Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Naginata?
Naginata is a Japanese martial art that consists in the handling of a curved blade spear.
Initially conceived as a war weapon, it was used by the samurai in the battlefield since the Middle Age. The weapon length had the advantage of being able to hit the opponents before entering the reach of their swords.
With the appearance of gunpowder weapons the use of blades had no longer place in the battlefield. The practice of naginata changed its focus to the development of body and mind.
For the sporting practice the blade was replaced by two bamboo pieces, which allows the performance of preconceived forms (shikake-ooji), as well a free sparring (shiai), without any risk of injury. The sparring rules allow strikes to various parts of the body, protected by armor pieces.

2. What are the differences and similarities with Kendo?
Both arts fall within the definition of Budo (the sporting form of Japanese traditional martial arts). They have some similarities regarding both the equipment used and the attacks, this is something that frequently propels practitioners from both arts to participate in mixed combats.
Being part of Budo, the etiquette is very similar in both disciplines. However the weapon length makes it necessary to fight sideways (when in Kendo this is done frontally). In Naginata there are also attacks directed to the legs (inexistent in Kendo). While in Kendo the practitioner is always facing the front in Naginata he has to use both sides (placing the right or left foot forward), this forms a diverse range of techniques associated with the orientation change. For this reason the learning of Naginata becomes more complex and long than that of Kendo, but offers a bigger diversity of movements and is esthetically more appealing.
Regarding the equipment, the bogu (armor) is similar but with some differences. The men (helmet) has shorter shoulder flaps to make easier to defend or attack in postures like hasso (not used in Kendo combats) and to change sides easily as well. The kote (mitten-like gloves) have an index split finger that makes it easier to release the weapon. The armor also includes leg protectors as well.

3. Are there different Schools of Naginata?
Yes, in Japan there still are some schools where naginata-jutsu is taught. In the rest of the world the style that is practiced is essentially Atarashii Naginata, a form of the art adapted to a sporting practice, and that assembles techniques from various traditional schools of Naginata-jutsu.

4. Why practice Naginata?
The practice of Naginata is a form of self-development and everyone has a different reason to do it: some for their interest in Japanese culture, others to reduce their stress level, participate in matches and championships, have a physical activity or to practice something with friends…
In this more sportive form one is able to develop reflex, attain a better body control and spatial awareness and movement coordination. In a higher level it allows to maintain a good physical condition and endurance.
Naginata, being a martial art and not only a sport carries with it a philosophical tradition. The practice of Naginata promotes a set of values, like respect, honor, truth, justice, … and also insists in the respect of strict rules of discipline and etiquette. The practitioner will find itself in a group at the same time that finds the path to it’s own objectives and learns to break his limits. Hobby or lifestyle…

5. Is it expensive? How much do I have to spend?
In the start the practitioner doesn’t have to spend any money in equipment, as the club will lend it. The only initial cost is the enlistment rate and club quotes. After some months of practice the practitioner can purchase a naginata (starting from about 40 euro), one keikogi and a hakama.
Later on, with more experience the practitioner can purchase a bogu, for some hundreds of euro, but this is to be viewed as a long-term investment. In effect a properly cared bogu will last many years.

6. Are there different kinds of naginata (weapon). / Do the naginata vary with size/sex of the practitioner?
There are two kinds of naginata. The first ones (shiai-yo) are made from a long piece of oak, with a blade made of two bamboo splits. This weapon is the basic practice weapon, both for technique forms (shikake-ooji) and for sparring and is suited to sporting practice, making the strikes softer. From 2nd Dan onwards there is another weapon, a massive piece of oak. At this level the practitioners have enough control of the weapon, as a strike made with this weapon could cause severe injuries. Shorter and more resembling the original weapon is essentially used for kata practice.
There are several sizes of naginata, however, the International Naginata Federation regulates the weight and maximum length. People have a tendency to choose longer naginata that enables one to striker further from the other opponent and also to use distance adaptation techniques.
There are also shorter naginata, adapted for the practice of younger practitioners, but it also causes one severe disadvantage: when they grow up, changing to the full size weapon, they have to relearn everything related to the notion of ma-ai (distance).

7. I already have a hakama and keikogi for the practice of another martial art, can I use de same for Naginata?
If the hakama is black or navy blue there is no problem with it. Regarding the keikogi, as there are a specific keikogi for Naginata. This gi is white, with short sleeves and with elastics in it. Keikogis adapted from another martial art (which have different fabrics) is tolerated for dojo practice, but not in official events. In technical competitions and official matches it is also mandatory the use of a white naginata obi, made of cotton, to keep the keikogi properly in place.

8. Are there any colored belts and in some other Japanese martial arts?
No, in Naginata the graduations are not indicated by external symbols.

9. Is any former experience in martial arts required before starting Naginata?
No previous knowledge is necessary. If the experience in another Japanese martial art is a plus regarding the assimilation of concepts and etiquette rules, it also implies that one will have to set aside a lot of habits and postures of the other art(s), which is harder than starting from scratch.

10. Is there any form of free sparring?
In Naginata there are two main forms of practice. The performance of technical preconceived forms, and combat. In the last case the practitioners are protected with armor that make it possible to sustain real hits.

11. Is it dangerous?
No, the practitioner won’t engage in matches right away. The first months will be spent learning how to make the cuts and strikes and only latter the techniques. Fighters are also protected by armor, which minimizes risks. Accidents are almost nonexistent.

12. Do I have to be an athletic person to practice?
No, besides nor everybody has the same objectives. The practice of Naginata develops coordinating skills and reflexes. Physical endurance will come with time. Practicing any other art or sport might be a plus in terms of coordination, however is accessible to everyone.

13. Is there a genre separation in competition?
It depends on the competition and on the organization. In the European and World Championships there is a genre separation in sparring matches but none in technical or rhythmic events.
Anyway, it is not very important as in Naginata there is very little physical contact between opponents and size and weight are not issues. The main advantage comes from technical level, reflex and speed.

14. With what age can I start? Am I too young/old?
There is no minimum age, and certainly no maximum age. Furthermore, in Naginata the practitioner experience is greatly valued, the older/more experienced ones being greatly respected. Regarding the minimum age there is no official limit, but there is a mental and bodily limit. Besides the weapon weight, children have more difficulty focusing and also less body coordination, this can sometimes delay progression and be a source of frustration. They also lack enough maturity to assimilate theoretical principles in Naginata practice. They can learn etiquette rules, but this will be repeating behavior, not understanding and embracing it.
10 years is a minimum for having enough coordination and being able to use the weapon.

15. Why haven’t I ever heard of this art?
If in Japan it is one of the national sports, until 2008 there wasn’t Naginata in Portugal, which explains the weak knowledge of this art.
Besides, cinema hasn’t helped make this art as know as Karate or Iaido.

16. I already practice Kendo, what extra equipment do I need?
Besides the weapon, you’ll need a Naginata keikogi. If your kendo keikogi is white you can use it for dojo practice, but it won’t be accepted in official events. In the first times you will be able to use the kendo bogu, building or purchasing a pair of sune-ate. After some time it is recommended to purchase Naginata kote, as Kendo kote don’t allow releasing the weapon with the same speed and are not allowed in official matches.

17. Do I have to learn Japanese?
No, you’ll just have to know a small number of Japanese words, this allows understanding the different commands that will aloud you to participating in seminars in other countries as well. The instructions in your dojo will be given in Portuguese.

18. What are the different kinds of competition in Naginata?
There are diverse sorts of competition. There are the Engi matches, where two pairs perform predefined forms (shikake-ooki) and where technical level and team coordination prevails. The second type is individual combat, shiai. In this case two opponents fight against each other in freeform, being the objective the scoring of two points. There are also team competitions where the points of each member add to the team score. The composition and genre of team members depend upon match organization.
At last there is a rhythmic competition, where the esthetic value and team members coordination are the main objectives.

19. How does the grading system work?
It is successive level grading system. Starting with Kyu. Each country federation will define what is necessary to advance levels. In Portugal graduations start in 6th kyu and go up to 1st Kyu. From this point onwards it is responsibility of the Japanese Federation to define the required level and minimum time of permanence in each level. These graduations (Dan levels) go from 1st to 5th Dan. Besides 5th Dan, is possible to attain the honorific titles of renshi, kyoshi and hanshi.