Beginning Bo

Several weeks ago I started attending an online bo class for karateka in the organization I belong to. Before now I could probably count the number of bo lessons I’d had on the fingers of one hand. I am pretty slow to learn new material so none of the one-off lessons ever really stuck. The two bo that I own gathered dust. At least they’re stored flat so I don’t have to worry about warping. It’s very nice to now have enough material to work with on my own.

The ceiling in my little basement “dojo” is quite low so I had to buy a dowel to substitute for a real bo. Even the dowel isn’t always short enough. I’m getting better at not gouging the ceiling tiles that compose my drop-down basement ceiling. Nonetheless, I had those tiles tested for asbestos. I was fully prepared to take the ceiling out entirely. I can’t tell you how many of my friends in the karate world had good sound advice for that enterprise – I’m grateful for their support. I’m happy to report that I can gouge the ceiling all I want – the test for asbestos came back negative.

Obviously I have to let go of the idea that everything in my little dojo will be safe and perfect. A couple of months or so ago the old fluorescent light fixtures in my little “dojo” had to be replaced (new tubes didn’t work). In the process I accidentally dropped a plastic diffuser tile. As a result of that drop the diffuser is missing a corner. I didn’t replace the diffuser. What’s the point? I might accidentally hit it with my dowel. Interestingly enough all my knick-knacks and everything hanging on my walls have been completely safe – including a small full-length mirror. Studying bo is totally worth the risk to my belongings. That said, I am grateful for warmer Spring weather so I can get outside with a real bo.

Admittedly a bo isn’t exactly something you can carry easily on the street. I have to make special accommodations for my bo when putting it in the family cars. No way am I going to be able to easily retrieve a bo from under the bed and use it on a burglar in the middle of the night. I’m learning bo because it’s fun, because I’m loving what it’s doing for my upper body, and… Long time readers have probably guessed that I love being a beginner.

I love it that I suck at bo. I’ve sat in a judge’s chair and awarded points, I’ve watched some excellent bo practitioners both live and on YouTube, and I watch my sensei – so I know how badly I suck. And it’s OK that I suck. How long have I been learning? A few weeks? Perfectly OK for me to not look as polished as most of the kobudo practitioners who I’ve judged in tournaments. In actuality I’ve probably made rapid progress because a lot of things from karate carry over to bo. But I’m still awkward, I’m not sure I have combination #6 right, and combinations #11 and #12 are eluding me altogether. None of this bothers me because I am having an absolute blast being a brand new beginner at something.

I am even contemplating competing with bo. I’ve been competing in the advanced empty-hand divisions for a good chunk of my karate career now. With bo I’ll be entering the beginner/novice division. So long as I don’t clonk a judge or anyone else in the head I’ll be happy. Long time readers of this blog know that putting myself in challenging situations where the pressure is ON is something I do in order to prepare for my next belt test. Yes, the tests are fewer and way further apart for my level and beyond (1st kyu at the time of this writing), but I personally need to be in a situation where I’ve got a bunch of people staring at me and judging me. I need to practice quelling those butterflies and doing my utmost to perform in a “scary” situation. Competing with bo will be a different sort of pressure – something I’m brand new with, something I’m awkward at, and the very first (or second) basic bo kata to boot. It’ll be a test of my self confidence for sure.

I’m not sure exactly how I’ll juggle competing if I add another division to my repitoire, but I’m sure it’ll work out. I’ll have to change into and out of my dogi and official’s uniform a couple of times but I have a dandy suit bag and most venues have a locker room. So I guess it’ll be OK. I don’t have huge ambitions for my career as an official, at least not right now. If at some point I suddenly develop a huge talent for it and finally can pass the written tests with ease I might set some goals. But for now my goal with judging is to help out. So yeah, adding bo will make the day very interesting, but I think that’ll be part of the challenge and the fun.

I can make a pretty good list of things I’ve learned about bo. I can expound on how my empty hand study helps my study of the weapon and vice versa. But what are the deeper lessons? I’ve learned that new material can help stave off angst. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy looking more deeply into material I’ve previously memorized and I love it when I see a bit of improvement in my performance. But let’s face it: I’m human. There are days when I’m bored, frustrated, even mopey. Grabbing my bo engages my mind and gives me something else to think about. There will come a day when I don’t have to think, I’ll just flow through the bo exercises and kata. For right now, it’s OK that I don’t. Sometimes I need the distraction of working with completely new material. And let’s face it, the past twelve months have been hard. Anything that lifts my spirits helps. Martial arts are all about showing a fighting spirit in the face of pressure. I daresay I’ve learned a bit about that by beginning something new this year.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

2 thoughts on “Beginning Bo”

  1. So exciting to learn something new! Good for you. Yes, the past 12 months have been hard. It has been encouraging to read about how you handle practicing remotely. We are all still remote too, until we can get outside.

    We do Staff and Spear forms in our Kung Fu class, and will start them up again when we the weather is warmer. Can’t wait.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading, June! I’m glad you’re finding encouragement in knowing you’re not alone (I know I am). Hope all is well in your neck of the woods. Stay safe!

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