Black Belt at Home Blog
The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Bo Staff
- September 24, 2013
- Posted by: Michael Hodge
- Category: Bo
So you want to master bo staff? Or, even just learn a few cool moves and basics – this is the Complete Beginner’s Guide to Bo Staff. You’ve found the right place to start.
1) Choosing the Right Bo
Why are you training with the Bo? = what type of bo you need to use.
- Freestyle Bo Training: If you are training to learn freestyle techniques, forms, and possibly even dabble into competitions, then you are going to want a lighter weight bo. I classify our official Bo style “Ultimate Bo” as a freestyle bo art. Therefore, if you are starting out with my training programs, or looking to learn the basics of bo, you will want a toothpick bo.
- Extreme Training/Competitions: Looking to be the next NASKA world champion? Your goal is to be on cereal boxes sold inside of martial arts academies? You will need a very lightweight, yet solid bo. A bo that is very thin, and designed especially for flashiness, and visual appeal. You will want a graphite bo.
- Traditional Training/Strength: Want to train old school – or better yet, traditional, as it has been done for centuries? You are going to want an actual Bo, which is traditionally made of a wood such as oak. This is a strong, heavier wood, designed for actual combat, deadly blows, and weapon to weapon combat. Not recommended for pure beginners, unless you have great control (and a high ceiling). You are going to want an oak bo.
- Combat Fighting/Bo Sparring: Are you training to actually practice combat? In the Ultimate Bo system, we have a section at each level that is called Combat Bo. For Sparring Bo and combat practice, you will need something that is safe enough for actually hitting each other with. Something like an action-reflex bo is really best. Beware that some padded bos are simply a rod of wood, with a thin layer of rubber (or similar material) around it. This does not feel good across the side of the head. You’re going to want a padded bo. If you don’t have the money, for now, you can use a toothpick bo and slide a pool noodle over it.
What Size Bo should I Buy?
For Competition/Freestyle/Tricking Bo Staff
I recommend using a bo which is slightly shorter than you. So if you are 5′ 9”, get a 5′ 6” inches tall bo. Many bos are available in increments of 1/2 foot, or 6 inches. If not, it is possible to purchase a 6 ft. bo, and trim off a little from the top and the bottom. If the bo is taller than you, it can be difficult to do certain rotations, and downward strikes, as the bo will make contact with the ground, this will become very frustrating.
For Traditional Training and Combat
If you are primarily doing bojutsu, Ultimate Bo (traditional and combat), or combat bo – you are going to want a staff that is your height, or slightly taller. If you are 5′ 10”, get a 6′ bo. If you are 6′ 1”, go ahead and drop down one inch. It is better to be within a one to two inch range of the height of your bo if possible. Some staff arts, such as forms of Chinese staff, use much longer staffs, such as 7′ or 8′. The traditional Japanese bo, the rokushakubo, which literally translates to six-foot-staff, is a good fit for most.
Where can I buy a Bo Staff?
- Online. Search “bo staff” and look through all of the top online sellers. You can also check our eBay and Amazon to find a nice bo at a good price. Remember that a bo is an over sized item, so expect to pay an added shipping fee due to its size.
- Custom Made. If you want to make your own, or know someone who is good with woodworking, get a custom bo! Woods such as rattan, bamboo, and oak are good options. Make sure it is smooth and sanded down so that splinters will not become an issue, you may want to coat it with some sort of outer protectant.
- Local Martial Arts Supply Store. These are quite rare, unless you live in a big city. Go to google maps, places, etc. and search your local businesses. If there is a store nearby, you can check out their selection and avoid the shipping cost.
- Local Martial Arts Academy. People tend to forget this is a great option. Basically every martial arts academy/club/school sells products from a wholesale company. They very well may have actual bo staffs in stock at their location for purchase. Just call up any local Tae Kwon Do, Karate, or other school and ask if they have any bos in stock. If not, they should be able to order through their supplier, which will get you a bo at (possibly a lower price), greater selection, and no shipping.
If you did not realize it yet, a bo is really just a glorified, combat oriented, martial arts laden stick. You can use a broom stick, walking stick, pvc pipe and anything else with a similar shape as you’re starting out. Don’t be embarrassed. I used to practice nunchakus as a kid with a long sock, you work with what you have.
2) Holds / Hand Positions
Now that you have your own bo, let’s learn how to use it like a pro!
- Normal Hold: This is the hand position that you will use the majority of the time. Hold the staff in thirds. One palm facing up and one palm facing down.
- Narrow Hold: One palm up, one palm down, but with only a fist length of space in between your two hands. This is great for spinning.
- Wide Hold: Again same palm up and down, but taking up about 2/3 of the bo, your hands are placed out wider, used for blocks and defining strikes.
3) Stances with the Bo
Most bo beginners seem to overlook their stances. I get it, you think bo is all about the hands and upper body. But the stances actually create the foundation for everything your upper body is doing. A better long front stance means a more powerful thrust. A nicer cat stance means a more balanced, yet graceful uppercut. Here are the stances:
- Long Front Stance: One leg is out, front knee is bent, back leg is straight. Almost all ten toes are facing the front, the back foot toes are pointing off at a slight angle. Back is straight, leaning forward, yet with poise.
- Horse Stance: As if you were riding a horse, imagine you are in the saddle. Legs are in a perfect line, past shoulder width, knees bent, legs almost parallel to the floor, back is straight, head forward.
- Front Stance: This is the “square stance” also known as a fore balance, and is common in traditional martial arts such as Karate. All ten toes facing forward, front knee bent, back leg straight, shoulders square.
- Cat Stance: Very light stance. About 80-90% of your weight is on your back knee, the front foot is barely touching the ground.
4) Basic Level Bo Strikes
Time to move into some basic level strikes. Please make sure you have a clear, wide training area. I have heard horror stories of students putting holes in the wall, breaking fans, and even smacking their family in the face. Please clear a nice room, or practice outside! Also, if you really don’t have space, use a small stick, like an escrima stick to ‘ghost practice’ the movements until you get more room later on.
- Overhead Front Strike: Bring up your front knee, rest the bo on the right shoulder, bo is parallel to the ground, set down the right foot in front in a long front stance, as you rotate that front hand, torquing the wrist, and sliding the left hand down to the “pocket.”
- 4 Point Strike: A simple up-down, side-to-side motion. Make sure all strikes hit the same spot, and keep the elbows up parallel to the ground, maintaining a strong long front stance.
- Overhead Rib Strike: Starting in a horse stance, bring arms up over the head, and finish by swinging the front tip of the bo across, slamming the opposite end of the bo into your own rib.
- Front Thrust: Bring up your front knee, draw back the bo all the way in a straight line behind you, then step out into a deep long front stance and thrust the tip of the bo into the target. You will land in a powerful stance, back is straight, elbow up, tip thrusted.
- Uppercut: Very much like a boxing uppercut, but draw the bo under first. This will create a more rounded motion as you finish into the cat stance.
5) Beginner Bo Super Combination
Now, let’s combine everything we have learned to this point and build up our confidence. By learning and practicing a combo like this one, you will be more ready to move into an actual Bo training program, and learn full katas/forms.
6) How to Move to the Next Level
Wow, I can’t believe you have already made it this far! Woohoo, you are not even a complete beginner anymore. So, where should I go from here, to take my skills to the next level?
- Consistent Practice: Whether you want to admit it or not, practice makes (close to) perfect. My Ultimate Bo students who practice consistently week after week do the best on their rank exams and are the star pupils. By setting an actual day each week, or time to practice your bo and make progress, you are destined for success.
- Find a Partner/Friend: When you have someone learning and going through the motions with you, you are bound to do better.
- Learn a Kata/Form: Rather than just learning random techniques here and there, learning a complete kata will do you much more good. A kata requires intense focus, concentration, rhythm, striking, stances, breathing, yells, memorization, and heart. Of course, you can learn two katas in my first Bo DVD, Ultimate Training Beginner Bo. Or, if you train in a dojo, ask your instructor to teach you a form.
- Train with the Ultimate Bo Home Study Course / Become an Ultimate Bo Student: I would love for you to take it to the next level and train with my Ultimate Bo Home Study Course. This is not just a set of training videos, but an entire distance training program. Lean katas, techniques, sparring, and so much more from White-Black Belt, and earn an actual Black Chevron rank at home in Ultimate Bo. You will also receive get instructor support and connect with more students from around the world. Check our the Ultimate Bo Home Study course now and keep learning along with me!
- Checkout Some of My Other Popular Bo Articles, such as 5 Common Questions about Ultimate Bo and Bōjutsu
Ready for the Next Lesson?
Sign up for our Free Online Bo Staff Course, to learn even more basics, defenses, and to even do full follow-along classes. You’ll get access to free training as you continue your bōjutsu journey.