Jodo (short for Muso Ryu Jodo) is a traditional Japanese martial art dating back to the 1600’s. It features the jo (the short staff or walking stick) in defense of the bokken (the traditional Japanese wooden sword). Jodo practice starts with the introduction of twelve basic jo skills and an equal number of practical bokken skills. Advanced practice then incorporates these basic skills into another dozen more complex and increasingly mentally demanding forms. (And yet, jodo practice is suitable for both men and women of all ages – to include mature teens.) For more, check out this link to our Know the Wind brochure.
And so, for you, for us, for both current and prospective Zen students: Why study the bokken and why study the jo? Why a jodo practice at all?
And as you would suspect, the answer is both simple and complex. The simple fact is that the Zen path is ultimately a progression of fundamental understandings depending in part upon the myriad of individual choices we make along the way. And in this progression of understandings, we all inevitably reach a crossroads (the very same crossroads that all buddhas before us have likewise encountered) – where one choice is to continue on the path of doing what we have always done and another is to begin anew – to walk a different path, the path of clarity, the path of ‘letting go’. (And, as is human nature, we can not ‘just let go’ without a serious fight – without help, without a practice.)
And in previous years, AZC students intent on pursuing this latter path had ample opportunities to attend dai sesshin – extended silent retreats with a roshi. (These retreats were held many times each year and at many locations throughout the country … and if a week with a roshi couldn’t convince you of the need to let go, you probably hadn’t yet reached the crossroads.) But now, as these opportunities are becoming increasingly less accessible, as a Zen center, we accept the challenge of providing meaningful practice options for those of our members currently at the crossroads (as well as the promise of future practice for those approaching). And jodo practice is one such option.
OK, so what’s ultimately going on in jodo practice (aside from the zazen)? Quite simply, the successful defense of the lowly walking stick in the face of the Japanese sword truly requires that you simply let go (that you yield to the activity of zero). As you assume the role of the defending jo, the attacking bokken is your teacher. Whether cutting or thrusting, each attack is the equivalent of sanzen (as you are required to respond immediately, appropriately and naturally to the challenge as delivered). Your attacking partner is your roshi. Will you cling to your notions of right and wrong, of what should be and what shouldn’t, of what has happened in the past or of what you have imagined for the future – will you cling to the myriad of responses that you have rehearsed … or will you stand essentially naked, clothed only in clarity? And will your roshi, your attacking partner, simply respond … “Well done.”
First, register with this site by clicking the ‘Sign Up’ button in the upper right corner. Then follow the ‘Sessions’ tab in the title bar (at the top of this page) and click on the session called the Fundamentals of Jodo. (There will be further instructions on how to proceed from there.) This session lasts four weeks and will provide you some basic understanding of the art and its history, it will describe the equipment, etc. And, aside from completing this prerequisite session, in poking around you will realize that this is a collaborative site where you can pose and answer all kinds of questions, you can join and create groups, create and participate in forums, etc. And finally, when March rolls around and you start your jodo training, this is where you will come to record and track both your progress (as well as that of your fellow students), to read up on those things that we can’t cover in weekly practice and to help others in their practice. Enjoy … we’re all in this together.
Also, realize that the framework of practice (etiquette and ceremony) is not the source of any understanding. Rather, it simply provides the necessary structure to be able to observe yourself in increasingly complex relationships – sitting, drinking tea, chanting, standing, walking, bowing, etc. Sitting is observing, and sitting in a zendo has the added benefit of allowing you to observe yourself in a more dynamic setting.