Naginata Jutsu (naginata technique) (薙刀術)

The naginata jutsu is a Japanese martial art using a long-handled sword called naginata which originated in Heian period. Please see 'naginata' as in the form of a modern martial art.

Naginata

The naginata usually has a 212.1cm long shaft and 30.3cm long blade, and since it was developed from a Japanese style sword by attaching a shaft, it remains some characteristics of a sword like a handguard and an oval-shaped cross-section of a shaft. It is usually named after a woman when given a name.

Although it is described as a sword above, there are various theories about the exact origin of the naginata, and many remains unknown.

Nagamaki is a similar type of weapon. However, while the naginata is a "long-handled weapon" which focuses on maximizing the damage, the nagamaki is a "sword" which focuses on outreaching an enemy by having a longer shaft.

Name

It used to be spelled as '奈木奈多' or '長刀' in the early days; however, '薙刀' meaning slashing people and horses became more common in order to distinguish with '長刀' meaning a long sword. The character '薙' has a meaning of slashing something or someone by moving a sword sideways. However, '長刀 ' was commonly used in martial arts.

Various kinds of Naginata

There are various kinds of naginata such as konaginata, hirumaki naginata and double-edged naginata. However, when they are simply classified based on size, there are only two types; onaginata (can be up to three meters long) and konaginata (around one meter long). The naginata used by men is called Shizuka model named after Shizuka Gozen, and when it is used by women, it is called Tomoe model named after Tomoe Gozen. The Shizuka model has a less curve. The Tomoe model has a big curve which enables to slash an enemy with less power. Moreover, there are naginata used by the Army and the Marines; the one used by the Army has a long shaft in order to cut horse legs while an enemy is still on the horse. The one used by the Marines has a short shaft due to limited space on the ship and an unique shaped ferrule for storage purpose. There are not many naginata of this type, and they are very rare.

Onaginata

Although long Japanese swords are still left today as they were offered to shrines, Onaginata is hardly any left.

Nikko Toshogu Shrine
Blade length 65.9 cm, curve 3.0 cm, shaft 77.7 cm

History

A painting of samurai from Kamakura period (the collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
It shows a few people holding naginata.

After Chinese style swords were brought from ancient China and transformed into Japanese style, the naginata came to exist as the fighting method shifted from mounted warriors with bows and arrows to foot soldiers. It was widely used as a weapon by monk soldiers to protect their temples during Nara period and Heian period. It became the most commonly used weapon in the battle field during Kamakura period and Muromachi period. However, the fighting method changed to close-up fighting by foot soldiers (ashigaru) after Onin War, and the naginata was eventually replaced with spears.

Although it temporally disappeared due to the order issued by Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) which banned samurai to carry the naginata during Edo period, it came back as a martial art for women. Because of this, different schools of naginata designed for women were established, and the sword shows held in Meiji period became quite popular. It became a martial art mainly for women from Taisho period to post war period and is till practiced as 'Naginata' in modern day.

Various types of naginata jutsu for men were also established and is still practiced now.

Traditional performing arts

The naginata form was adopted into the traditional performing arts such as the Noh theater, Bonote, Tachifuri (swinging of the sword) and Sasara dance (sasara is a Japanese traditional percussion instrument).