The stick was probably the first weapon used for self-defence by the human race, the other, arguably would have been the rock.
Over the centuries the stick as a weapon has taken on many guises and personalities, these were generally the result of Socio-geographical influences, ranging from how one race liked to thump each other, to what materials were available in a particular area.
These influences can also be used to explain the many and varied designs the sword has had around the world through the centuries.
Whether the stick was a long weapon such as the Quarterstaff of Europe and England (2.1 to 2.7 metres long, made of Oak or Ash), the Dragon poles of China (up to 3.6 metres long made of Cane or Bamboo) or even as short weapons such as the Baston used by Arnis in the Philippines (around 72cm long and made of Rattan) or one of the smallest, the Japanese Yawara (also known as the Tenouchi at 12 to 15cm), they all shared the reputation of being formidable weapons in the hands of a skilled exponent.
The stick we are most concerned with in this article is the Jo, a 4 to 5 Shaku (approximately 1.2 to 1.5 metre) long stick, that was allegedly derived from the Bo a 5 Shaku or longer (usually 6 Shaku, approximately 1.8 metre) staff.
One of the most popular stories as to the origins of the Jo is that of a Samurai called Muso (musha shugyo) Gonnosuke, who in the late 1500's had become quite famous. Gonnosuke had mastered the use of many different weapons, in particular he was very skilled with the staff, he had studied the Bo in depth, first with Katori Ryu and then with Kashima Ryu.
Armed with the Bo, Muso traveled Japan as a Ronin (masterless Samurai), challenging the great weapons masters he met, he had never been defeated. His fame spread, so when he came to Edo (Tokyo), Miyamoto Musashi, Japan's most famous swordsman was compelled to take up his challenge.
It is written that as the encounter began Muso struck first, but with an even swifter movement Musashi parried the blow and Muso was then caught in juji-dome, a cross block of Musashi's two swords, threatening Muso's life. However, Musashi chose not to kill Muso, and let him go. This defeat deeply affected Muso and for many years he tried to develop a style that would be effective against the likes of Musashi and his Nito (Two Sword) Style.
Eventually, he traveled to Kyushu, the southern of Japan's main islands, where he entered a secluded retreat near the top of Mt. Homan. For several months Muso strictly adhered to the life of an Ascetic, constantly meditating and fasting. It is said that a great revelation came to him through "divine guidance" one sleepless night, where upon he immediately began to fashion a much shorter stick out of the hardest White Oak he could find, this new weapon he called the Jo.
It was Muso's belief that the shorter stick would allow him to get closer to the opponent and to more accurately strike vital points of the body, his system was based on twelve basic techniques, and he named this new art Jojutsu.
In feudal Japan there was only one true way to prove that a martial art was effective, so to this end a duel with Musashi was again arranged. At this second bout between the two warriors in the castle town of Himeji, the unthinkable happened, Musashi, who had until then been unbeaten, suffered the only defeat of his life with Muso emerging the victor. Muso then spared Musashi's life, as Musashi had spared his at their earlier encounter.
Muso Gonnosuke later founded a style of Jojutsu called Shindo Muso Ryu Jojutsu around 1603, within time there was reportedly around seventy seven Ryu's (schools) either devoted to, or including the Jo in their style.
Jojutsu the "Art of the Stick" is arguably one of the most diverse if not challenging martial arts to ever develop in Japan. Outwardly Jojutsu or its modern "Do" form Jodo, appear deceptively simple to master, but as training progresses, Jojutsu demands exceptional timing, absolute concentration and self-confidence of the practitioner.
Traditionally, the Samurai warriors had to master many different weapons, but in more recent times most schools have specialised in a single weapon, the most common of these has been the sword, Kenjutsu, the "Art of the Sword" was always considered to be the ultimate Japanese weapon art.
Unlike Kenjutsu, where every encounter is considered a life and death situation, Jojutsu gives the exponent the ability to defeat an enemy without killing them or even seriously injuring them, as blows can be aimed at non-vital targets to disable an adversary.
This ability was one of the contributing factors that enabled Jojutsu to maintain its combat effectiveness, even during the long period of enforced peace that the Tokugawa Shoganate brought to Japan. During this period most of the major weapons arts became considerably diluted due to their lack of true combat experience, as the Tokugawas had ended the civil wars of Japan and banned all duels to the death.
Another of the factors that also enabled Jojutsu to retain its combative nature was the adoption of the Jo by the law enforcement agencies of the Tokugawa (Edo) Period through the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and can still be seen in modern Japanese Police crowd control methods. These techniques are referred to as Keijojutsu (Police Stick Art) and were introduced to the National Police Agency, in Tokyo in 1927 by Takaji Shimazu and Kenichi Takayama both masters of Shindo Muso Ryu.
It was Takaji Shimazu, after making a number of changes to his art who renamed it Jodo in the 1960's, this was meant to indicate for the practitioner a fundamental change from an art of self-protection to one of self-perfection.
There are still many schools that teach Jojutsu, either Koryu (classical), Gendai (contemporary) or even Jodo, and although these skills may seem archaic, the principals they teach relate to any long implement that may be at hand (tree branch, broom, fence paling), and are thus a valuable tool in any Samurai's arsenal.