The bo staff is one of the most iconic and most important weapons in martial arts. Its history spans centuries and continents—and even fictional galaxies. It’s been wielded by everyone from monks and common folk in 17th century Japan, to present day competitive athletes, to Ninja Turtles and Jedi. And its legacy continues to grow thanks to the dedicated martial artists who still practice and teach methods involving the bo.
Let’s take a closer look at the bo and its ongoing history.
What is a bo staff?
The bo is a traditional Okinawan martial arts weapon. It is also the most popular type of wooden staff used in current martial arts training.
Historically, the bo was made out of wood and measured 6’ in length with tapered ends. This basic design has remained mostly unchanged to this day. In fact, many modern bo staffs are still made of wood. But there are also other options today, including staffs made out of plastic, metal, and foam. 6’ bo are still popular, but today’s martial arts staffs also come in variety of sizes.
Where did the bo staff originate?
The bo is one of the weapons that the Okinawan people developed in response to the weapons bans that were imposed on them in 15th and 17th century Japan. With no access to katana or other weapons of the time period, and no other means to defend themselves from attack, they started to adapt some of their farming equipment for use in combat. Historians believe that the bo came from the tenbin, aka the stick that you would place on your upper back to carry a pair of balanced buckets.
Which martial arts use the bo staff?
In its early days, the bo was used in Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, which is the oldest Japanese martial art still practiced today.
The Japanese martial art dedicated to the use of the bo called Bōjutsu. (Which translates to “staff technique” in English.)
How do you use a bo staff?
Every martial art that employs the bo has its own techniques and variations, but there are some basic principles that they all have in common. Martial artists use the bo for both defence and offence. Sometimes at the same time. You can wield a bo staff to block an opponent’s attacks, thrust to establish distance between you and them, and to strike them. Sometimes these moves can be executed within seconds of each other. For example, there’s a basic Bōjutsu technique that involves blocking your opponent’s attack with the top of your bo and then immediately going on the offensive with the bottom end of the staff.
Where else can you see the bo staff?
When martial arts techniques look cool, pop culture is bound to start paying attention. And the bo staff is no exception.
The bo has been prominently featured in both martial arts movies and more generally action-oriented fare. And it’s become a popular tool among martial arts-influenced stunt performers and fight choreographers.
Bo techniques have appeared in TV shows like Arrow, Cobra Kai, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. They’ve also been featured in movies like Pacific Rim, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (For more information on martial arts in The Force Awakens, check out our blog post on Daisy Ridley’s amazing stunt double.)
And of course, who can forget on the of the most famous bo wielders of all: Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Foam Covered Bo Staff – Black w/ Red Dragon: This bo staff is made of a foam covering and a plastic tube center. It features a red dragon design in the middle of the staff. Available in 5 sizes. $24.99-$29.99 USD.
Rattan Bo II: This bo staff is made of made of all natural rattan. Available in 2 colors (plain and tiger pattern) and 5 sizes. $18.95-$25.95 USD.
Competition Bo Staff III: ProForce’s newest Competition Bo Staff Made from select hardwoods. Ends are rounded for less splintering. 1 inch diameter at center of staff tapers to 3/4 inch at the ends. Great for practicing forms or competition. Available in 2 colors and 6 lengths. $39.99 USD.
Additional shipping charges may apply to bo staffs due to its size and/or weight.