Definitions of the Bo Staff
(boh) Jap. "staff", "stave", or "stick"
A wooden staff five to six feet long (in practice, "one fist width"
taller than the student). It is one of the five weapons systemized by
the early Okinawan developers of te (hand), and may have originated
with the poles used by farmers to balance heavy loads across the
- The Dictionary of Martial Arts by Emil Farkas & John Corcoran
BoJutSu (boh-jutísu) Jap. "art of the staff"
An armed system of combat centering around the use of a long wooden
staff called a Bo. The staff is employed with a two-handed gripping
action and form is its main training method. Techniques include
striking, thrusting, blocking, parrying, deflecting, sweeping, and
holding. By quick changes in the grip, the length of the weapon can be
varied for long-range or close-quarter combat. The art of using the
staff was developed from Japanese spear and lance techniques. The
common weapon learned in most schools of martial arts in feudal Japan,
it became popular in Okinawa, where edged and metal weapons were
outlawed by the ruling Shimazu clan.
- The Dictionary of Martial Arts by Emil Farkas & John Corcoran
Bo The Bo is a staff of very hard wood about six feet long.,
approximately one inch in diameter, often tapered at both ends. It was
originally used as a walking staff and a tool to carry very heavy
loads. It can be used to strike, block, and trap an opponent.
Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo by Master Doug Yates
The bo, or staff, is probably one of the first weapons that mankind
used to defend himself. The history of the bo dates back millennia,
and is thought to be used first in China. It could easily be found,
was easy to handle, and could be used for multiple purposes. The bo
staff itself is believed to have been developed from the tenbin, a
pole balanced on the shoulders, used to carry buckets hanging from
each end with water or grain.
The bo is a well known weapon used in many styles of
martial arts practiced around the world. It is one of the five weapons
included into a style by the early Okinawan founders of karate. In
feudal Japan, it was part of the bugei - early Japanese martial arts.
Nobles and peasants used it in a similar way.
Although the bo varies in size and length, all
staffs are long pieces of well polished wood, best described as a
pole. Thickness of the bo varies
depending on the particular martial art one trains
in. Though, it must be made so that the fighter can
comfortably make a tight fist around it in order to
block and counter an attack. The length of the bo
also depends on the style of the martial art,
however the most common length is a few inches
taller than the practitioner. Its length makes it an
excellent weapon against swordsmen, allowing the
user to strike from a safe distance.
In a fight, the bo staff acts as an extension of
one's limbs. All techniques are executed as one
would without the weapon in your hands. An accurate
jab to an enemy's vulnerable areas could easily
disable them without requiring too much effort from
the person using the staff. The bo is also able to
block and parry an opponent who may be fighting with
the same weapon. Other tricks that one can use this
weapon for include sweeping the legs out from
underneath an opponent, breaking the knees, and
sweeping dust into the opponent's eyes.
It is easy to find a good staff in a time of need. A
good stick can be found almost anywhere at nearly
all times. Now part of budo (martial way), the bo is
often used in kata training and competition.
Physical conditioning with the staff improves oneís
balance, coordination, and upper body strength,
among other benefits.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BO
HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY
The bo, or staff, is one of the earliest tools to be used by
man. Initially it may have been merely a sapling or a long,
straight branch which was used for hunting animals for
sources of food or fur hides. The wooden staff also
facilitated passage over rugged and mountainous terrain. In
an agrarian setting it served as a multi-purpose tool for
planting crops, carrying supplies, and transporting buckets
of water for the irrigation of crops.
In the ancient records of Chinese martial arts, the bo is
discussed as the first weapon taught to the Zen Buddhist
disciples who studied at the Shaolin Temple. There are
literary and pictorial references to Bodhidharma carrying a
bo on his journeys as he taught Zen Buddhism in the regions
near the Shaolin Temple. One account from a biography on
Bodhidharma tells of his death in 528 AD from the poison of
a jealous monk. It is told that three years later his body
was exhumed due to rumors he had been seen travelling in the
mountains of Central Asia. Bodhidharma was said to carry a
staff from which hung a single sandal. He had stated he was
on his way back to India. When the curious monks opened his
tomb, all they found inside was a single sandal. Ever since
then Bodhidharma has been pictured carrying a staff from
which hangs the missing sandal.
Another historical reference is made to the Zen Buddhist
priest who ordered the disciples of the Shorin-je Temple to
perfect and master bo techniques to help protect their
temple. This occurred at a time of much lawlessness brought
about by roving groups of bandits. This took place while
Bodhidharma was the spiritual force for Zen Buddhism in
China. However, no early records mention his actual teaching
of weaponry to his disciples.
Miyamato Mushashi, the great samurai warrior (1584-1645),
was defeated only once and that at the hands of Muso
Gonosuke. Gonosuke had earlier been defeated by Musashi who
told the young warrior to go off and master his long stick
techniques before trying again. Gonosuke's return years
later gained Musashi's great respect. Musashi is said to
have then gone intensively into staff, stick, and kendo
training in the later years of his life.
The correct use of the bo (sai, tonfa, kama, naginata,
sword) can produce a stimulating and practical means of
"extension" training. It offers a means of martial arts
training and discipline. Weapons training teaches the
meaning of control, timing, distance, and flexibility as one
unit. The practitioner is required to possess speed,
coordination, strength, and endurance in utilizing the
As in any martial arts training, respect and responsibility
are of utmost importance while inside the training hall and
in daily life. Extension tools are to be treated with the
same spirit and discipline as are the techniques learned in
the dojang's regular workout. The humility and control one
exhibits in the martial arts speak clearly about the lessons
a karateka is learning.
ANATOMY AND TYPES OF BO
STANDARD STRAIGHT BO (STAFF) 6' long, 1 1/4" wide; red
or white oak, ash. Length may vary from 4'-8'. This type of
bo is heavy, slow to move, but very powerful. It is quite
effective for smashing or crushing. It was useful for
carrying heavy loads or aided in travels across difficult
terrain. In combat an especially large bo, sometimes made of
metal, was used and had blades or studs added to the surface
to assist in the lethal capabilities of the weapon.
STANDARD TAPERED BO 6' long, 1 1/4" wide and tapers
to 3/4" at ends; oak, ash, hard maple. This type of bo is
light in weight and very well balanced due to its design.
The center is the weapon's fulcrum and allows for quick
action. It has reduced rigidity because of its tapered ends.
Blocks and strikes can be executed with whiplike movement.
The smaller ends were excellent for penetrating armor or
flesh in a combat situation.
VARIATIONS OF BO
Some weapons were as long as 9' in length to
maximize the advantage a bo offered the
BAMBOO staffs were sometimes used because of their sharp,
YARI (bo with a spear) became popular because they combined
the reach of a bo with the stabbing ability of a sword.
NAGINATA, although not directly related to the traditional
bo, combines the potential for blocking and striking with
powerful ripping capabilities of a larger blade.
JO sticks were shorter walking sticks with greater inside
fighting variations than the long bo.
ESCRIMA fighting sticks are specifically designed as weapons
for striking, blocking, and locking at close range (although
still possessing the extension qualities of the bo).
PROPER CARE OF THE BO
-Proper weight of a Bo will vary according to the stature
and strength of the individual using the tool.
-A Bo should be stored standing straight up or flat on the
floor. The room in which a Bo, or any variation of a Bo, is
stored should be cool and dry for best maintenance. A Bo
should not be placed on pegs or nails and hung from a wall.
A tapered Bo should have both ends resting on a surface of
equal height as the center.
-To check for the quality of a Bo's straightness, roll the
weapon on the floor. If it rolls smoothly without making
much noise, it is of good quality and has reliable strength.
BO LITERARY REFERENCES
Chao, H.C.. Kung Fu Advanced Staff Techniques. Unitrade Ltd,
Demura, Fumio. Bo: Karate Weapon Of Self-Defense. Ohara,
Kubota, Takayuki. Weapons Kumite: Fighting With Traditional
Weapons. Unique Publications, 1983.
Musashi, Miyamato. A Book Of Five Rings. Overlook, 1974.
Pine, Red The Zen Teaching Of Bodhidharma. North Point
Random, Michel. The Martial Arts. Octopus Press, 1977.
Un, H.B.. Tong Long (Double End Stick) Kung Fu. H.B. Un,
Wong, James. A Source Book In The Chinese Martial Arts:
History, Philosophy, Systems, and Styles. Koinonia, 1978.
The bo, or stick is probably one of the first weapons that
mankind used to defend or hunt. It could easily be found, was not to
difficult to handle, and could be used for multiple purposes. In
Okinawa, the bo probably originated from a farmtool called tenbin. It
is a stick held across the shoulders, on which fish or waterbuckets
could be hung. It could also be originated from walking sticks monks
used to ease hiking and eventually defend themselves. The techniques
executed with the bo, were probably developed very early in history,
and were probably refined after the Heian Era (around 1127 AD).
History: The bo is one of the five weapons systematized by the
early Okinawan developers of the style known as te (hand). In feudal
Japan it was part of the bugei (early Japanese martial arts) and was
used by samurai, priests, and commoners alike. Its six foot length
made it an apt weapon against swordsmen, disarming the opponent while
allowing the user to remain at a safe distance.
Traditional use: The bo evolved from poles balanced across the
shoulders to carry water or other loads. As a fighting instrument, it
allowed blocking and striking against a range of weapons.
Current use: Now part of the budo (martial ways), the bo is still
used in kata performance. Physical conditioning with the bo improves
balance and upper-body strength.
The Bo-Staff is a well known weapon used in most styles of martial
arts practiced around the world. Although varied in size and length,
all bo-staffs are long pieces of well polished wood, best described as
a stick. Thickness of the Bo-staff also varies pending on the style of
the martial art, although it must be made so that the fighter can
comfortably make a tight fist around the piece of the wood, in order
to block and counter an attacker. The length of the bo-staff also
depends on the style of the martial art, although the most common is a
few inches taller than the owner. The weight of this weapon also
differentiates depending on its owner. One may prefer a heavier Bo-
Staff for training in order to increase their strength and speed.
However, for competition and performance, the martial artist usually
uses a lighter one.
The history of the Bo-staff dates back to thousands of years, believed
to be found first in China. During a period when martial arts and
weapons were outlawed to regular citizens, farmers used to secretly
practice martial arts with common household tools. Such items as
brooms (the long handle resembling a bo-staff) and cutting knives make
excellent weapons to defend oneself against an attacking enemy.
Because brooms are a household item that everyone owned, the practice
of a bo-staff soon became a common and convenient weapon.
a fight, the Bo-staff acts as an extension of one's limbs. All jabs,
strikes and blocks should be executed as you would without the weapon
in your hands. A well aimed jab to the enemy's weakest part of the
body could easily hurt the latter without requiring much strength from
yourself. A strike to the side of the head with the edge of a bo-staff
could easily give the opponent a concussion. The bo-staff is also used
to block and parry an opponent, who may also possess the same weapon.
Other uses for this weapon include sweeping the leg/feet of the
opponent, breaking the knees, and sweeping dust into the opponent's
not hard to find a good bo-staff in the time of a need. A good stick
could be found everywhere on the streets. If ever surrounded, pick up
a large stick, and spin it with lightning speed around you two or
three times, then striking back into a hard fighting stance. If the
enemy is not already intimidated to death, then he/she should be
getting ready for a good beating!