One of the most commonly forgotten weapons of Japan is the Naginata, a glaive or halberd. The naginata was once a popular and important weapon of the sohei (warrior monks) and bushi (soldiers). Today it is rarely practiced outside Japan.

The naginata was a major weapon in old Japan, competing in popularity with the yari (thrusting spear). The skilled warrior needed to be well versed in swordsmanship before learning the skills of the naginata. As the saying goes, "know your enemy," and the weapon opposing the naginata in most cases was the sword. Situations arose where the warrior needed to use all his weapons. In the Tales of Heiki, the role of naginata-jutsu was described in one altercation where Benki stages a legendary battle

"Initially Benki shot twenty-four arrows, killing 12 and wounding 11 men.Then grasping his naginata, he skillfully sliced, chopped, and slashed six more men he broke the shaft on the sixth opponent so he drew his sword, wielding it in the zigzag style, interlacing cross, reverse dragon fly, water wheel, and eight sides at once steele's to cut down eight more men. He snapped his blade on the helmet of the ninth and used his dirk to continue..."

After all the fighting was over he withdrew with only minor wounds. Such was his prowess. Employed by both monk and soldier naginata-jutsu or the art of the halberd was an effective and efficient method of wreaking havoc on an enemy. The effective warrior used the most efficient weapon to get the job done. Today, naginata-do is considered a method of self-mastery, exercise and popular sport.

A naginata has a long oval shaft and a sword like blade at the end. It differs from the yari in that the naginata is used primarily to cut, chop, slash and thrust in graceful arcs, while the yari is primarily a thrusting weapon. Both weapons' shafts and hilts can also be used similarly. Each has its boosters. A master swordsman could take on a warrior wielding a yari with a greater confidence of victory than if he were armed with a naginata. The yari, light and versatile in the open, is less effective in crowded conditions, on horseback, or against horsemen. The naginata, however, was superb against horsemen or foot soldiers. The main advantage a naginata ka has over a swordsman is the length of the weapon. It can clear a large area quickly of enemy swordsmen while keeping them away. Used effectively in bamboo forests and wooded areas, it was said, the naginata could cut through three inches of bamboo timber and still dispatch an opponent. In close quarters one could choke up on the blade and use it effectively. Whether or not it would be as effective as a Jo or butterfly knives at close quarters or in a crowded area, is debatable. Nonetheless, the naginata is a powerful and efficient weapon against the sword or spear, in addition to being one of the most graceful and fluid of the Japanese weapons because of its circular applications. Like the spear and sword, it was a popular weapon of feudal Japan's monks and soldiers.


The naginata evolved into a practical and common weapon by A.D. 1100 and was effective against both mounted and standing enemies. Its origin is vague, but there are three popular theories. One holds the weapon evolved about 300 B.C. from a similar looking agricultural implement. The tool was originally made of stone, which was later replaced by metal. A more practical theory holds that an innovative warrior attached his sword to a pole, which resulted in a crude naginata. The last theory says the influx of Chinese immigrants and other contact with China brought the Chinese glaive or kwon do to Japan. The Japanese modified it to their new Japanese design. Aesthetic tastes, technology, and theoretical applications.

Description and Anatomy

The foundation for the naginata is a long, hardwood, oval sectioned shaft, with a ridged blade mounted on one end. There were a variety of designs based upon the preference of the user. There were differences in length of the blade and tang, shape of the blade and length of the shaft. One offshoot, the nagamaki, had a relatively longer blade and a shorter shaft, with a blade length as long as seven feet but usually averaging between three and four feet. The nagamaki shaft usually was shorter than the standard, at around four feet, giving a total length of roughly seven feet. The nagamaki was sometimes likened to the naginata, but was a favorite of horsemen who used a graceful figure eight slashing pattern to cut down foot soldiers. Unlike today's standard design, there were many popular versions in feudal Japan. The sohei, like the benki, used a powerful weapon of tremendous proportion called the shobuzukuri naginata, featuring a blade length of over four feet and shafts of seven feet or longer. The type used to repel the Mongol invasion (1274-1281) was over 12 feet long and made famous by Saito Musashi bo benki. The blade length was four feet, eight inches and the shaft was seven feet, six inches. Legends of extraordinary skill with the shobuzukuri naginata remained strong for many centuries. One sohei, Gochim no Tajima, was nicknamed "Tajima the arrow cutter" for opposing Heike warriors who fired arrows from every direction. Tajima ducked to avoid the high shots, leaped over the low shots, and with his whirling naginata cut through the arrows that flew straight for him.

Variety not only came in the length but also in the shape of the blade. Some blades were straight while others had slight curves, extreme curves, or double edges. The shape evolved over the centuries. From the 14th to the 16th century the blade shortened to adapt to heavy fighting. Today's naginata evolved during this period, with the ha (blade) averaging one to two feet in length, and the hardwood shaft ranging from five to nine feet long. The blade gracefully sweeps from tang to tip, curving upward from the upper third of the blade. Like its cousin the sword, it is sharpened only on one side. The blade has from one to four hi (blood grooves), which also gives it structural strength. The rukago (tang) can be as long as the blade. As knife aficionados know, the tang gives strength and balance to the weapon by reinforcing the shaft and offsetting the weight of the blade. At the base of the blade is the tsuba (hand guard), and is usually one to four inches in diameter. Similar to the sword tsuba, it is used to hook, parry, block other weapons and keep them from sliding down the shaft. This allows the forward hand to slide up under the tsuba and perform various techniques while being protected from an enemy blade. On the shaft beneath the tsuba are usually decorative or protective coverings. Materials used to decorate the shaft include brocade, mother of pearl, sting ray, silver, copper and iron. Direct cuts to the shaft are to be avoided.

The lacquered hardwood shaft is usually colored black, gold, or persimmon. At the end is an ishizuki (iron pommel), which is used for striking and counterbalancing the blade. The total weight of a real naginata depended on its composition and length. The warrior needed great strength, stamina and coordination to use it effectively, for it was one of the most difficult weapons to master.

The blade was kept in a decorated scabbard. A protective bag covered the scabbard and decorated areas. The bag was usually secured by a himo (cord) and tied with a hanamasubi (flower knot). When not in use, it was stored in a horizontal position to prevent warping.

Women's Entrance into Naginata-jutsu

The 16th century sohei were said to favor the naginata and nagamaki, but many famous bushi used them as well. During the Muromachi period (1393-1573), 425 ryu (traditions) of naginata-jutsu evolved. Originally it was a man's weapon since it was quite heavy and took a great deal of strength and stamina to use. But in modern times it is thought of as a woman's weapon. Japanese women did not always fit the subservient role of today's women.

Itagaki, who threw fear into the hearts of her enemies, was a famous commander of 3,000 warriors of the Torizakayama Castle. She fought against the Hojo Regime (1199), which wanted to subjugate the Taira clan. Itagaki led her warriors into the thick of battle, guided her warhorse with her knees and cut the enemy with a deadly circular slash pattern of her naginata. It was said when the dead were counted, her kills outnumbered all others.
During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), the naginata gradually became a woman's domain. From the 17th century, young daughters of samurai families were given halberds with golden lacquered handles. When they were married, the women would take their naginata with them. Sporting matches between women were recorded during this time. Even though women trained in naginata-jutsu since Heian times, it was in this time frame the naginata became primarily a woman's weapon. Today, little has changed.

Probably the most important reason for the decline of the naginata as a weapon of war was the influx of Western weapons to Japan. Bows, swords, yari and naginata fared poorly against rifles, cannons and pistols. While rising to a position of esteem from the 12th-17th century, modem weapons brought on the demise of the naginata and led to its evolution as a sport. Displaying a last glint of feudal martial spirit, 500 women volunteers armed with naginata were among the revolutionaries who opposed modern weapons during the 1877 Satsuma rebellion, one of Japan's last civil wars. The art of the naginata was lost because of governmental bans on the use of weapons in Meiji 1876.

The practice of naginata-jutsu was outlawed along with the other martial arts after World War II. After the ban was lifted with the departure of the occupation forces, naginata practice resumed in the do (philosophical) rather than jutsu (fighting) form. In 1968 there was over 10,000 naginata ka in Japan. Only about 10 were men.

Instead of practicing the jutsu form, where combat realism and battlefield application were a priority, the majority of practitioners follow the do form, where the emphasis is on the mastery of oneself on one hand and enjoyment of sport on the other. Originally tied to the National Kendo organization, it was organized under the All Japan Naginata Federation in 1955. The United States also has a naginata federation.

Kiai (spirit shout) is stressed during practice and is considered vital to the art. Kiai comes from the horror, the approximate center of gravity of the body when standing with feet together. It is used to unify the technique, bringing together the mind and the body. As with kendo kiai is used during competition to call the targets as the attack occurs. Another concept is stressed in naginata. Difficult to define, zanshin is a feeling, a projection of psychic dominance through one's opponent by the use of impeccable technique, alertness, concentration and extension of one's energy. This part of traditional budo is a relaxed extension of energy which can be felt by opponents. As Adachi Masahiro said in the Bushido Sosho,

"The student's mind should be calm and undisturbed. . .eyes are not glaring, fixed with the staring bulging eyes of the insane, a common mistake of some martial artists, but at the same time the energy is extended and one is ready, as was Benki, to face man, devil, or demon. Vigilant zanshin can intimidate a less skilled opponent, allowing no opportunity for attack."

Ryoen-ryu Naginata-jutsu

The ryuha of Naginata-jutsu studied at the Mizukan Dojo is Ryoen-ryu, headed by Shimizu Nobuko sensei, and is influenced by Jikishin Kage-ryu Nagunatajutsu. Ryoen-ryu means the "multi-diamond", or "stacked diamond."


Ryu No Bu
Tora No Bu
1. Minamo 11. Hatsunagi 16. Hi-Omote
2. Dou-Giri 12. Yamato-Emaki 17. Futae-No-Nagiri
3. Shingetsu 13. Nami-Tsumi 18. Hishou
4. Muso 14. Ryu-En 19. Nihen-Gaeshi
5. Sen-Pu 15. Koga Arashi 20. Nishiki-Goromo
6. Musumi-Kiri   21. Naginata-Houzuki
7. Naginata-Kouju   22. Funa-Watashi
8. Naginata-Zouri    
9. Zashou    
10. Fuji-No-Mine    


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