Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Bigger Stick - thoughts on the Jo

I've mentioned that I study jo, but I haven't really written about it much.

I am going to switch over to participating in a Kobudo class that starts with bo, so my jo study time will be greatly reduced.  In that program, they do include the jo (yes, many people think that Kobudo weapons only refer to Okinawan weapons) but that's about two years or so away in their program.

So before I pick up a even bigger stick, I'd like to discuss briefly what I've learned and what I like about with the jo.

The beginning of Jo Form 3.
First, I think that the jo is a good compromise between the weight and speed of a short weapon and the advantage of reach with a long weapon.  As a short person, longer weapons can be difficult to manipulate, but the jo is pretty easy.  Even using it one-handed (which is not the way it's typically done but there are times where it might be useful) isn't not that hard to manipulate.

If you've never handled one, the jo we have been working with are about an inch (24mm) in diameter and made of Japanese White Oak, which has a very dense grain.  In our class, we do hit stuff, such as other jo and bo and bokken (all of which are also very hard woods), and this material and diameter holds up really well.

The length - about 50 inches (1.27 m) - not only make it practical, I think it is a better analogue of weapons of convenience - such as broom/mop handles - that you'd find in real life.

Second, the way my instructor teaches jo, the interpretation is that you are facing a katana (versus another jo, or some other weapon), at least, initially.  So, the advantage here is that I'm learning jo but I'm also learning a few things about the katana.  Not enough to wield one effectively, but enough to understand some of the basics about how the katana works, as weapon.

The Jo's length is designed to be long enough to beat the reach of a katana's blade (which is about 23-1/2 inches or 60 cm at a minimum).  The story of this can be found here, and is similar to the story my teacher tells in class, as he was told by his teacher.  I can't verify the accuracy of that story, but I can't deny in practical application vs. a bokken, which we have done in practice, it does work, even at a good speed.

Stepping off the line after a thrust with a rising strike.

Thus, the way we hold the jo is that we hold it at one end to maximize the length of the weapon, and use a grip much like you'd use on a katana.

Not once in any form or any application have I spun it around holding the middle of the jo or tossed it and caught it, mainly because we are actually practicing it versus a weapon, not to look cool.  If you make a mistake with jo vs. katana, you're probably dead.

One thing I like about the way I am learning jo is the simplicity of the footwork.  We don't have fancy stances - it's pretty much front stance, bladed (aka "fencing" stance), and back stance.  We step off the line when it makes sense to do so.  We use our hips, especially with thrusting strikes, to generate power.

The very beginning of the thrust.  My back hand
will stop at my hip and I will "telescope' the jo
forward, using my right hip to add power.
I'm not practiced enough to be able to spot the downsides to the jo, other than the obvious (wooden weapon vs. sharp steel leave little room for error, I think).  As I learn Okinawan weapons, I'm sure I'll spot some, and I'll write about that at a future date.

I'll keep practicing what I've learned in jo, because I really do enjoy this weapon very much.  I simply can't deny the huge advantage in reach vs. the shorter weapons I usually play with.

Here is a short snippet of video of me doing the last part of Jo  Form 3 and all of Jo Form 4 (the two are frequently combined because they are so short) so you can point and laugh at how much I suck at it.  In my defense, I prefer hitting stuff over forms, but my ambition is to teach this some day, so I have a lot of work to do before I get good enough to teach it.

When I start in January, I will have to wear a white gi - HORRORS! - but I will still wear my Arnis belt the way it's supposed to be worn, dagnabbit!

Have you studied jo or another weapon of similar size?  What did you think, both good and bad?  I'd love to know!