The Jo can be thought of as being divided into even thirds; the front, middle and back third. You can think of the weapon as a long lever or as a quickly spinning propeller. In this article we will discuss several ways in which you may hold or utilize the weapon. The following general practices are commonly utilized while holding and employing the weapon (these are not hard and fast rules):
- Each hand is placed on the weapon such that one third of the Jo is to the right, left, or middle of either hand. In other words, the placement of the two hands divides the weapon into equal thirds.
- One or both hands are placed at or near the very end of the weapon.
- One hand is at the end of the weapon and the other is near the closest 1/3 position on the Jo (so the weapon is being held only by the nearest 1/3 of the weapon.
- One or both hands are placed in the exact center of the weapon. This is often beneficial when spinning the weapon quickly.
- The hand furthest away is commonly positioned with the palm up, the nearer hand is commonly positioned with the palm down. This allows for the best opportunity to rotate the weapon during use. All other hand orientations are also commonly used, but each has some limitation that means it is effective only for specific purposes.
- A hand at the end of the weapon generally has the little finger adjacent to the very end of the weapon (without sticking out beyond or covering the Kontei). At times the hand might be inverted (thumb nearest the Kontei), but this has limited use.
- It is quite common, especially when blocking, to release the grip on the weapon with one hand and to use this hand to support the weapon from behind or underneath such that the hand cannot be impacted by contact from another weapon. The supporting hand may be positioned as an open palm or by positioning the weapon along the top edges of the index finger and thumb. Other hand positions are also possible such as the front hand position shown in the image above.
- Great attention must be paid to hand positions when striking, blocking, or otherwise employing the weapon to ensure your hand is not contacted by the opponent’s weapon. A broken hand is far less useful for wielding the weapon.
- The weapon is often rotated when blocking or striking to provide added emphasis, impact, and power to the movement. This also makes the weapon a bit more difficult for an opponent to grab.
- When swinging the weapon the back (nearest) hand is used to generate most of the power and speed of the movement. The front (furthest) hand is used to guide and direct the weapon and to add some additional speed and power during the last portions of the movement. The back hand is commonly pulled to your center when striking to derive maximum power and to add stability to the weapon.
- At times both hands may be positioned at or near one end of the weapon. This is a common position when swinging the weapon widely. It might also be used to press the opposite end of the weapon into the floor to provide a support or to provide a blocking surface against some types of Gedan or Chudan strikes.
When working with the Jo you will discover that it is seldom beneficial to grasp the weapon tightly. While there are certainly times when a tight grip is useful or mandatory, is it usually much better to maintain a firm grip with one hand and a somewhat more relaxed grip with the other. Neither hand normally grips the weapon tightly in most circumstances.
The reason for this is that the Jo weapon is often wielded very quickly. At speed a person can strike with opposite ends of the weapon in a fraction of a second. Such rapid movements require that you be able to respond quickly to dynamic and rapidly evolving events. If you hold the weapon too tightly you will find it hard to relax your grip in sufficient time to reposition your hands as needed. As a result you are likely to be struck or outmaneuvered.
One of the most critical aspects of using this weapon is realizing that you must be flexible with regard to timing and the ability to shift hand positions quickly. The outcome of this is that you will find yourself tightening and relaxing your grip continually while the weapon is in use. But the hands should grip tightly only for the brief moment where such action is necessitated. If you maintain that tight grip any longer you will probably pay for it in some manner in just a few milliseconds.
The thing that makes the weapon so quick and responsive is that it is a two-ended weapon. Either end (or any section) of the weapon can be employed very quickly. So a person may strike at you with one end of the weapon and a mere fraction of a second later strike you with opposite end. The weapon can be used to thrust at you one moment and swing at you the next. You will quickly gain an appreciation for speed and flexibility of this weapon as you practice its use and explore the various Tensoku Ryu Jo Kata.
When wielding the Jo (or any weapon) work to avoid looking at it. Instead seek to look at your real or imagined adversary or training partner and the entire world around you. If you watch the end of your weapon you may not notice the end of your opponent’s weapon coming rapidly in your direction from a different angle. Kersplatt! Medic!
Practice looking at the entire scene rather than the small part occupied by your weapon. Do not follow your weapon’s movements with your eyes. And do not follow the movement of your opponent’s weapon either. Use your peripheral vision at all times. This way you might better notice a weapon transition or a friend of your opponent trying to sneak around behind you. Keep a wide field of view rather than a tunnel vision perspective.
One additional consideration must be mentioned. You should always hold and move the weapon such that it is at your center and provides a direct barrier between yourself and your opponent. Strive to always view your opponent by looking directly beyond (or through) your weapon – not by looking beside it. This way you ensure the weapon is always between yourself and your opponent (and his or her weapon). When moving or spinning the weapon try to do it in a manner that allows the weapon to remain directly between yourself and your opponent during the entire movement. If at any time the weapons moves off of your center line then your opponent will have a striking opportunity. Another way to look at this is that the weapon should always be on your central plane.