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A bō (棒: ぼう), joong bong (Korean), bang (Chinese), or kun (Okinawan), is a very tall and long staff weapon used in Okinawa and feudal Japan. Bō are typically around 1.8 m (71 in) long and used in Japanese martial arts, in particular bōjutsu. Other staff-related weapons are the jō which is 1.2 m (47 in) long and the hanbō (half bō, known as tahn bong in Korea) which is 90 cm (35 in) long.
The bō is usually made with hard wood or a flexible wood, such as red or white oak, although bamboo and pine wood have been used, more common still is rattan wood for its flexibility. The bō may be tapered in that it can be thicker in the center (chukon-bu) than at the ends (kontei) and usually round or circular (maru-bo). Some bō are very light, with metallic sides, stripes and a grip which are used for XMA and competitions/demonstrations. Older bō were round (maru-bo), square (kaku-bo), hexagon (rokkaku-bo) or octagon (hakkaku-bo). The average size of a bō is 6 shaku (around 6 ft (1.8 m)) but they can be as long as 9 ft (2.7 m) (kyu-shaku-bō).
A 6 ft (1.8 m) bō is sometimes called a rokushakubō (六尺棒: ろくしゃくぼう). This name derives from the Japanese words roku (六: ろく), meaning "six"; shaku (尺: しゃく); and bō. The shaku is a Japanese measurement equivalent to 30.3 centimeters (0.994 ft). Thus, rokushakubō refers to a staff about 6-shaku (1.82 m; 5.96 feet) long. The bō is typically 3 cm (1.25 inch) thick, sometimes gradually tapering from the middle (chukon-bu) to 2 cm (0.75 inch)at the end (kontei). This thickness allows the user to make a tight fist around it in order to block and counter an attack.
In some cases for training purposes or for a different style, rattan was used. Some were inlaid or banded with strips of iron or other metals for extra strength. Bō 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.
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The Japanese martial art of wielding the bō is bōjutsu. The basis of bō 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 bō is merely an "extension of one’s limbs". Consequently, bōjutsu is often incorporated into other styles of empty hand fighting, such as karate. It should be noted that the "bō" is also used as a spear and long sword in some of its motions, such as upward swing and slashing motion across the body as well as extensions by gripping one end and thus increasing its length as thus making it similar to a spear.
The bō 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 staff to rotate. The power is generated by the back hand pulling the staff, while the front hand is used for guidance. Bō technique includes a wide variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and entrapments. The bō may even be used to sweep sand into an attacker’s eyes.
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The earliest form of the bō, a staff, has been used throughout Asia since the beginning of recorded history. The first bo were called ishibo, and were made of wood (branches, etc. was common?). These were hard to make and were often unreliable. These were also extremely heavy. The konsaibo was a very distant variant of the kanabo. They were made from wood studded with iron. These were still too cumbersome for actual combat, so they were later replaced by unmodified hardwood staffs. Used for self-defense by monks or commoners, the staff was an integral part of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, one of the martial arts’ oldest surviving styles. The staff evolved into the bō with the foundation of kobudo, a martial art using weapons, which emerged in Okinawa in the early 17th century.
Prior to the 15th century, 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 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.
In 1609, the temporary peace established by Sho Shin was violently overthrown when the powerful Shimazu clan of Satsuma invaded and conquered Okinawa. The Shimazu lords placed a new weapons ban, leaving the Okinawans defenseless against samurai weaponry. In an attempt to protect themselves, 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 way" as known today.
Although the bō is now used as a weapon, its use is believed by some to have evolved from the long stick (tenbin) which was used to balance buckets or baskets. Typically, one would carry baskets of harvested crops or buckets of water or fish etc., one at each end of the tenbin, that is balanced across the middle of the back at the shoulder blades. In poorer agrarian economies, the tenbin remains a traditional farm work implement. In styles such as Yamanni-ryū or Kenshin-ryū, many of the strikes are the same as those used for yari ("spear") or naginata ("glaive"). There are stick fighting techniques native to just about every country on every continent.
In popular culture
- The bō is the weapon of Donatello, one of the four protagonists of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics and all related media.
- In the TV show Star Wars Rebels, there is a weapon called the "bō-rifle", which becomes a bō when it is unfolded.
- In the TV show The Walking Dead, the character Morgan wields a bō after learning the art of Aikido from Eastman in Season 6 episode 4. He then proceeds to teach Benjamin the art when he joins The Kingdom.
- In the 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite, the protagonist Napoleon claims he was sought after by a local gang because of his assertion of being pretty good with a bō staff.
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