Naginata, or naginatajustsu is a type of Japanese budo that is more known as a women’s budo today. It is a one-on-one match fought using naginata, a weapon with a long stick with a sword attached at the top end. The hilt is roughly 7 feet long and the blade a foot, and because the weapon developed from a Japanese sword with a longer hilt, there is a sword guard and the section of the hilt has an oval shape. Naginata used for sports budo is made of a wooden hilt and bamboo end.
The history of naginata as a weapon and as a kind of bujutsu (martial arts) dates back to the Heian Period (late 8C-late12C). As mentioned, it developed from Nihontou (Japanese swords) which derived from Chinese swords, and was given the name “naginata” as it slashes sideways (=v. “nagu”) the enemy soldiers and horses with its big swing.
There are many kinds of naginata classified by the size and the shape of the blade, but the major two are the (1) Ohnaginata as long as 3m/10ft, and (2) Konaginata approximately 1m/3ft in length. Although the budo naginata today is more known as a martial art for women to practice, it can also be practiced by men. Naginata for men are called Shizukagozen and ones for women are named Tomoegozen. Tomoegozen has a larger curve making it easier to give greater damage with little power.
Naginata became one of the most efficient weapons during the days of war, when the styles of battle shifted from archery from horseback to foot. It also became the weapons for armed guard priests best represented by Musashibou Benkei, one of the strongest armed priests in Japanese history. Naginata remained to be the master weapon for several centuries until it was replaced by spears, which was later replaced by rifles (harquebus)
From about Edo Period, however, the weapon and martial arts came back this time as a women’s weapon for self defense as well as trousseau. This is about the time when schools and styles for women emerged, and the art became popular during Meiji Period. Naginata established social recognition as a women’s budo more than men’s during the earlier 20C when the country was heavily engaged in international warfare. Today, it is enjoyed and practiced as women’s (men also but fewer) modern sport budo with many schools remaining.
The rules and styles for naginata match those of kendo a lot, yet it has a unique characteristic of “nagu” or “nagi” i.e., slashing sideways or diagonally, and jabbing accurately certain points explained below. Another characteristic is the wide variation of movements, stepping back and forth and around poising the naginata in many forms from furiage (raising), mochikae (shift from one hand to another), furikaeshi, kurikomi and kuridashi. These movements are also taken into traditional performing arts and dances such as noh and Sasara-odori.
Protective gears are also similar to those for kendo, with a faceguard, chest protection, and protective mittens as well as shin guards for naginata. As described earlier, the match is fought one on one hitting and jabbing the following ppints: men (face and head), kote (arms), do (torso),
sune (shins) and throat. On top of individual matches there are also group matches.
Naginata today is a popular sports budo, practiced in middle schools and high schools as club activities besides the respective schools. There are several national competitions and international competitions as well. In 1990 the International Naginata Federation was founded currently with 10 countries as members including Belgium, Brazil, France, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, USA, Czech, Australia and Japan. Outside of Japan, the budo seems to be more popular among men than women.