oak Jo. The length
of the Jo also permits numerous hand changes and turnovers
that involve both ends in the actions of thrusting, striking,
sweeping, receiving and entwining. Thus, Jojutsu is a dynamic,
versatile, and effective fighting art, although it never
achieved the importance of the sword arts.
Because it was developed
to use against swordsmen, Jojutsu is heavily influenced
by the sword techniques, particularly in striking, fencing
postures, and receiving actions. The Jo is a pole arm, however
incorporates the thrusts, sweeps, entering motions, and
receiving action of the spear (yari) and halberd (naginata).
Eventually, the martial
arts of the battlefield became the martial ways of the training
hall, and combat-effective "external" disciplines
became character building "internal” ones. Just
as Jojutsu (grappling) became Judo, and Ken Jutsu (sword
fighting) became Kendo, Jojutsu became Jodo, although Jodo
still retains most of its combat orientation.
Jodo deals expressly with
disarming and subduing and opponent armed with one or two
swords or a Jo. Entwining and atemi waza (striking vulnerable
points of the body) are integral parts of the training.
Uyeshiba Morihei, the founder
of Aikido, to teach the principles of Aikido, also adapted
the Jo. His use of the weapon is called Aikijo.
The Jo is a humble weapon
with a noble history: a simple weapon capable of great complexity.
The fundamentals of its use have been preserved in - sometimes
hidden in - numerous forms.
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