Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Past Couple Weeks

Another friend of mine recently started practicing with my Naginata club.  Because the club meets only once a week at most and she sometimes has trouble understanding the other members (they speak mostly Japanese), she bought a naginata and I teach her on the days that I don't practice with my students.  It's really nice because I have to go slow again and it gives me the chance to really pay attention to my form.

One day last week my visitation school's Naginata club didn't meet, so I was able to use the dojo (and its nice big mirrors) all by myself.  It gave me the opportunity slowly run through all of the strikes and blocks for engi (forms) and realize just what I didn't know -- when I practice with others I rarely have the time to really stop and think about what I'm doing.  I didn't know quite where my hands should be on some of the blocks, so I asked during the next practice and now I know!

But I still sometimes get confused by different sempai (people who have been practicing Naginata longer than me) telling me different things.

I've never been light on my feet.  I remember being a little elephant in my ballet class when I was six years old.  But I'd like to be more nimble before I start doing shiai (sparring), so I bought a jump rope with bearings.  I jump on days that I don't practice with students and use a simple free app[1] on my iPod to keep track of the jumping/rest intervals.  Right now I jump for 45 seconds and rest for 15 seconds for a total of 20 minutes.  As I get better the jumping interval will get longer and the rest time shorter.  Bonus:  it's also a good cardio workout!

I found a good glossary for Naginata terms.  I like it because it includes kanji (the thousands of Chinese-derived characters that standard Japanese uses).  So now I can easily cut-and-paste the kanji to get the pronunciation in hiragana (a much more simple syllabic script that is also used for some types of words in Japanese) instead of looking at it in a book and laboriously selecting radicals on WWWJDIC!  (See my post about Naginata terms in hiragana.)

I finally figured out how to do a few things!  One was how to keep the back creases straight when lying my hakama (pants) flat back-side-down.  I pinch them together at the bottom with one hand while holding the top with the other hand.  The sides go down floppy but I can straighten them out before I start folding.  And I figured out how to wear a tenugui, which is kind of like a bandanna that you wear under your men (helmet).  On previous attempts I was wrapping it around my head wrong so it wasn't secure.  I also figured out how to get a little bit of baby powder[2] out of the little container I carry it in without making a mess.


[1] For some reason the website says it isn't free, but it is.

[2] Now that it's hot and I get sweaty, I use baby powder at practice to keep my hands dry so they slide along the naginata instead of sticking to it.

The 5th INF World Naginata Championships

I went to see the 5th INF World Naginata Championships on Sunday July 3rd in Himeji. It was really interesting! I'm very lucky to be living in Japan when it occurred!

(Note: You can click on every photo and video in this post to see a larger version.)

I arrived shortly after the opening ceremony started. Here are all the participants from every country:

participants at the opening ceremony

And here are all the flags (one for each country; twelve countries participated):

flags at the opening ceremony

First there were demonstrations of Tendo-ryu and Jikishinkage-ryu Naginata[1], which I have never seen before so they were very interesting! Unfortunately none of the pictures I took came out (I didn't use a flash).

Next was the engi (forms) competition. I was surprised to see mixed male & female pairs; I didn't know they did that! I'd never seen it before because all of the clubs I practice with are almost entirely female.

engi #1

engi #2

Here is a video of the match for 3rd place, with the 1st place match going on in the background:

Then there was the women's individual shiai (sparring). It was my first time seeing white bogu (armor). Another thing that was new to me was seeing what happened when a competitor wasn't present. The person who was there entered the match area, bowed as if the competitor was there, and then walked out. I'd like to know the reason why they go through the trouble of doing that!

women's individual shiai #1

women's individual shiai #2

Here is a video of the match for 3rd place, with the 1st place match going on in the background:

Then there was a rhythm Naginata demonstration:

Followed by a ton of very cute little kids performing happoburi (solo practice exercises) and engi. I didn't take any photos of that, but here's a forest of naginata while they wait to perform:

children waiting to perform a naginata demonstration

Then there was a break for lunch, during which I bought some very cute Naginata folders. My friend wanted me to keep her company while she bought her first naginata, so I missed the beginning of the men's individual shiai. The men were more aggressive than the women. And I was surprised to see more men participating than women; Naginata is practiced almost exclusively by women in Japan, but internationally more men than women practice.

Also at this point I stopped taking photos because I was getting tired and just wanted to enjoy the competition without bothering with my camera. But here's a video of the match for 3rd place, with the 1st place match going on in the background:

After the individual shiai was the team shiai.

And then there was a very amusing Naginata vs. Kendo demonstration:

naginata vs. kendo

The closing ceremony was last, but the ladies in my Naginata club wanted to go see the exterior of Himeji Castle[2], so we left.

Here are the results:

1st place: Kijima/Kiyomizu from Japan
2nd place: Itai/Sato from Japan
3rd place: Bucsis/Fromentin from Canada

women's individual shiai
1st place: K. Ikemi from Japan
2nd place: A. Ajiki from Japan
3rd place: A. Sato from Japan

men's individual shiai
1st place: K. Tanaka from Japan
2nd place: A. Bennett from New Zealand
3rd place: I. Itagaki from Japan

women's team shiai
1st place: Japan
2nd place: USA
3rd place: Canada

men's team shiai
1st place: Japan
2nd place: The Netherlands
3rd place: Belgium

It was really exciting to see what's going on internationally with Naginata!

The INF World Naginata Championships are held every four years. Apparently the next one will be in Montreal in 2015. I'm psyched because I love Montreal and it's a mere five hour drive from my hometown, so chances are I'll go and combine it with a visit home. :)


[1] Two of the traditional schools of Naginata that modern-day Atarashi (new) Naginata is based upon.

[2] What little of it could be seen, since most of it is covered in scaffolding for a several-year-long restoration.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Visit to Chiba Budogu

Last week my Naginata club went to Himeji to watch the 5th INF World Naginata Championships.  Some of the other members only took a day trip, but I decided to travel a bit on Honshu while I was there.  I went to Tokyo for a couple days, and from there I took the train 1.5 hours to Katsura and visited Chiba Budogu.  Although the trip was a little long, I'm very glad I went!

Somewhere online I read that an incredible number of people (well over half) quit practicing Kendo once they start wearing bogu (armor).  And the main reason why people don't like bogu is because it can be uncomfortable.  I imagine the same must be true for Naginata, so I was determined to get well-fitting bogu.  Chiba Budogu orders bogu from a manufacturer and then modifies it to provide a custom fit.

I've never worn bogu before, so I was pretty nervous about ordering it.  Everything I read online raved about the quality of Chiba Budogu's work, so although I wanted to see the bogu in person, the main reason why I went to the shop was for a fitting.  I could've just emailed my measurements, but I was afraid I might make a mistake.  I'm glad I went, because apparently my head is an unusual shape!  I was also able to try on a few doh (breastplates) and we determined that that a doh that is a special shape for women[1] would be best for me.

A number of English speakers work at Chiba Budogu; I emailed beforehand and they made sure one was there when I visited.  Baptise was very nice and knowledgeable; he went to the International Budo University to study Naginata.

I originally had my eye on this set, but based on Baptise's recommendation I upgraded the kote (gauntlets) to these.  Apparently the clarino kote that comes with the set usually wear out after 2.5 years of the intense daily training that they do at the university.[2]

I could easily bend the plastic doh that comes with the basic set (which isn't a big deal because one rarely gets struck in the stomach when doing Naginata), but fiber and bamboo doh are much stronger. I was extremely lucky because the shop has a stock of fiber and bamboo doh that were cosmetically damaged (minor scuffing) when then the tsunami hit the factory[3] in March.  Because I went to the shop they were willing to cut me a deal and gave me one of the slightly scuffed fiber dohs for the same price as a plastic one!  To put how awesome this is in perspective, a pristine fiber doh costs about three times as much as a plastic one.

After my visit (which took about an hour), Baptise went above and beyond the call of duty and gave me a ride so I could get to an ATM[4] in my bank's network in the limited amount of time I had before the next train back to Tokyo!

I'm really happy that I went and incredibly excited about receiving my bogu in approximately six weeks!


[1] The doh for women is shorter so it rests above the hips and it's also straighter at the top to accommodate breasts.

[2] I don't think I'll ever be that hardcore, but considering how much bogu costs I hope mine will last until at least the next INF World Naginata Championships, which will be in four years!

[3] The manufacturer's factory, not Chiba Budogu.

[4] I needed cash for an unrelated reason.  After I returned home I paid for my bogu via furikomi (bank transfer).