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Naginata (なぎなた, 薙刀) is a pole weapon that was traditionally used in Japan by members of the samurai class. 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 or Russian sovnya. Usually it also had a sword-like guard (tsuba) between the blade and shaft.

The martial art of wielding the naginata is known as naginatajutsu. Most naginata practice today is in a modernised form, a gendai budō called atarashii Naginata meaning "new Naginata", in which competitions are held. Use of the naginata is also taught within the Bujinkan and in some koryū schools. Naginata practitioners may wear a form of the protective armour known as bōgu similar to that worn by kendō practitioners. Wearing the bogu means using a naginata that is a mix of light oak wood shaft, with a bamboo blade habu for atarashii Naginata.

The naginata has become associated in modern Japan as a woman's weapon as it is studied by women more than men; whereas in Europe and Australia Naginata is practiced predominantly by men - this is however simply a reflection of the martial arts demographics of Europe, where there is no historical association - as there is in Japan - that naginatajutsu is for women.



A samurai wielding a naginata

The term naginata first appeared in the Kojiki in 712 AD and was used by Sohei warrior priests during the Nara Period, around 750 AD. It is most likely based on the Chinese Guan Dao.[1] In the paintings of battlefield scenes made during the Tengyo no Ran in 936 AD, the naginata can be seen in use. It was in 1086, in the book Ōshū Gosannenki ("A Diary of Three Years in Ōshū") that the use of the naginata in combat is first recorded. In this period the naginata was regarded as an extremely effective weapon by warriors.[2]

During the Gempei War (1180–1185), in which the Taira clan was pitted against Minamoto no Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan, the naginata rose to a position of particularly high esteem. Cavalry battles had become more important by this time, and the naginata proved excellent at dismounting cavalry and disabling riders. The widespread adoption of the naginata as a battlefield weapon forced the introduction of sune-ate (shin guards) as a part of Japanese armor. The rise of importance for the naginata can be seen as being mirrored by the European pike, another long pole weapon employed against mounted horses. An excellent example of the role of women in Japanese society and martial culture at this time is Itagaki, who, famous for her naginata skills, led the garrison of 3,000 warriors stationed at Toeizakayama castle. Ten thousand Hōjō clan warriors were dispatched to take the castle, and Itagaki led her troops out of the castle, killing a significant number of the attackers before being overpowered.

Students at Kobe Shoin Women's University wearing modern armor for naginata sparring, minus helmet and gloves.

During the Edo Period, as the naginata became less useful for men on the battlefield, it became a symbol of the social status of women of the samurai class.[3] A functional naginata was often a traditional part of a samurai daughter's dowry. Although they 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, since it allows a woman to keep opponents at a distance, where any advantages in height, weight, and upper body strength would be lessened.

By the 17th century the rise in popularity of firearms caused a great decrease in the appearance of the naginata on the battlefield. However, the naginata saw its final uses in combat in 1868, at Aizu, and in 1876, in Satsuma. In both cases it was used by fighting women.

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 in 1912; and it "remains a staple of girls’ physical education"[4]

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 existent, including Araki Ryu, Tendo Ryu, Jikishinkage ryu, Higo Koryu, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu,Toda-ha Buko Ryu and Yoshin ryu, some of which have authorized representatives outside Japan.

In the USA, there are an estimated 200 practitioners, half of whom are male.[5]


The 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 11.93 inches, or 303 mm) long. Unlike most polearms, the shaft is oval in cross section to allow easy orientation of the blade, and ranges from 5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 meters) in length. The blade is usually curved, sometimes strongly so, towards the tip. 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. Some naginata blades may, in fact, have been recycled katana blades.[6] 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.

In contemporary naginatajutsu, there are two general constructions. The first, the kihon yo, is carved from one piece of Japanese white oak and is used for the practice of katas (forms). This is quite light, and may or may not feature the tsuba between the blade and shaft sections. The second type, the shiai yo, uses a similar wooden shaft, but the blade is constructed from bamboo and is replaceable as it can break through hard contact. This type is used in atarashii naginata, the bamboo blade being more forgiving on the target than a wooden or metal blade.

Many of the imitation "naginata" for sale to the public are not actually naginata at all, as may be concluded from the above details on proper construction. Specifically, these imitations have shorter, rounded shafts, very short blades, and screw-together sections.


Students at Shoin practicing naginata kata

Naginata can be used to batter, stab or hook an opponent'[4], 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 an 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 484 square feet (44.97 square meters) of open, level ground with a 5 foot (1.5 m) shaft, 3 foot (0.9 m) blade, 3 foot (0.9 m) reach.

Naginatas were often used by foot soldiers to create space on the battlefield. They have several situational advantages over a sword. Their reach was longer, allowing the wielder to keep out of reach of his opponent. The long shaft offered it more leverage in comparison to the hilt of the katana, enabling the naginata to cut more efficiently. The weight of the weapon gave power to strikes and cuts, even though the weight of the weapon is usually thought of as a disadvantage. The weight at the end of the shaft and the shaft itself can be used both offensively and defensively. Swords, on the other hand, can be used to attack faster, have longer cutting edges (and therefore more striking surface and less area to grab), and were able to be more precisely controlled in the hands of an experienced swordsman.

Famous users

See also


  1. ^ Draeger, David E. (1981). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Kodansha International. pp. 208. ISBN 978-0870114366. 
  2. ^ Ratti, Oscar; Adele Westbrook (1991). Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 484. ISBN 978-0804816847. 
  3. ^ Jones, Donn F.. Women Warriors: a History. Potomac Books. pp. 280. ISBN 978-1574882063. 
  4. ^ a b Katz 2009
  5. ^ Katz, Mandy (2009). "Choose Your Weapon: Exotic Martial Arts". New York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2009. 
  6. ^ Deal, William E (2007). Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan. Oxford University Press. pp. 432. ISBN 978-0195331264. 

External links

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|A naginata]]

Naginata is a Japanese bladed weapon with a long shaft (wooden handle). The weapon looks like a pole and is often mistaken with one. The word "naginata" means "mowing down sword" or "reaping sword". The length of the blade varies from 1 to 3 feet. The blade's shape describes a 'leaf' being more curved to the point. The naginata's blade is mounted directly to a long wooden shaft, its length ranges between 6 and 9 feet. The part that goes inside the handle (tang) is almost as long as the blade itself. This assures a perfect fixture of the blade. The shaft is equipped with a sharp end-cap, or ishizuki, which serves for piercing between the plates of armor.

Historically, the facts indicate that naginata have been used in China beginning with 3 B.C. First source it was mentioned in was the Kojiki (A Record of Ancient Matters, 712). Then, it is represented in the paintings of battlefield scenes made during the Tengyo no Ran (Tengyo Insurrection), in 936 A.D. The sword was utilized and refined during the Nara period (approx. 710-784 A.D.), and by the 11th century it was widely used in battles.

The naginata was also used by warrior-monks for temples defense against invaders. Around the 1400's A.D. this weapon was no more used by monks because the temples were no longer a target. The samurai used the naginata only when fighting against numerous enemies or on horseback.

Still, naginata was most commonly used when the samurai was too young to handle a full length katana and when he was mostly an archer. By the Edo period (1603-1867), the naginata was no more used in combat. It became the representative weapon of samurai women. They engaged in trainings for self-defense and defense of their children and for virtue development. Moreover, the fashion developed further and there appeared samurai families, which displayed naginata in prominent places of their houses. Later the naginata was even given as present to the bride.

There are three main theories of naginata appearance as a weapon. One of the most spread is the supposition that naginata evolved from a farming tool used for chopping. The tools were made as long staffs with sharp stones attached to one of the ends. The tool was used in the 3rd century B.C. Later, the stones were replaced with metal pieces. Thus, when the crops and lands of the farmers were under attack they defended it with their farming tools, which proved to be effective weapons and later were refined.

The Chinese theory is based on the idea that Chinese halberds were brought to Japan during early migrations, (around 200 B.C.). Most of the weaponry experts believe that even if the Chinese invented the weapon, it was refined and developed by the Japanese.

Another theory says that the naginata evolved directly as a weapon. The blade of naginata ancestors was made of bronze. Later, the discovery of steel made it even more effective. This theory affirms that naginata development far later than the appearance of metal in Japan from the Asian continents (around 200 B.C.).

The naginata was meant for foot soldiers use; whereas the military elite (samurai) used the katana sword. There are evidences that naginata was also used by the Sohei (Buddhist warrior monks).

The naginata was also considered a women's weapon. It gave considerable advantage because of the long shaft keeping the enemy at a safe distance. One of the most famous Japanese women warriors was Itagaki. Her naginata skills overwhelmed even the most trained samurai. During the Edo period (1600-1800 AD), Japanese women were thought to handle the naginata by the age of 18.

The naginata was also considered an effective weapon against horsemen. The way naginata was handled required specific motions because of its length. Usually, it was sweeping and circular motion, because it was inconvenient to use striking methods like with a traditional sword. In order to fully utilize the naginata, it requires the handler to rapidly shift hand positions along the length of the shaft.

This weapon was especially functional in cavalry battles, acting like medieval spears-running. Infantry used the naginata to cut the horse's legs. After this the disoriented rider was easily killed.

Martial Art

File:Samurai with
A samurai with a naginata

Naginata is also known as a Japanese martial art performed by men, women, and children. The roots of this fighting technique come for over 1.000 years ago. This martial art has as its centerpiece a Japanese sword - Naginata. The weapon reminds a pole and is very efficient against riders as well as against foot soldiers. The sword is very well balanced and weighted which makes it possible for women and children to handle it. The naginata way of fighting is very graceful due to circular performance of the naginata sword.

Today Naginata is a combat system that teaches respect, patience, etiquette, self-confidence, and self-control. The practice of Naginata educates perfect control and balanced movements of the body. When into this art, discipline and concentration are needed to reach the grace and effectiveness of the movements. Moreover, it establishes person's character by developing a moral code based on honor.

The modern naginata has changed its shape during history. Now, it is more like a European halberd or glaive. The blade looks more like a scimitar moreso rather than of a wakizashi. Naginata went through the influence of westernization after the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), when the value of martial arts dropped, and survived till the Showa period (19121926), when naginata became a part of the public school system.

Different styles of naginata handling were developed creating world known schools (ryu). The Atarashii Naginata School and Jikishin-kage ryu are the most popular. There are also known schools like Tendo ryu and Toda Ha Buko ryu. Despite the differences between these schools Naginata martial art has at its base the art of wielding one of the most original weapons and the goal of developing traditional etiquette and spiritual training of a person.

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