Jōdō (杖道), meaning “the way of the jō“, or jōjutsu (杖術) is a Japanese martial art using a short staff called jō. The art is similar to bōjutsu, and is strongly focused upon defense against the Japanese sword. The jō is a short staff, usually about 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 m) long. The martial art of jōdō was the province of professional warriors, so it was usually not used by travelers to ward off aggressive bandits or swordsmen, as one might expect.
Shintō Musō-ryū jōjutsu (sometimes known as Shintō Musō-ryū jōdo – “Shindo” is also a valid pronunciation for the leading character), is reputed to have been invented by the great swordsman Musō Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi (夢想 權之助 勝吉, fl. c.1605, date of death unknown) about 400 years ago, after a bout won by the famous Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵, 1584–1645). According to this tradition, Gonnosuke challenged Musashi using a bō, or long staff, a weapon he was said to wield with great skill. Although there are no records of the duel outside of the oral tradition of the Shintō Musō-ryū, it is believed that Musashi caught Gonnosuke‘s bō in a two sword “X” block (jūji-dome). Once in this position, Gonnosuke could not move in such a way as to prevent Musashi from delivering a counterattack, and Musashi elected to spare his life.
Gonnosuke then withdrew to a Shinto shrine to meditate. After a period of purification, meditation, and training, Gonnosuke claimed to have received a divine vision. By shortening the length of the bō staff from roughly 185 cm to 128 cm (or, in the Japanese measurements, four shaku, two sun and one bu), he could increase the versatility of the weapon, giving him the ability to use techniques created for the long staff, spear fighting and swordsmanship. The length of the new weapon was longer than the tachi (long sword) of the period, but short enough to allow the reversal of the striking end of the jō in much tighter quarters than the longer bō. Gonnosuke could alter the techniques he used with the jō stick, depending on the opponent he faced, to provide himself with many different options of attack. He named his style Shintō Musō-ryū and challenged Musashi again. This time, when Musashi attempted to use the jūji-dome block on the jō staff, Gonnosuke was able to wheel around the other end of the staff (because of the reduced length), forcing Musashi into a position where he had to concede defeat. Returning the courtesy he received during their previous duel, Gonnosuke spared Musashi‘s life.
The modern study of jōdō, has two branches:
- Koryū, or “old school” jōdō Shintō Musō-ryū, which incorporates other arts and weapons, such as the short staff (tanjō), the chained sickle (kusarigama), the truncheon (jutte), and a lesser-known art called hojōjutsu, the art of tying up one’s opponent after subduing him.
- Seitei Jōdō, which is practiced by the All Japan Kendo Federation (全日本剣道連盟 Zen Nippon Kendō Renmei). Seitei Jōdō starts with 12 pre-arranged forms (kata), which are drawn from Shintō Musō-ryū. After mastering these 12 kata the student continues with the study of Shintō Musō-ryū.
Aiki-jō is the name given to the set of martial art techniques practiced with a jō, practiced according to the principles of Aikido, taught first by Morihei Ueshiba then further developed by Morihiro Saito, one of Ueshiba’s most prominent students.