The Naginata

The Naginata | What is Naginata | History of the Naginata | Naginata Background | Naginata Description | Origin of the Naginata | The Naginatajutsu | Construction and Usage | Toda Ha Buko Ryu Naginatajutsu

Naginata, a Japanese martial art of both power and grace, is characterized by the grandeur of its sweeping movements. Naginata is for people of all ages interested in either competitive fighting, or in the physical beauty of choreographed, practiced movements, called kata.

Naginata is a pole weapon that was traditionally used in Japan by members of the samurai class. It has become associated with women and in modern Japan it is studied by women more than men; whereas in Europe and Australia naginata is practiced predominantly (but not exclusively) by men.

A naginata consists of a wood shaft with a curved blade on the end; it is similar to the Chinese Guan Dao or European glaive. Usually it also had a sword-like guard (tsuba) between the blade and shaft.

The martial art of wielding the naginata is called naginatajutsu. Most naginata practice today is in a modernised form, a gendai budō called atarashii naginata (“new naginata”), in which competitions also are held.

Use of the naginata is also taught within the Bujinkan and in some koryu schools. Naginata practitioners may wear a modified form of the protective armour worn by kendo practitioners, known as bogu.

Naginata is the study of the use of a sword-like weapon, similar to the European halberd or glaive. While originally a weapon of war, the naginata now has both a form appropriate for modern competitive sport as well as a wooden form (somewhat less lethal than the original steel one) for the safe study of the ancient forms.

Naginata is a Japanese martial art form for men, women, and children. The Naginata originated over 1,000 years ago. It was a powerful weapon against horsemen and foot soldiers alike. The Naginata’s length and weight made it an efficient weapon against the sword, and its circular execution made it one of the most graceful and fluid of classical Japanese combat systems.

Naginata today is an art form that teaches etiquette, respect, patience, self-confidence, and self-control. The practice of Naginata nurtures stamina, beauty and grace of movement, and the building of character through discipline and concentration. Moreover, it prepares individuals to deal with the rigors of life, and in establishing a moral code based on chivalry and honor.

Pictures of three different types of naginata. On the top, the solid wooden naginata used for kata practice; in the middle, the bamboo (and wood) naginata used in competition in modern naginata, and on the bottom, a ‘live blade’ steel naginata. (The live blade naginata is used extremely rarely today.)

Today, for obvious reasons, the practice of naginata-jutsu has its limitations, and out of this has grown the practice of naginata-do, known as Atarashii Naginata, a powerful yet graceful form — the practice of which nurtures stamina, grace of movement, and the building of character through discipline and concentration. Practice and study envelope two main divisions, Kata and Shiai.

Kata is designed to teach the correct form of the basic techniques of the weapon. The rendition of Naginata used here is carved from oak to more fully represent the original weapon, complete with mock blade. In Shiai, protective equipment similar to that worn in Kendo is employed, with the addition of Suneate (shin guards). The naginata used in Shiai is comprised of a light, oval, oak shaft topped by two strips of curved bamboo. The end of the shaft and bamboo tip is protected by a small leather sleeve.

In the daily practice of Naginata, we enlist various training methods. For example, Shikake-Oji is a series of pre-arranged movements, each involving a sequence of attacks, parries and reposts. Eye contact, Kiai (an aspect of breath control resembling a shout) and Zanshin (mental alertness) are also integral.

Due to the influence of Westernization after the Meiji Restoration the perceived value of martial arts, the naginata included, dropped severely. It was from this time that the focus of training became the strengthening of the will and the forging of the mind and body. During the Showa period, naginata training became a part of the public school system.

Martial arts training in Japan was banned for five years by the Allied Forces after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. After the lifting of the ban in 1950, a modern form of naginata training, known as Atarashii naginata (“new naginata”), was developed. Since World War II, naginata has primarily been practiced as a sport with a particular emphasis on etiquette and discipline, rather than as military training.

Although associated with considerably smaller numbers of practitioners, a number of “koryu bujutsu” systems (old school martial arts) which include older and more combative forms of naginatajutsu remain extant, including Araki Ryu, Tendo Ryu, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, and Toda-ha Buko Ryu, all of which have authorized representatives in the United States.

Originally, the naginata was used by warrior monks who would defend their shintoist temples from invaders. This weapon fell out of favor after the 14th century, when the temples were no longer a target. At any rate, the samurai did sometimes use the naginata while fighting at close quarters on horseback.

The naginata was made from a short, curved blade, like that of the wakizashi, but instead of being attached to a normal sword hilt, it was attached to a long staff. The naginata staff could be anywhere from 38″ to 4 feet long. This made the weapon extremely useful in close quarters, where it’s wielder could keep sword-carrying attackers out of range.

The age in which the naginata was most commonly used is the age in which the samurai were mostly archers, which meant that sword vs. naginata battles rarely took place. Some schools of martial arts still use the naginata today, however, the modern naginata more resembles the european Halberd, with the blade resembling a scimitar moreso than a wakizashi.