Bojutsu - the Martial Art of Tenbinbo
At the Arizona Hombu Karate dojo - not only do we train with rokubo (a 6-foot bo), we also train with hanbo (3-foot bo), jo (4-foot bo), kuboton (hand stick), nitanbo (two sticks), eku (oar), bokken (wooden sword) & konabo (club). The photo to the left shows two of our outstanding students - Amira and Suzette - training with bo.
The rokubo is used in the martial art of bojutsu (棒術) one of many peasant weapons' arts of Okinawan Kobudo (古武道). Of all of the kobudo weapons in the Shorin-Ryu arsenal, few seem more traditional than bo. The martial arts discipline for bo known as bojutsu includes distinct styles; however, bo is part of all Shorin-Ryu styles with the exception of Shotokan. For some reason, bojutsu was eliminated from Shotokan in the 20th century.
Historically, bo was, and still is, a farming tool known as a tenbin or tenbinbo. The tenbin is a pole placed across the shoulders by Asian farmers to transport equal weights of material in buckets or sacks at either end. Most tenbin are made from bamboo and the length of bo varied depending on where in the Orient it was made. The unit of measure, known as shaku (尺), is the Japanese foot and is 0.994 feet in length. In times past, longer shaku were used in Japan that are known as korai shaku, equal to 1.167 feet. Anyway, the majority of bo used in Shorin-Ryu are roku shaku, or about 6 feet in length.
Prior to 1961, shaku was a common unit of Japanese measurement. The unit was derived from nature and equivalent to the average length between mature bamboo nodes. But, there are >1,000 species of bamboo; each grows to different heights, diameters and even with lengths between nodes. Bamboo even includes small annuals to giant perennial timber bamboo. It is the fastest growing woody grass plant on earth and known to grow as much as 3 to 4 feet per day. The different species of bamboo vary from a few to 120 feet tall and have diameters as great as 12 inches (now that would produce one heck of a bo). Bamboo has been around for some time and there are even species of bamboo preserved in the fossil record 30 to 40 million years ago. As for kanji, the Japanese use the ideograph "竹" for bamboo. This ideograph represents two twigs of bamboo with leaves.
The length of many bo used in the past included hasshaku (7.96 feet) or hasshaku gosun (8.45 feet) in length. Modern martial arts supply houses sell rokushaku-bo that are 6 shaku in length. Confusion arises from another archaic unit that was also referred to as shaku. This third shaku was 14.9 inches, or the length of an average whale whisker (I had no idea whales had whiskers). Anyway, it was adopted by law in Japan in 1881 for measuring cloth. To distinguish between the two shaku, the cloth shaku was referred to as kujirajaka (kujira meaning whale) while the bamboo shaku was referred to as kanejaku.
Okinawan karate practitioners train with bo. Bo was also used by Japanese samurai. A bo could out reach a katana (samurai sword) and was found most everywhere in Japan. Unlike most Okinawan bo techniques which grasp the bo by splitting it into thirds, Japanese samurai grasped the bo near one end to achieve maximum reach. Many techniques that apply to samurai bo also apply to yari and naginata.
When it comes to the shape of bo, most are familiar with maru-bo, or a round staff. But there are also kaku-bo (four-sided), rokkaku-bo (six-sided) and hakkaku-bo (eight-sided). There is even an archaic bo known as the konabo (also konsaibo and tetsubo) which looked more like a caveman’s version of a club that was studded with iron.
The bo kata of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu include Kihon Bo, Sho No Kun, Sho Ken No Kun, Suuji No Kun, Choun No Kun Dai, Choun No Kun Sho, Bojutsu Shodan, Bojutsu Nidan, Bojutsu Sandan. Note Okinawan bo is referred to as kon or kun on Okinawa.
See our kama page,