Across the world, people have been using long pieces of wood to hit each other for millennia, with traditional and formalised styles to be found in Japan, China, the UK, France, India, across virtually the whole of Africa and many more countries and regions. In today’s theoretically more enlightened time, however, one might like to think that there is no longer any need for the staff to be used in such a manner. Instead, staffs can be used as fitness tools: the sheer weight and length of a “Bo Staff” lends itself perfectly to the development of coordination, strength, speed and stamina.
Getting Started with a Bo Staff
First things first, find a staff and get used to the feeling of it, the length and the weight, the balance. Hold the staff with the hands about shoulder width apart in the middle section of the stick. Make sure the stick is balanced equally to either side. Try a few practice strikes: swing the stick to the left side and the right side of an imaginary opponent, striking at different heights (such as the head, ribs and knee). Put one leg forward and thrust with the butt of the stick. This can be done with either leg forward and at a variety of heights; thrust to an imaginary nose, chest, groin or foot.
Once the stick becomes familiar and a range of strikes has been added, try striking and stepping, changing feet and moving around and striking. The staff can be held nearer (or further) from one or the other end of the stick, adding resistance to strikes. Try to keep moving and try to keep the staff moving. Add in some imaginary blocking techniques – lift the stick over head to block a descending blow, turn the staff vertical and push out to the side to block lateral blows. Move the feet to get out of the way of an imaginary thrust, perhaps parrying with the stick simultaneously.
As you move and strike, remember that blows can come in from any angle: strike upwards, diagonal, downwards, vertically, thrusting….and remember to block all these angles as well.
Adding Different Techniques
Once the stick is a comfortable addition, some more advanced techniques might be added in. Techniques might be performed one-handed, for instance. Leap forward and thrust one-handed, whilst holding the staff near the end. Extend with the whole body.
The staff need not be held in a death grip throughout. Allow the staff to move through the hands under control, changing the length and reach of the stick from technique to technique. When striking, try sliding the lead hand back along towards the rear hand to give a combination of speed and power to the blow. Release the staff and change the hand positions, try out different grips.
Flipping the Staff: Hold the stick with both hands nearer to one end. Keep a firm hold with the hand nearest to the end (this hand holds the staff throughout) and use the other hand to throw the staff (releasing this hand in the process, of course) over-head, catching with the throwing hand again as the stick descends.
Twirling One-Handed: Hold the staff at the centre and, with the bottom end of the staff, try to describe a horizontal figure eight in the air to the front. The bottom end of the staff will descend through the centre of the eight and rise to the sides. The other end of the staff will pass to either side of the body. This can also be reversed, so that the top end of the stick is used to describe the shape. In this case, the top end of the stick will rise through the centre and descend at the edges.
Twirling with Two Hands: There are several ways to perform a two-handed spin, but all of them require the spinner to keep the wrists loose throughout. One of the simplest ways to perform a two-handed spin is to perform the one-handed spin, as above, but pass the stick from hand to hand as it passes to the other side of the body; that is, as the left hand spins the staff on the right side of the body, the right hand takes the stick from the left, passing it back to the left hand as it completes the spin on the left side of the body. Once this has been mastered, the spinner may try to maintain contact with both hands throughout.
Using the Body
Using the whole body is key in the work out. Stepping quickly in and out to strike and block, moving in different directions and on different angles, kicking and striking with other body parts, even using the stick as support for higher kicks or vaulting techniques; all of these are possibilities for a free-form Bo Staff Workout. If at a later stage, a partner joins in the training, some patterned sparring might be added, in which case body movement will become all the more important.