Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Bojutsu - the martial art of Stick Fighting

For traditional karate & kobudo students, bōjutsu (棒術) is an important part of Okinawan Kobudo (古武道) as well as Japanese Koryu Budo (古流). It is considered to be an extension of martial arts.

Of all of the kobudo weapons in the Shorin-Ryu arsenal, few seem more traditional than bo. The  is the weapon most people begin their kobudo training. The martial arts discipline of bo known as bojutsu includes distinct styles; however, bo is also part of the Shorin-Ryu styles. 

For more than 3 decades, Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo was part of the curriculum in the Department of Physical Education, Department of Kinesiology, Department of Extended Studies, and University Club Sports at the University of Wyoming. The martial arts were one of the more popular classes and club activities on campus and often highlighted at various university events.

Kobudo was taught along with traditional karate by Professor of Budo Soke Hausel. It was relatively inexpensive martial arts weapon for students to purchase from local lumber or hardware stores: all that was needed was a 6-foot wooden dowel or closet rod. But most dowels are made of pine and can not be used safely for bunkai (practical practice): most snap when struck with force. Thus university students, staff and faculty were asked to purchase Oak or a similar hardwood dowel. On Okinawa, martial artists attain bo from backyards using kama or  katana and cut a bo from a bamboo garden - but not in Laramie where temperatures periodically exceed -30oF in winters.

Professor Hausel accepts a full force kick from
Sensei Gillespie at a UW basketball game.
Okinawan Karate and Kobudo Demonstration
(University of Wyoming Photo Service).
When the University of Wyoming Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo Club began to expand in the 1990s, the club was recognized as one of the two top Juko Kai International associated schools in 1999 – which was not easy being that JKI is a large organization. There were nights when as many as 50+ students appeared in the Education Building Gym with 6-foot bo-staffs. In Physical Education classes in Corbett Gym, as many as 110 students attended class each semester. More would have attended, but 110 was the absolute cutoff limit due to space. This was an impressive showing of student interest, particularly when one compares the size of the University of Wyoming to other universities and community colleges. At the time, UW only had 10,000 students. As a comparison, Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona is more than double the size of UW.

It was a challenge keeping everyone in one piece in these classes; so Professor Hausel spaced the students with strict orders for no one to practice by themselves for fear that someone might accidentally walk into a bo. Everyone carried their bo in a vertical position held against the right (migi) shoulder. In this way, the Professor Hausel was able to keep everyone safe from a rogue swing. The classes focused on basic strikes (uchi), blocks (uke), forms (kata), and a few applications (bunkai) on crowded kobudo nights, and all classes ended without a bo imprint on the side of anyone's head (atana). This went on for more than 3 decades as students, staff, faculty and the community were exposed to a large variety of traditional martial arts. Thousands of university and Wyoming community members participated in karate, kobudo, self-defense, jujutsu, samurai arts, women's self-defense, sorority, martial arts history, Christian, Institute of Religion, Chinese New Year and International Community classes, clinics, and demonstrations during this time. Professor Hausel brought the Okinawan martial arts to the University of Wyoming in 1977 and classes and clinics continued over the next 35 years. Professor Hausel donated time to teach most martial arts classes and clinics, and he had other duties on campus related to geological research and writing

Dr. Amit, Electrical Engineer & martial arts
student, demonstrates bo. University of Wyoming
Campus Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo Club.

Professor Hausel was promoted to Soke in 1999. Only one person in any style of karate, jujutsu, aikido, judo, etc. ever reaches such a high level in martial arts. His martial arts activities and geological investigations were recognized by University presidents, Wyoming governors and National and International Halls of Fames. The martial arts group performed at many Men's and Women's UW basketball games. In one demonstration, the group finished with Soke Hausel breaking slabs of rock with his knuckles and head (he often joked that good martial artists are also good geologists and know how to pick rocks for breaking). At another demonstration, one of this Shihan (master instructor) performed a two-person bo-tonfa kata with him. During an early block, Soke broke the Shihan's bo with his tonfa. They finished the kata; but Soke noted it was a challenge to start with a bo and finish with hanbo. But it also emphasized why hardwood bo is used for karate training.

Historically, the bo was developed as a farming tool known as a tenbin or tenbinbo. These are still used in the Orient. The tenbin is a pole placed across the shoulders of a farmer to transport equal weights of material in buckets or sacks at either end. Most tenbin are made of bamboo due to availability of material. Any pole of suitable length could be used as a carrying pole or handle depending on the personal needs of a farmer. 

Nodes (shaku) are visible in the bamboo fence
The length of a bo varied depending on where in the Orient  it is made. The differences in length and diameter are due to a measuring unit known as shaku (). In China, shaku is known as chi and equals 1.094 feet (referred to as a Chinese foot). All around the Orient, different countries have different names for shaku and there is not much consistency other than being approximately the length of an English foot. In Japan, a shaku (Japanese foot) is 0.994 feet in length. 

In times past, longer shaku were used in Japan. The korai shaku equals 1.167 feet. Because of these differences, there remains an interpretation problem of historical records. 

Bo kumite (sparring). Sensei Paula attacks Shihan (Dr Adam)
So why is there inconsistency in shaku? Prior to 1961, shaku was a common unit of measurement in Japan. The unit was derived from nature and equivalent to the average length between mature bamboo nodes. For those fascinated by bamboo, it should be obvious that the length between nodes will vary from plant to plant and between individual stocks in a single plant. But it is even more entertaining when one learns more facts about bamboo. There are >1,000 species of bamboo; each with different heights, diameters and even different lengths between nodes. The species includes small annuals to giant perennial timber bamboo. It is the fastest known growing woody grass plant in the world and has been reported to grow as much as 3 to 4 feet per day.

The different species of bamboo vary from a few feet to 120 feet tall with diameters as great as 12 inches (now that would produce one heck of a bo). There are many variables in bamboo. For those interested in paleontology, it is interesting to note that species of bamboo are identified in the fossil record 30 to 40 million years ago. As for kanji, the Japanese and Chinese use the ideograph "" to represent bamboo, which represents two twigs of bamboo with leaves. 

The length of bo produced in the past was known as hasshaku (7.96 feet) or hasshaku gosun (8.45 feet); both which are considerably longer than bo sold by martial arts supply houses. Supply houses sell rokushaku-bo that is 6 shaku in length. Supply house lengths are satisfactory for the needs of martial arts clubs; but for the purist, one might consider a hasshaku gosun bo from a bamboo plant (and cut their own). 

Confusion arises from another archaic unit that was known as shaku. This shaku was equal to 14.9 inches, or the length of an average whale’s whisker (I had no idea whales had whiskers). It was adopted by Japanese law in 1881 for measuring cloth. To distinguish between the two different Japanese shaku, the cloth shaku was referred to as kujirajaka (kujira meaning whale) while the bamboo shaku was referred to as kanejaku.

 Senpai Dennis holds
bo near the end of the stick
to take advantage of reach.
Not only did Okinawan Tode and Karate practitioners train with bo, the bo was also employed by Japanese samurai because of the considerable reach on a katana. Unlike most Okinawan bo techniques which grasp bo by splitting the bo in thirds, the Japanese samurai grasped the bo near one end to achieve maximum reach to stay out of reach from a samurai armed with katana (sword). Many techniques that apply to Samurai bo also apply to yari and naginata.

Some time ago, at a Juko Kai International kobujutsu clinic, members trained in samurai bojutsu arts at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis. The hanger was filled with black belts ranging from 1st dan to 12th dan. Like most Shorin-Ryu systems, no one wore protective gear. It was every karate-ka for himself and herself. Attendees had to be on lookout for anyone near them as everyone and everything was fair game. Often people ended up defending against 2, 3, and sometimes 4 and 5 opponents at once. Talk about fun. Most people would think this would lead to serious injury, but all were well trained and love martial arts and the only injuries were bruises to fingers because of misplaced blocks. 

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 made from wood-studded with iron.

When training with bo, thrusting, swinging and striking waza resemble empty-hand karate techniques. Consequently, bōjutsu is often incorporated into the Shorin-Ryu styles of karate. Additional techniques taught with bo include entrapment techniques (waza) in which a practitioner blocks an attack while keeping both bo in contact to swing the attacker’s bo to a position causing the aggressor to lose balance. There is also techniques whereby  sand is picked up by bo and thrown at an opponent’s face, something that does not work well with dry (let alone wet) sand. 

The kata of the Seiyo Shorin-Ryu karate system include Kihon Bo, Sho No Kun, Sho Ken No Kun, Suuji No Kun, Choun No Kun Dai, Choun No Kun ShoBojutsu ShodanBojutsu NidanBojutsu Sandan  and Bo-Katana No Kun. The last kata in the list is from Japanese Koryu Budo. Note Okinawans refer to the bo as kon and kun refers to bo kata.

Soke Hausel teaching black belt clinic in Corbett Gym at the University of
Wyoming (University of Wyoming Photo Service).
Professor Hausel retired from the University of Wyoming and moved to the Phoenix Valley, where he still teaches every week of the year at the Arizona Hombu Karate Dojo in Mesa. Classes are available to adults and families. In the past, Soke Hausel taught martial arts not only at the University of Wyoming but also taught some classes at Arizona State University, University of New Mexico and the University of Utah.

More information about the bo and bojutsu are available at: Shorin-Ryu Bojutsu, Kobudo and Arizona Kobudo.

For a map and direction to the Arizona Hombu Karate and Kobudo dojo - click on MAP