Saturday, May 03, 2008

How to learn jodo without an uke

Jodo has grown on me like a fungus. When I first tried it out I found it quite esoteric and unpleasant and non-fun. In college I played with it off and on - more off than on. I think most of the folks that were in the college club with me were of the same opinion, so my instructor, Usher-san, wound up without a consistent, reliable set of training partners for jodo.
Usher-san kept up his own solo kihon and kata practice though, and practiced with real live people when he could. Some years later I had the pleasure of watching Usher-san demonstrate in Houston for his Sandan and he wowed the examiners and the observers. I overheard one very highly-ranked examiner say that Usher was one of the few jodo or aikido folks he'd ever seen who actually looked comfortable and competent holding a sword. Everyone was doubly amazed because Usher-san had, for the most part, taught himself when he was between partners. When folks would ask him how he did it he'd shrug and say, "solo kihon and kata practice in front of a mirror."
Well, now I'm in a similar situation with a lack of regular jo partners, and while I can't say I have excelled as Usher-san did, I do have a couple of pointers (in addition to Usher-san's mirror hint)that y'all might find helpful if you have to practice jodo without a partner.
  • Build a pell. I bought an 8 foot long 4x4 and buried about 2.5 feet of it in hard packed ground. Because it still gave too much when I pushed on it, I took a 2x4 that was about 3 feet long, cut one end into a wedge, and drove it into the ground directly against the back of the pell. This firmed it up nicely. I wrapped the pell from the top down to about knee level with 5/8” sisal rope – two windings thick to keep the post from splintering and more importantly to keep the post from denting or cracking my jo. Eventually I painted a couple of targets on the post – one the height and size of the orbit of my eye and the other the same size but solar plexus level. I would NOT recommend building a makiwara for punching this way – you’ll tear up your hands and arms – but for stick practice it is invaluable if you don’t have a regular partner. I gave my pell a name – Woodreaux Roper so I could practice cursing my enemy.

  • Re-think your techniques. Instead of basing your actions on the likely responses of a partner that you don’t have, concentrate on keeping yourself safe and moving. Anything that can be thought of as stabbing uke and pushing him back can also be thought of as pushing yourself backward off of uke and getting away from him (resulting in the same spacings as in kata). So, for instance, the second kata, suigetsu, becomes a sidestep, push yourself backward off of the sword guy, then strike down with honteuchi.


  1. Your timing couldn't be better. My instructor is just getting us started on the jo. Of course, the jo as used in kobudo is going to be somewhat different from its use in jodo, or aiki-jo, but I rather like your suggestions.

    Rather than plant yet another post in my backyard, I may see about securing a sandbag or something to one of the tree trunks.

    I'm grateful that I'll have Evil Conservative to practice on for another couple of years. After that, it may be a long time 'til I have another practice partner at home. Darling Daughter just isn't interested, and Middle Son is only six.

    Once I've grasped the basics sufficiently to start working on kata, this is very similar to what I'll be doing, if you're interested.

  2. "Evil Conservative"
    Ha, ha, I love that.

    I have lashed a worn out radial tire to a tree and used it for Bo-ken and it has very good "bouncy" action.
    The Jo is my favorite classic weapon.

  3. "Evil Conservative" Ha, ha, I love that.

    What can I say? That's what he came up with when he had to pick a Blogger user name.

    I better make the most of him. He'll be with us 'til he graduates from college in a couple of years. After that, my in-home practice partner will only be eight years old.

  4. MOST of our time is spent away from a teacher and training partners. Figuring out how to get the most our of our own self training seems like a very good idea.

  5. Glad you enjoyed that, Rick, and you're exactly right - most of our training opportunities occur away from partners and teachers - but it seems a lot of times like some folks (thankfully none of my students) never give a thought to this thing we're doing between classes.


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