Bo Staff

History:  The Bo (or Staff) has many historical uses, in Okinawa as well as around the world.  It has been used as an aid for walking, to herd livestock, to guide boats, and to carry two balanced baskets of supplies or water.  The staff, and its close relative the spear, are also one of the earliest human weapons.  As a weapon it has been used by all classes of people.  It’s value comes not only as an easy to find, inexpensive, and effective weapon, but also used as a training tool to safely learn other more dangerous long weapons such as the Yari (spear) and Naginata (halberd.)

Description:  A long stick of wood, in Okinawa traditionally 6 feet long and 1 ¼ inches in diameter, though both size and thickness may vary.  Some Bo taper at the ends, which is said to allow smoother transitioning and concentrate the force focused in striking an opponent.  Some believe that tapered ends were probably not the traditional style for the working class in Okinawa, since tapered ends would have made it harder to transport buckets on the ends, although it is likely that the Bo used to transport buckets were notched, so this probably wouldn’t have been a problem.  Bo can be made of many kinds of wood depending on the desired effect.  Hardwoods such as red and white oak are common (they are strong and less likely to splinter), but bamboo or rattan are also used when flexibility and weight are an issue.  For those well versed in its use, a broom, mop, paint handle, pool stick, pvc pipe, umbrella and any number of other household items can be adapted for use as a Bo.

1 & 3 Kontei (End); 2 Chukon bu (Middle)

Technique:  The Bo Staff, because of its length, is a better weapon for fighting in open spaces and at relatively large distances, outside an opponents attack zone.  The Bo’s length allows an accomplished practitioner to disarm a sword bearing opponent while remaining at a relatively safe distance.  It is best used with both hands, initially with each hand at the points which divide the length by thirds.  With experience a more flexible holding style can be adapted, allowing for full use of the weapons potential distance.

Striking techniques include switching the weapon from side-to-side.  This involves switching the places of the lead and end of the staff.  The quicker this switch is made, the greater the potential energy of the strike.  The karateka can also twirl the bo either overhead, or in front of them, causing confusion in any attacker.  The attacker never knows exactly from where the bo strike is coming.

The Bo Staff is very effective for blocking techniques because it covers such a a large defensive area. Blocks can be made against head, side and low strikes. Holding the bo above one’s head will be an effective block against overhead strikes. Likewise, holding the bo vertically to the side protects the sides.  The ends are used to strike an opponent’s eyes, throat, and solar plexus of groin. It can also be used to block an attack as well as to sweep the feet.  In a fight the Bo acts as an extension of one’s limbs.  A well focused jab can easily disable an opponent without requiring much strength from the person wielding the weapon.  The Bo is also used to block and parry an opponent who may possess the same weapon.  Other uses include sweeping the legs or feet, breaking the knees, and sweeping dust into an opponent’s eyes.  Use of this weapon depends on a sound knowledge of empty hand techniques and stances.  Use of the Bo improves balance, coordination and upper body strength.

Yamanni-ryu Basics:  The way that one holds the bo staff in the hand is unique to this style.  The bo lies along the crease at the base of the fingers, not at the base of the palm as is often the tendency.  The tightest grip is with the pinky and third finger.  The first and second fingers generally hold the bo more loosely and only grip tightly at the point of kime.  This type of grip increases control of the bo and makes it possible to use the wrists which adds power to the techniques.  The practitioner never lets go of the bo to switch hands or turn the bo in another direction.  Letting go to change hands creates an opening for the opponent to attack.  Instead, the bo is rotated by sliding the hands from one position to another.  In this way, there is control over the weapon at all times.  The technique of sliding the hands is referred to as Nukisashi.  The hands are constantly shifted up and down the bo so that the striking or blocking end of the bo is longer.  This technique takes advantage of the weapon’s greatest asset; its reach.  After striking or blocking, the practitioner recovers the length and returns to kime.  The bo is adjusted for each technique by placing the hands where leverage and control are optimized.  If the hands are too close together or close to one end of the bo, it is possible to swing hard, but control is sacrificed.  For each technique, the optimum position is different.

Yamanni-ryu Footwork:  The footwork of Yamanni-ryu is distinct from that of karate for several reasons.  First, the reach of the bo is its greatest advantage.  In the fight between two people who are both using a bo, they will stand a good distance from each other; more than twice as far as in an empty hand fight.  A lot of footwork in bojutsu concerns crossing this distance; or keeping this distance when on the defensive.  The feet are always moving, charging in on an opponent, shifting, or changing directions.  Each technique is rooted on the footwork.  The action of the bo builds on the energy of the moving body, making the technique stronger and faster.

Basics performed on the Spot (Sonoba Kihon)

Grips (Nuke Sachi): Work on making the moves Continuous, Even, Smooth, & Flowing.
1) Switch Hands in Front of Body (Circular Arc)
2) Switch Hands top to bottom in Front of Body
3) Switch Hands to Side of Body (Circular Arc)

Squatting Blocks (Shiko Dachi Gedan Harai Uke): .

Squatting Horizontal Side Strikes (Shiko Dachi Chudan Yoko Uchi): .

Squatting Upper Cuts (Shiko Dachi Shitti): .

Squatting Diagonal Strikes (Shiko Dachi Kesa Uchi): .

Squatting Thrusts (Shiko Dachi Morete Zuki): .

Yamanni-ryu Bo Kata (Modern Bojutsu)

Basic
1) Donyukon Ichi
2) Donyukon Ni

Beginner
3) Choun no kun Sho
4) Choun no kun Dai

Intermediate
5) Ryubi no kun

Yamanni-ryu Bo Kata (Traditional Bojutsu)

Intermediate
6) Shuji no kun
7) Sakugawa no kun

Advanced
8) Shirataru no kun
9) Tomari Shirataru no kun
10) Yunigawa / Yonegawa no Kun
11) Shinakachi / Sunakake
12) Chikin bo / Tsuken bo