Morgan Jones is one of the best characters in The Walking Dead, hands down. Played by Lennie James, the formerly over-protective father has evolved into a wandering warrior monk quieted by the horrors he’s witnessed. His upgrade to series regular in season six has been a boon to AMC’s hit zombie show, but he’s been ingrained in the mythos since the beginning.
Through with mourning his kid’s death, Morgan now walks with the swagger of a hardened survivor and comes armed with a peculiar weapon: the bō (pronounced like “boat,” without the T).
It looks just like a wooden stick, because it is a wooden stick. But in the hands of a true fighter that wooden stick can be a ridiculously versatile weapon. Morgan has shown Walking Dead fans how he pounds walkers into paste with a few bashes, and last night in the season’s second episode, “JSS,” Morgan held his own against a gang of Wolves armed with knives.
A wooden stick pales when compared to crossbows, samurai swords, and revolver pistols, but the bō (meaning “staff”) has a rich history in martial arts and might actually be the best weapon for the apocalypse.
The bō can be traced back to Okinawa, Japan in the early 17th century. In 1609, the Shimazu clan of Satsuma invaded Okinawa and overthrew Sho Dynasty control. They introduced a weapons ban, leaving Okinawans defenseless against their new overlords. The natives resorted to farming tools for defense, and found that the sticks they used to carry buckets of water and harvest are surprisingly handy if you want to beat a dude up.
Bōjutsu is the dedicated martial art for the bō. The driving philosophy is to use the bō as an “extension of one’s limbs.” Imagine you’ve got an elongated third arm or leg. That’s how you best utilize the bō.
The bō is a popular weapon for live martial arts demonstrations and kung-fu movies because, well, it looks cool. But it’s also useful in real world scenarios (given the user’s skill), rivaled only by Filipino Martial Arts which is basically two sticks.
There’s not a lot of maintenance a bō needs, certainly not in the zombie apocalypse. Katanas dull and crossbows lose arrows, but a stick is a stick. They’re relatively easy to create or brandish from the environment.
There’s a reason why Bruce Lee, whose never ending goal was to bring practicality in Chinese kung-fu, was fond of the bō.
Thematically, the bō is the best weapon for Morgan. In the wasteland it’s easy to underestimate a middle aged man who needs a wooden stick to walk. But that’s the key to Morgan’s badassery and his weapon speaks volumes about his renewed, centered focus about himself. After his son’s death, he’s not some rugged survivalist like Daryl, nor is he rigid and cold like Michonne. He’s plain and blunt. What other weapon is as plain and blunt but a wooden stick?