There is an unlimited number of martial arts styles from dozens of countries and backgrounds, all across the world. Some are surprisingly similar, despite having never intersected or crossed paths. I guess there’s only so many ways to throw a punch or kick. And throughout the centuries, some weapons decided to come along for the ride.
Having personally spent more than three quarters of my life studying an Okinawan style of karate, I’ve been exposed to a number of “traditional” Okinawan weapons including nunchaku, sai, kama and tonfa. I’ll just let you Google any of those terms that you may not recognize. And given that I’ve studied Kendo in reasonable depth means that I’ve developed some skill with the sword. But none holds a deeper place in my heart than one of the most basic weapons one could think of: the staff.
Let’s get real for a moment and agree that it doesn’t get any more basic than this. A stick is essentially the simplest and most basic weapon a person can grasp, and I’m sure that if we could have been there to see it, we’d also understand that humans have swung sticks around as weapons since the dawn of humanity. Given the styles I’ve studied and the culture from which it came, my version of the stick is referred to as a bo.
A typical bo staff usually measures about 6 feet in length, but can vary and reach almost 9 feet. The length of the weapon usually depends on one’s height and reach. A smaller, shorter version of the bo is a referred to as a jo, and is usually about 4 feet in length. This weapon is normally intended for children and martial artists of shorter stature. The bo will usually be made of a flexible wood, allowing for fluidity of movement and is tapered (thinner at the ends and thicker at the centre), which allows for proper balance during its use.
There are more variations of bo than I could possibly list, but they can be made of various different types of wood and shapes, including a rounded or hexagonal body, or even a square body. The shape makes no difference in the use of the staff and is mainly a preference. The staff has been included in some traditional martial arts styles such as Kobudo, which is an Okinawan style of weapons-based martial arts, or Bojutsu, which is effectively the Japanese martial art of training with the staff.
In simple terms, the staff is one of my favourite martial arts weapons because you can access one almost any place you happen to find yourself in a compromised situation. Mop or broom sticks, maybe garden tools… any wooden length of even a few feet can provide the benefits of bo training. Even if you don’t have access to Kobudo or Bojutsu in your area, many styles of karate will also incorporate the staff and can be an excellent addition to your combat repertoire. ☯