Sorry for the long, long hiatus! I've been either 1) too busy, 2) not practicing Naginata, or 3) both. But I'm still here, and still learning :)
In August of 2012 I left Japan. I received many lovely presents from the various groups I practiced with, and I hope to see some of them at the next INF World Championships in Montreal in 2015! Before I left, I investigated every conceivable way to get my naginata back to the U.S. with me, but in the end it ended up being cheaper to leave it behind and buy a new one here.
Over the next twelve months, I spent about six total around where I grew up in the U.S. Unfortunately there's no groups that practice Naginata there. The other six months I spent traveling in Europe and the U.S., but I never successfully managed to meet up with any Naginata practitioners during that time.
About six months ago I moved across the country. A month after that, I met up with a Naginata group and started practicing again! Unfortunately our sensei, who is the highest-ranked practitioner outside of Japan, has been ill since before I joined, so I've hardly seen her. Instead, I am mostly learning from one of her 4-dan (4th-level "black belt") students. He and the others (mostly sempai except for one kohai [someone of lower rank than I]) have been really nice and welcoming!
We mostly practice in a group of 3-5 people in a community center on a weeknight, and sometimes 1-on-1 in a park on a weekend morning. Being able to receive instruction in English is great! Plus I get a lot more individual attention. :) After I dusted off the cobwebs that formed from not practicing for over a year, I discovered that I was actually doing a lot of things wrong, that weren't properly conveyed to me because of the language barrier -- I spent a lot of time unlearning my bad habits.
I bought a new wood-and-bamboo naginata from my sensei. I also borrowed a kashinagi from her to keep at work -- there's a room with mirrors there that I can practice in by myself on Friday afternoons. However, I've learned that I have trouble focusing enough to practice when I'm by myself, at least on Friday afternoons when I'm itching to leave work! So unfortunately I haven't done that much.
About a month after I started practicing again, I unexpectedly competed in a local engi competition. It was pretty informal and relaxed; an odd number of people wanted to compete so I stepped in to complete a pair. Of the four or five pairs, mine came in last again -- though this time one of the three judges thought my pair was the better than another, so that's progress!
It's only been the past month or two that I've started learning new things, mostly wearing bogu: kakari-geiko (attack practice) and jigeiko (sparring). I bought a more study & comfortable bogu bag from E-BOGU.COM, and have been happy with my purchase!
That pretty much sums up the past. For the future, I'm planning on going to the next USNF seminar this July outside Philadelphia.
I didn't get around to writing until now because almost all my free time was filled with studying for the exams I need to take in order to apply for postgraduate school. But I took the last exam next weekend, so expect more regular updates from here on out! At least until school starts next August...