Bo Weapon Characteristics
- It may be of a uniform one-inch (25 mm) diameter. Weapons that will be used for contact work must be of a uniform one-inch diameter.
- It may be tapered over its length such that it is thicker in the middle than at the ends. It may be up to 1.25” (32 mm) in the middle and as small as 0.75” (19 mm) at the ends.
- A Bo typically has a length of roughly six feet (1.8 meters). The exact length can vary quite a bit, however. Ideally, a Bo will be about as long as you are tall but might be shorter by an inch or two (50 mm).
- The ends of the Bo should be flat with a slight chamfer (1/8 inch or 3 mm) around the circumference to reduce possible cuts from sharp edges. The ends must never be sharpened or rounded over fully.
- A Bo is subject to the same wood and weapons inspection policies associated with the Jo Staff. All weapons used in a Dojo must undergo inspection before their use.
A tapered staff will usually spin more rapidly than a staff of uniform diameter. The choice regarding which to use is strictly up to you. Keep in mind that a tapered staff cannot be used for contact work.
If you expect to use the Bo in demonstrations or tournaments then you may wish to purchase a thinner and more flexible weapon that can move more quickly. Metal, bamboo, and thin wooden weapons are readily available for this purpose. These weapons have benefits when used for showmanship. They are not to be used for contact training however as they are much more susceptible to destruction and potential injury to yourself or a training partner.
Children should naturally acquire or use a Bo that is appropriate for their height. A thinner Bo is often appropriate for children, but again such a Bo should not be used for contact work.
You will likely find that the Bo feels a bit cumbersome when compared to the Jo Staff. However, it has increased range and is more powerful in some cases (due to angular velocity and its overall weight) than a Jo.
You will not want to practice using the Bo weapon in a room with a low ceiling. You will eventually scrape, dent, or puncture the ceiling. That added length of the Bo increases the chances it will impact your ceiling during fairly routine movements. You may wish to either practice outdoors or practice in a location with a ceiling that is at least twelve feet (four meters) high. Your spouse, parents, or landlord will likely be most appreciative.
Bo Uke Waza
Most of the blocking maneuvers for the Bo closely parallel those used by the Jo. The major differences are that the Bo has much greater reach, the Bo can block a larger area (often from head to toe), and the Bo will perhaps take a split second longer to reach its final destination than what can be accomplished with the smaller and lighter Jo.
Practice blocking much as you would with a Jo. You will quickly get a feel for the range, length, and weight of the weapon. You may notice that in some situations it is faster to simply move your center than it is to try to move the weapon. This is truer with the Bo than it is with a Jo.
You might also notice that sometimes it is faster to move only one arm than to move the entire weapon. For example, if you have done an earlier Age Uke with the weapon then you might simply pull down with only your right arm to protect against a Yokomen attack directed at the right side of your head. Moving a single hand rather than the entire weapon can sometimes decrease the amount of time needed to reposition the weapon. But this also often necessitates some movement of your center as well, which can usually be done concurrently with the changing hand position.
Bo Atemi Waza
The major advantages afforded by the Bo when striking are its length and weight relative to the Jo. The Bo is roughly fifty percent longer than the Jo. Therefore tangential velocity can be much greater at the end of a swinging Bo than with the Jo. But, it takes more time and energy to produce this speed. This is where it becomes critical to think of using both hands during strikes, particularly strikes such as a Shomen Uchi. We have stressed this with Jo weapons, but it becomes even more important with the Bo. To generate sufficient power and speed, you have two basic choices. The first is to move the weapon over a large arc so it has time to generate the necessary energy. The second is to use two hands to generate speed over a shorter arc. By using the front hand to initiate a movement and subsequently pulling inward with the Back Hand you will derive more power in a shorter span of arc. This not only provides increased power, but the smaller arc reduces the time and area in which you might be countered.
As discussed elsewhere, the human eye does not quickly perceive something coming directly toward it, but it does readily detect something that moves vertically or horizontally within the field of vision. Since the Bo is quite long it is common for some portion of a Tsuki strike to add a horizontal or vertical component to the movement. This will allow the strike to be detected much earlier than you might hope. Practice delivering a Tsuki so that an opponent will not detect any horizontal or vertical component to the approaching strike. Ideally, all the opponent will see, when it is too late, is the tip of your weapon growing larger as it approaches his or her face. Any wobble you induce into the movement will make it much easier for the opponent to detect your strike.
Bo Nage Waza
Because of the relative length of the Bo, an opponent who grabs the end of your weapon can apply tremendous force, making it much more difficult to throw them. It is therefore important to initiate a destabilizing movement before you attempt a throw. This is also true of the Jo, but the need will become much more apparent when attempting to perform Nage when someone has grabbed your Bo weapon. Push, pull, twist, and or change the elevation of your end of the weapon to initiate structural instability in your opponent. Only then can you attempt to move the opponent into a position where they will be susceptible to Nage.
Naturally, you may find that many forms of Nage can be accomplished, once destabilization of the opponent has occurred, with much less effort using the Bo as compared to the Jo. Interestingly and perhaps counter-intuitively, some forms of Nage may be somewhat more difficult because of the length of the weapon. This can occur when the longer lever-arm of the Bo makes it more difficult to lift something at the far end of the weapon vertically. In these cases, you may wish to further destabilize the opponent or move one hand further along the weapon in the direction of the opponent to reduce the span of the weapon between you and the opponent. This is similar to choking up on a baseball bat. In some cases, this will give you increased control in Nage.