The naginata (なぎなた, 薙刀) is a pole weapon and one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades (nihonto).
The naginata was originally used by the samurai class of feudal Japan, as well as by ashigaru (foot soldiers) and sōhei (warrior monks).
The naginata is the iconic weapon of the onna-bugeisha, a type of warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility.
Although sometimes compared to a European halberd or bow, this comparison is far from the reality of the purposes for which these weapons were developed, as the naginata is a cutting weapon, while a halberd or bow is more like an axe with a long shaft and a point at the end.
The dimensions, weight and proportions of these weapons are so different that they cannot be equated.
As a military weapon the naginata was very important on battlefields, where it was initially carried by infantry to defend against cavalry, although in later periods of Japanese history it was also adopted by mounted combatants.
The technique of fighting with the naginata is called naginatajutsu and, is present in many styles of koryū budō (or kobudō).
It was after World War II that Atarashii Naginata (lit. "new naginata") emerged, a modern martial art (gendai budō) of a sporting nature, which was created based on Naginatajutsu, analogous to the development of kendo (modern form) from kenjutsu (samurai form of sword fighting).
History of Naginata
Historically the use in battle of the naginata corresponds to the end of the Heian period.
It was first used by the Sōhei (warrior monks) and the Yamabushi (mountain monks), spreading among the samurai clans and the ashigaru (peasant soldiers).
The military weapon was robust. Its curved blade generally had a length of between 30 to 60 cm. although there are types of naginata of more than one meter.
The blade was attached to a shaft made mainly of oak, which was 120 to 240 cm long. The butt of the shaft, called ishizuki, was a very important part of the naginata. It was made of metal and was used to strike or bludgeon enemies.
Over time, the Japanese way of warfare was modified. During the Sengoku period, the Yari (spear), which was easier to use and had a longer range, took the place of the naginata, which became rarely used on the battlefield.
In this same period, Naginatajutsu came to be practiced by the ladies of the samurai family, as a form of defense, in the turbulent period of wars.
In the Edo period, the naginata became a symbol of social status for women in samurai families. They were passed from mother to daughter and were often part of the marriage dowry.
Many martial arts schools of this period maintained Naginatajutsu in their curriculum, although almost none specialized solely in it, but rather it was a secondary component in those systems.
Naginatajutsu, along with other martial arts, fell into disuse due to Westernization after the Meiji Restoration.
But the strong growth of Japanese national identity in the 1890s produced a revaluation of the traditional martial arts.
In 1895 the Dai Nihon Butokukai was founded with the intention of promoting the martial arts in Japan; it established, in 1904, a division dedicated to the use of the naginata.
During the 1900s, Naginatajutsu began to be taught in public schools and universities for women.
Beginning in 1913, middle and high schools were allowed to choose it as a regular subject, until 1936 when it became a compulsory school subject for women.
The Allied forces, after the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, banned martial arts in the country. Training was gradually reinstated, until the All Japan Naginata Federation (AJNF) was formed in 1955.
A special committee was formed to develop a new style of Naginatajutsu, which differed markedly from the traditional style, with the purpose of reintroducing it into public schools.
To this end, new techniques were developed, new training methodologies were developed and the new style became a sport. In 1959, the Japanese government accepted the proposal and its training was authorized in high schools from then on.
This new system received the name of school naginata (gakko naginata), but was soon changed to Atarashii Naginata (new naginata) to highlight the differences with the traditional style.
There are several styles of Koryu Budo, which reached our days, with the naginata as part of their training. Among the main ones we can highlight Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, Suio Ryu, Tendo Ryu, Toda Ha Buko Ryu and Kashima Shinto Ryu.
In most of these styles naginata is practiced only in the form of katas, using wooden substitutes for naginata and swords.
In other cases, bogu and specially adapted bamboo naginata are used to complement kata training with sparring, without the risk of serious injury during practice.
In Latin America, naginata is widespread in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay. Under the supervision of the Brazilian Naginata Association, currently directed by Sensei Yasue Morita, a member of the International Naginata Federation INF.
Atarashii naginata presents similarities to Kendō, as both were created from ancient martial arts of Japan (the Naginatajutsu and Kenjutsu respectively).
Like kendo, the Atarashii Naginata, presents an armor (bogu) composed of a head and throat protector (men), a trunk protector (do), another one that protects the waist and groin (tare), gauntlets (kote) and shin protectors (suneate);
the latter are not used in Kendō. So the only part of the body that would be left unprotected and unclothed are the feet, as one trains and fights barefoot.
The rules and regulations of atarashii naginata are dictated by the International Naginata Federation - INF. Practitioners wear protective clothing during contact training and championships.