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The Difference Between The Bo Staff and Jo Staff

 The stick or staff is one of the oldest weapons known to man. Historic evidence indicates that the staff was used as a weapon in nearly every corner of Asia since history was first recorded. Over time, the staff eventually evolved into two different weapons: the Bo and Jo. Anyone interested in martial arts should familiarize themselves with the Bo and Jo, two of the most primitive and effective weapons in use today for combat. The following information will help you understand the difference between the two weapons and give you a good grasp on the history and uses of the Bo and Jo. The Bo Staff The term bo is translated as “staff,” referring to a relatively long weapon in comparison to the Jo staff. The Bo usually measures about six feet in length, or 1.8 meters. 

This weapon was used primarily in feudal Japan and continues to be used in martial arts today. The design of the Bo may vary depending on the user. The Bo can be made of bamboo or soft woods like pine, but it is primarily made out of hard woods like white oak and red oak. Some Bo are tapered, carrying most of the staff’s weight in the mid section of the weapon. Many Bo are extremely light, such as those made from bamboo. Ornamentation such as metallic siding, rattan, grips, and iron is often present. The Bo may have evolved from an unlikely object: the stick used in ancient societies for the carrying and balancing of water buckets. The practice of using a long staff as a weapon quickly evolved and became quite popular throughout Japan. A variation of the Bo staff was most likely used by the simple farmhands and residents on the small island of Okinawa, Japan during the Satsuma Clan invasion, which took place around the fifteenth century. The people living in Okinawa used whatever simple tools they had available, including the long staves of farming equipment, to fend off the invading samurai. The staffs that developed were either rounded, squared, or hexagonal in shape. As more and more people in Okinawa began to defend themselves with staff-like weapons, a new form of martial arts began to form known as “the ancient martial way,” which is a way of life that is still embraced by many traditional martial artists today. Depending on the height and skill level of the user, a Bo staff may be as tall as 9 feet. You can imagine the quiet intimidation exuding from the ancient warriors who used these weapons in combat. The Bo may not be used as a weapon of war in today’s technologically advanced society; however, it has become a very popular weapon among traditional martial artists. Bojutsu, the art of brandishing a Japanese Bo, is the most common form of martial arts in which a staff is used as the main weapon. The techniques used during Bojutsu today probably originated from a group of Chinese monks who had perfected the use of the Bo. The different kinds of strikes, thrusts, and swings used during Bojutsu may seem oddly fluid. Bojutsu techniques focus primarily on the use of a staff as an extension of the body itself. The result is an incredible display of martial arts that looks seemingly effortless; however, nothing could be farther from the truth. The ability to use a Bo well takes years of practice. The power in a Bo attack originates from the back of the staff and the attack is guided by the front hand for precision. The body remains erect with only twists of the torso for each strike. Firmly gripped in both hands and poised for a rotation, block, or strike, the Bo is a weapon that can cause significant injury to an opponent. In fact, a martial artist skilled in the use of the Bo may even use the weapon to form a variety of unexpected “tricks” on his or her opponent, such as using the staff to send a shower of sand into the eyes of an opponent, temporarily blinding the enemy. The Jo Staff The first wooden staff discussed here is known as the “Jo” is translated as “stick.” It can also be translated as “cudgel.” The Jo staff is shorter than the Bo staff, with no specific standard concerning staff circumference or staff length. Even though there is no standard for the length of a Jo staff, most of these weapons fall within the range of 4 feet, measured 1.27 meters with the metric system. The Jo is very simple and unassuming in appearance with no ornamentation - a humble but effective weapon. In martial arts, a warrior who specializes in wielding the Jo is considered a jojutsu or jodo master. The Jo staff may also be used to display akido techniques in a form of martial arts called aiki-jo. Interestingly, the Jo continues to be a weapon of choice by some police force members in Japan. A popular legend indicates that the Jo was first created and used as a weapon of battle by a warrior called Katsuyoshi. Katsuyoshi experienced defeat after defeat using other traditional weapons, and finally withdrew into isolation to meditate for nearly 40 days. Supposedly, he experienced a vision from the gods which spurred him to create and use a short staff in battle. He then challenged his famous opponent Musashi to a rematch and, of course, won. This instance is rumored to be the one and only time that the “unbeatable” Musashi was ever crushed in battle. The classic tale of an underdog overcoming the foe, this legend lives on as one of the most incredible battles in all of Japanese history. If you are not the type to believe in legends, you may be interested in a more factual explanation of how the Jo was invented. The evolution of the Jo as a weapon is nearly as simple as its frame. Peoples of prehistoric eras used a staff carved from rock called an ishibo. Making new ishibo staffs must have been a meticulous, painstaking task during prehistoric times. Obviously, the solid-stone weapon was quite heavy and very difficult to lift. Little agility or skill could be poured into the use of an ishibo due to the clumsy nature of the weapon; it was most likely used as a brute-force method of hunting and killing animals for food and skins. The weapon was somewhat fragile and often broke upon impact. The Jo staff was most likely invented as a battle weapon because it had a relatively long-range reach in comparison to other handheld weapons being used at the time. In the hands of a talented and experienced combat expert, the Jo was the perfect battle weapon. Throughout the course of history, mankind experimented with using different materials for creating the Jo. Many kinds of metals were experimented with; however, metal staffs were much like the original stone Jo in that the metal object was far too heavy for even strong men to wield effectively. Over time, mankind eventually stumbled upon the use of wood for the constructing of a flawless and efficient Jo. After years of improvements, the best wood for combat was decided: oak. Oak is the perfect material to use in the making of a Jo. This wood is relatively lightweight and easy to work with when shaping the staff because it does not splinter or crack easily. It is also surprisingly resilient, boasting a strength that resists breakage even upon heavy impact. Fortunately, the Japanese had a seemingly endless resource of the wood needed for making the Jo staff. Oak, pronounced kashi in Japanese, is greatly abundant in and around Japan. There are two kinds of kashi in Japan that are distinguishable by color: white oak is referred to as shirogashi and red oak is referred to as akagashi. However, it doesn’t really matter what color is chosen since neither wood is better than the other for combat. Generally, shirogashi is favored in East Japan and akagashi is used more often in West Japan. If you are looking to purchase a Jo, you should pay attention to whether or not the wood grain is “tight” or strong and make sure that the wood has been thoroughly seasoned so that there is a lesser chance of warp and buckle. Regardless of how “pretty” a Jo appears, if it has a compromised structural integrity it is not worth buying. In conclusion, the Jo staff and the Bo staff are similar weapons that make effective weapons in the hands of a skilled martial artist. Because neither of the weapons has a sharpened edge, a great deal of restraint is possible. This makes both the Jo and Bo ideal weapons for those who wish to simply disable their foe instead killing unnecessarily. These humble staffs, therefore, are two of the best weapons for those interested in pursuing the lifestyle of the “ancient martial way.” This traditional lifestyle and weapon have walked hand in hand since ancient times and continue to be used successfully today by skilled martial artists around the world.