Shinto Muso-ryu Jo is said to be the oldest style in Japan for using a stick (jo) in combat. It was founded in the early 17th century by Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi, an exponent of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto-ryu. Shinto Muso-ryu oral tradition maintains that Gonnosuke once fought Miyamoto Musashi, one of the most famous swordsmen of the time, with a staff (bo) in a training match and was defeated by Musashi's cross-block (jujidome) technique.
According to legend, Gonnosuke was dissatisfied with this outcome and retired to Mt. Homan, in what is now Fukuoka Prefecture, in Kyushu, where he engaged in a series of religious austerities, all the while contemplating the reasons for his defeat. Finally, he received "divine" inspiration about a new method of using a staff-like weapon, making it shorter (128cm) and thinner (26mm) for more rapid manipulation. He devised a number of techniques for this new weapon, which he called a stick (jo) (as opposed to staff or bo), that included the use of the thrust of a spear, strike of a sword and staff and sweep of a naginata. Factual documents of the style (ryu) are quite rare. It is said that there is a record at Tsukuba Shrine, in Ibaragi Prefecture, that reports that Gonnosuke was able to defeat Musashi in a rematch.
Training is conducted in formal two person pre-arranged kata. In Shinto Muso-ryu jo there are a total of 64 techniques which are divided into a number of sets, each with a different character. Training is systematic and develops the exponent's technical skills and psychological abilities, from body movement and weapons handling to the proper use of targeting, distancing and timing, and intense mental or spiritual training, all originally aimed to enable the exponent to successfully use the weapon in mortal combat.
Exponents begin their study of jo by learning a set of twelve basic techniques (kihon waza), which contain all the essential movements of the style. They then proceed through different sets of techniques of stick versus sword(s): omote, chudan, ran-ai, kage, samidare, gohon-no-midare, and okuden. A final set, the gokui hiden (also called go-muso-no-jo), consists of techniques that are taught only to exponents who have received a menkyo-kaiden, the highest level in the system.
Also included in the curriculum of the Shinto Muso-ryu jo are twelve techniques of the swordsmanship system called Shinto-ryu kenjutsu. The first eight techniques are long sword v long sword, followed by four techniques that are long sword v short sword.
There are five levels of recognition in Shinto Muso-ryu jo. They are the okuiri-sho, shomokuroku, gomokuroku, menkyo and menkyo-kaiden. Holders of menkyo-kaiden are the only people qualified to issue mokuroku and menkyo in Shinto Muso-ryu jo.
In addition to Shinto Muso-ryu jo and Shinto-ryu Kenjutsu, a number of separate arts are taught at various points in an exponent's training. These are considered assimilated arts, and include
Uchida Ryu Tanjo-jutsu (short stick)
Isshin Ryu Kusarigama-jutsu (ball, chain and sickle)
Ikkaku Ryu Jutte-jutsu (truncheon)
Ittatsu-ryu Hojojutsu (Rope tying & restraining)
Text adapted from Meik & Diane Skoss "Field Guide to the Japanese Classical Martial Arts" in Sword & Spirit:Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume two. ©1999 Koryu Books. Note both authors hold Menkyo in Shinto Muso Ryu Jo