The naginata is a pole weapon and one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades (nihontō). Naginata were originally used by the samurai class of feudal Japan, as well as by ashigaru (foot soldiers) and sōhei (warrior monks). The naginata is the iconic weapon of the onna-bugeisha, a type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility.
Naginata for fighting men and warrior monks were ō-naginata. The kind used by women was called ko-naginata.
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The term naginata first appeared in historical documents in the Heian period (794–1185). The earliest clear references to naginata date from 1146. In Honchō Seiki compiled from 1150 to 1159 in the late Heian period, it is recorded that Minamoto no Tsunemitsu mentioned that his weapon was a naginata.
In the Heian period, During the Genpei War (1180–1185), in which the Taira clan was pitted against the Minamoto clan, the naginata rose to a position of particularly high esteem, being regarded as an extremely effective weapon by warriors. The Tale of the Heike, which records the Genpei War, there are descriptions such as ō naginata (big naginata) and ko naginata (little naginata), which show that naginata of various lengths were used. Since battles on foot increased during this period, the importance of naginata, which could maintain optimum distance from enemies in close combat, increased. Cavalry battles had become more important by this time, and the naginata proved excellent at dismounting cavalry and disabling riders. The widespread adoption of the naginata as a battlefield weapon forced the introduction of greaves as a part of Japanese armor. The rise of importance for the naginata can be seen as being mirrored by the European pike, another long pole weapon employed against cavalry. The introduction in 1543 of firearms in the form of the matchlock (tanegashima) caused a great decrease in the appearance of the naginata on the battlefield. As battlefield tactics changed, the yari (spear) took the place of the naginata as the pole weapon of choice.
In the peaceful Edo Period, weapons' value as battlefield weapons became diminished and their value for martial arts and self-defense rose. The naginata was accepted as a status symbol and self-defense weapon for women of nobility, resulting in the image that "the Naginata is the main weapon used by women". A naginata was commonly a dowry of women of the nobility. But historical recordings describing the practice of martial arts by women are rare and uncertain.
In the Meiji era, it gained popularity along sword martial arts. From the Taisho era to the post-War era, the naginata became popular as a martial art for women, mainly due to the influence of government policies. Due to this influence, the image that “spears are women's weapons” was formed.
Although associated with considerably smaller numbers of practitioners, a number of "koryu bujutsu" systems (traditional martial arts) which include older and more combative forms of naginatajutsu remain existent, including Suio Ryu, Araki Ryu, Tendo Ryu, Jikishinkage ryu, Higo Koryu, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, Toda-ha Buko Ryu and Yoshin ryu, some of which have authorized representatives outside Japan.
Naginatas were often used by foot soldiers to create space on the battlefield. They have several situational advantages over a sword. Their reach was longer, allowing the wielder to keep out of reach of his opponent. The long shaft offered it more leverage in comparison to the hilt of the katana, enabling the naginata to cut more efficiently. The weight of the weapon gave power to strikes and cuts, even though the weight of the weapon is usually thought of as a disadvantage. The weight at the end of the shaft and the shaft itself can be used both offensively and defensively. Swords, on the other hand, can be used to attack faster, have longer cutting edges (and therefore more striking surface and less area to grab), and were able to be more precisely controlled in the hands of an experienced swordsman.
While the Naginata was used in Japan, it was mainly used by monks (Sõhei) and other martial art practicing groups. It was not largely used by the Samurai themselves, but it is said that it was used by the wives of Samurai (Onna-bugeisha) to protect themselves and their homes while their husbands were away.
In reality, a Samurai would more frequently use a long Spear called a Yari. While not as effective as the Naginata in terms of slashing power, it was more effective in thrusting. However the Onna-bugeisha and other garrison forces would prefer the Naginata since it was a more versatile weapon; allowing the defender to be more adaptive since it was impossible to prepare and specialize against ambushing raiders. The Sōhei, semi-independent militaristic warrior monks, also frequently used the Naginata in combat.
The Onna-bugeisha, essentially female Samurai, used the naginata as their signature weapon.
When was the naginata invented?
Some of the earliest reports of this traditional Japanese pole weapon date back to 1146 in the country's Heian period. The naginata is believed to have descended from the hoko kari, which is a spear-like weapon derived from similar weapons produced in China.
In 13th century and 14th century Japanese artwork, samurai warriors are depicted wielding and using the naginata. While still not as popular at the time as the katana or wakizashi, it was a common weapon used by samurai warriors.
Fast forward to the Edo period (1603 to 1868), however, and the naginata faded from the samurai warrior's list of equipment. It still had a purpose, though. Rather than being on the battlefield, the naginata became a symbol of social class among women. Women during this era would proudly display the naginata in their home. Of course, this makes sense considering that the naginata was such a versatile weapon.
Today, the naginata is used primarily in traditional Japanese martial arts like the koryu bujutsu school. With that said, there's a special form of martial arts that's designed specifically for this weapon: naginatajutsu. This Japanese martial art involves wielding and suing the naginata. It's taught primarily in the Bukinkan schools.
Today, the art of Naginata is a popular sport in Japan and around the world. It is a sport of grace, strength, and elegance, which can be enjoyed by both Men and Women. Naginata martial artists wear an obi, hakama, and uwagi. It is the same type as what a kendo practitioner would wear. The armor used for sparring is known as bogu, to complete the gear the martial artists are required to wear gloves and shinguard.
There are two main divisions in the study of its art: the Kata and the Shiai. The Kata teaches the basic techniques in using the weapon, they normally use oak as a shaft with a substitute blade as a version of the Naginata. The Shiai is a more protective way of learning the art of Naginata. They equip themselves with shinguard and uses a version of Naginata using oak wood and two strips of curved bamboo at the tip. The tip of both the shaft and bamboo is padded with leather sleeves. The art of Naginata teaches discipline and enhances a person’s stamina and concentration through graceful movements and elegance.
Yari is also a popular traditional sword handmade from Japanese blade. The major difference of Yari from Naginata is its form, the Yari looking like a straight-headed spear. The Yari is made of a straight blade instead of the curved blade used in Naginata. The size of the blade can vary from a few centimeters to 3 feet in terms of the length. With the Naginata having a long shaft, the Yari’s shaft is produced differently, with varying lengths, shapes, widths, others are made of wood, bamboo or steel. These shafts were often decorated with metals, pins, and pearls.
There are different varieties of the Yari, depending on its shape and form, such as Sankaku Yari, Ryo-shinogi Yari, Kikuchi Yari, Jumonji Yari, Kata Kama Yari, Kagi Yari, Bishamon Yari, Tsuki Nari Yari, Hoko Yari, Sasaho Yari, Su Yari, Omi No Yari and Kama Yari. During the year of battles and wars, like Naginata, it has also been used by samurai and foot soldiers in addition to their armor. However, during the Edo era, it was considered useless and impractical. After some time, Yari was still produced but as ceremonial weapon or weapon used by policemen.