Sa Kwon: Chinese Bo Kata

More information can be obtained from:

American Kang Duk Won Karate, P.O. Box 151, Watertown, NY 13601



Presented By:
Frank A. Palumbo Jr.
Senior Director,
American Kang Duk Won

Rubbings of Bodhidharma from the Peilin Collection of the Shensi Provincial Museum in Sian, China

The bo, or staff, is one of the earliest tools to be used by man. Initially it may have been merely a sapling or a long, straight branch which was used for hunting animals for sources of food or fur hides. The wooden staff also facilitated passage over rugged and mountainous terrain. In an agrarian setting it served as a multi-purpose tool for planting crops, carrying supplies, and transporting buckets of water for the irrigation of crops.

In the ancient records of Chinese martial arts, the bo is discussed as the first weapon taught to the Zen Buddhist disciples who studied at the Shaolin Temple. There are literary and pictorial references to Bodhidharma carrying a bo on his journeys as he taught Zen Buddhism in the regions near the Shaolin Temple. One account from a biography on Bodhidharma tells of his death in 528 AD from the poison of a jealous monk. It is told that three years later his body was exhumed due to rumors he had been seen travelling in the mountains of Central Asia. Bodhidharma was said to carry a staff from which hung a single sandal. He had stated he was on his way back to India. When the curious monks opened his tomb, all they found inside was a single sandal. Ever since then Bodhidharma has been pictured carrying a staff from which hangs the missing sandal.

Another historical reference is made to the Zen Buddhist priest who ordered the disciples of the Shorin-je Temple to perfect and master bo techniques to help protect their temple. This occurred at a time of much lawlessness brought about by roving groups of bandits. This took place while Bodhidharma was the spiritual force for Zen Buddhism in China. However, no early records mention his actual teaching of weaponry to his disciples.

Miyamato Mushashi, the great samurai warrior (1584-1645), was defeated only once and that at the hands of Muso Gonosuke. Gonosuke had earlier been defeated by Musashi who told the young warrior to go off and master his long stick techniques before trying again. Gonosuke's return years later gained Musashi's great respect. Musashi is said to have then gone intensively into staff, stick, and kendo training in the later years of his life.

The correct use of the bo (sai, tonfa, kama, naginata, sword) can produce a stimulating and practical means of "extension" training. It offers a means of martial arts training and discipline. Weapons training teaches the meaning of control, timing, distance, and flexibility as one unit. The practitioner is required to possess speed, coordination, strength, and endurance in utilizing the respective weapons.

As in any martial arts training, respect and responsibility are of utmost importance while inside the training hall and in daily life. Extension tools are to be treated with the same spirit and discipline as are the techniques learned in the dojang's regular workout. The humility and control one exhibits in the martial arts speak clearly about the lessons a karateka is learning.


STANDARD STRAIGHT BO (STAFF) 6' long, 1 1/4" wide; red or white oak, ash. Length may vary from 4'-8'. This type of bo is heavy, slow to move, but very powerful. It is quite effective for smashing or crushing. It was useful for carrying heavy loads or aided in travels across difficult terrain. In combat an especially large bo, sometimes made of metal, was used and had blades or studs added to the surface to assist in the lethal capabilities of the weapon.

STANDARD TAPERED BO 6' long, 1 1/4" wide and tapers to 3/4" at ends; oak, ash, hard maple. This type of bo is light in weight and very well balanced due to its design. The center is the weapon's fulcrum and allows for quick action. It has reduced rigidity because of its tapered ends. Blocks and strikes can be executed with whiplike movement. The smaller ends were excellent for penetrating armor or flesh in a combat situation.

VARIATIONS OF BO Some weapons were as long as 9' in length to maximize the advantage a bo offered the warrior--extraordinary reach.

BAMBOO staffs were sometimes used because of their sharp, ripping qualities.

YARI (bo with a spear) became popular because they combined the reach of a bo with the stabbing ability of a sword.

NAGINATA, although not directly related to the traditional bo, combines the potential for blocking and striking with powerful ripping capabilities of a larger blade.

JO sticks were shorter walking sticks with greater inside fighting variations than the long bo.

ESCRIMA fighting sticks are specifically designed as weapons for striking, blocking, and locking at close range (although still possessing the extension qualities of the bo).


-Proper weight of a Bo will vary according to the stature and strength of the individual using the tool.

-A Bo should be stored standing straight up or flat on the floor. The room in which a Bo, or any variation of a Bo, is stored should be cool and dry for best maintenance. A Bo should not be placed on pegs or nails and hung from a wall. A tapered Bo should have both ends resting on a surface of equal height as the center.

-To check for the quality of a Bo's straightness, roll the weapon on the floor. If it rolls smoothly without making much noise, it is of good quality and has reliable strength.


  1. Chao, H.C.. Kung Fu Advanced Staff Techniques. Unitrade Ltd, 1983.

  2. Demura, Fumio. Bo: Karate Weapon Of Self-Defense. Ohara, 1976.

  3. Kubota, Takayuki. Weapons Kumite: Fighting With Traditional Weapons. Unique Publications, 1983.

  4. Musashi, Miyamato. A Book Of Five Rings. Overlook, 1974.

  5. Pine, Red The Zen Teaching Of Bodhidharma. North Point Press, 1989.

  6. Random, Michel. The Martial Arts. Octopus Press, 1977.

  7. Un, H.B.. Tong Long (Double End Stick) Kung Fu. H.B. Un, 1976.

  8. Wong, James. A Source Book In The Chinese Martial Arts: History, Philosophy, Systems, and Styles. Koinonia, 1978.


                               1-9,17,18,28-31                NW                   |                 NE
                12-15                |                 10b,23-25
                         .           |           .
                           .         |         .
                             .       |       .
                               .     |     .
                                 .   |   .
                                   . ^ .
            W   -------------------Start------------------   E
            11,26,27               . | .                     10a,22
                                 .   |   .
                               .     |     .
                             .       |       .
                           .         |         .
                         .           |           .
                 SW                  |                 SE
                 20,21                                 10c

  1. Facing North with feet slightly apart, start with the Bo in left hand, approximately one-third of the way up the Bo.

  2. Bring feet together and bow. The Bo is at the left side while the right hand remains open at the right side.

  3. Keeping feet together, bring the Bo out toward N. Draw Bo back to left side while also pulling right fist into the chamber.

  4. Moving forward toward N with the right foot into a low cat stance, immediately followed by another step toward N in a left cat stance (left foot forward on ball of foot. Stance should be slightly lower than a "Basic Form" cat stance).

  5. Extend the Bo forward toward N from left side with power and tension. Maintain left cat stance. Bo is perpendicular to the floor.

  6. Bring right fist out of chamber slowly with tension next to Bo at approximately mid-section height.

  7. Slowly open right hand and turn with palm facing up. Maintain same left cat stance, right hand remains at mid-section level.

  8. Draw back into a ready position with feet together. Bring left leg back to right leg, Bo is simultaneously drawn to left starting position; right fist goes to chamber.

  9. Move Bo forward toward N in left hand with tension. Right hand moves to Bo above left hand. Extend index finger of right hand upward as Bo is grabbed.

  10. Look to the right 90 and move left foot out into a horse stance. At the same time slide the right hand to the top third of the Bo. Execute a downward block with the Bo parallel to the floor toward E. Immediately execute a downward block toward NE (45 forward). Follow with a third downward block toward SE (45 behind). These three blocks are executed in rapid succession while remaining in a horse stance.

  11. Look left (toward W), draw the left leg to the right into a back stance. This is similar to a cat stance with weight on the ball of the left foot). Step out toward W executing an overhead (Sa Kwon) strike to opponent's head or shoulder level. Keep end of Bo up and lock left elbow next to left leg. Index finger of right hand should be extended along the Bo - pointing forward. Strike is completed in a left front stance. (Kihap)

  12. Draw the Bo along the left side with the left hand moving back and the right hand sliding to the top third of the Bo. Execute a low sweeping strike to opponent's knees toward NW (45 forward). This strike is executed in a back stance (70:30 on ball of the left foot). *From this point this stance will be merely referred to as a cat stance.

  13. Follow with an upward strike to the groin by pushing the right hand down on the end of the Bo and pulling upward on the top third of the Bo.

  14. Maintain back stance, draw the Bo with the right hand back while sliding the left hand to the top third of the Bo with a reversed grip (left hand turns over the top of the Bo with fingers closing downward). With the Bo along the left side of the body for leverage, sweep the Bo across from right to left, striking to the midsection of the opponent at NW. When the strike is completed, the left hand is at the end of the Bo and the left elbow is locked. The technique is completed in a left front stance.

  15. Drawing the Bo back with the left hand, grab the top of the Bo with the right hand. Move the left leg in, forming left back stance (70:30) and execute an overhead strike to opponent's head or shoulder area. Step out slightly with the left foot during the strike. (The left arm is forward one third of the way up the Bo, while the right hand is at the opposite end of the Bo along the right side-back and just below the right hip. Both arms are locked).

  16. Look over the left shoulder to S. Step into a left back cat stance facing S and execute an overhead (Sa Kwon) strike completing the technique in a left front stance. (Kihap)

  17. Look over the right shoulder to N. Cross the left leg in front of the right leg moving toward N. At the same time, bring the Bo straight up and down in front of the body (hands and Bo are toward W). Switch hands by crossing hands over at approximately chest level so that the Bo has two-thirds of its length overhead, yet perpendicular to the floor.

  18. Complete the cross over step to N in a horse stance (body faces W, right foot forward in horse stance). Simultaneously execute a low sweeping motion toward N, followed immediately by a high sweeping motion again toward N. This strike is executed with the left hand at the right hip and the right hand forward on the Bo. The right elbow is bent on the inside of the Bo. (Establish this position as the hands complete the grip "crossover" and while the horse stance is being formed. The elbow and outer forearm are used for leverage and power during the low strike - to the knees, high strike - to the head. The strike is a 180 arch-low/high).

  19. Look to S, pulling the Bo at chest level to generate motion,jump and spin toward S completing a 360 turn counter-clockwise. Execute an overhead strike in a left front stance.

  20. Look and move toward SW in a right cat stance executing a low outside block. (This is a short block against an attack to the legs). Follow immediately with a circular downward block. (This technique counters the attack by turning the attacker's weapon away from the legs. The technique is a short pushing movement at knee level in a counter-clockwise motion).

  21. Move forward toward SW and execute a mid-section thrusting strike in a right front stance (right arm forward).

  22. Look and move toward E crossing the right leg in front of the left. Execute and upward strike to opponent's chin. (Push up with the left hand while pulling down on the end of the Bo at shoulder level). Strike is completed in a crossed stance, legs slightly bent.

  23. Slide the left hand forward to the end of the Bo, move to NE and execute a low downward block. Follow immediately with an upward circular strike to opponent's head. This sequence is completed in a left front stance; left hand at the side just below hip and right hand forward two-thirds of the way up the Bo.

  24. Move the right foot forward forming a cat stance. Toward NE execute a low short circular pushing block against and attack to the leg. This block is executed in a counter-clockwise motion, starting approximately a half foot from the floor and completed about one and a half to two feet - pushing an attacking Bo down and away.

  25. Follow immediately with a right front stance thrusting strike to an opponent's mid-section toward NE, (This is the same as in movement #20-21).

  26. Draw Bo back over right shoulder while looking left to W forming a left cat stance. Step out into a left front stance to W executing an overhead (Sa Kwon) strike with left hand at the end of the Bo just below left hip. The right hand is out in front of body, two-thirds of the way up the Bo.

  27. Draw the Bo back along the left side of body. Slide the right hand to the top of the Bo. While looking W swing the Bo with full power in a clockwise motion 350 . (The Bo travels behind the back and is controlled solely by the right hand. As the swinging technique is executed move into a left back stance). The left hand executes a knife-hand block and stops the circular path of the Bo. The knife-hand block should be slightly behind the body so that the Bo does not strike the body at the completion of the swinging technique.

  28. Grab the top of the Bo with the left hand. Turn 90 toward N in a left cat stance. (The Bo will be resting on the left shoulder; release the right hand from the Bo). Bo is parallel to the floor.

  29. Bring the right fist forward toward N along side of the Bo slowly. Open the right hand with fingers together pointing forward.

  30. Slowly draw back into a ready stance moving the left leg back to the right. The Bo moves from the left shoulder to the left side with the left hand at the bottom third of the Bo. The Bo is perpendicular to the floor as at the beginning of the form. The right hand comes to the side of the right leg; feet together facing N.

  31. Bow.

Master Palumbo instructing a bo seminar at the main dojang in Watertown, NY

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