Weapon mechanics: joJune 27, 2009
Another category, just to keep it interesting – I want to put down some things about the mechanics of a jo staff (and, to some extent, any other simple stick).
There are really only four ways to strike with a staff:
- You can thrust with the end of the staff.
- You can swing the whole staff from one end.
- You can strike with the end of the staff with your hands separated, using leverage for power.
- You can strike with the middle of the staff, between your hands.
The first and fourth approaches are basically identical to a punch. The staff may be adding a striking surface, it may be extending your reach, it may be decreasing the striking area, but it’s not helping you to generate power.
The second and third approaches are more interesting. In one case (#2), you’re using the momentum of the staff itself for power. Obviously, this momentum is fed from the power of your body, so you still need good structure, but there’s no solid connection between your body and the striking surface. For example, imagine that you struck something immovable (say, a telephone pole) before your intended target. Your body would continue the motion, and end up about where you had planned, but the end of the staff would be back at the pole. If you’re good, you’d take the energy of the bounce and work it into another strike, but the momentum of the first strike is gone.
This is also approximately what happens if you hold a stick in one hand and swing it. The hand isn’t wide enough to get good leverage on the stick, so the power in the strike has to be transferred to the stick before contact, and there’s not a lot you can do with body structure to enhance it at the moment of impact.
Approach #3, where you’re using leverage to generate power, is completely different. This is potentially the most powerful strike, and also one of the fastest. It doesn’t have the reach of the thrust (#1) or swing (#2), but unlike the swing, it lets you use your body structure, and unlike the thrust, it still makes use of the mechanical advantage of the staff. With good structure and movement, this attack is extraordinarily powerful, and it reverses very quickly to let you strike again with the other end of the staff.
A heavy staff like a bo has exactly the same principles. However, because the staff has so much mass, the swing becomes comparitively slow, albeit extremely powerful. This leads to more emphasis on the thrust, making use of the great length of the staff, and the leverage-type strike for when the target moves inside. A heavy staff requires greater integration of weapon and body to use effectively, because if you lose that connection the weapon more or less just flies away on its own, and it takes significant time to get it back under control.
Oddly, many jo styles seem to use the swing as their primary attack. They treat the jo like a sword, and hold it primarily with both hands at one end. Sure, they’ll reverse sometimes, but even then they usually slide both hands to the other end and then strike with the butt. This yields a bigger, faster movement of the staff, and it’s better for defense (because you have a free length to block with, and you don’t have to worry as much about your hands) but it’s not as powerful unless you take the time to set up for the strike.
Any other jo practictioners out there care to offer any input on why this is? Is it just because the Japanese are sword-centric, or is there a more practical reason?