Blocking with the Jo might seem relatively simple, but there are numerous things that must be considered when contemplating such a block. The first consideration is what you are blocking. This not only refers to the type of strike being employed against you, but the type of weapon as well. Some blocks may work well against some types of weapons, but afford you little if any protection against others.
Consider for a moment that you are holding the Jo such that your hands have divided the weapon into three equal sections. Your hands are one-third of the way in from each end of the weapon. Now consider that your opponent strikes downward toward your head with a Tate Tettsui Uchi. Raising the Jo and thrusting the middle upward to intercept the incoming strike will likely be quite effective, perhaps even resulting in an injury to the attacker’s arm.
If a similar incoming strike is delivered with a Jo instead of the arm then the identical blocking movement is quite likely to successfully thwart the attack (though there are ways for the attacker to avoid your block), provided you do not allow the incoming strike to contact any of the exposed parts of your hands. So again this is likely to be an effective blocking solution.
If, however, the opponent is striking with a Katana then this blocking strategy might fail catastrophically. Your Jo might keep the Katana from striking you, but it is also possible that the Katana will cleave through your Jo and implant itself in your skull. This would be something less than an optimal outcome.
The type of block we have been discussing might be thought of as a hard block. Its purpose is to provide a direct impediment to an approaching strike. It is a brute-force block. While it can be effective, it also presents significant risks, even when blocking something like another Jo.
The problem with this type of block becomes clear when you consider that a Jo is a dual-ended weapon. Either end can be used for Uke or Atemi (or Nage). If you use a forceful and focused block to impact the attacking end of the opponent’s weapon, they will simply swing the opposite end of the weapon around your block and strike you with that other end. In fact, your forceful block may impart much of the initial energy necessary to move the opponent’s weapon in a new attacking direction.
For these reasons it is generally preferred that blocks using the Jo be more like a parry than a forceful block. The parry motion moves the attacking weapon to the side. This also works to disrupt the opponent’s structure, making subsequent strikes more difficult for them (but certainly not impossible). The parry also works better against a Katana where you would press into the side and back of the Katana rather than attempt to intercept it edge-on (I am not advocating that you should attempt this block – it can be quite dangerous, especially if you are new to weapons usage).
One additional caution is in order regarding blocking. It is important to consider potential injuries to your hands from another weapon while you are blocking. If an incoming strike will come anywhere near one of your hands that hand must support the weapon without grasping it. The hand is pressed into the weapon from behind so it can resist inward forces, but does not allow any portion of the hand to be caught between your weapon and the attacking weapon.
There are times when injury to your hand can occur when you do not expect it. If you hold your hands at one-third of the way from each end and parry a strike, then the strike may slide along your weapon until it strikes one of your hands. You can avoid this type of injury by ensuring you quickly pull the affected hand back out of the way of the secondary contact motion. For example, if you parry a downward directed strike off to your left, you will want to pull your left hand inward quickly so the downward motion of the opponent’s weapon cannot strike your left hand as the weapon descends further downward. In this case you might also use your right hand to parry the opponent’s weapon further away from your left hand.
Here are a few specific blocking scenarios with which you should become quite familiar. There are others that you will encounter over time, but these are some primary blocking strategies you should master initially.
- As already discussed, grasp the weapon with both hands at the one-third points and block or parry an incoming strike. Note that you might block using the middle portion of the weapon or the end of the weapon (just watch your knuckles).
- Grasp the weapon with one hand near the end and the other hand at the nearest one-third point and then use the longer two-thirds portion of the weapon to block or parry the incoming strike.
- Grasp the weapon with one or both hands at one end and then plant the other end of the weapon directly downward and firmly into the ground. Use the weapon to block or parry a strike to your lower body. This method is less effective on a slick flooring surface. You should also note that this leaves you open to an immediate opposite-side strike from your opponent’s weapon.
- Grasp the weapon at one end and then support the weapon from behind or below with your opposite hand at the nearest 1/3 point on the Monouchi. The hand can be open or you may wish to support the weapon somehow between your thumb and index finger (as pictured at right).
- Grasp the weapon near one end with one hand and then support the weapon from behind or below at the opposite 1/3 point with your opposite hand. The weapon is supported from behind or below with either an open palm (no fingers exposed over the top of the weapon), a U-Hand (where the weapon rests along the gap between your index finger and thumb), or a variety of other hand positions that do not expose bony surfaces to impact injuries.
- Hold the weapon with one hand near the end and swing the weapon in a wide arc intended to deflect and parry the incoming strike away from your body. This can be used effectively against a Tsuki-type strike but is not particularly effective against an attack with substantial angular velocity.
- Grasp the weapon at one end with one or both hands and then use another body part (perhaps a shoulder or thigh) to serve as another anchor for the block.
Most of these blocking strategies can be used in both vertical and horizontal applications. Work with each block to see how effective it is against a Tsuki, vertical, and horizontal strike. Some will exhibit strengths and weaknesses against various types of strikes. Strive to understand what might be the best type of block or parry for a particular variety of attack.
You will also want to review our discussion on Angular and Tangential Velocities. Where you block is as important as when and how you block. You will want to avoid blocking near the incoming end of the weapon when it is being used to delivery an arching strike.
These are the most common blocks you will use over time. Keep in mind that all blocking is improved if you escape or otherwise move as part of the blocking effort. Experiment to see if you can discover other ways in which the weapon can be used to block or parry various types of strikes.