The art or techniques (jutsu) of wielding the naginata (halberd).
According to Alexander Bennett, "the word naginata first started to make an appearance in historical literature around the mid-Heian period". He gives examples such as the Honchoseiki and Wamyosho. Early sources use different characters including 奈木奈多 (phonetic spelling), 長刀 ("long sword"), and 薙刀 ("mowing sword"). The latter set of characters is more commonly found today.
Naginata are commonly depicted in Heian and Kamakura picture scrolls, such as the 'Mongol Invasion Scroll' of Takezaki Suenaga. Many associate the naginata as a weapon of the sôhei, or warrior monks, usually from the various temple complexes surrounding Heian-kyô. The famous monk Benkei, said to be a companion to Minamoto Yoshitsune, is often depicted with a naginata. The use of the weapon is also mentioned in the Heike Monogatari (Tales of the Heike).
By the Sengoku period, the battlefield had changed. They were more crowded, and the close quarters does not seem to have been hospitable to the use of the naginata. It did not entirely leave the field, however, and techniques for its use were passed down in some of the martial schools, or ryuha.
By the Edo period, the naginata was seen as a weapon of the women of the samurai class, although it was practiced by both men and women. The art of naginatajutsu, as well as the weapon itself, continued to evolve throughout this period.
Women and the Naginata
During the Sengoku period and into the Edo period, the naginata came to be seen as a proper weapon for training women. Bennett states "Traditionally, it was the women who were entrusted with the responsibility of protecting their homes while men folk went off to battle, so it was vital that they become skilled in using weapons that enabled them to defend against physically more powerful adversaries." He and others see the versatility of the naginata, as well as its ability to keep distance between a woman and her attacker, as one of the main strengths that led women to adopt it.
In the Edo period, naginata became smaller and lighter. They were often quite ornate and part of a traditional woman's dowry. Matches in the Edo and Meiji periods were often held between women wielding naginata and men using swords or other weapons. When the Meiji government was looking for bujutsu to incorporate into the school curriculum. Ozawa Unosuke and the Butokukai both advocated for the incorporation of martial arts training. By this time, the prejudices had been established and the naginata was often seen as appropriate for women while men trained with bokuto.
Many historical women warriors are said to have carried naginata into battle. Many of these stories are most likely apocryphal, however, written after the facts in question. Two examples are Tomoe Gozen and Itagaki Gozen. However, contemporary evidence is lacking for either of these two figures wielding a naginata in combat. Rather, both are complemented for their use of the bow, the staple of the warrior during their lifetimes (the late 12th and early 13th centuries).
In the Meiji period, naginatajutsu was included in the curriculum of public schools. Eventually, a committee of naginatajutsu practitioners, including teachers of Tendô Ryu and Jikishin Kage Ryu, created a system of naginata called Atarashii Naginata, or 'New Naginata'. This is sometimes referred to as naginatadô, but this is technically incorrect as the All Japan Naginata Federation took the Ministry of Education's recommendation to avoid using -dô and any spiritural/nationalistic connotations that might have. They also use hiragana (なぎなた) instead of kanji, to further distance it from the koryu styles.
The modern atarashii naginata curriculum includes paired forms and shiai with a wood and bamboo practice naginata. There are also paired kata using a fully wooden kata naginata. Practitioners often practice a koryu style of naginata as well (usually Tendô Ryu or Jikishin Kage Ryu), although this is kept separate from the official atarashii naginata curriculum to avoid any appearance of favoritism.
- Heike Monogatari (平家物語).
- Bennett, Alexander (2005), Naginata: The Definitive Guide, Kendo World Publications, Auckland, New Zealand.
- Sinclaire, Clive (2001), Samurai: The weapons and spirit of the Japanese warrior, The Lyons Press, Guildford, CT.
- Draeger, Donn F. and Smith, Robert W. (1969), Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts, Kodansha International, Tokyo, Japan.