The naginata is a weapon comprising of a wooden shaft approximately 1.2 to 2.4 meters in length with a curved blade (30 to 60 centimetres) attached to the end. It was the principal weapon of foot soldiers from the eleventh until the fifteenth centuries, and was also widely used by warrior-monks. With the onset of peace in the seventeenth century, Naginata became established as a martial art primarily studied by women. It survives today as an exciting sport and budō discipline similar in many ways to Kendo, but also retains many distinguishing characteristics that make it unique. When Naginata is referred to now, it is usually in reference to the modern sporting version, although there are a number of people who study this as well as the techniques of classical schools such as the Tendō-ryū or the Jikishin Kage-ryū.
The martial art of Naginata embodies long-established ideals for personal cultivation and harmony of body and mind. The intention for self-development is not only to benefit the self, but to enable the individual to make a contribution to the continued harmony of society. With these underlying objectives, Naginata is practiced by thousands of people in Japan and around the world. The official “Concept” and “Guiding Principles for Instruction” devised by the All Japan Naginata Federation are as follows:
The Concept of Naginata:
The study of naginata is to nurture people harmonious in mind and body.
Guiding Principles for Instruction
Through correct naginata instruction, practitioners will improve their technical skills, cultivate their minds, increase vitality and develop physical strength. They will also uphold elements of traditional Japanese culture embodied within the art of naginata, retain discipline, show courtesy and respect, value fidelity, and with resolution will strive to become a useful member for a peaceful society.
The attraction of Naginata for many lies partially in its competitive aspects, partly in its grace and beauty of movement, and also as a way of personal development and physical fitness. There are two different kinds of competition in Naginata. Shiai-kyōgi is that similar to Kendo competition. Armour (bōgu) is worn and competitors engage in sanbon-shōbu. That is, the first to get two points within the designated time limit wins. There are both individual and team matches. Teams have three or five members. As in Kendo, three referees (shimpan) adjudicate matches. In shiai-kyōgi, the criteria for valid points (yūkō-datotsu) are defined by the All Japan Naginata Federation’s Tournament Regulations: “An accurate strike with the naginata’s datotsu-bu (monouchi) must be made to a datotsu-bui (stipulated target area) with correct posture, vigorous spirit, while calling out the name of the target being struck.” The stipulated target areas are men (helmet; front, left, right), dō (plastron; left, right), sune (shin guard; left, right, both inner and outer), kote (gauntlet; left, right), tsuki (straight thrust to the throat).
Basic methods for using the naginata include furiage (lifting the naginata overhead and striking), mochikae (swapping grip to enable attacking from the opposite side or from a different angle), furikaeshi (spinning the naginata overhead), kurikomi (pulling the naginata in to shorten the length to strike closer in), kuridashi (extending the naginata, thereby facilitating attacks from a further distance). In all cases, either the sharp side (monouchi) of the blade or the butt-end (ishizuki) must make contact with one of the official target areas for the point to be counted as valid.
The other type of competition is called engi-kyōgi. In this competition, a team of two is pitted against another pair. Both teams perform set-forms or techniques. There are two variations: One involves performing three or five of the shikake-ōji techniques simultaneously, and the other involves doing the All Japan Naginata Federation Kata.
Shikake-ōji is one of the most important ways for learning the basic techniques in Naginata. It consists of eight prearranged sets of techniques. These sequences are not only practiced as a way to perfect the array of Naginata techniques from the beginner level up, but also serve as a competition event and an integral part of promotion examinations. This latter is a set of seven separate forms created in 1977. In the AJNF Kata, a naginata with a solid wood blade is used. Due to the intricacy of the Kata and danger involved with solid wooden weapons, these forms are in principle only practiced by senior practitioners (usually, 3-Dan or higher). Performances are graded on a number of factors, to include accuracy and precision of techniques, intensity, synchronicity, appearance, and attitude.