Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.  .:: Bruce Lee ::.

The bo staff dates back in history and seems to appear in texts in a variety of different forms. These forms have differences in sizes, as well as differences in the woods that they were made from, even differences in how they were handled. It is known as one of the earliest weapons and is also known as a distance weapon. That is to say that you don't need to be at close range to utilize it.

I have found many informative texts on the bo staff and I have included five "Abstracts" of the texts that I have found. In reality the texts say pretty much the same thing but include some interesting variations. It does appear however, that the art of bo fighting was derived from the Japanese. But then all martial arts were adapted by each eastern country and developed into individual styles of martial arts, weapons included. Here is the information that I have found, and I am still looking!

Tuesday 26th Oct, 2004
Added two video clip of creative bo staff forms from the 2002 US Open in Florida! Awesome!

Read the history of the bo staff and how it developed here.


Read about my journey towards mastery with the bo staff.

Read about the West Coast World Association Tae Kwon Do.

 


Definitions of the Bo Staff

Bo (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 shoulders.
- 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.
- Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo by Master Doug Yates

Abstract One:

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.

Abstract Two:

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 respective weapons.
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 warrior--extraordinary reach.
BAMBOO staffs were sometimes used because of their sharp, ripping qualities.
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, 1983.
Demura, Fumio. Bo: Karate Weapon Of Self-Defense. Ohara, 1976.
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 Press, 1989.
Random, Michel. The Martial Arts. Octopus Press, 1977.
Un, H.B.. Tong Long (Double End Stick) Kung Fu. H.B. Un, 1976.
Wong, James. A Source Book In The Chinese Martial Arts: History, Philosophy, Systems, and Styles. Koinonia, 1978.

Abstract Three:

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).

Abstract Four:

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.

Abstract Five:

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.

In 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 eyes.

It is 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!