FAQ: Questions & answers about Jodo training

First, these questions and answers are an attempt to inform about Shinto Muso-ryu and training at the Shobukan Dojo. Japan, and Japanese Martial Arts themselves have many ‘gray’ areas. What you find below is how we have been educated, and it may well be different in another school or Dojo. Please feel free to contact us if you have other questions.


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Jodo Background

Is this martial art called ‘Jodo’ or ‘Jojutsu’?

The school’s name is: Shinto Muso Ryu Jo. Sometimes you see it abbreviated to ‘SMR’. Jo, Jodo and Jojutsu really refer to the same martial art. Japanese do not make a big deal of these different terms. The term ‘Do’ from Jodo means ‘The Way’. As in a spiritual path or a method of self-improvement. ‘Jutsu’ often refers to the martial skill itself. When Japanese society changed from one run by the Samurai (warrior class) to a modern, more egalitarian one, many of the warrior skills no longer had direct relevance in daily life. But those warriors sought to find a positive vehicle for the skills, both mental & physical, that they had learned. In that effort many martial arts, in addition to combative training, also became a vehicle for personal self-improvement. Thus the use of the term ‘Do’ or ‘Way’, ‘Path’, ‘Road’. All with a more spiritual connotation.

Is the main weapon used the Staff (Jo) or the Sword (tachi)?

Yes, BOTH of these weapons are central to the school called Shinto Muso Ryu. The Jo/Staff techniques are in response to attacks by the Tachi/Sword. In reality these cannot be separated but must be studied together.

I’ve heard Jodo/Jojutsu is called a ‘Ko-ryu’, what is that?

‘Ko-ryu’ refers to a classical Japanese martial school that existed before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Before this time Japanese society was a feudal system run by Samurai, the warrior class. These societal classes included: Samurai, Farmers, Artisans, Merchants.

As such the martial arts were of primary importance for that ruling class, and permeated almost every aspect of life in Japan. Shinto Muso Ryu Jojutsu (SMR) was developed in that period, specifically by the police of the Kuroda clan in Kyushu, Japan. SMR was actively used by these police, and refined in the course of performing their law enforcement responsibilities, from about 1605 to 1868.  See Koryu Primer

Does Shinto Muso-ryu Jo have a single Lineage, single ‘Headmaster’ or ‘Soke’?

The term ‘Soke’ is not used in Shinto Muso-ryu Jo. And there is no single Headmaster either.

Within Shinto Muso-ryu Jo there are actually numerous valid lineages today, and not a single headmaster, as is found in some other Japanese koryu martial systems. ‘Menkyo kaiden’ is the style’s highest level of recognition and these exponents are the only people qualified to teach and promote other exponents of Shinto Muso-ryu Jo.

While it is not unusual today to have more than one menkyo kaiden within a group, organization, or even a dojo, the reality is that each one of them is able to make their own decisions about how/where/why Shinto Muso-ryu Jo should be transmitted. If we look at the history of Shinto Muso-ryu we can see that even near the beginning there were several menkyo kaiden involved.

After the Meiji Restoration and the spread of Shinto Muso-ryu outside of Kyushu, eventually several people (many Japanese and a few foreigners) have received menkyo kaiden. And those people continue the transmission of Shinto Muso-ryu Jo as a valid lineage.

Phil Relnick Sensei was the first foreigner to receive a menkyo kaiden, and the lineage information found on this website (/Jojutsu/Our Lineage) simply reflects OUR line of study and transmission of Shinto Muso-ryu Jo.

I have experience in other martial arts (Aikido, Karate, Iaido, Judo, Kendo, Kyudo), how is Jodo different?

For someone who has not already studied another Koryu, let’s start there, with the Koryu itself. Because SMR is a Koryu Bujutsu, it came into being when the Samurai ruled a feudal society in Japan, before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In the case of SMR, it was developed, tested, and refined by the Military Police of the Kuroda-han, in Fukuoka, Kyushu, from about 1605 to 1868 (Edo period). What this also says is that a ‘ryu’ (school) was typically a military association with a specific domain/han (ie Kuroda-han). And it existed to support ‘the group’. Not individuals.

Teaching of this type of martial art is very one-on-one, direct from teacher to student (shihan/deshi). The lineage of transmission of SMR is clear, from the beginning times to present. The strict Japanese feudal society shaped many of the behaviors and protocols of formality (reishiki) found in training, then and now. The training curriculum of SMR is comprehensive and consistent, in its use of the sword, staff, and other weapons. SMR is amazingly integrated in the way the different groups of Kata seek to teach/guide a student in both physical and mental dimensions. The bedrock of training is through Kata (there is more about ‘Kata’ in this FAQ).

With the Koryu, there is a sense of being part of a long existing martial tradition, and striving to come to know yourself, your opponent, and these weapons by following in the footsteps of those teachers who came before us. This may sound rigid to some, but in reality there is much flexibility in the process. There is a spiritual component, not in a religious sense, but in the shared goals of the teachers and students working together to understand this martial art, and support each other in that journey. Each person is different in body/mind/spirit. Each person works within that existing path as a guide for their own development.

With this start, a comparison to SMR can be further divided into two areas, with your experience in a martial art that is predominately:

1. A partnered practice, like: Judo, Aikido, Kendo. While some of the partnered-focused training in SMR will be familiar to you, where SMR differs is in the overall focus of training. There is really no ‘sporting feel’ to the training, at all. The goals are to  improve yourself with the weapons you are using, doing this always with a combative mindset of ‘shinken shobu’. ‘live/die’, not ‘win/lose’.

2. A solo practice, like: Iaido, Karate-do, Kyudo. SMR is 99.9% partnered training. You constantly have an external force, your training-partner/opponent, pressing, challenging, stressing you.  This provides a very dynamic learning process. If you have not participated in this type of training it can be challenging AND very eye-opening. The training between opponents is designed to ‘lift up’ each person. Not ‘beat down’.

What is the ranking system used in Shinto Muso Ryu (SMR)?

SMR uses the older, classical Japanese ranking system of ‘mokuroku’, or scrolls of achievement. There are five levels of recognition in Shinto Muso-ryu jo. They are okuiri-sho, sho-mokuroku, go-mokuroku, menkyo and menkyo kaidenMenkyo kaiden is the style’s highest level of recognition and these exponents are the only people who are legally qualified to teach and promote exponents of Shinto Muso-ryu jo.

There are no black belts or ‘Dan’ rankings of any kind. Everyone, students and teachers, wears the same color uniform (Kendo style uniform – see FAQ below: Weapons Information: what equipment will I need to start training), so there is no outward indicator of ‘rank’. The focus is on learning over the long-term, and not on short-term goals (like colored belts). Exceptional students may eventually be eligible for traditional licenses, but there is no guarantee of promotion. The only reason to train is for personal development–if you are interested in outside validation of your skills in the form of colored belts, trophies, certificates, etc. this will not be the right place for you.

I’ve heard that Shinto Muso Ryu (SMR) uses something called ‘Kata’?

Yes, ‘Kata’ is used extensively in SMR. ‘Kata’ translates as ‘form’ or ‘pre-arranged movement’. Kata is a training method used by countless Japanese martial art schools over hundreds of years. The pre-arranged movements within the Kata allow one to learn how to manipulate the weapons (staff & sword), move efficiently with those weapons, and come to understand the nature of timing and movement of an opponent. Along with combative strategies.

Kata sounds like a ‘dance’. How is it ‘combative’?

Kata may sound a bit rigid and ‘dance-like’, but the reality is that Kata provides a safe method to learn dangerous combative skills. Every partner is different in terms of size, strength, speed, coordination, skills. Along with different partners are the different groupings of Kata within the SMR curriculum. You must come to understand and deal with all these variations each time you train with a different partner, and within a different group of SMR kata. This variation is what gives SMR a rich and vibrant training methodology. Having the structure of ‘Kata’ in which to do this learning provides a relatively safe process.

What is the difference between Shinto Muso Ryu Jo (SMR) and ‘Seitei Jodo’?

Traditional Shinto Muso ryu is a large, comprehensive martial system. It includes 64 kata divided into a number of related groups that seek to train the exponent in different ways, building both physical and mental skills. It also includes a number of associated weapons arts that are integrated with the principles and movements of Shinto Muso ryu. SMR instruction is much more one-on-one based, with emphasis on direct teacher-student interaction.

Seitei Jodo was created in the 1950/60’s from the original SMR system and includes 12 basic exercises along with 12 kata. It was developed as a way to teach larger groups of people, initially the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, the fundamentals of using the Jo/Staff and Sword/Tachi. When SMR was opened to more civilians in Japan, the Kendo Federation (Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei – ZNKR) took Seitei Jodo under its wing and continued to make it more accessible to the general public. Seitei Jodo includes examinations for the kyu/dan ‘black belt’ ranking system, as well as limited kata competitions. Neither of these are found in traditional SMR.

In this Dojo we use the Kihon and Seitei Kata to introduce new students to the fundamentals of Jodo. But we do not participate in the ZNKR Federation organized examinations or competitions.

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Training in Jodo

What is a typical training class like?

A typical training session lasts two (2) hours. During this time you will engage in various Kata with different partners. A newer student takes the Jo-side of kata, while the more experienced student uses the sword. You will rotate among several partners during that training session. The partner-training nature of Jodo is different than other martial arts like Iaido (swordsmanship) or even Karate-do, where Kata is mostly performed solo. The partner-driven training provides rapid and honest feedback.

Is Jodo training suitable for both Women & Men?

Yes indeed! Actually women tend to learn faster than men. I am sure the men don’t like hearing this but it is true. Shinto Muso Ryu Jo uses various weapons as a ‘force multiplier’. It is not like Karate or Judo where relative strength & size makes more of an impact between training partners. Thus people of different sizes, men & women, learn to use the weapons skillfully. This reduces the advantage of pure size and strength. Given this, women tend to learn the techniques and skills faster because they do not have the urge to ‘over-muscle’ their way through techniques like men do.

Will learning Jodo help me defend myself ‘on the mean streets’?

Jodo training IS a combative martial art from Japan’s past. But since we do not regularly carry a sword or staff around in daily life, Jodo is probably not the right martial art to study if your focus is on modern self-defense.

If I am not learning how to defend myself on the ‘mean streets’, what are the benefits of studying Jodo?

Studying Jodo offers many benefits including: vigorous physical movement and coordination skills, understanding timing & distancing for the weapons you are learning to use, learning to be aware of your surroundings and what is going around you, learning to maintain composure under stressful conditions, learning to respond appropriately with the weapon in your hand at the time. The sheer depth of the kata, and groups of kata, provide a very rich, cohesive curriculum to learn and master.

Training in Jodo builds a sense of self-discipline and precision in your way of thinking. The groups of kata can be long and complex, you must be present and engaged mentally to operate at your best.

Because attacks by the swordsman allow for a range of response with the Jo/staff, this reflects a moral choice you must consider, and make, again and again. Without a proper mindset the martial arts are nothing but brutal power that has no place in modern times.

Training with various partners allows you to step outside the ‘me zone’ and consider the good of the greater group that are the people in your dojo. In broad terms western society is more individual-focused, while in Japan the welfare of the group is important. Training in SMR exposes you to these perspectives. Included in this is the etiquette used within the dojo. This serves as a safety mechanism when training with dangerous weapons, but also helps each of us understand our place in the hierarchy of relationships and responsibilities within the dojo.

Lastly, study of SMR provides an appreciation of, and connection to a 400+ year old classical Japanese martial tradition that has stood the test of time, surviving to this modern age.

Do I have to be in super-good physical condition to participate in Jodo?

No, but it always helps to have a basic, healthy level of physical fitness. Studying Jodo is no exception, it is definitely a physical, ‘doing’ activity, not a ‘talking’ one. To start the study of Jodo all you really need is a healthy body and mind. I have met and trained with people who started Jodo at age 17, and 60! Age is really NOT a restriction. People of all ages, women and men, regularly study Jodo.

The body motions and stances of Jodo are natural and do not subject your joints to unusual stresses. 90% of Jodo training takes place standing upright. A few kata start or end on your knees, but these are short and represent a small percentage of the overall curriculum.

Is there any ‘free sparing’ in Shinto Muso Ryu Jodo?

There is no free sparing, ‘randori’, tournaments, competitions, trophies, medals, or colored belts. All training is through the vehicle of Kata.

Is there any protective equipment worn during training?

Unlike Kendo, there is no use of protective equipment during training. Some light contact is made with the weapons but not in a harmful manner. There is great emphasis on learning new techniques slowly, improving ones accuracy through repetition and time. The practice of ‘sun dome’ (stopping a strike with the Jo or cut with the sword, within 1″ of the target) is used extensively throughout Kata training.

Is Japanese language used during training sessions?

This IS a Japanese martial art. So yes, we do use Japanese terms for many things during training. Over time you will come to understand and use these terms yourself, it is a part of the complete training.

This looks interesting, what is the process to start training?

There is a specific process for potential students. The steps include:

  1. Please read the articles on this website’s pages: ‘About / Interest in Study Here‘. And this FAQ page.
  2. Send an email stating you have completed Step #1 and would like to pursue training here.
  3. Once we receive your email we will reply back to you and set up a time to meet in person and discuss the training here, and your training goals. This is usually at a coffee shop at a convenient location.
  4. Once scheduled to visit and observe training here, you will be asked to watch three full classes. This gives you a chance to see what training is like – it may or may not be what you expect.  It also gives the other students here a chance to meet you.  When observing, the expectation is you will stay for the whole class, and you will actually be observing – not texting, reading etc. Membership is not automatic. A judgement will be made based on you being be a good fit here.

Lastly, a suggestion when observing any potential martial training here or elsewhere, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do you like the martial art training activity and find it interesting?
  2. Do you like the way the students interact with one another?
  3. Do you like the way the teacher interacts with the students?

If the answer is ‘no‘ to any one of these questions, you are probably better off continuing your search elsewhere.

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I’ve heard that Japanese etiquette is complex in general, and more so in a Dojo.

You are right, it can be complex for non-Japanese. And even younger Japanese today can find the intricacies of this difficult. It all starts with basic polite behavior to one another. And a recognition that people grow in this martial art by helping one another.

There are many specific points on how to behave in a Dojo, your Dojo-mates will help you figure these out over time. We conduct training here with a quiet, reserved atmosphere. At the same time enjoying immensely what we study (if you do not enjoy what you study, why do it?). it is not at all like boot camp, with yelling or hazing, which you may have heard is practiced in some Karate or Kendo schools. Not here.

Being respectful to one another in the Dojo is the essence of etiquette. You are in an environment where people are studying combative martial arts with dangerous weapons. That should be a clue to pay attention. In general, take seriously how you behave, as it sets an important tone for the Dojo and for the training.

Is there anything special about ‘seniority’?

Your seniority date is based on the day you first start training.  It is relevant in Japanese martial arts when you are about to start a training session with your fellow dojo-mates; the more senior person usually takes the sword first. Also, when lining up at the beginning or end of training, the more senior students are to the right.

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Weapons Information

What kinds of weapons are used in Shinto Muso Ryu (SMR)?

In addition to the Jo (staff) and Tachi (sword), a number of other weapons are included within the curriculum of SMR. These include:

Kenjutsu – swordsmanship with the Tachi and Kodachi (long & short swords)

Tanjo – a short staff based on the European walking cane and core SMR techniques

Kurasrigama – a bladed sickle with a chain and weighted end for entangling a sword

Jutte – a metal truncheon that was a weapon AND a symbol the Police in old Japan

What equipment will I need to start training?

We will help you acquire proper gear when the time comes (Shobukan does not sell any equipment), which includes:

  1. a Jo/Staff and a Tachi/bokuto (wooden long & short swords). Swords will need a sword-guard
  2. A bag to carry your weapons and uniform
  3. An Obi/wide belt, black is fine
  4. A uniform top (uwagi – gi top) and traditional pants (hakama – split pants). The standard Kendo-style, dark blue cotton uwagi and hakama are the norm. Everyone, students and teachers, all wear the same kind/color of uniform.
  5. A pair of light-weight pants or shorts under your hakama
  6. knee pads

Are there any specific rules for handling weapons?

A few specific points on weapons handling are worth noting:

  1. In general, weapons should be handled respectfully. Doing this shows respect for the owner of the weapons, and keeps present in your mind that these weapons can be deadly.
  2. If weapons are laying on the floor, you should never step over weapons (yours, or anyone else’s).
  3. You should only use someone else’s weapons after asking their permission

Those other weapons look interesting, when will I learn those?

The emphasis in Shinto Muso ryu is on the Jo/staff and Tachi/sword.  The sword is at the heart of almost all classical Japanese martial arts.  Every time we do a Jo kata, there is a corresponding sword form, and we put great emphasis on using the sword properly.  The Jo itself is also frequently used as if were a sword.  For these reasons, some people have called Shinto Muso Ryu a school of the Jo and Tachi.  From the beginning you are learning both Jo and Tachi.   The Kata that specifically train the other weapons (Kenjutsu, Tanjo, Kusarigama, Jutte) are taught after a solid foundation with the Jo has been established, which usually takes several years.

Q. Is it permissible to use the graphics and photos from this web site?

A. Some photos on the Shinto Muso-ryu jo history page are all copyright Koryu Books, 2006 unless otherwise indicated. Please refrain from using these without permission. Some other materials on this site are already in the public domain in one way or another, but we ask that they not be used for profit-making activities nor in any way that might damage the reputation of the martial arts represented. If you do wish to use a photo or text, kindly email:  contact AT shobukandojo DOT org  to explain the details and your intentions, for example by sending a section of the accompanying text or the URL where the item in question will appear. 

1. Bristol, George Maj. USMC – Koryu Bujutsu: Forward 1997