Martial Art's Page

by Dexter A. Hansen  
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Matial Arts Page - Recommended Bo Book

The only book I've seen on the bo is by Tadashi Yamashita.  Mr. Yamashita is a well known martial artist and has appeared in several films.  I did have to opportunity to meet him and see him give a weapons demonstration  Unfortunately, he was doing a Nu-Chaka demonstration.

The bad news about his book is that it is out of print and hard to find. I have had another person who makes bo's recommend a book by Fumio Demura, a marial artist who has both weapon books and video training tapes to his credit.

Bo : Japanese Long Staff by Tadashi Yamashita Paperback
Published by Unique Pubns
Publication date: June 1986
ISBN: 0865680825

Bo Karate : Weapon of Self Defense by Fumio Demura, et al;
Paperback ISBN: 0897500199

Bo: Karate Weapon of Self-Defense with Video by Fumio Demura, et al; Paperback ISBN: 1581331452

Okinawan weapons: Bo fighting techniques
by Harold and Phil Little Long | Jan 1, 1987 Paperback

The Art and Science of Stick Fighting: Complete Instructional Guide (Martial Science) by Joe Vardy Hardcover Kindle Paperback

The Japanese Long Bo




The Wood



Finishing a Bo

Learning the Bo


Recommended Bo Book

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Dexter Hansen's Home Page


One interest I developed over the years was making Japenese Long Bo's. It seems my kids, who were into Ta-Kwan-Do (Korean style karate) were (and still are) rather tall and grew at a rather fast rate.    To keep them supplied with bo's, I took up making them.   

Warning: There are a number of people making the two piece bo's using an Acme threaded fastener, however, most of the practitioners I talked to said that they were known to break at the joint, especially at the tourament, when you need it most. There is a lot of force in a typical performance, much more in an actual strike, so I have never made any bo's that "broke" down, nor as a mechnical engineer, would I recommend them.


In discussing how to size a bo with several practitioners, I found that the length of the bo, when used for competion was recommended to be the height of the user or up to two inches taller.   I did find that there was a difference of opinion on whether the bo was balanced (at the center) or weighted (one end).  I think that th\\e balance difference is a user's choice and up to the practitioner.  Since most of the bo's I have  made were for smaller blackbelts (48 inches to 59 inches tall), most were balanced close to the center.  

Most of the bo's I have made were .75 to .85 in diameter for a 24 inch section in the middle, dependent upon the size of the kids hands.  I tapered from the middle 24 inch section to the ends. They typically range from .7 to .75 inch on the ends. Most of the commercial bo's I am aware of are much larger in diameter in the handle, typically .9 to 1.0 inch.

I'd be interested in rules of thumb for sizing from others making bo's.

The Wood:

A number of student grade commerial bo's are made from some rather heavy woods, including oak.  The Japanese preferred the heartwood of the red oak, I'm told. Seems a Samuri sword didn't always cut all the way through and with a little tug on the Bo, once the blade was stuck into the wood, would break the sword.

The bo's I have made are out of kiln dried white ash. The advantages of white ash over oak are that it is about 40 percent lighter. Since most tournements don't dictate the material the weapons are made of, this give the martial artist an advantage.  The white ash bo, for the martial artist, is lighter and faster.  This is good for additional points in a tournament since it allows him/her to finish a lot stonger than someone trying to swing a heavier stick.  

I have tried using different woods glued up.  The lanination along the length works well, however, fixturing or a very precise cut are required to put a different wood in the center of the handle.  Mixing wood types when using the router to rough out the bo is not a good idea if one wood is harder than another.  The bit really takes a big bite out of the wood if it transitions from a hardwood to a softer wood (It gives you a flat spot). 


I made the center section a comfortable diameter for the user for about 12 inches on each side of the center.  I then put a taper of about 1 degree per foot over the rest of the length on both ends.  I typically made them two inches over the height of the user, unless it was for a kid.  I made them a little longer, typically 3 inches taller than the kid. I did make onepencil tipped bo out of hichory, however, don't believe it helps the performance. The bo was so light, that it was hard to hang on to.


Since most wood lathes are made for a 40 inch overall length, you need to stretch the lathe or buy a new, longer lathe.   If you ever priced a lathe longer than 40 inches, you know it's a major expense.

Since I sometimes do things a little differently than most, I modified a Sear's Router-Crafter I had by replacing the 40 inch long, 1 inch diameter tubes with some 9 foot tubing.  It works well for tall bed posts as well.  I then made templetes to suit for the RouterCrafter. I had to improvise center stands as well. The longer the bo, the more the droop.  If attempting to make bo's, plan on making several before you get it right.

The only difference in  using the router to make the bo, rather than a lathe is that the handle becomes more ovalled than round across the diameter  I think it makes it easier to hang onto and consider it a feature.  

Make the bo's diameter about .03 inches over size.  The final .03 inch I sand down.  Even with white ash, this is the hard part.  Plan on using a lot of sandpaper and have fun if using this technique, it's a muscle builder. Start with a course grit, say 60 and work your way down to 100.

I also used the router to put a radius on the end. I preferred the balled end rather than a square cut end. I used a router in a router table using a 3/8 inch quarter round bit. Careful, the router is good at taking fingers and finger tips if your are not careful.

As a side note, I have heard from other people making Long bo's who use other techniques. I received an email from one gentlman who is using a spoke shave to make bos. I have tried this technique myself and to be honest, depending on the wood used, it's considerably more work (and patients needed) to get the bo to a point where you can use sandpaper. 

Finishing a Bo:

I have done some experimenting with surface finishes and finishes.  I've settled on a final sanding with a 100 grit wood sandpaper.  I found that a Danish Finish, color to suit, works well.  I recommend only two coats. Additional coats have a tendency to make the finish smoother.  Experienced practitioners have a few tricks like hooking the thumb over the end of the forefinger when spinning the bo at high speeds to keep it in hand.  

Another finish was recommend to me by a person who has made a number of bo's used in competition. His typical finish is to put about 3 coats of carnauba wax on them, which wears off the important parts with a little use but still protects most of the bo.  

Learning the Bo:

As with anything, there are secrets when learning the Bo.  The secrets I know about are as follows:

  • Find a good instructor.

  • Get a book with the bo forms (Hyung's/Kata's) you want to learn.  Half the battle is remembering them. The book can help you visualize.

  • Practice.  Practice.  Practice.


If you enjoy watching the Bo, go to the Weapons Events at some local Karate Tournaments. There is a lot of talent out there and if you enjoy the Martial Arts, you will have a good time. Until the next tournament takes place, you'll just have to watch a movie.  I like Martial Art's movies, however, my wife doesn't.  I have learned to compromise. I can watch them as long as she isn't watching them with me. Oh well..... now has tools, tooling, backup power supplies and power generators in their's Tool & Home Improvement Store.  Click on Amazon's Tool & Home Improvement Store or the logo above to go there or use the Search feature.

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Copyright Dexter A. Hansen