BOJUTSU System of armed combat using the bo, a staff 5′ long in Japan and 6′ long in Okinawa. Bojutsu was practiced by Japanese feudal warriors, although systematic bojutsu did not develope until the late Kamakura (1192-1333) or early Muromachi (1338-1598) periods. The katori Shinto-ryu style, founded by Izasha Inenao, is the root from which most other systems grew.
Gripping the staff with both hands, bojutsu is executed by striking, poking, blocking, parrying, deflecting, sweeping, and holding. The position of the hands on the staff determines whether the strike is made from long or short distances, making the weapon, or bo, and bojutsu, itself, suitable for close-range or long-range combat. Kata (formal exercise) is the sole training method. Ranging in size and shape from a simple club to a spearlike shaft, the bo is an ancient weapon. An entire arsenal of armed or spiked staves, shafts, and poles, generally of wood bound with iron, were developed concommitantly with the art of Japanese spearfighting.
Because they were comparatively less dangerous in practice sessions than a blade, the staff and various other wooden weapons were often used in the training halls of bujutsu (military arts) schools, where techniques of spearfighting and swordsmanship were taught. This fact helps explain the popularity of the bo among members of those social classes that abhored bloodshed. Priests, monks, travelers, and even poets used the staff. In time, use of wooden weaponry became so well developed that real combat using the staff or a wooden sword could be engaged in by skilled warriors.
There are as many styles in the use of the staff as there are in the use of arms, since there was a wooden substitute for nearly every weapon. Each, however, also developed independently of the weapon to which it was directly related, even producing its own lore and body of literature. One aspect of the bo is the art of the long staff, whose length was that of either the spear, called hasaku-bo, or the halberd, called the rokushaku-bo. A second specialty is the art of the long stick, whose length was that of the long sword (jo or bo) or the regular sword (ham-bo). A particular method of using the long stick, one that is practiced today, is a discipline called jodo (way of the stave).
A third development is the art of the wooden sword known as the bokken, a staff carved and shaped like a real sword. Its practice is not mentioned very frequently, because it was linked so closely to kenjutsu (art of the sword). Yet, most duels among masters of different schools, all tournaments among clansmen, and all rank examinations involved the use of the bokken, so that every Japanese warrior employed it as a part of his training equipment. In certain special cases, the bokken could become a complete symbolic substitute for the katana (sword), as might be necessary for self-defense when skilled swordsmen became itinerant monks or men of peace and developed an aversion to bloodshed under any circumstances.