Striking with the Jo deserves some careful consideration. There is a great deal of technique and application to study. Let’s begin with some simple physics. Much of this material is also covered in the topics on Angular and Tangential Velocities and Levers.
The power of the Jo is in part derived from tangential velocity. It is a relatively long weapon so holding it at one end and swinging it quickly will generate a great deal of kinetic energy at the furthest end. Longer weapons will generate more energy than shorter weapons (but they also require more energy to move). Likewise, a heavier weapon will develop more kinetic energy than a lighter weapon (again requiring more energy to overcome inertia).
Holding the weapon at one end and swinging it briskly generates the largest forces possible when using the Jo. This allows you to strike with great force to the head (the top or the sides of the head), torso or legs. It also affords you perhaps the least amount of control.
It is the inertia of the weapon that is at the root of the control problem. It takes a relatively great deal of time and energy to get the weapon moving in the first place, and then an equal amount of energy to get the weapon to stop. If the weapon misses its target then it takes a long time for the weapon to stop moving since you are only holding one end. If the weapon impacts something, then you and your opponent will each share a substantial amount of the force necessary to stop the weapon.
Since it takes a relatively long time to both start and stop the weapon when used in this manner, your opponent has ample opportunity to strike you as you begin your swing and at the conclusion of your strike. This means your strike might be easily countered by your opponent since you have so little control over the weapon before, during, and immediately after your swing.
We therefore prefer other strike strategies when using the Jo (and most other weapons). One common striking approach is to hold the weapon near the one-third point with one hand and at the nearest end with the other hand. Assume for the moment that your right hand is at the end of the weapon and your left hand is approximately at the nearest one-third point. Begin your strike by using the left hand to guide the weapon toward its intended target. As the weapon approaches the target the left hand might go rigid and the right hand might suddenly pull inward. The left hand is being used essentially as a fulcrum. The Jo is functioning as a lever. This sudden brisk motion by your back hand greatly increases the angular and tangential velocities at the far end of the weapon, thereby giving it a sudden burst of energy at the last moments before the strike. You have improved energy production yet maintain much more effective control of the weapon.
This type of strike is usually referred to as Uchi Atemi. If delivered downward toward the front of the head or face it is usually referred to as Shomen Uchi. If directed to the side of the head it is usually referred to as Yokomen Uchi. The strike can also be used quite effectively to target the torso, arms, and legs.
The Jo is also used for Tsuki type strikes in which the end of the weapon is thrust directly into the target, using the full force of the weapon to strike a one-inch diameter target area on the opponent. This type of strike has several advantages. Firstly, all of the force is delivered to a very small target area. Secondly, if directed toward the face the end of the weapon is very hard to see coming and may arrive before the opponent has time to react. Thirdly, this strike can often be delivered very quickly, especially if you are already in range for such a strike. Lastly, a block or parry executed by your opponent may simply allow you to swing the opposite end of the weapon inward for a follow-up strike.
A Tsuki strike might be directly to the face, neck, torso, legs, or feet. Depending on circumstances it may be possible to strike with a Tsuki and then immediately strike using the opposite end of the weapon with some form of Uchi. Like blocking, you want to ensure you do not over commit your movements to provide a timing window during which the opponent may counter your efforts. Strive to be light, quick and relaxed in everything you do using the Jo
Here are some specific examples of strikes using the Jo. For each example we will assume that you hold the nearest end of the weapon in your right hand and that your left hand is placed about one-third of the Jo length forward of our right hand.
- Raise both hands upward along your center line until your right hand is roughly shoulder height. Now drive your left hand downward toward local octagon angle one. As the weapon descends toward your target freeze the position of your left hand and then pull your right hand into your abdomen as briskly as possible. This is Shomen Uchi and it is targeting the front of the face or head.
- Raise both arms simultaneously so that each is at shoulder height and perhaps ten to twelve inches forward of your chest. Press your left hand toward the apex of your center triangle as your right hand moves quickly to your center line directly in front of your chest wall. This is Hidari Yokomen Uchi and is targeting the right side of your opponent’s face or head.
- Raise the left hand upward and then toward your right side. Now begin to lower the end of the weapon forward of your right shoulder. As this is occurring rapidly position your right hand under your left arm. This is Hidari Ura Yokomen Uchi[/glossary and is targeting the left side of your opponent’s face or head.
- Raise the right hand or lower the left hand until the weapon is parallel to the floor. Now quickly thrust both hands directly toward your opponent so that the far Kontei impacts the target. This is Hidari Chudan [glossary]Tsuki and is a thrusting strike directed toward the torso of the opponent. You might also utilize a Jodan Tsuki or Gedan Tsuki by employing a different orientation of the left and right hands.
- Release your grip with the right hand and then invert your left wrist so that the front end of the weapon circle in the direction of your right hand. Grab the weapon with your right hand at the right-side 1/3 point then drive the weapon up and forward toward angle one. This is a Morote Age Monouchi Tsuki. If the strike were directed downward it would be Morote Otoshi Monouchi Tsuki. The impact is with the side of the weapon’s shaft. This strike is not often utilized, but might be useful if you were in close and needed to quickly attack the face or legs while already holding the weapon with both hands. This strike could also be used simply to push someone away by pressing forward at the Chudan level.
As the image at the top of this articles suggests, a Jo strike can follow many different paths. When you become accustomed to striking with a Jo you will see that the many fluid paths shown in this image can be readily replicated by the Jo. It is truly a versatile and effective weapon.
Remember to think as much about your guarding position as you do about your strikes. If you are working with a partner or involved in a conflict utilizing the Jo remember that there are two people trying to find striking opportunities. While being involved in a fight with two sticks seems implausible to most people, there are areas of the world where this is actually quite common. Naturally, you are much more likely to experience practical application of the Jo while training at your Dojo. When practicing with the Jo always remember to retain a viable guard to reduce the chances that you can be readily struck.
You will get a great deal of practice with various blocks and strikes using the Jo in the three Jo Kata in this belt and the two more advanced Jo Kata in the next belt. You will also get practice using the Jo in other skill development exercises as you develop competency in the use of the weapon. You will also find that many of the skills you learn with the Jo will be applicable to both the Bo and Hanbo weapons you will study in your next belt. While these weapons are quite similar to the Jo you will also discover they behave quite differently in many ways as well.