The 20 Jo Suburi
This text is meant to remind you of what we did in class, and is not meant to be a text from which the suburi are learned. As a way of getting familiar with the jo, I’ve often suggested that students just carry a jo around with them, so that the balance and feel of the jo become second nature. This might be awkward while driving, or in the supermarket, so choose your venue carefully.
Just as the techniques shomen uchi ikkyo and shomen uchi irimenage appear on every aikido test and dan demonstration, jo proficiency is meant to grow and mature. Shomen uchi ikkyo demonstrated on a 4th kyu exam is markedly different from the same demonstrated on a nidan exam, reflecting the student’s comfort and deeper understanding. Similarly, familiarity and comfort with the jo will grow though the 4th and 3rd kyu where the suburi are demonstrated through the 31 jo kata for the 1st kyu and further in weapons demonstrations in subsequent dan levels.
When practicing the jo suburi, please remember Doran Sensei’s emphasis on posture and retaining your own balance. Doing the exercises slowly, precisely, and smoothly is a better practice than going for speed and power. The latter two will follow naturally when the movements are done correctly.
I have seen two other styles of jo basics, and am sure there are many more. These other forms of practice are not better or worse, just different. After you are comfortable with the form taught at Aikido West, please do explore any others you might find. Several advanced students have trained elsewhere and can show different styles.
One general thing to keep in mind is that the jo’s advantage is its length. Practice finding and grabbing the end of the jo.
Please be sure that your training area is clear. The jo has a long reach and it is often embarrassing to strike others while practicing. Take special care with the katate no bu (one-hand-held), since a mishap will propel the jo fast and far.
The suburi are broken into five different series (bu):
There are several web sites which discuss these movements; for example:
Tsuki no bu
1 – choku tsuki (direct [front] thrust)
Stand in left hanmi, holding the jo in your left hand, grounded to the right of your left foot. The stance should be natural, with the hand about a foot below the top of the jo and the hand held the way you would hold a glass (thumb side up). Reach forward with your right hand (same orientation) and slide it down the jo as you bring the jo up and back. Feel for the end of the jo with a splayed little finger. Pull the jo through the left hand as well, so that at some point you are holding both ends of the jo, with the back (right) hand higher than the left. Swing the jo forward, sliding it through the front (left) hand, culminating in bringing your right hand sharply to your torso, angling the jo slightly upwards, aiming at your imaginary partner’s sternum. As you do this with the arms, your body is fully participating by engaging the center and moving forward – stepping with the front foot and sliding the rear foot to maintain balance.
As you thrust, twist the jo about ¼ turn clockwise, as though you are setting a screw. This motion will naturally lead to the main knuckle of your left index finger rotating to the top of the jo. Another subtle aspect is to not create negative space; as you are drawing the jo back, be moving your body forward, so that you are filling the space in front. You are, of course, not just physically filling the space, but using your intention and ki as well.
2 – kaeshi tsuki (return [spiral] thrust)
Stand as for #1. Bring your right hand to the top of the jo, thumb down (as if you were pouring out a glass of water). As you raise the jo, pull it through the left hand until about one third is between your hands. Slide a bit to the left (10-15 degrees), maintaining hanmi pointed at your imaginary partner. Use your left hand as a pivot, and move the jo in a spiral (clockwise) with your right hand. Imagine touching and brushing your imaginary partner’s jo to the right, making room to thrust. Thrust to the sternum, bringing your right hand sharply to your torso.
It is a useful exercise to have a partner hold a jo in the thrust position and practice the spiral motion which moves partner’s jo away and as a natural initiation of your thrust. By bending your knees and creating a larger crossing angle between jos, this movement will be more successful (and correct).
3 – ushiro tsuki (rearward thrust)
Stand in left hanmi. Hold the jo vertically in the left hand, grounded just to the left of your left foot, leaving about 18 inches to two feet of jo above the hand. Touch the top of the jo with your right palm, cupping the fingers over the end of the jo. As you push the top of the jo forward with the right hand, bend your knees. When the jo is parallel to the ground and aligned along your left forearm, grip with the right hand with the thumb at the top of the jo. Step backwards with the left foot, twist the feet into a rear-looking left hanmi. Look back to verify a clear path. Thrust at shoulder level. Bring the right hand sharply to the front of the right shoulder (pound your chest!).
I find it useful to imagine the jo as a lever which is connected such that my knees bend as the jo is rotated up. This technique doesn’t work well or look good with straight legs.
Start of #4 and #5
Start in jo no kamae ( jo stance), which means you are in left hanmi with the jo parallel to the ground, right hand at the end and left hand about shoulder width apart on the jo. Both thumbs are oriented to the front of the jo.
4 – tsuki gedan gaeshi (thrust with a low-level return)
Execute a beautiful choku tsuki, step back a bit to the right (10 degrees or so off the line), sliding the jo back so that the left hand is at the front end, right hand about shoulder width away (same hand orientation as before), with the hips and jo cocked back to the left (clockwise). Then step forward with the right foot and unwind while following with the left foot. End with the jo connecting with your imaginary partner’s left knee and in good, low right hanmi. Throughout the knee strike movement, your right hand should be behind the jo, pushing.
The jo is most elegantly slid back by pulling the jo back with the right hand until the left hand is at the end, then sliding the back through the right hand until the distance feels right. The power of the low-level return comes from the body. You step back off the line to the left since the jo is your right as you ready it for the next piece of action.
This is, at first blush, a three count movement, thrust, wind-up, strike at knee. In reality it is a two and one half count movement – one, and-a, two, with the wind-up being the ½ count.
One useful exercise is to have a partner hold a jo vertically suspended from one hand at the top. Position this where the left-knee target would be. Execute the suburi and transfer power into the suspended jo. The goal is to deliver power, but stop without following through.
Another exercise is to execute the suburi and hold the end position. Have your partner position his/her left knee against the jo. Without changing your position, find a way to transmit power through the jo. Please push on the calf or thigh muscle, and not the sinews behind the knee or the knee itself.
5 – tsuki jodan gaeshi uchi (thrust with a high return strike)
Start in jo no kamae, as for #4. Execute the same magnificent choku tsuki, step back slightly to the right, bringing the jo up to a 60 degree angle to the vertical with your left hand on your forehead (an overhead block). Slide the right hand down to the left hand. Let go with the left hand (drop it a bit, but leave it ready). Turn the jo on your forehead counterclockwise and catch the short end with the left hand again. Slide the left hand down to the end of the jo and execute a shomen strike with the jo while stepping forward with your right foot.
You step off to the right, since the long piece of the jo stays on the left as you prepare for the next step, and could block incoming activity from the that side.
The mechanics of the strike are explained below in #6.
Using the jo on your 4th kyu test (and later)
When Sensei asks you to fetch your jo, walk to the spot where you prepared your jo, just off the mat. People seated there typically either make room for you or hand you the jo.
To bow the jo in, raise it in both hands parallel to the floor while facing the kamiza. Raise it far enough so that you see the kamiza beneath the jo. Then bow appropriately (your uke will show you this).
Walk holding the jo comfortably to the center of the mat, settle yourself, and begin. Please do not look down at the bottom end of the jo as you place it on the mat. Keep your gaze forward – since you are comfortable with the jo, you know where the other end is without looking.
Lacking other guidance, execute each suburi twice, the second time with kiai where appropriate (each thrust or strike).
Your uke will work on kiai with you.
When finished, ground the jo and wait. Given no further instruction, repeat the sequence of suburi. Sensei will tell you when to retire the jo.
Walk with the jo back to the edge of the mat, and bow the jo out. Then replace the jo at the edge of the mat and return to the center of the mat.
Uchikomi no bu
6 - Shomen Uchikomi (straight strike)
Start in ken no kamae (sword stance), which means you are in right hanmi with your left hand at the end of the jo and right hand a comfortable distance away (shoulder width equivalent). Step back with the right foot while bringing the jo up to point at the ceiling and angled slightly back with the short part (between the hands) above the forehead. Step forward with the right foot while striking with the jo, ending with knees slightly bent, weight balanced 60% or so forward, and the tip of the jo slightly above parallel to the ground.
Raising the jo involves rotating the shoulders back and down, not lifting the shoulders. You can practice this by having a partner touch the bottom of your shoulder blades so that you get feedback by sliding the shoulder blades down your back against his/her hand.
The power in the jo comes from the center, from the movement of the hips. The power is transmitted to the jo through the left hand, by pulling down. The latissimus dorsi muscles (side of the chest) do the work, not the shoulders. The right hand guides. The movement of the left hand is down, then out. The jo is stopped by the right arm going straight, which provides a pivot. The straight left arm then arrests the jo by stopping the upward motion of the short piece between the hands. This is almost impossible to explain, as you see. Practice this with an experienced partner.
7 – Renzoku Uchikomi (continuous front strikes)
Start in ken no kamae. Execute #6. Raise the left hand to above the forehead, sneaking under the jo. Move the jo around above and in front of the head until the right hand is above the forehead. Step forward with the left foot and strike from your forehead to the side of the head (yokomen).
This is a two-strike movement, and the second part feels funky until you get accustomed to it. This funky bit appears in two other of the suburi (#10 and #20), so get used to it.
8 – Menuchi Gedan Gaeschi (front strike, low return strike)
Start in ken no kamae. Execute a beautiful menuchi komi strike, as in #6. Retreat to the left (just off the line) while retracting the jo to your left hip, just as you do in #4 on your right hip. Continue by stepping with your left foot and striking the outside of your opponent’s right knee, keeping your left hand behind the jo to give power to the strike.
After the initial strike, the gedan gaeshi is the mirror image of what happens in #4. The count is similar as well – not one, two, three, but one and-a two.
9 – Menuchi Ushiro Tsuki (front strike, thrust to rear)
Start in ken no kamae. Execute another beautiful shomen uchi strike. Slide your right hand to the far end of the jo. No hand change is necessary – your thumb will position itself at the end of the jo. Bend your knees slightly while doing this. Look to the left rear, then thrust rearward, ending with the jo at shoulder level. Your right hand should end up smartly at the upper chest. The body position should be such that if the jo were to bounce back, it would miss your shoulder.
10 – Gyaku Yokomen Ushiro Tsuki (reverse side head strike, thrust to rear)
Start in ken no kamae. Execute the second part of #7, the funky reverse yokomen uchi. Reach for the end of the jo with the left hand, then continue as in #9 to execute a rearward thrust, turning rearward to the right. The left hand ends up smartly at the chest.
Katate no bu
11 – Katate Gedan Gaeshi (wicked upper cut)
Start in jo no kamae. Retreat slightly to the left and bring the jo to your right hip. Your left hand will be at the end of the jo and the right hand immediately adjacent. Release the left hand and wind up the hips clockwise. Bend your knees a bit. Strike diagonally upward, unwinding counter-clockwise, aiming to strike at head level, while taking a step. The power initiates from the hips. As you move the jo, extend your left hand in front of your face, palm to the right. As the jo moves through the center line, catch the jo smoothly on your left palm and slide the left hand up the jo. At the end of the movement the jo will be overhead, with the right hand in front of your face and the left hand overhead, in a blocking position.
12 – Katate Toma Uchi (far reaching strike)
Start in jo no kamae. Retreat slightly to the left and lift the jo over your head while moving the left hand away from the right hand. You then assume a stance with the right hand above the right shoulder and the left arm extended to the left. The jo rests lightly on the shoulders. The whole body has coiled clockwise to ready for the strike. Strike first up, then down across the head of the opponent while stepping forward with the right foot. Extend the right arm and reach with the jo. As with #11, catch the jo with the left palm and slide the left hand down the jo as it comes around and down. Stop the jo at about a 45 degree angle between left side and rear.
13 – Katate Hachi no Ji Gaeshi (one hand held figure “eight”)
Start in left hanmi with the jo grounded near your right foot. Hold the jo in your right hand (thumb up) with about 8 inches of jo showing above. The figure 8 in the description is the Japanese kanji for 8, which looks like the hat on top of the “ai” kanji with some space between the left and right slanting sides. The first strike follows the left side of that figure (opponent’s head in the middle) and the second strike the right side of that figure.
While stepping forward with the right foot, bring the jo up and strike with the long end. While striking, bring the left foot up to meet the right foot. Catch the jo palm up with the left hand. At this point your feed should be close together, pointed left, and the knees should be bent.
Push the jo up with the right palm and execute a backhand strike (left hand only) with the long end while stepping back to the original hanmi. The jo continues down past your right leg, then up to a hasso kamae, where your left hand has caught the short end of the jo and holds that end next to your neck high on the right shoulder. The right hand slides up somewhat and holds the jo vertically. The picture of Saotome Sensei on the wall at Aikido West demonstrates this posture.
Hasso Gaeshi no Bu
The Hasso Gaeshi movement
The next five suburi all incorporate the hasso gaeshi technique, which consists of rapidly twirling the jo from a forward position under your wrist and up to above your right shoulder beside your head.
Start in ken no kamae, in right hanmi holding the jo like a sword. Step forward with your left foot so that it is next to the right foot while moving the jo so that you are holding it in thirds – each hand one third from the ends with a third left between the hands. At this point the right hand is palm up and the left hand palm down.
As you step back with your right foot, push down sharply with your left hand to swing the jo down to the right and up around the rear, spinning it around your right wrist. Catch the bottom end with your left hand as it comes to a vertical position at the right side of your head. This stance is hasso no kamae.
The spinning motion is neither a propeller in front of you nor a wheel at your side, but rather a motion which would push an opponent’s jo to your right as your jo slides along his/hers. This requires you to bend your knees to achieve a good crossing angle with the other jo and to find just the right circular plane for your jo to follow.
14 – Hasso Gaeshi Uchi (Eight direction return, front strike)
Commence with the hasso gaeshi movement. As you then step forward with the right foot, bring the jo to your forehead and execute menuchi komi strike (as in #6).
15 – Hasso Gaeshi Tsuki (Eight direction return, front thrust)
Commence with the hasso gaeshi movement. Extend your left foot forward, slide your right hand up and back on the jo, palm forward, to grab the end. Execute a beautiful high level thrust. To finish, slide the right hand forward and execute another hasso gaeshi movement to return to hasso no kamae.
16 – Hasso Gaeshi Ushiro Tsuki (Eight direction return, thrust to rear)
Start again with the hasso gaeshi movement. Positioning the bottom end of the jo in your right armpit with your left hand, drop the tip of the jo to point forward. Move your left hand forward to the front end of the jo, grabbing palm up. Look behind and thrust to the right rear.
17 – Hasso Gaeshi Ushiro Uchi (Eight direction return, strike to rear)
Start with the hasso gaeshi movement, assuming hasso no kamae. With a spiral motion of the jo tip, turn your hips to the right and strike horizontally to the rear. Your feet do not move. End with your left hand under the right armpit and right hand pushing the jo. If you imagine having struck the head of an imaginary opponent behind you and stopping at the impact, that is the end position.
18 – Hasso Gaeshi Ushiro Harai (Eight direction return, sweep to rear)
Begin as in #17. Instead of just twisting the body, take a big step around the back with your right foot as the jo sweeps around, ending about 45 degrees pointing back toward your right foot.
Nagare no Bu
The flowing series is meant to allow you to demonstrate just that – flowing. Each piece of the technique should be done well by itself, but the goal is to flow seamlessly from one individual movement to the next. Even though these two suburi are fairly easy to learn in a mechanical manner; to execute one movement well while leading naturally to the next requires much practice.
19 – Hidari Nagare Gaeshi Uchi (flowing to the left, front strike)
Start in ken no kamae, step back and perform shomen uchi komi (#6). As the strike is made, turn to your left, bringing the jo around as you extend your left hand forward to catch it. Take the jo back over your head and strike shomen uchi komi again, this time to the rear, since you have turned around.
This technique lends itself to a long continuous movement by simply continuing – strike, turn/block, strike, turn/block, strike, etc. It’s a lot like spelling Mississippi – it is pretty easy to do, just hard to know when to stop.
20 – Migi Hagare Geeshi Tsuki (flowing to the right, front thrust)
Start in ken no kamae. Step forward to perform hidari shomen uchi (the second part of #7). As you complete the strike, step back and around with your right foot, turning to the rear to block across your head (no hand changes!). Lower your hands into hidari tsuki no kamae (ready to do a left thrust) and perform hidari choku tsuki (left direct thrust).
To practice this continuously, try thinking of #5, then #7 as a transition – gyaku strike, turn/block, thrust, menuchi komi,gyaku strike, etc.