Jōdō is a traditional Japanese martial art that focuses on the use of a staff called a jō. The jō is approximately 3 to 5 feet long (0.9 to 1.5 m) and is made of either wood or bamboo. Using this staff, practitioners engage in skirmishes in which they attempt to strike and defend their opponent.
Staves as Weapons
When most people think of traditional Japanese weaponry, they immediately envision the katana. But while the katana was an instrumental weapon in feudal Japan, the country used other weapons as well, including staves. Today, the staff remains a key element in a number of Japanese martial arts, including jōdō.
Historians believe that staves have been used in East Asian martial arts for thousands of years. Unlike swords, they didn't require forge welding to produce. Rather, they were made by harvesting wood or bamboo and crafting the material to the desired shape. Staves were often used for slashing, thrusting and stabbing. Additionally, they were used for pole vaulting and similar manoeuvres.
Origins of Jōdō
It's believed that jōdō was invented by the famous Japanese swordsman Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi some 400 years ago. According to legend, Katsuyoshi created the staff-focused martial art after losing a duel to Miyamoto Musashi. Legend has it that Musashi won the battle by blocking Katsuyoshi's sword attack using two staffs. Following his defeat, Katsuyoshi went on to form jōdō.
Whether or not the aforementioned story is accurate is open to debate. Nonetheless, historians believe that jōdō was created by Katsuyoshi. The reason for founding it, however, is somewhat of a mystery.
Two Branches of Jōdō
Modern-day jōdō has two specific branches. The first branch is koryu, which means "old school jōdō." Koryu is subdivided into other categories for the specific school in which it is practiced and taught.
The second branch of modern-day jōdō is Seitei Jōdō. This is the branch practiced and governed by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF). Seitei Jōdō encompasses a dozen different techniques, all of which are associated with Shinto Muso-ryu.
Of course, jōdō isn't the only Japanese martial art involving staffs. Another popular and widely practiced Japanese martial art is bojutsu. Often associated with Okinawan kobudō or with koryū budō, bojutsu is a fundamental element of traditional martial arts training. And like its jōdō counterpart, bojutsu revolves around the use of a staff (known as kon in Okinawan literature).