". . . Concentrate on being a person who causes no injury to others . In the heart of the Jo is an arrow."
Jodo has roots in the Japanese martial arts that go back many years. In
the latter half of the fifteenth century, Muso Gonosuke Katsuyoshi, a student
of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-Ryu, founded the Muso Shindo Ryu, a
school that devised the dynamic art of jo-jutsu. The legend tells that Gonosuke
was the only person that could ever defeat the famous swordsman Myamoto
Musashi. Approx. in the year 1605 Gonnosuke managed to defeat Musashi without
causing him great harm.
Gonnosuke became martial arts instructor to the Kuroda clan, located in northern Kyushu. Muso Gonnosuke,
profoundly changed by his encounter with Musashi and by a divine vision atop Mount Homan, created a pre-eminent staff art, the Shinto (or Shindo) Muso-Ryu
jo-jutsu. The Heavenly Way of Muso's staff. There were wooden staff arts before Gonnosuke's time. The Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-Ryu had bojutsu methods using the rokushaku Bo (six-foot staff). Jodo is a powerful art, in which a Jo is used against a swordsman.
The story goes like this:
In the late 16th Century, early 17th Century Japan, when duels to the death were as common as morning coffee is today, two giants clashed in a pair of duels which would become legend. Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin, commonly known as Miyamoto Mushashi, was undefeated and is commonly considered the greatest swordsman who ever lived. Today he is revered as the "Sword Saint" and mention of his book Go Rin No Sho (A Book of Five Rings) is made in most Kendo texts.
Born in 1584, Musashi killed his first opponent in single combat at the age of 13. He fought in several wars killing numerous opponents until about age 50, at which point he lived apart from society and single-mindedly pursued the goal of enlightenment by the Way of the Sword. He was reputed to have devoted his life to this goal, ignoring female companionship or fashion (reportedly being fairly behind in his hygiene). He was also said to have his sword with him at all times, even in the bath so as never to be caught off guard.
After defeating an estimated 60 opponents, including a famous battle on an island in which he carved a boat oar into a wooden sword and killed his opponent with it, Musashi began using only wooden swords, stating that metal swords break under the stress of combat. In his later years he lived in a cave, taking very few students and writing his memoirs. He was also an accomplished painter and sculpter.
Whereas Mushashi lived his life wandering and was in a very real sense self-taught, Muso Gonnosuke looked more to formal education. Gonnosuke was a warrior who had trained in several schools of bujutsu, receiving teaching licenses after having been taught their inner secrets (hiden). Gonnosuke was also a Shinto priest and had extensive training and experience in bojutsu, or the use of the long staff (Bo). Like Mushashi, he was undefeated in many duels and battles involving both sword and Bo.
According to legend, Gonnosuke had gone to Edo (present day Tokyo) sometime between 1596 and 1614 (the Keicho Period). While there he encountered and dueled Mushashi. Mushashi's sword style was known as Niten Ichi Ryu and involved the simultaneous use of two swords. Mushashi won the fight by catching Gonnosuke's weapon in a cross block from which there was no survivable means of escape. Mushashi, having some respect for the way in which Gonnosuke accounted for himself, allowed his opponent to live.
Humiliated, Gonnusuke spent years seeking a way to reverse his defeat and beat Mushashi. He continued to study many arts, always looking for the answer. This type of study was known as warrior austerities (Musha shugyo).
After several years of study he confined himself in a temple on the Island of Kyushu for 37 days. One night he had a dream in which a divine messenger appeared in the form of a child and told him to "know the solar plexus with a round stick". With this message in mind, he devised a new weapon. It was a simple stick, slightly longer than the average sword but much shorter than the longer Bo. It was also of smaller diameter and was not tapered towards the ends, as was the Bo.
Gonnosuke began to develop techniques for use with the new weapon. Taking concepts from spear (Yari), halberd (Naginata), staff (Bo) and sword (Tachi) he developed what eventually became known as JoJutsu.
He eventually sought out Mushashi for a rematch. This time Gonnosuke emerged as the victor, gaining renown as the only individual to defeat the great "Sword Saint." As what a reasonable man could describe as a professional courtesy, he returned Musashi's earlier favor and this time it was he who allowed Mushashi to live.
The Jo can be used to strike like a sword, sweep like a naginata, thrust like a spear (yari). Its two ends can be used, unlike the single point of a sword, and its ma-Ai (fighting distance) can be varied according to the hand grip you take.
Because of its speed and changeable ma-Ai, it is a formidable weapon in the hands of a skilled master. The proper attitude for practising kata is that all attacks are characterised by relaxed movements and postures, maximum focus of energy being applied only at the actual moment of impact. This allows maximum efficiency of movement and conservation of energy and also provides the trainee with a critical margin (yoyu) to be used in the case of something unforeseen occurring.
©David Deer 2002