The Kodokan and Bōjutsu (jō) Staff fighting and jūdō

One of the lesser known aspects of the pre Occupation Kodokan was its instruction of jōjutsu (staff technique) and the Kodokan bōjutsu bu (Kodokan Bō Technique Department).

Since the discussion of the background of this story is lengthy, and not everyone may be familiar with jōjutsu itself, I start with this marvelous video. Note that all 3 links start at different times in the same video, so you can just start with the first and watch all the wary through; the entire video is 7:33 minutes long. It was apparently filmed in Tokyo, and most likely during the early to mid 1950s, when jūdōka and US college wrestling champion Mr. Mel Bruno, the physical education and hand to hand combat advisor to the new U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, made several trips to Tokyo to coordinate then monitor the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Combatives Course hosted by and held at the Kodokan that introduced jūdō, karatedō, aikidō and taihōjutsu (arresting techniques) to the US Air Force, and from there to the world.  

• Shimizu Takeji sensei blocking armed and unarmed attacks by Mr. Mel Bruno with jōjutsu, circa mid-1950s.

• Shimizu sensei demonstrating the basic Shintō Musō ryū jōdō kata (“forms”) against an attacking opponent armed with a sword. (NOTE: in this usage either Shintō or Shindō is correct; both are commonly used.)

• Unnamed members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (TMP) demonstrating police crowd control and attack / defense techniques.

The staff is a common weapon in many Japanese martial art schools ryūha. They were an ubiquitous with ashigaru, the lowest level samurai footsoldiers. Years ago the author noted that ashigaru in Japan’s larger budget jidai gekijō (samurai era movies) typically carry long staffs while standing guard. This makes perfect sense – the primary ashigaru weapon was the yari spear, but good spearpoints are expensive and require maintenance and dry storage not to rust. A long staff can be used like a spear, so using a for normal guard duties and only drawing live spears from the armory for combat or emergencies makes sense.

This custom carried over into Japan’s modern police, as most of the first police recruits were former low level samurai drawing on their bujutsu martial arts training for preferential recruiting.

Police armed with in formation, 1877.
Source: Japan Wiki Keijō

 Even today, Japanese riot and regular police standing guard outside police stations or other facilities, in uniform or in plain clothes, ubiquitously wield .

Tokyo Metropolitan Police guard the National Diet Building, Japan’s Parliament.
The righthand policeman holds a white oak ,
while the lefthand policeman carries an extendable / collapsible keibō police baton.
Knife-proof vests, radios, and revolvers round out their uniforms.

Photo: Tokyo Journal

Staffs come in a near infinite variety of lengths and thicknesses with a bewildering number of names, but in the past several decades their various names have become more or less standardized through the broad impact of Shintō Musō ryū jōdō (literally “The Way of the Gods-Dream Inspired School Staff Way”, abbreviated SMR by its aficionados.) There are some vague conventions that can be proposed regarding the terms. Here is a list for casual reference, which should certainly not be considered authoritative.

• Tsue, sutekki, or tanjō – in the early Meiji era, the term tsue came to be used for a cane, a ステッキ sutekki was a “walking stick”, while tanjō means “short jō”, usually around 1 meter / 39 inches in length. In the early Meiji era (1868 to 1890s) the Victorian gentleman’s walking stick was adopted by many Japanese men, particularly former samurai recently deprived of their traditional right to carry the daishō two-sword set. In those times of political and criminal violence, the legal-to-carry cane became a useful weapon for self-defense, although they were also not infrequently used to conceal highly illegal sword cane blades. Minister of Education Mori Arinori’s assassin, Kanō’s jūdō student Nishino Buntarō, was nearly decapitated by Mori’s bodyguard using an illegal sword cane. (The former samurai bodyguard was tried for Nishino’s murder but acquited.)
In fact, Kanō was almost certainly aware of the use of canes in martial arts self. The famous swordsman Uchida Ryōgorō, whose son Ryōhei was a Kanō favorite, developed an entire series of sutekki versus sword techniques called Uchida ryū tanjōjutsu using a 90 centimeter long straight stick; years later the art was absorbed into the SMR jōdō curriculum and is still taught today to advanced students.
• – an alternate reading for 杖 tsue, meaning stick or staff. Because of the prevalence of SMR jōdō, the definition used by multiple SMR jōdō associations describe a standard 128 centimeter / 50 inch round staff, traditionally made of Japanese white oak. The traditional Japanese length is 4 shaku 2 sun 1 bu (128 cm / 50 inches) with an 8 bu (24 mm) round diameter. Some schools use thicker of the same length.

SMR jōdō associations make allowances for shorter practitioners to shorten their to accommodate the full length techniques in the kata repertoire, but there are no longer for taller practitioners. In some classic schools, the proper length is measured from the floor to the armpit of each individual practitioner, while others are as long as 180 centimeters or more.

(Just to further confuse things, the staff used in the modern (established 1950s) Kodokan Goshin Jutsu “Self Defense Techniques” series is 1 meter / 39 inches long, but is called a jō.)

Bō – while less specific, this is often taken to mean a roku shaku bō, a 6 shaku or 182 centimeter / 6 foot 1 inch long staff or cudgel. In modern days these are usually round, but may be hexagonal, which focuses the force into a smaller sharp angle on the bō. Some of the larger and other staffs may be bound with shrink-fit iron rings to strengthen the wooden shafts and add mass for more destructive blows. The legendary origin tales of schools sometimes entail some warrior losing the blade of his yari spear or naginata halberd in battle and having to fight with just the wooden staff.

The primary introduction of SMR jōdō to Tokyo was by Fukuoka martial artist Shimizu Takaji 清水隆次 (1896–1978). Shimizu sensei was a senior Shintō Musō Ryū jōdō instructor, closely associated with the Genyōsha ultranationalist group and its dōjō, the Genbukan, which taught a number of koryū bujutsu ancient martial arts, including jūjutsu and jōjutsu, and, later, jūdō.

Shimizu Takaji (1896–1978)
Shintō Musō-ryū 25th unofficial headmaster
and the art’s leading personality during the 20th century.

Source: Wiki Commons, public domain,
accessed March 2023.

During the long Tokugawa era, the city of Fukuoka was the crown jewel of the Kuroda han feudal domain / fiefdom. While almost all han had a range of martial arts taught to its young samurai as part of their education as professional warriors, many of those schools were common across Japan and there was substantial cross training and exchanges between the different sites of the same schools, in particular in the dōjō of Edo. But in some instances the han would designate a particular martial arts schools as its 御留流 otome ryū, a martial art designated for the sole use of the han that was never to be shown to those outside. Normally those otome ryū were kenjutsu sword arts, as a surprise, proprietary technique not widely known could win a desperate battle against a more conventionally trained opponent, but uniquely the Fukuda han designated Shintō Musō ryū jōjutsu as an otome ryū. So, while many koryū bujutsu ancient martial arts included some or techniques, there is no other known example of a school being so designated.

Shimizu sensei studied other arts but focused on SMR and its associated minor arts: kusarigama double edged sickle with weighted chain or rope, juttejutsu small cudgel, and hojōjutsu rope binding. Beyond the basic one-man drills, the paired SMR kata pits a armed practitioner defending against a series of complex attacks from an opponent armed with a sword. The longer allows a skilled user to check or attack the swordsman at will, using its longer reach to block the sword (or even to bend or break inferior blades), to execute precise blows to fracture wrist, ribs or collarbones, to thrust to blind the eyes, to stun or kill with deadly blows to the temple, or, in the specialty of the school, extend hard thrusts and checks to the solar plexus to create a temporary paralysis of the swordsman’s diaphragm and thus render him unable to breathe.

Shimizu sensei was invited to present SMR jōdō at a March 1927 Tokyo Metropolitan Police enbu martial arts demonstration given in honor of comrades fallen in service. His demonstration, given with another Fukuoka martial artist, was an immediate sensation, and he was asked to move to Tokyo to teach SMR jōdō. Some time later, he moved to Tokyo and began teaching. Within a short time he was teaching multiple groups, from the Boy Scouts to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. (Morikawa T, 1961)

Later Shimizu caught the attention of Kanō shihan, who hired him to teach at the Kodokan in 1931; Shimizu sensei mentions teaching “year to year” until the end of World War II, apparently meaning he was engaged as an outside, contracted instructor rather than made Kodokan staff like Heki sensei. (Morikawa T, 1961)

By the mid 1930s, Kanō had explored the as an auxiliary weapon for several years. Kanō himself was noted as an enthusiastic student, but his chronic diabetes took a toll on his legs and severely limited his mobility in his seventies. In addition to its practicality as an auxiliary weapon, the also teaches valuable lessons in observing and using the maai interval between antagonists.

In 1935, Kanō shihan introduced the new “Kodokan bōjutsu” department in Judo magazine. Bear in mind that in this introductory essay Kanō uses to describe what many today would term a , which appears in later article photos to be a 128 centimeter staff such as seen in the photo of Heki sensei below. There is apparently a very close relationship between Kodokan bōjutsu and Shintō Musō ryū jōdō but the details remain unclear beyond the 1936-1937 bōjutsu kata essays in Judo magazine (see Heki sensei below) that describe a series of techniques very similar to the Shintō Musō Ryū kata and All Japan Kendo Federation standard forms seitei gata.

When Kanō shihan does use the term (杖, alternate reading tsue, meaning staff or stick) in the original text of the translation below, the context makes it seem that he is using it to describe a staff approximately 90 to 100 centimeters long. While not conclusive, that would make the term consistent with the 1 meter long staff used in Kime no Kata, one of the oldest jūdō kata adopted by the Kodokan in the late 1800s and what Kanō called “the core of jūdō”. All text in parens (…) added by the author for clarity.

When I was young, I practiced Yagyū-ryū bōjutsu with a man named Oshima. As my practice of this discipline had not reached the level of shugyō (NOTE: dedicated, austere study), usually I do not mention it. However, since then I thought there was value in bōjutsu shugyō. As I said previously, I am convinced that more research is desirable, namely that of jūjutsu (unarmed fighting techniques), bōjutsu (staff or stick techniques) and kenjutsu (sword techniques).

Looking at the reality of our current society, when we talk about men, women, young or old, excluding the few people who actually have jobs that give the opportunity to carry a sword in his belt, no one carries weapons. Consequently, in the event of something unexpected, the martial art that is more useful is one that can be used to defend themselves without weapons. Considering things from this point of view, today the value of kenjutsu is relatively poor, but I am convinced that this, along with jūjutsu, has had in our country for many years a great value as a method of spiritual development. In addition to jūjitsu, we must consider the experience of bōjutsu, which is a very important thing that seems to be overlooked by many today.

About eight years ago (circa 1927), we gathered volunteers in the Kodokan and started practicing bōjutsu with Tamai sensei, Shiina sensei, Ito sensei and Kuboki sensei of the Katori Shintō Ryū, all from Chiba Prefecture. About four years ago (circa 1931) we received Shimizu Sensei of the Shintō Musō Ryū from Fukuoka, and still continue the practice of this technique. Today, thanks to Takeda sensei, Heki sensei, and with the help of others, we are increasingly able to practice these arts. In addition to beginners we recently have about 50 participants, so many that we must practice in the main dōjō of the Kodokan.

In the future, in addition to the efforts made so far, we intend to continue to invite the great masters of bōjutsu. As we took the essence of various schools of jūjutsu to develop the basics of jūdō, we have had great success in gathering bōjutsu techniques from many schools and researching them. Now, we created Kōdōkan Bōjutsu as a branch of Kōdōkan Jūdō. I hope that we will be able to spread it throughout the world.

Although I said I put my energy in the development of bōjutsu, I still think that the unarmed martial arts have a greater value. After that (basic understanding), I think, however, that the study recommended the (next most valuable) is the one where you learn to attack and defend using weapons. About weapons, I think it (i.e., bōjutsu) is more important than the study of kenjutsu (sword arts) or that of the yari (spear) or naginata (halberd). People normally have easy access to implements such as staffs (杖 tsue or jō), walking sticks or umbrellas. It is usually easy to have at hand something like a stick or a piece of wood that, in case of emergency, can be used as an improvised weapon. In any case, bōjutsu is useful not only for the reasons described above, but also because it is suitable for routine practice.

Similarly, all bujutsu (fighting arts) require practice. As I say constantly about atemi jutsu (striking techniques with bare hands), used in Seiryoku Zen’yō Taiiku (“Best Use of Energy Physical Education”) that I developed and which uses Atemi Jutsu, consider the following. As you study atemi jutsu, it is very difficult to make the best use of this art in practical instances. Consequently, the great value of these techniques is that their practice can be used as a means of physical education.

It also important to consider that the technique of hitting and defense takes a large part of the exercises, and practice from the beginning that it requires obtaining simple equipment (for example, just a and bare hands).

So recently I did some research regarding bōjutsu and decided to share it. I urge the start of the practice of this art as soon as possible for those who are interested in the whole country, region by region, under the guidance of instructors qualified to present the new branch of jūdō.

In developing the Kodokan and becoming capable in these practices, we will be successful and train instructors to be sent around the world. I think that in a few years, as jūdō is spreading throughout the world, there will come a time in which to spread bōjutsu abroad also.

Kano Jigorō, 1935

In later issues of Judo magazine in 1936 and 1937, Heki Ryusuke (EN1), writing as an “instructor of the Kodokan bōjutsu kenkyū bu” (technique research department) began a series of essays published every two months or so, the first titled Bōjutsu no Shugyō Hōhō (“ Techniques Intensive Study Methods”). Essentially the series is an introduction to Kodokan bōjutsu courtesies, solo techniques and paired kata; overall the style and techniques look very similar to the modern SMR jōdō seitei kata standard forms, which can be seen in the Shimizu sensei video above, and may be the roots of the All Japan Kendo Federation’s Shintō Musō ryū seitei gata SMR standard forms.

Heki sensei was born and raised in Kagoshima, where he studied its classic Jigen ryū sword school as a child. Joining the Imperial Japanese Navy, he became a combat veteran before leaving the Navy in 1923, when he became a receptionist at the Kodokan. Then Kodokan managing director / jūdōka / retired Navy Rear Admiral Honda Chikatami recognized his superior skills at calligraphy, and Heki became a secretary in the administrative department, beautifully hand writing all the promotion certificates. Not satisfied with this, Heki attended the Kodokan elementary school jūdō instructor development program to better his jūdō teaching skills, as well as studying jōdō (Kanō shihan’s bōjutsu) to the point that he became a bōjutsu instructor.  He was admired for his drive to perfect himself, and was very important contributor to the drive of Kanō shihan understand and use the neglected martial art of jōdō. (Honda A, 1944)

Heki sensei demonstrates a bōjutsu stance
Judo magazine, 1936 (Heki R, 1936)

In March 1936, Kanō invited Count Henri de Baillet-Latour, the third International Olympic President and a number of other IOC members, in Japan to study Tokyo’s bid for the 1940 Games, to the Kodokan, where the demonstrations provided included bōjutsu. (Yokoyama K, 1941) After Kanō’s death in May 1938, the Kodokan’s five year memorial service in 1943 featured a large group of Kodokan students and instructors demonstrating Kodokan bōjutsu.

Heki sensei died in February 1944.

Back on the police front, a paramilitary TMP Special Guard Force riot control unit was formed after military extremists’ coup attempts of the early 1930s roiled Japan. Its members were recruited from only the best police jūdōka and kendōka, men accustomed to hard, full contact martial arts, men unafraid to use violence. The unit regularly trained with the jø. It was dissolved in 1944 when the Tokyo Metropolitan Police stood up a new six-battalion, 2550-man Guard Force to control the population in the chaotic days of the last of World War II.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police Special Guard Force standing inspection
with their personal weapons in 1938.  
As they present their pistols for inspection, note that each officer

(other than the rightmost senior officer) has his standing alongside his left leg.
Shimizu sensei taught this and other police units from the late 1920s to late in life. 
Source: Japan Wiki Keishicho Yobitai

Postwar, the Kodokan quietly dropped bōjutsu / jō instruction. There is no indication in Kodokan publications of dissatisfaction with it as training, but it seems more likely that it simply decided to focus on jūdō instead of expansion of its functions. The General Headquarters (GHQ) ban on martial arts training in schools, along with GHQ stripping the teaching qualifications of thousands of teachers, had great impact on jūdō and kendō instructors alike. This left hundreds, perhaps thousands of former school jūdō instructors without jobs or future employment prospects. So the Kodokan had bigger problems than continuing jōdō – it was fighting for the very survival of jūdō. And jōdō was simply not pertinent to that survival. (Gatling L, 2023)

GHQ ordered the Guard Force disbanded in January 1946, but there were large demonstrations that sometimes turned violent as rightists fought against liberalization of Japan and leftists demanded revolutionary change; the regular police, stuck in the middle, were often overwhelmed. Finally, under the new 1948 Police Law the police were allowed to establish a new riot police unit it wanted to name the Guard Force as before, but GHQ “suggested” Police Reserve instead. (Japan Wiki Keishicho Yobitai)

The Police Reserve sometimes reacted strongly against demonstrators, and that included crowd control and suppression with the and other melee weapons. Some of the “Government Section” staff of Occupation General Headquarters, which had been heavily recruited from liberal American academics and lawyers, were concerned about the heavy injuries among protesters, so the order went from GHQ to the Japanese government: restrict the police use of the jō. In 1949 there was a large demonstration against Japan’s new Public Safety Ordinance, and the TMP Police Reserve was deployed against it. Despite the order to restrict the use of the jō, many of the Police Reserve police at the demonstration were armed with and they used them enthusiastically. 49 demonstrators were arrested, while many more were injured, some seriously. (Japan Wiki keijo)

Tokyo Metropolitan Police Reserve Force breaking up a demonstration against the new Public Safety Ordinance in Tokyo, May 30, 1949,
using despite a general suspension of its use.
49 demonstrators were arrested, many more injured.
Source: Taiheyo Senso Kenkyu Kai, ed. 2007.

As a result, for a time, GHQ ordered the use of the by the police completely banned. The problems with this policy became apparent when rioters armed with sticks and baseball bats outranged the shorter keibō police batons wielded by the police. So training in the was reintroduced, and even today remains a standard feature of police training.

In 1957 the Police Reserve was reorganized into the first 5 Kidōtai “Mobile Force” riot control units in Tokyo and Osaka; later, another 4 units were added in key prefectures. training was included from the first days. Even today, Kidōtai policemen standing guard will often wield along with more modern riot control equipment such as collapsible batons and acrylic shields. After hundreds of years of use in martial arts, the humble staff today still has a very practical use and serves as a highly visible symbol of police authority and potential violence.

5th Kidōtai Mobile Force officers training in riot control operations face “demonstrators” armed with in a demonstration prior to the 2019 G7 Summit in Osaka that saw 32,000 police deployed to provide security.
Source: Sankei News

Despite the various ups and downs of jōdō use in the police, the popularity of it with civilians continued to increase. In 1956, the Zen Nihon Kendō Renmei All Japan Kendo Federation established a jōdō division, showing its approval of this humble but popular art, and the wisdom of the vision of Kanō shihan to incorporate jōdō into jūdō.

But Kanō’s vision did not stop with jōdō; his intent was to incorporate kendō, too, under the control of the Kodokan. In my main manuscript I’ll explain his plan and how close he actually came to realizing his vision.

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End notes:

EN1 – The jōdō instructor’s name in Japanese is 日置隆介. His family name can be read Heki or Hioki, but as is commonly the case, how it is properly read is not specified in scores of appearances of his name in Judo magazine. The author chose to use the pronunciation Heki to coincide with the Heki ryū martial archery school that uses the same kanji.


Gatling L, 2023, The Kano Chronicles, unpublished manuscript,

Heki R, 1937, Bojutsu no Shugyo Hoho, in Judo, vol. 7, no. 3

Honda A, 1944, Heki kun wo Suisosu, in Judo, vol. 14, no. 4.  

Kano J, 1935, Kodokan ga Yushi ni Bojutsu wo Renshu seshimuro ni satta Riyu, in Judo magazine vol. 6, no. 4.

Morikawa Tetsurō, Shintō Musō Ryū o Tazenete,
in Sho Daimyō Hatamoto Okumuki Hisshi, special edition of
Kengō Retsudenshū No. 66, Futabasha, October 1961.

Japan Wiki Keisatsu Yobitai,警察予備隊 accessed March 21, 2023.

Japan Wiki Keijo,警杖 accessed March 21, 2023.

Taiheyo Senso Kenkyu Kai ed.,  2007, GHQ no Mitta Nippon, Tokyo, Seikai Bunkai Sha.

Yokoyama K, 1941, Kano Sensei Den, Tokyo, Kodokan.

Many thanks to Mr. Robert Gruzanski and his great True-Flyte Martial Arts Memorial Website commemorating the pioneering Japanese martial arts research of his father, Mr. Charles Gruzanski and for featuring the above article by Morikawa Tetsurō.

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