Bo

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A bo (?: ??) or kon, is a long staff, usually made of tapered hard wood, for example white oak, bamboo and in some cases for training purposes, rotan. Sometimes it is made of metal or plated with metal for extra strength; also, a full-size bo is sometimes called a rokushakubo (???: ???????). This name derives from the Japanese words roku (?: ??), meaning “six”; shaku (?: ???); a Japanese measurement equivalent to 30.3 centimeters (0.994 ft); and bo. Thus, rokushakubo refers to a staff about 6-shaku (1.82 m; 5.96 feet) long. The bo is typically 3 cm (1.2 inch) thick , sometimes gradually tapering from the middle to 2 cm (0.8 inch)at both ends. This thickness allows the user to make a tight fist around it in order to block and counter an attack. The most common shape, maru-bo, is a round staff, while kaku-bo (four-sided staff), rokkaku-bo (six-sided staff), hakkaku-bo (eight-sided staff) also exist.[1] Other types of bo range from heavy to light, from rigid to highly flexible, and from simple pieces of wood picked up from the side of the road to ornately decorated works of art.

The Japanese martial art of wielding the bo is bojutsu. The basis of bo technique is te, or hand, techniques derived from Quanfa and other martial arts that reached Okinawa via trade and Chinese monks. Thrusting, swinging, and striking techniques often resemble empty-hand movements, following the philosophy that the bo is merely an “extension of one’s limbs”. [2] As in Okinawa-te, attacks are often avoided by agile footwork and returning strikes made at the enemy’s weak points. [2]

The bo is typically gripped in thirds, and when held horizontally in front, the right palm is facing away from the body and the left hand is facing the body, enabling the bo to rotate. The power is generated by the back hand pulling the bo, while the front hand is used for guidance. When striking, the wrist is twisted, as if turning the hand over when punching. [3] Bo technique includes a wide variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and entrapments. The bo may even be used to sweep sand into an opponent’s eyes.

The earliest form of the bo, a staff, has been used throughout Asia since the beginning of recorded history. [4] Used for self defense by monks or commoners, the staff was an integral part of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, one of the martial arts’ oldest surviving styles. The staff evolved into the bo with the foundation of kobudo, a martial art using weapons, which emerged in Okinawa in the early 1600s.

Prior to the 1400s, Okinawa, a small island located south of Japan, was divided into three kingdoms: Chuzan, Hokuzan, and Nanzan. After much political turmoil, Okinawa was united under the Sho Dynasty in 1429. In 1477, Emperor Sho Shin of the second Sho dynasty came into power. Determined to enforce his philosophical and ethical ideas, while banning feudalism, the emperor instituted a ban on weapons. It became a crime to carry or own weapons such as swords, in an attempt to prevent further turmoil and prevent uprising. [4]

In 1609, the temporary peace established by Sho Shin was violently overthrown when the powerful Satsuma Clan invaded Okinawa. Composed of Japanese samurai, the Satsuma Clan took over the island, making Okinawan independence a thing of the past. The Satsuma placed a new weapons ban on the people of Okinawa, leaving them defenseless against the steel of the samurai’s swords. In an attempt to protect themselves from the devastating forces of the Satsuma, the people of Okinawa looked to simple farming implements, which the samurai would not be able to confiscate, as new methods of defense. This use of weapons developed into kobudo, or “ancient martial art,” as we know it today. [4]

Although the bo is now used as a weapon, its use is believed by some to have evolved from non-combative uses[citation needed]. The bo-staff is thought to have been used to balance buckets or baskets. Typically, one would carry baskets of harvested crops or buckets of water or milk or fish, one at each end of the bo, that is balanced across the middle of the back at the shoulder blades. In poorer agrarian economies, the bo remains a traditional farm work implement.[citation needed] In styles such as Yamanni-ryu or Kenshin-ryu, many of the strikes are the same as those used for yari (“spear”) or naginata (“glaive”).[citation needed] There are stick fighting techniques native to just about every country on every continent.[citation needed]