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Naginata is a Japanese bladed weapon with a long shaft (wooden handle). The weapon looks like a pole and is often mistaken with one. The word "naginata" means "mowing down sword" or "reaping sword". The length of the blade varies from 1 to 3 feet. The blade's shape describes a 'leaf' being more curved to the point. The naginata's blade is mounted directly to a long wooden shaft, its length ranges between 6 and 9 feet. The part that goes inside the handle (tang) is almost as long as the blade itself. This assures a perfect fixture of the blade. The shaft is equipped with a sharp end-cap, or ishizuki, which serves for piercing between the plates of armor.
Historically, the facts indicate that naginata have been used in China beginning with 3 B.C. First source it was mentioned in was the Kojiki (A Record of Ancient Matters, 712). Then, it is represented in the paintings of battlefield scenes made during the Tengyo no Ran (Tengyo Insurrection), in 936 A.D. The sword was utilized and refined during the Nara period (approx. 710-784 A.D.), and by the 11th century it was widely used in battles.
The naginata was also used by warrior-monks for temples defense against invaders. Around the 1400's A.D. this weapon was no more used by monks because the temples were no longer a target. The samurai used the naginata only when fighting against numerous enemies or on horseback.
Still, naginata was most commonly used when the samurai was too young to handle a full length katana and when he was mostly an archer. By the Edo period (1603-1867), the naginata was no more used in combat. It became the representative weapon of samurai women. They engaged in trainings for self-defense and defense of their children and for virtue development. Moreover, the fashion developed further and there appeared samurai families, which displayed naginata in prominent places of their houses. Later the naginata was even given as present to the bride.
There are three main theories of naginata appearance as a weapon. One of the most spread is the supposition that naginata evolved from a farming tool used for chopping. The tools were made as long staffs with sharp stones attached to one of the ends. The tool was used in the 3rd century B.C. Later, the stones were replaced with metal pieces. Thus, when the crops and lands of the farmers were under attack they defended it with their farming tools, which proved to be effective weapons and later were refined.
The Chinese theory is based on the idea that Chinese halberds were brought to Japan during early migrations, (around 200 B.C.). Most of the weaponry experts believe that even if the Chinese invented the weapon, it was refined and developed by the Japanese.
Another theory says that the naginata evolved directly as a weapon. The blade of naginata ancestors was made of bronze. Later, the discovery of steel made it even more effective. This theory affirms that naginata development far later than the appearance of metal in Japan from the Asian continents (around 200 B.C.).
The naginata was also considered a women's weapon. It gave considerable advantage because of the long shaft keeping the enemy at a safe distance. One of the most famous Japanese women warriors was Itagaki. Her naginata skills overwhelmed even the most trained samurai. During the Edo period (1600-1800 AD), Japanese women were thought to handle the naginata by the age of 18.
The naginata was also considered an effective weapon against horsemen. The way naginata was handled required specific motions because of its length. Usually, it was sweeping and circular motion, because it was inconvenient to use striking methods like with a traditional sword. In order to fully utilize the naginata, it requires the handler to rapidly shift hand positions along the length of the shaft.
Martial Art[change | edit source]
Naginata is also known as a Japanese martial art performed by men, women, and children. The roots of this fighting technique come for over 1.000 years ago. This martial art has as its centerpiece a Japanese sword - Naginata. The weapon reminds a pole and is very efficient against riders as well as against foot soldiers. The sword is very well balanced and weighted which makes it possible for women and children to handle it. The naginata way of fighting is very graceful due to circular performance of the naginata sword.
Today Naginata is a combat system that teaches respect, patience, etiquette, self-confidence, and self-control. The practice of Naginata educates perfect control and balanced movements of the body. When into this art, discipline and concentration are needed to reach the grace and effectiveness of the movements. Moreover, it establishes person's character by developing a moral code based on honor.
The modern naginata has changed its shape during history. Now, it is more like a European halberd or glaive. The blade looks more like a scimitar moreso rather than of a wakizashi. Naginata went through the influence of westernization after the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), when the value of martial arts dropped, and survived till the Showa period (1912 – 1926), when naginata became a part of the public school system.
Different styles of naginata handling were developed creating world known schools (ryu). The Atarashii Naginata School and Jikishin-kage ryu are the most popular. There are also known schools like Tendo ryu and Toda Ha Buko ryu. Despite the differences between these schools Naginata martial art has at its base the art of wielding one of the most original weapons and the goal of developing traditional etiquette and spiritual training of a person.