A staff is basically just a long wooden pole. The staff was adapted from the tenbin, a stick held across the shoulders, usually with buckets hanging from each end that were used to carry things. When attacked, the defender could easily slip the buckets off each end and have a very handy weapon. Staffs would also be used as a walking implement. When attacked, what seemed a harmless tool became a deadly weapon.
Staffs are mostly made from hardwood, usually oak because of its natural weight, strength, durability, and resistance to splitting. The ends of staffs are usually tapered to make them lighter and to consolidate their mass near their center so they will be lighter and easier to handle. The tapering also reduces rigidity to reduce breakage and to permit power, whipping attacks. Also, sharper ends make jabs more painful to the opponent. Some staffs have a square, hexagonal, or octagonal shape since the edges will cause more damage during strikes.
Staffs come in three basic lengths:
- Bo: 5 feet 11 1/2 inches long and 1 1/16 inches in diameter
- Jo: 4 feet 2 3/16 inches long and 7/8 inch in diameter
- Hanbo: 2 feet 11 3/4 inches long and 7/8 inch in diameter