A woman trained in naginata was supposed to be soft but strong, willing to be selfless but decisive, and above all, patient and enduring. The strong body she developed from training was necessary to keep healthy and active to carry out all her work. She was said to have a "full spirit" and strong beauty. One teacher's manual, written in the middle of Japan's war years, states, "The study of naginata, home economics, and sewing would develop the perfect woman."
Naginata methods are said to be derived from a combination of bojutsu staff fighting methods and sword fighting techniques.
The Edo period (1603-1867) was a relatively peaceful period in Japanese history. As men trained Kenjutsu (sword techniques), women trained in Naginata as self-defense. A functional naginata was often a traditional part of a samurai daughter's dowry. Persistently training in Naginata, and adhering to the etiquette of practice was a way of cultivating the character. Thus Naginata became a way for women of Samurai families to study morals, honour and so on. Although women did not typically fight as normal soldiers, women of the samurai class were expected to be capable of defending their homes while their husbands were away at war. The naginata was considered one of the weapons most suitable for women, as it allows a woman to keep a male opponent at a distance, where his greater height, weight, and upper body strength offers less of an advantage. Naginatas were also used as ornaments for the entrances of homes of high ranking Samurai and as an ornament in Daimyos’ processions, and has become a decoration customarily used in wedding ceremonies.
In the early Meiji period (1868-1912), there was another impetus for the development of competitive martial sports. This was the phenomenon of roving martial "carnivals" known as gekken kogyo. Some former samurai, down on their luck, joined forces in traveling exhibitions, giving demonstrations and taking challenges from the audiences. The most popular spectacle was a woman with a wooden naginata against a man armed with a wooden or bamboo replica of a sword.
At the beginning of the Showa period(1923 – 1989), Naginata was introduced to public schools as part of the curriculum for female students. For educational purposes, the various styles of Naginata were combined to form an appropriate "School Naginata" which had very strong contest aspects.
After the WWII some Japanese martial arts were banned. After the lifting of the ban in 1950, a modern form of naginata training, known as Atarashii Naginata (New Naginata), was developed by the efforts of the famous female naginata competitor and teacher, Sakakida Yaeko. Since World War II naginata has primarily been practiced as a sport, rather than as military training, with a particular emphasis on etiquette and discipline.
Naginata is a pole weapon (or polearm, a close combat weapon with the main fighting part of the weapon placed on the end of a long shaft, typically of wood). It is traditionally used by Japanese samurai (martial art of Naginata-Jitsu). It consists of a wood shaft with a curved blade fashioned onto the end, and is similar to the European glaive. Usually, it also had a sword-like guard (tsuba) between the blade and shaft.
It is believed that the addition of "sune-ate" (leg greaves or shin guards) to the armour of samurai and foot soldiers was motivated directly by the injuries sustained from naginata.
Naginata, like many weapons, can be customized to fit the build of the bearer. Generally, the naginata shaft is the height of the bearer's body, with the blade mounted atop usually measuring two or three shaku (one shaku is equivalent to about 12 inches, or 30 centimeters) long. Unlike most polearms the shaft is oval in cross section, and ranges from 5 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) long. The blade is usually curved, sometimes strongly, towards the tip, and historically is believed to be related to Chinese Guan Daos. As with Japanese swords, naginata blades were forged blades, made with differing degrees of hardness on the spine and edge to retain a sharp edge but also be able to absorb the stress of impact.
Note also at the opposite end of a Naginata, the ishizuki, (a metal end-cap, often spiked, which functioned as a counterweight to the blade) was attached, rendering the naginata an effective weapon whichever end was put forward.
Naginata can be used to stab, but due to their relatively balanced center of mass, are often spun and turned to proscribe a large radius of reach. The curved blade makes for a more effective tool for cutting due to the increased length of cutting surface. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, one 5-foot (1.5 m) tall wielder could conceivably cover and attack in 380 square feet (35 m?) of open, level ground with a 5 foot (1.5 m) shaft, 3 foot (1 m) blade, 3 foot (1 m) reach. Naginatas were often used by foot soldiers to create space on the battlefield.
Like in other Japanese martial arts, there are two types of competitions; the first form is an essential combat, in which fighters gain scores delivering strikes to the opponent's body parts protected by mask, gloves, breastplate, loin plate and shin plate; the second form of competitions represents some exercises kata in preset order. Shortened naginatas (215-225 cm) are used In sport competitions; the tip is made of bamboo wood for sport combat and of oak for kata demonstrations.
Naginata-do became an international sport practiced in many countries besides Japan: USA, France, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and many more. The All Japan Naginata Federation was formed in 1955 -- the First All Japan tournament was held in 1956. Since that time, the tournaments have been held each year. Two forms are introduced in them: kata competitions (defense-and-attack movements practiced either solo or in pairs) and competitive matches. In 1990, the International Naginata Federation was formed. There have been three world Naginata Championship tournaments - in Tokyo (1995), Paris (1999) and San Jose, California, USA (2003). The medalists of the 2003 champioinship were: Jana Soukupova from the Czech Republic (gold), Catherine Parisis of France (silver) and Annick Henrotte of Belgium (bronze).
2003 World champion in nagiunata-do Jana Soukupova from the Czech Republic.
Photos from the website "Kampsport"