Weapons Used in Aikido: Bokken, Jo and, Tanto (With Pictures)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Aikido. Tanto, bokken, and jo
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Something that sets Aikido apart from many other forms of martial arts is the used of weapons. Beginners to the art often wonder why these ancient weapons are even used in the first place, especially as they are considered fairly “useless” nowadays. As a student, you will soon learn why the 3 basic Aikido weapons are essential to your training and skills development.

What weapons are used in Aikido? The three principles weapons used in Aikido training are:

  • Bokken – a type of wooden training sword.
  • Jo – a staff that measures about 4 ft long.
  • Tanto – a wooden training “blade” styled like a Samurai dagger.

While training with these Aikido weapons can truly transform your skills in the art, knowing when and how to use them can take some time. If you would like to learn more about why weapons are required for Aikido and more about each of these weapons and how they are used, read on.

To get started, let’s take a look at the weapons you can expect to encounter in your Aikido training classes. As mentioned above, there are 3 principle weapons which are commonly used.

Bokken

Aikido practitioners demonstrating bokken technique
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In Aikido, the Bokken or “Bokuto” is a wooden sword-like weapon that is modeled on the Japanese Katana. The Bokken was first used in 1584 by Miyamoto Musashi, who was a swordsman at the time. When Bokken first came about, they were used for training samurai and warriors.

In Aikido training, wooden weapons are used for safety reasons, although the concept of the Bokken is based on a real sword that could be deadly if used in real life. Bokkens are also a more logical training choice because they require minimal care and maintenance.

It is believed that a skillful blow with a Bokken can actually be deadly. Because of this, careful supervision is given during each training session using this particular weapon. Common injuries from Bokken include bruising, fractures, and sometimes even damaged organs. The entire purpose behind using a Bokken is not for sparring, but actually to teach students what it really feels like to fight with a real sword.

Bokkens are typically made from several wood types including Red Oak, White Oak, Hardwood, and Pinewood. They also range from 700 grams to 1.5 kilograms. Most students opt for a mid-range weight of around 800 grams for practice. Keep in mind that a very light sword might not feel so great when slammed up against an opponent’s heavier weapon. Much the same, a heavy Bokken might feel heavy after a few hours of consistent practice

Jo

People practice Aikido with wooden jo
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This 4-foot long wooden staff is typically light and smooth. These “sticks” are used for direct contact with an opponent, and while they aren’t deadly, they can cause injuries. Opponents use them to impact the body and legs with spearing and hitting. The Jo is also used for blocking and deflecting blows.

According to Japanese legend, the Jo was created by Musō Gonnosuke who actually fought Miyamoto Musashi (the first user of the Bokken) in the early 1600s.

Jo staffs used for Aikido are typically manufactured from hardwood in an octagonal or cylindrical shape. New students often confuse the Jo and Bo staff. The Jo is actually the shorter of the two. There is another staff called the Bo in martial arts, but that usually measures 6 feet and isn’t common in Aikido training.

When learning Aikido, it is essential for a student to choose a Jo staff that is the correct thickness and length. The slightest difference in a Jo size can affect overall performance, so students should avoid custom designing their staff. It could end up uncomfortable. There are two typical thicknesses often used for training, and these are 15/16 and 1 – these are commonly available on the market.

Professional Aikido fighters understand the versatility of the Jo staff. Back in history, before Aikido made its way to the Western world, Jo staffs could be quite easily made from a tree branch. In some instances, students could improvise by using a walking stick, broomstick or similar to act as a Jo staff in training and in a fight. Jo staffs are used when the intention to spar without causing injury or death to the opponent.

Tanto

Aikido wooden weapon tanto
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The Tanto, or Nihonto, is a short sword that is modeled on the Samurai dagger and was traditionally carried by the Samurai class in feudal Japan. It is typically 12 inch in length and makes it possible for a student to carry out a number of different attacks from different angles, with seeming ease. Using a Tanto in Aikido training is designed to teach students what it feels like to fight with a real knife or dagger.

The Tanto knife was first seen in Japan around the year 900. When they first made an appearance, they were used as fighting weapons, but over the years became more ornate and aesthetic.

While armed fighting with a knife is often avoided in Aikido, classes still teach fighting with a knife so as to fully equip all students. A wooden Tanto is used instead of a real knife or dagger as students will probably hurt themselves before learning all the required skills and being able to manage the knife correctly. The concept of Tanto training is to teach students to disarm a knife-wielding opponent.

4 Reasons Why Weapons Are Used in Aikido

There are several reasons why Aikido practice involves ancient martial art weapons, and here are a few of them:

aikido Wooden training sword bokken and jo
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Weapons are Essential for Developing the Correct Stance.

If you do not get the right stance in Aikido, you will not be able to maintain balance while moving quickly and smoothly. Aikido movements and stances are designed to help students conserve energy and use it correctly. For this to be possible, stance development must be learned correctly. By using weapons, students can be taught to acquire the correct stances with greater ease.

Weapons Help with Learning About Timing.

When an opponent has no weapon to retaliate with, a student will not learn that timing is essential in Aikido. When weapons are used, students learn when to react at the perfect time and how to quickly get out of the way and time their next attack. Using weapons also teaches students how to time their blocks and deflections appropriately.

Weapons Teach the Importance of Maintaining Proper Distance.

It is difficult to learn how near or far opponents need to be from each other if there is no way to measure it. By using weapons, students will have a better idea of how far they should be from their opponent. Weapons also teach students how to maintain a safe distance while striking quickly and strategically to be effective without getting hurt in the process.

Weapons Put Opponents on an Equal Footing.

When it comes to Aikido, sometimes large opponents are placed with smaller ones. Aikido teaches people to produce immense energy and strength, regardless of size. By using weapons, both opponents are on an equal footing and have the very same resources available to them.

The smallest opponent can beat a much larger one, simply by having a Bokken to fight with. This makes the fight more about technique and strategy and less about size and physical strength.

Questions You May Have as an Aikido Student

fighting with wooden swords at Aikido training in martial arts
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When do Aikido Students Start Weapons Training?

Even though Aikido principle weapons are designed to ensure minimal injuries, they can still hurt and injure students. Aikido students are not typically taught how to handle weapons in their first class. In fact, weapons are only taught after students have reached a certain level in their training.

All training classes are different, but according to research, students who wish to do weapons training are required to do at least 2 non-weapons classes per week for several weeks before they can begin with weapon training.

Do Students Have to Bring Their Own Aikido Weapons?

New students to Aikido often wonder who pays for the weapons and if they have to fork out large sums of money to get the 3 principle tools used in practice. The good news is that most Aikido schools will provide students with the basic weapons and tools required until such time as they wish to (or can) buy their own.

In Aikido and many other forms of martial arts, people incorrectly assume that their weapons need to come from top brands that are extremely expensive. Keep in mind that a good weapon is not always the most expensive one. Chatting to your Sensei about the best weapon choice for you and where to get it will be a good starting point to getting what you need, without breaking the bank.

Ultimately

While there are 3 principle wooden weapons used in Aikido, some might say that the human body is the greatest of all the weapons used. Students must learn the correct stances and movements in order to be effective and very often, weapons are merely a tool for learning these.

Aikido wooden weapons jo tanto bokken
Solkanar / Shutterstock.com

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.