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Inside Kung Fu cira 1985-1990

Naginata Do - Yesterday and Today


How many traditional weapons of Japan and China can you name? One of the most commonly forgotten weapons is the Naginata, a Japanese glaive or halberd, which is the counterpart to the Chinese kwon do. Like the kwon do, the naginata was once a popular and important weapon of the sohei (warrior monks) and bushi (soldiers). Today it is rarely practiced outside Japan. Bodyguard to Yoshitsune of the Minamoto clan, the monk known as Benki brandished his naginata as he stood before his adversaries. In the 13th century epic. The Tales of Heiki, Benki laments: "By the center I firmly grasp My great naginata which 1 have loved so long, I lay it across my shoulder, Then with leisurely steps, I stride forward, Be he devil or demon, how can he stand against me? So completely, do I trust in my own skill. Oh, how I long an adversary worthy of my hand!" The naginata was a major weapon in old Japan, competing in popularity with the yari ( thrusting spear). The skilled warrior needed to be well?versed in swordsmanship before learning the skills of the naginata. As the saying goes, "know your enemy," and the weapon opposing the naginata in most cases was the sword. Situations arose where the warrior needed to use all his weapons. In the Tales of Heiki, the role of naginata?jutsu was described in one altercation where Benki stages a legendary battle: "Initially Benki shot twenty four arrows, killing 12 and wounding 11 men. Then grasping his naginata, he skillfully sliced, chopped, and slashed six more men He broke the shaft on the sixth opponent so he drew his sword, wielding it in the zigzag style, interlacing cross, reverse dragon fly, water wheel, and eight sides at once steles to cut down eight more men. He snapped his blade on the helmet of the ninth and used his dirk to continue..." After all the fighting was over he withdrew with only minor wounds. Such was his prowess. Employed by both monk and soldier naginata?jutsu or the art of the halberd, was an effective and efficient method of wreaking havoc on an enemy. The effective warrior used the most efficient weapon to get the job done. Today, naginata do is considered a method of self?mastery, exercise and popular sport. A naginata has a long oval shaft and a swordlike blade at the end. It differs from the yari in that the naginata is used primarily to cut, chop, slash and thrust in graceful arcs, while the yari is primarily a thrusting weapon. Both weapons' shafts and hilts can also be used similarly. Each has its boosters. A master swordsman could take on a warrior wielding a yari with a greater confidence of victory than if he were armed with a naginata. The yari, light and versatile in the open, is less effective in crowded conditions, on horseback, or against horsemen. The naginata, however, was superb against horsemen or foot soldiers. The main advantage a naginata?ka has over a swordsman is the length of the weapon. It can clear a large area quickly of enemy swordsmen while keeping them away. Used effectively in bamboo forests and wooded areas, it was said, the naginata could cut through three inches of bamboo timber and still dispatch an opponent. In close quarters one could choke up on the blade and use it effectively. Whether or not it would be as effective as a jo or butterfly knives at close quarters or in a crowded area, is debatable. Nonetheless, the naginata is a powerful and efficient weapon against the sword or spear, in addition to being one of the most graceful and fluid of the Japanese weapons because of its circular applications. Like the spear and sword, it was a popular weapon of feudal Japan's monks and soldiers. History The naginata evolved into a practical and common weapon by A.D. 1100 and was effective against both mounted and standing enemies. Its origin is vague, but there are three popular theories. One holds the weapon evolved about 300 B.C. from a similar looking agricultural implement. The tool was originally made of stone, which was later replaced by metal. A more practical theory holds that an innovative warrior attached his sword to a pole, which resulted in a crude naginata. The last theory says the influx of Chinese immigrants and other contact with China brought the Chinese glaive or kwon do to Japan. The Japanese then modified it to their own aesthetic tastes, technology, and theoretical applications. Description and Anatomy The foundation for the naginata is a long, hardwood, oval?sectioned shaft, with a ridged blade mounted on one end. There were a variety of designs based upon the preference of the user. There were differences in length of the blade and tang, shape of the blade and length of the shaft. One offshoot, the nagamaki, had a relatively longer blade and a shorter shaft, with a blade length as long as seven feet but usually averaging between three and four feet. The nagamaki shaft usually was shorter than the standard, at around four feet, giving a total length of roughly seven feet. The nagamaki was sometimes likened to the naginata, but was a favorite of horsemen who used a graceful figure?eight slashing pattern to cut down foot soldiers. Unlike today's standard design, there were many popular versions in feudal Japan. The sohei, like the benki, used a powerful weapon of tremendous proportion called the shobuzukuri?naginata, featuring a blade length of over four feet and shafts of seven feet or longer. The type used to repel the Mongol invasion (1274?1281) was over 12 feet long and made famous by Saito Musashi?bo benki. The blade length was four feet, eight inches and the shaft was seven feet, six inches. Legends of extraordinary skill with the shobuzukurinaginata remained strong for many centuries. One sohei, Gochim?no?Tajima, was nicknamed "Tajima the arrow cutter" for opposing Heike warriors who fired arrows from every direction. Tajima ducked to avoid the high shots, leaped over the low shots, and with his whirling naginata cut through the arrows that flew straight for him. Variety not only came in the length but also in the shape of the blade. Some blades were straight while others had slight curves, _ extreme curves, or double edges. The shape evolved over the centuries. From the 14th to the 16th century the blade shortened to adapt to heavy fighting. Today's naginata evolved during this period, with the ha (blade) averaging one to two feet in length, and the hardwood shaft ranging from five to nine feet long. The blade gracefully sweeps from tang to tip, curving upward from the upper third of the blade. Like its cousin the sword, it is sharpened only on one side. The blade has from one to four hi (blood grooves), which also gives it structural strength. The rukago (tang) can be as long as the blade. As knife afficianados know, the tang gives strength and balance to the weapon by reinforcing the shaft and offsetting the weight of the blade. At the base of the blade is the tsuba (handguard), and is usually one to four inches in diameter. Similar to the sword tsuba, it is used to hook, parry, block other weapons and keep them from sliding down the shaft. This allows the forward hand to slide up under the tsuba and perform various techniques while being protected from an enemy blade. On the shaft beneath the tsuba are usually decorative or protective coverings. Materials used to decorate the shaft include brocade, mother of pearl, sting ray, silver, copper and iron. Direct cuts to the shaft are to be avoided. The laquered hardwood shaft is usually colored black, gold, or persimmon. At the end is an ishizuki (iron pommel), which is used for striking and counterbalancing the blade. The total weight of a real naginata depended on its composition and length. The warrior needed great strength, stamina and coordination to use it effectively, for it was one of the most difficult weapons to master. The blade was kept in a decorated scabbard. A protective bag covered the scabbard and decorated areas. The bag was usually secured by a himo (cord) and tied with a hanamasubi (flower knot). When not in use, it was stored in a horizontal position to prevent warping. Women's Entrance into Naginata jutsu The 16th century sohei were said to favor the naginata and nagamaki, but manv famous bushi used them as well. During the Muromachi period (1393-1573), 425 ryu (traditions) of naginatajutsu evolved. Originally it was a man's weapon since it was quite heavy and took a great deal of strength and stamina to use. But in modern times it is thought of as a woman's weapon. Japanese women did not always fit the subservient role of today's women. During the Kamakura period women trained in bujutsu and were expected to show the same martial spirit as men. Legends arose of women who became feared warriors such as Itagaki and Tamoe Gozen. These women warriors went beyond the role of defending the home or self. Tamoe Gozen of the Minimoto clan "feared neither man nor devil" and was said to be a match for 100 warriors. A fearless horsewoman and master of the naginata, she used circular slashes and strikes (hence her name) to dispatch her enemies while guiding her horse with her legs. Itagaki, who threw fear into the hearts of her enemies, was a famous commander of 3,000 warriors of the Torizakayama Castle. She fought against the Hojo Regime (1199), which wanted to subjugate the Taira clan. Itagaki led her warriors into the thick of battle, guided her warhorse with her knees and cut the enemy with a deadly circular slash pattern of her naginata. It was said when the dead were counted, her kills outnumbered all others. During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), the naginata gradually became a woman's domain. From the 17th century, young daughters of samurai families were given halberds with golden lacquered handles. When they were married, the women would take their naginatas with them. Sporting matches between women were recorded during this time. Even though women trained in naginata jutsu since Heian times, it was in this time frame the naginata became primarily a woman's weapon. Today, little has changed. Probably the most important reason for the decline of the naginata as a weapon of war was the influx of Western weapons to Japan. Bows, swords, yaris and naginata fared poorly against rifles, cannons and pistols. While rising to a position of esteem from the 12th?17th century, modem weapons brought on the demise of the naginata and led to its evolution as a sport. Displaying a last glint of feudal martial spirit, 500 women volunteers armed with naginatas were among the revolutionaries who opposed modern weapons during the 1877 Satsuma rebellion, one of Japan's last civil wars. The art of the naginata was lost because of governmental bans on the use of weapons in 1876 (Meiji 1868-1912). The practice of naginata jutsu was outlawed along with the other martial arts after World War II. After the ban was lifted with the departure of the occupation forces, naginata practice resumed in the do (philosophical) rather than jutsu (fighting) form. In 1968 there were over 10,000 naginata?ka in Japan. Only about 10 were men. nstead of practicing the jutsu form, where combat realism and battlefield application were a priority, the majority of practitioners follow the do form, where the emphasis is on the mastery of oneself on one hand and enjoyment of sport on the other. Originally tied to the National Kendo organization, it was organized under the All Japan Naginata Federation in 1955. The United States also has a naginata federation. In the United States, naginata is probably one of the rarest of arts. It has been primarily promoted by the Southern California branch of the United States Naginata Federation (USNF) under the watchful eyes of Helen Nakano. Nakano, past president of the USNF and head instructor for the Gardena naginata dojo located in the Japanese Cultural Institute, has been promoting naginata as a way of selfmastery for the last 15 years. She routinely travels across the country to demonstrate and teach naginata's method and philosophy. Nakano originally learned naginatado in 1966 in Japan while traveling with her husband, George, who was on the United States Kendo team. There was a naginata demonstration and three instructors asked her to participate. At first she declined, but they were persistent and she found herself learning the basics under Chiyoko Tokunaga, Sachiko Wada and Yoko Yamao. After dressing her in the traditional dress, they had her perform the basic vertical head cut for about 90 minutes. After countless repetitions, she suddenly realized a change in perception. There was one cut she could feel was correct, and with it there came a wonderful exhilaration. "As I cut, my mind, body, and movement were united at one point ...(I) was completely lost in technique..." Nakano feels repetition is the key, for the essence of the art is to become one with the naginata, The student needs to extend through the naginata, and place one's feeling into the tip. The naginata has to become a living extension of one's body. Cathy Higashioka, an assistant instructor, feels the practice offers more than just exercise benefits. "Practice makes students more alert and aware of their environment. Practice increases one's concentration, develops agility, and self?confidence." Subtle personality changes take place from the concentration and practicing control over one's mind and body. The aim of the do form is to make one a stronger, more fully functioning person. Ideally the mind that concentrates well can reflect all things clearly. Kiai (spirit shout) is stressed during practice and is considered vital to the art. Kiai comes from the horror, the approximate center of gravity of the body when standing with feet together. It is used to unify the technique, bringing together the mind and the body. As with kendo kiai is used during competition to call the targets as the attack occurs. Another concept is stressed in naginata. Difficult to define, zanshin is a feeling, a projection of psychic dominance through one's opponent by the use of impeccable technique, alertness, concentration and extension of one's energy. This part of traditional budo is a relaxed extension of energy which can be felt by opponents. As Adachi Masahiro said in the Bushido Sosho, "The student's mind should be calm and undisturbed. . .eyes are not glaring, fixed with the staring bulging eyes of the insane, a common mistake of some martial artists, but at the same time the energy is extended and one is ready, as was Benki, to face man, devil, or demon. Vigilant zanshin can intimidate a lessskilled opponent, allowing no opportunity for attack." As Higashioka comments, "This feeling is important during kata (forms) practice ...without it kata is nothing, but with it kata is electrifying." Zanshin is an essential part of all stages of naginata do, and kiai is fundamental to zanshin. The study of naginata?do includes training against the sword. In demonstration it is common to pit a kendoist against naginataka. In feudal Japan naginata against the sword was a matter of life and death; today it is sport. In these matches it is common to place man against woman, as most students of naginata are women and most kendoists are men. An example of such a match pitted a high ranking black belt man against a similarly ranked woman in a demonstration bout. The woman resembled any other mild mannered person in her 50s, but once the match started she demonstrated powerful zanshin, winning the match easily. Other matches yielded similar outcomes. Nakano was matched against a man who placed third in the All Japan Kendo Tournament. Commented Higashioka, "You could feel the energy flow back and forth between them, both displaying great spirit." In non?choreographed contests, with the quality of the unknown, random feints and attacks, the mind has to stay clear so that actions are appropriate. While some arousal and anxiety can actually help performance, too much fear or anxiety gets in the way of accuracy or proper technique. The overstressed reactions become rigid, the mind muddled and confused, and that prevents improvisation. The negativity associated with fear and anxiety is overcome by the proper practice of concentration and attention in choreographed forms and shiai. Modern Naginata Do The development of the naginata over the centuries has led to a weapon with little resemblance to the one of the 11 th century. Today, two variations of a training naginata are used. One is made of solid oak and resembles the real weapon in balance and proportion. The other has a blade length of about 20 inches and is made of split bamboo. It weighs about two pounds, which is lighter than the real weapon. The shaft is usually about 5.5 to 5.7 feet long, resulting in a total length of between 7 and 7.4 feet. The striking surface is flat and flexible. with the upper third being the proper area of contact. Modern Naginata Training The training session can be divided into four segments. After basic warm?up and stretching exercises, happo buri is practiced. Happo buri is a body exercise where the student goes through a series of vertical, horizontal and diagonal slashes, all which emphasize continuous flow. It is practiced without excess muscular force. The practitioner needs to relax the mind, body, and spirit; the use of too much force will counteract these effects, and may lead to injury. The second major part of the session involves practicing the basic techniques. Repetition of basics while walking across the dojo (training hall) with a partner, on a practice dummy, or on a hand?held baton is the key to learning. The third part of the session is the kata practice. A combination of old ryu and new forms. kata are prearranged forms where two students strike, block, and counter. The importance of kiwi, ranshin, distance and timing are emphasized. The student is progressively stressed to learn the nuances, subtleties and application of each technique. The next level of training is shiai (combat). Bogu (protective armor) is donned and a kendolike competition is held. The bogu is essentially the same as kendo armor with the characteristic helmet and mask, the trunk protector, modified arm and finger coverings, and shin guards. The equipment only differs from kendo in the modification of the finger coverings and addition of the shin guards, which together with hip girdles may have been added to samurai armor because of the influence of the naginata. In naginata shiai, there are seven targets. The targets are attacked with the upper one?third of the blade or the tip. The target must be called with a specific kiai for the point to be valid. The targets are:     Shomen - Top of the head, called men.     Sokumen - Temple, side of the head, called men.     Do - Side of the trunk, called do.     Kote - Wrist and forearm, called kote.     Sune - Shin, called sune.     Tsuki - Throat thrust with tip, called tsuki.     Tsuki - Solar plexus thrust with tip, called tsuki.     Not always given as a point. About the author: A frequent contributor to Inside Kung Fu, H.L. Kurland is an Idaho based freelance writer and martial artist.
By H.L. Kurland
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Naginata Do - Yesterday and



Inside Kung Fu cira 1985-1990