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Aikido Training With Jo Staffs
Divine Insight Leads to the Jo Staff
The history of the Jo staff is one of both noble heritage and divine inspiration.
Use of the Jo began sometime between 1608 and 1611 when Samurai Muso Gonnosuke suffered his first and only defeat at the hands of Japan's greatest swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.
Muso used his favorite weapon: the six-foot Bo staff. Musashi, using both a long and a short sword, blocked and parried the staff in such a way that Muso could not use the Bo effectively.
Miyamoto spared Muso's life and Muso retreated to the mountains to meditate on his defeat.
As we will soon see, this drama was not yet entirely played out.
Samurai Gonnosuke Gets a Rematch With Miyamoto Musashi
During Muso's search for a new weapon to use in a possible rematch, he was Inspired by a dream. As a result of this inspiration, he designed a staff that was shorter and thinner than any others being used at the time.
The new weapon, the Jo staff, was designed to be much faster and would allow Gonnosuke to get a lot closer to his opponent.
The shorter Jo was the edge Gonnosuke needed when the two fought again.
Having defeated the master swordsman, Gonnosuke returned the favor and spared Miyamoto Musashi's life, becoming the only man ever to best the most honored of all Japanese swordsmen.
Morihei Ueshiba Demonstrates Use of a Jo Staff
The Jo Staff's Ties to Aikido
Both use circular motions to be most effective.
In Aikido, the Jo staff is used for spearing, hitting, or deflecting a strike from an opponent.
Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969), the founder of Aikido, adapted the Jo with the intent to teach the principles of Aikido. His use of the Jo is called aikijo.
Aikijo is similar to jodo in that they both involve fencing techniques to a degree, but they differ in the overall nature and strategies that are used.
Jodo techniques are faster and sharper, using angular attacks and defensive moves. Aikijo techniques tend to be slower and softer by using circular movements to blend attacks and defensive moves in order to reduce or negate an attack.
Even though Ueshiba believed in unarmed battle, he still understood the importance of becoming competent in weaponry. He believed and taught that Aikido is a process that features circular motions and techniques that are more defensive than offensive. The Jo staff is a weapon of choice when harming or killing your opponent is not the desired result.
Jo Staff Basics
The Jo is also known as "The Wooden Staff of Japan".
The Jo staff is usually created from hardwood that is cylindrical or octagonal in shape. Lengths range from 50" to 56" and a diameter of about 1".
The Jo is also called the four-foot staff or short staff, distinguishing it from the long or Bo staff (six-foot stick), and the Hanbo or half (three-foot) stick.
The Jo staff can be used alone in kata or paired with other staves in practice sessions, and it has historical links with the Japanese katana. Staves are preferred by many martial artists above all other weapons due to their elegance, simplicity. and speed.
Proper Jo Staff Length
Selecting the correct length is important.
The Jo staff of Muso Gonnosuke's design and the one used in his school, Shinto Muso Ryu, is 50 1/4" in length with a diameter of 15/16".
Most martial artists use a Jo tailored to their own height, and some dojos and organizations adopt their own size guidelines.
In choosing a wooden weapon for use in the classroom, the first step for a newbie is to find out what is used or required in their dojo. For instance, a custom made Jo that is extra thick or excessively long may or may not be welcome in some dojos.
While picking your Jo length, remember that everyone is different, but generally speaking customizations in size should be on the conservative side. A taller person may need a Jo 54" or more, and a shorter person might want to stay with the original length of just over 50" rather than ordering a very short Jo.
A general rule for proper Jo length is floor to armpit while standing barefoot. The measurement is with the arm in a normal relaxed position.
Proper Jo Staff Thickness
The role of diameter and balance in Jo staff design.
A feeling of thickness and weight can be affected by the smallest of differences in diameter. A mere 1/16" added to the circumference of a 52" Jo will feel noticeably thicker and may affect the overall feel and balance of the staff.
Some students feel they need to custom order a thicker Jo of 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 " without realizing the effect of small changes in diameter.
The volume of a cylinder is proportional to the square of its radius. If you increase the radius/diameter by a small amount, the feeling of thickness goes up exponentially.
2 standard thicknesses are used: 15/16 and 1". You should base the thickness of your Jo on its length and other characteristics that affect how the weapon feels in your hands.
A taller person may want a staff diameter that matches the overall length, but ultimately, it should feel natural and balanced when using.
Staffs are Also Referred to as Staves, Sticks, or Spears
Advantages of the Jo Staff
Simplicity is the key.
In the Japanese countryside of old, many farming tools were used as weapons.
Several martial arts weapons like the Bo, Sai, Nunchaku and Tonfa were crafted from such tools.
The Jo staff could be crafted pretty quickly from a tree branch. This is one advantage that past stick fighters had over swordsmen of the time. When it came time to fight, a Jo staff could easily be made from materials at hand.
The cane or walking stick has been used as a defensive weapon for as long as people have used them as walking aids. A walking stick can be used to hook and trip an attacker, as well as being useful as a club to strike an opponent.
Nowadays, broomsticks, garden rakes, shovel handles and the like can easily be turned into a Jo staff.
The Jo is a humble weapon with an interesting and noble history - a simple yet complex weapon.
Recommended Books About Jo Staffs
112 pages of clear concise pictures and discussions of the techniques behind this simple yet effective martial arts weapon.
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© 2010 Hal Gall