How to Fight with a Staff or Bo!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
4 Feb 2009

6 Responses to “How to Fight with a Staff or Bo!”

  1. ominus Says:

    i think you ‘re right.quick and well-controlled moves are the best without all the flashy part……

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Ominus,
    Flashy looks good but what matters is what works. I’m not even sure why people like flashy, for instance flying kicks to break boards have no application I can think of unless you do not have any idea of how to fight.
    In the real world if someone did a running, flying kick at me, I would just time it and step aside, hit him on the way by. :)

  3. TheGreenGuy Says:

    Every time I “twirl” my staff its is not meant to be flashy for it is a hit and a block at the same time and also it is for gathering “flow” (momentum) as the momentum is gathered in fight my flow will eventually come to a interruption such as a stop, hit, or a change of flow. If it comes to a stop it is because I need to do a full reverse witch is a something that is generally avoided as not to stop, waste energy, and leave myself open to attack the more flow I have going the less vulnerable I am to attack a bo staff is like a huge shield if you use it right. If I make a hit rather it be someone blocking/hitting me or me them, when the hit happens the flows energy is transferred to them and back at me (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) when that happens I use the energy that is transferred back at me to “bounce” back for the regain of flow for another attack, block, or charge of flow. Then I might need to use a “change of flow” witch is the change of direction, angle, and energy. If I use a change of flow one of two things can happen. Lets say I want to change my flow to the opposite direction that it is flowing at depending how I do it I can ether gain flow or lose it, it is preferable that I spin it in a way to increase my flow but depending on my position I might not be able to increase the charge of flow sometimes you must decrease it in order to increase your hits and whatnot. The more you practice with a bo the more you will understand what I am saying. Just remember when using flow there is always a heaver more energy charge side to your weapon. As far as the hand hold gos I have had almost no problem using a bo between my thumb and finger it is good to keep your full hand on it but your range of motion will be flawed. The more you use your staff in that way the stronger you hands in that area and all will eventually stop feeling pain just like anything you wanna get stronger work it out. The more you use the concept of flow the better you will be able to control it try getting somewhere with your staff and spinning as fast and a hard as you can once you can control flow your hitting power will greatly increase and so will your overall skill. Eventually if you work at it you will see it as the intricate high speed chess game it really is. If you get good enough its almost as if time slows as you do it… its very calming… until it smacks you in the face! lol A trick I have is using a heavy bo I use a non tapered heavy metal pole also because I’m sick of broken bo staffs. I am self taut no training. And as far as blocking arrows sounds… I will go try it sometime! And these videos are demonstrations to the public ( maybe excluding the SCA video) are not combat guides. Therefore I don’t think you should take it part like one. “No one can safely dodge a properly thrown strike if he or she is inside of the distance” How would you go about explaining that statement? “Say it could work… don’t you think he would get tired eventually and then the archers would fire? ” I don’t think the guy meant a bo staff spin was meant to block a onslaught of arrows and if he did I would like to see it, I dislike showy people like that every time I think of em I think of em getting shot Indiana Jones style lol. Also I wanted ta say in know way am I saying that you should always spin your staff, I am just saying it is okay to do so and can be beneficial, to me its a part of bo just as stances and strikes are.

    Anyhow I like your site it looks like you put allot of work into it.

    Catcha later.


  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Josh!

    Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to some of my statements about the staff. I have used the staff mostly for kata but of late I have taken to “shadow boxing” and bag work with the staff.

    Let me first say is I like the staff as a martial arts weapon. I think it is a medium range weapon that would work against a lot of attackers as well as animals.

    My view point is from traditional karate forms and self-defense techniques transitioning to fighting – it does not work so well. Kata especially were created to demonstrate a view point of a style of martial arts and not generally supposed to be applicable to fighting.

    Would I try to use a part of a kata in fighting? – Probably not although one probably could. I have the same view point for self-defense techniques (although one should be able to use these for self-defense). Pretty much anything developed to be pretty or flashy has no place in fighting.

    On the positive side of your comments the spinning of staff from side to side can be useful as you say so the opponent will not know where the attack is coming from but spinning for spinning’s sake does not make much sense to me.

    As I said – I do not like the short half strikes with the staff much. I view an attacker is too close if one is using a staff. I’d rather be fighting from the outside where the wide gripped staff would be out of range.

    I will grant that the half strikes would work – I just don’t like that method and if an opponent was good at initial movement – he or she could counter easier at the close range with a punch or kick – negating the power of the staff at close range.

    I do not think that a weak grip or weak strike that can hurt yourself, should be used in fighting. One example from the karate world is a ridge hand. The ridge hand can be thrown wide swinging style or punched past the head and hooked back. The wide swinging style of ridge hand works fine in point karate fighting but if thrown hard – hurts ones own elbow! That is probably why you do not see that strike in full contact but rather hooks or elbows.

    Hitting a target hard (even if one can strengthen ones weak point) is still exposing a weak point in a real fight. I would not do that.

    While I think your argument of using the flow and energy makes sense – again I do not want to get into a close range with a medium range weapon. I’ll grant you that is a personal preference. That is similar to a boxer liking inside versus outside fighting – both work but different fighters have their preference.

    I’ll spin the staff to take out some ankles or change some position but as I will not fight too close – I’m more of a poker and swing the staff as I retreat to a better position. That would negate any spinning to a point until I had to commit myself. I really hope to never face another staff fighter so I do not have to test my tactics. That is the cool think about self-defense in a martial art – you use existing fighting methods and translate them into a weapon as needed.

    Sorry I’m getting wordy but one more concept and I’ll close. Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis taught initial movement and bridging the gap techniques that translate well in to most fighting methods. A was of looking at this concept is if you understand distance of a weapon – all you have to do is stay outside of striking range or be striking… trying to block an attack with a staff is any wiser than trying to block a punch or knife thrust… all losing propositions if the guy was inside your distance.

    You see I do not fight any different whatever the rules or if it includes weapons. To me fighting is fighting is fighting. The concepts are the same.

    I really do have a lot of respect for you Josh as you have determined that you do not need formal training to work out how to use a weapon effectively. I believe that too… you have created a metal staff that is durable and actually practice it on the bag. I think the main difference between our positions are the distance of the fight maybe. I just don’t like to fight close in… So I don’t need to spin the staff as I used to do when performing staff katas. By the way the staff is a wonderful weapon to train with for kata and fighting.

    By the way – take my comments with a grain of salt – everyone has to work out their own variances of their fighting style. This will change over time and if someone (like me) disagrees with a position – that does not mean I’m right – just that I may have a different approach and cannot thing out of my own tunnel vision. :)

    Thanks again for your comments!

  5. William Vigil Says:

    Hey John,

    I’m a combat instructor in California and I suggest you make a few padded combat staves and get to work with a partner. They are easy to make for under $10 each and all the materials are at your local home improvement store:
    3/4″ thick walled PVC pipe
    5/8″ or 1/2″ foam pipe insulation
    roll of Gorilla Tape or duct tape

    Make sure the ends are properly padded. They are heavy enough to strike with, but are light enough and have enough give not to break fingers or cut skin. A mouthpiece and cup are suggested, but some of my students want head gear.

    I have been working this way for 10+ years and I can honestly tell you from FIGHTING

  6. William Vigil Says:


    Full contact fighting with weapons changes everything. Yes, the half circles are not powerful enough to stop your opponent. They are used as blocks, pushes, and feints (often with intent) to open up opportunities to cut your opponent down. Remember: The staff is an impact weapon, a long bludgeon. The jab is effective but only to the face/throat/solar plexus/groin because there’s not enough power in it.

    The trick is to treat the staff as an extension of your hands and develop skull shattering power by sliding your grip, striking with the body, and DELIVERING. Every fighter I’ve shown this concept to gets a big grin on his/her face. I’ve busted so many sticks this way that I now train with a 2″ thick fire hardened rattan staff with the skin still on. Heavy ehough to bust cinderblocks with a thrust or half-circle strike; a power move shatters them. Beyond this simple way to overpower nearly any other weapon (the spear being the most obvious exception), there are the ‘endless staff’ techniques whereby you can launch a barrage of strikes from virtually any angle in continuous succession. This you would have to see. It’s just a simple slip of the hands but it makes the staff one of the best weapons in my arsenal.

    So in one sense I agree with you; what the Shaolin monks (and many of my kung fu brothers) call staff fighting is a pretty form. I decided long ago that only practical application would allow my students to understand each weapon and its tactics.

    As for the spinning, it’s virtually useless in combat unless you have trained to redirect the circles into strikes. And by the way the guy who spins it in front of him nearly always loses his stick (and the fight) when I jab into the circle and disrupt his motion.

    But spinning is the entry to understanding balance and power. Learn to spin from the center first, but then choose a place further down to one end so it is a little heavier on one end. See the power you generate now? Anyway, I could go on and on.

    Keep up the good work, but don’t sit at your computer imagining what you might do; just make a couple of sticks and start hitting each other.