Shinto Muso-ryu jo is the art of using the four-foot staff (jo) against the Japanese samurai sword. It was devised in the early 1600s by swordsman Muso Gonnosuke to improve his dueling skills, and later evolved into an art used by Japan’s feudal police forces. Today it is comprised of 64 forms that teach the use of the short staff, sword and other classical weapons, as well as armed combat principles such as timing, targeting, and distancing.
Diane Skoss, menkyo kaiden, has been teaching jo in Northern New Jersey for over two decades and also supervises trainees in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Southern Ontario, Canada. We train regularly on Sunday afternoons, with an additional Wednesday evening session for advanced students.
The 12 basic techniques (kihon) contain all of the style’s essential movements and can be practiced either solo or with a partner. The 64 kata are grouped into several sets, omote, chudan, ran’ai, kage, samidare, gohon no midare, shiaikuchi (okuden), and go-muso no jo. Each of these sets has its own particular “flavor”–basic and clear, fierce and dynamic, quick and precise, slow and measured, etc. In all kata, however, the basic format is the same, with one person wielding a jo and another wielding a wooden practice sword moving through sequences of attacking and defending movements designed to teach the correct use of each weapon.
These paired forms allow the art to be explored in relative safety. Classes are intentionally small, emphasizing close student-teacher interaction and detailed, personal attention to student progress. Students gradually cultivate a well-rounded repertoire of technical skills and abilities, including large and refined body movements, the proper handling of weapons, the effective use of timing, targeting and distancing, and the development of intense mental and spiritual flexibility and fortitude. Like most classical Japanese budo traditions, sparring and competitive matches are not included.
For the modern practitioner, Shinto Muso-ryu continues to offer challenging “paths” for personal growth, improved physicality, and deeper self-confidence and self-knowledge. While the weapons deployed may be somewhat “outdated,” the broader skills and wisdom carefully preserved for centuries remain timeless.
Shinto Muso-ryu includes four ancillary traditions, also taught at the Shutokukan. These are:
Shinto-ryu kenjutsu (sword vs. sword)
Ikkaku-ryu juttejutsu (metal police truncheon vs. sword)
Isshin-ryu kusarigamajutsu (chain-and-sickle vs. sword and spear)
Uchida-ryu tanjojutsu (walking stick vs. sword)
For additional information on the history of Shinto Muso-ryu see: