Advantages and Tactics When Using a Naginata
The Japanese samurai class used a pole weapon known as naginata. The Sohei or Buddhist monks also used this weapon extensively. Even women warriors used this weapon as well. It was a wrong misconception that women of feudal era was submissive and subdued. Some of them were highly trained warriors that are as ferocious as their male counterparts. This was a powerful weapon used against horsemen and foot soldiers alike. It is the length and weight of the naginata that made it an efficient weapon than the sword. The Naginata began its journey at first when it was used by the Bushi however, it was used by the samurai class and sohei as a weapon of choice. The length of its oval shaft varies from 5 to 8 inches depending on what conditions it shall be used for. Some of those who will used it place their personal request on how long they want their polearms to be.
The blade was one of the most striking features that it has was the blade which could be from 10 inches to more than 2 feet long. This weapon was sharpened on one single side similar to that of the Sakizori or Uchizori. Whoever wields this shafted arms can cause a devastating effect when utilizing sweeping circular motions. However, it was also used by thrusting the blade and using its heavy ishizuki on the butt end. This weapon was dubbed as a sword on the end of a long pole. It has a curved blade and is from 1 to 2 feet in length however, when it was mounted on an oak shaft it can even reached from 5 to 9 feet long. The longer length naginata can be an effective weapon when used to pierce between the plates of the attacker’s armor.
There are actually several theories on how the naginata came into existence. The first one states that this weapon evolved from a simple farming tool which was used for chopping. During the early part of the third century B.C., farmers were using sharp stones to the end of the long wooden shafts. Later on metal replaced the stones. Another theory was that the Naginata evolved directly as a weapon. The first one was made of bronze and later this was followed by steel. This second theory, was based on the belief that metal was introduce in Japan from the Asian continents after 200 B.C. The final theory was that Chinese halberds were carried to Japan because of early migration around 200 B.C. These are said to be from the Han and Wei Dynasties because it closely resembles the type of naginata eventually used by Japanese warriors. The third theory was that although it was the Chinese who first made the weapon, it was actually the Japanese who developed and refined this weapon.
Whatever origins that naginata might have one thing is certain, this polearm was highly utilized in battle in the 10th century. Cavalry battles were rampant during this period of time that it was hard to repel mounted warriors by using bows and arrows alone. Even the sword was useless in such predicament. This weapon proved to be effective for close up battles. It can cut the horse legs and kill the rider once he dismounts. It was during the Gempei War when the Taira clan was pitted against the Minamoto clan, the naginata rose to a prominent high position. Because of the injuries caused by naginata bearing warriors, changes were added in the form of shin guards or sune-ate.
When Naginata’s Popularity Decline
When firearms were introduced as a means of weapon in the mid-17th century the battlefield strategies begin to change. The naginata was gradually used as a weapon for women to protect their children when their husbands were in the battlefield fighting. Because of the size of its reach the women can fend off an attacker even at a safe distance. Naginata was relegated as a means of exercise used in training those who fight. Using it also develops the character of the warrior. It was during the Edo period when feudal Japan was at peace that Japanese women from samurai families were required to train using the naginata when they reach the age of 18. During this period as well, the naginata was used as a part of a woman’s dowry. This was also the time when the naginata was ornately decorated. When World War II ended, martial arts was banned in Japan. However, in 1950 the ban was lifted as a modern form of naginata training was formed.
Naginata in Martial Arts
Today, the martial arts of Naginata is practiced as a way of life in Japan and elsewhere. There are different styles or schools of naginata that exists. The most popular would belong to this three which includes:
- Jikishin-kage Ryu
- Tendo Ryu
- Toda Ha Buko Ryu
All Japan Naginata Federation developed Atarashii Naginata with different schools in existence after World War II. Today, Nagainat –jutsu has its limitations which give birth to Naginata-do or Atarashii Naginata. The focus is on Kata and Shiai. Kata teaches the correct form of handling the weapon. The naginata at this stage is carved from oak and has a mock blade to avoid accidental injuries to both the user and opponent. While in Shiai uses a protective equipment similar to that worn in Kendo with shin guards. Shiai naginata uses light oval oak with oval shaft topped with two strips of curved bamboo. The end of the shaft and bamboo tip is protected by a small leather sleeve. When practice daily, the schools has pre-arranged movements. Each one of these involves a series of attacks, parries and ripostes. Eye contact was important while Kiai was shouted resembling a shout. Mental alertness was also one of the integral factors incorporated in training. In Jujitsu do it is the higher dan black belts that solely uses this weapon. For this type of martial arts, they were a protective armor known as bogu. Whatever style of naginata training there maybe; the goal is just the same and that is, respect for traditional etiquettes and spiritual training.