Saturday, March 15, 2014

Catching up

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 bogukakari-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...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The new school year started at the beginning of April, which means lots of changes have occurred: At my base school, there are some new students who have been learning Naginata since they were in junior high school. They are at just about my level, and it's been really really nice to practice with people who are the same level as me! Unfortunately it will be short-lived, since they practice six days a week and I only go to that school two days a week; I will soon fall behind. But at least then I can move on to practicing with the new students who have just started learning Naginata!

At my visiting school, all of the new students are new to Naginata. I've been practicing with them, but sometimes also watching them and giving them advice as a sempai (someone who has been practicing Naginata longer than them). I did a similar thing when my friend started learning Naginata, but this is the first time I've done it in Japanese instead of English. Fortunately the students seem to understand my gestures and limited Japanese. There has been some nuances that I don't think I can convey and therefore haven't tried, but so far that hasn't been a problem because they are new and making many mistakes -- we can focus on the major ones before the minor ones. I don't want to overwhelm them with criticism!

The situations at my schools involve beginnings, but that with my Naginata club is an ending. I've stepped back from it. I might occasionally go to a practice, but I now consider myself an inactive member. I've been in a relationship since August, and unfortunately my boyfriend lives far enough away that effectively we can only spend time together on weekends. I tried to juggle that with my normal weekend activities (including the Naginata club; it only meets on weekends), but in November it came to my attention that I just couldn't do it all. I scaled back my involvement in most of my weekend activities, including the club -- since I have the opportunity to practice on weekdays at schools I focused more on that instead. I still went to my Naginata club as often as I was free, but due to various weekend events, lately I've made it once a month at best. The weekends are just going to get busier as the weather gets warmer.

Rather than disappoint people by not attending practices I told them I would mostly likely not be involved with the club any longer, and if I went it would be an exception and not the rule. They seemed to take it well; even better than I was expecting. I guess they probably knew it would happen. The club leader seemed disappointed that I would not be able to compete in the Kyushu Naginata tournament, but I probably wouldn't be able to even if I stayed with the club -- the tournament is sometime in August and I am planning to move away from Japan then.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Naginata Rankings

Since I recently wrote about my grading, I thought I would add links to the U.S. Naginata Federation's standards for ranks. I make no claim as to how accurate or current these are. As far as I recall, at least for kyu rankings they match up with those of the All Japan Naginata Federation, but don't quote me on that!

USNF Standards for Kyu Examinations
USNF Standards for Dan Examinations

Monday, February 27, 2012

Catching Up: Hindrances, Bogu, and My First Grading

Sorry for the long delay in between posts! Last school term was especially busy, and when I feel inclined to write I've been directing that time/energy into a travelogue about my trip to Laos and Thailand during winter break. But I'm still here, and still practicing Naginata -- albeit less often. Japanese schools are generally unheated other than the teachers' room, and the heat there is often inadequate. After being uncomfortably cold all day I had little desire to stand barefoot on an icy gymnasium floor for a 3-4 hour-long practice, even for something I love as much as Naginata! Fortunately the weather has started getting warmer, so I intend to practice more often.

Another complication is the fact that I've often found practice frustrating lately. Now that I've started using bogu (armor), the techniques I'm learning are complicated enough that the language barrier has become an issue. My sempai (people who have been practicing Naginata longer than me) don't speak English and my Japanese is not equal to the task of understanding what they're trying to explain to me. I don't feel like I'm learning as much, and what I am learning I think I'm probably doing wrong. Unfortunately I can't read about them either, because the techniques I'm learning aren't in any English-language Naginata books (probably since they're advanced enough that any authors know that that you'd have to have someone teaching you in order to use them). :( The new school year starts in April; I hope from then I'll have an easier time learning because the new first-year students will also be learning at the same time. In the meantime, I'm just mucking through as best I can.

Though I am proud that I finally figured out how to tie the top cords for my do (breastplate) yesterday! There's multiple ways to do it, and I think I was combining a couple different ones which resulted in knots that didn't hold. Looking at diagrams didn't cement how to do it in my head, and when I asked others to help me I couldn't clearly see what they were doing since I was wearing the do at the time. But yesterday I asked my sempai to show me before I put the do on, so I finally understood!

Many months ago I had my first grading. I tested for 3-kyu(the third level below "black belt"[1]) even though I think I know enough to pass 1-kyu; the members of my Naginata club felt that it was best I try something easy and pass rather than attempt something challenging and potentially not. I took their advice even though I think they underestimate my ability (I practice less advanced techniques with them than I do with my schools' clubs). I also didn't know how strict the grading would be, but apparently it wasn't too strict because one of the other people testing for 3-kyu made a very obvious and fairly major (IMO) mistake and still passed! Regardless, I'm glad I didn't test for 1-kyu; perhaps because of an age requirement all the 1st-year sempai at my schools tested for 2-kyu. I would've felt rude testing above their level considering they're all much better than me!

Before the grading there was a big group class with many practitioners from all over my prefecture. It was really great to have my form critiqued by sensei (teachers) rather than sempai. Though it was also a double-edged sword because I didn't have the time/practice to fix in muscle memory what I was doing wrong. So during my grading later I was even more nervous because I could tell I was making mistakes! I would've preferred having the class after the grading. Fortunately, I passed anyway!


[1] There are six kyus in Naginata, and different colored belts are not worn for any rank.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My First Competition

A few weeks ago I had my first Naginata competition.  It was for Saga prefecture and included all ages, which were broken up into elementary school students, junior high school students, high school students[1], adults under 30[2], adults 30-60, and adults over 60.  Everyone who participated was female, except for two of my male high school students and a couple of young boys (maybe kindergarten students?) who were part of a demonstration.

All of the elementary school and younger students were so cute!  For shiai (sparring), they didn't wear bogu (armor), but instead performed engi(forms)-style uchikaeshi (a sequence of strikes) against an adult wearing bogu -- i.e. two performed at the same time and the judges decided which was better.

I competed in engi; it was over so fast!  I was sitting down expecting to compete after lunch[3], and then suddenly I was beckoned to line up.  I wasn't nervous at all.  I went into autopilot, which worked out okay.  My partner and I were eliminated right away, which isn't all that surprising considering we've been studying Naginata for far shorter than the people we were competing against.  A club member's daughter videotaped us; it was my first time seeing myself doing engi on video so it was really interesting and I could see why the pair we were up against won (my movements weren't entirely clean & precise at times, and I'm sure my partner made mistakes too[4]).

In any case, my partner and I were one of only three teams in our age group, so we got 3rd-place certificates, which was nice.  And it's really good to have experience competing!


[1] I'm glad my high school students were in a different category because I wouldn't want to compete against them!

[2] Of which there weren't any.

[3] Partly because I had misread the schedule (it was in Japanese) and partly because things were going well ahead of schedule -- the competition finished an hour early.

[4] I focused on myself when watching the video and didn't see what she did.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Follow-Up to a Couple Earlier Posts

Back in July, I briefly mentioned using baby powder to keep my hands from sticking to my naginata when I'm sweaty.  I used to keep regular loose baby powder in a little vial, but that sometimes made a mess on my hakama (pants).  Someone in my Naginata club then showed me that baby powder comes in compact (solid) form.  I ordered some from, but you can also find it elsewhere.  It's much less messy!

I also finally bought myself a second gi (uniform).  And to confirm what I wrote in my previous post, size 4 hakama do indeed fit me better than size 5.  and a size 2 keiko-gi (top) also fits fine, although I might be able to go even smaller!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wearing Bogu (Armor) for the First Time

This post should actually be titled, "Wearing Bogu for the First, Second, and Third Times". I practiced in bogu for the first time two months ago, but the busy-ness that kept me from practicing also kept me from writing.

My first impression was that even borrowed bogu[1] isn't as uncomfortable as I was led to believe by reading about it online.  Though don't get me wrong, it is still uncomfortable!  And hot.  I'm secretly a little glad that I was too busy to practice during the hottest months of the year.

I was also surprised that I didn't notice the bars on the men (helmet) at all!  I assumed they would bother me, but they don't.

Now for the bad:

Until I wore bogu, I didn't realize just how much I rely on the tactile feedback of feeling the weight of my hand against my hip, etc. to gauge whether I am in the correct stance.  I can't feel any of that wearing bogu, and even worse, I can't look and see whether I'm in the correct stance because the men severely limits my range of vision.  Add to that the fact that you move a little differently wearing bogu than not[2] and everything happens much faster because you're less likely to be hurt or hurt others.  I can tell I'm not moving/standing correctly at all.  I feel like I need to relearn all the basics all over again in bogu.

The second really difficult thing is just that I can't understand Japanese as well when I (and the people I practice with) are wearing bogu.  The men muffles sound a little because it covers my ears.  And when others are wearing men, I can't see their lips and facial expressions as well, and when they're wearing kote (gauntlets), they don't gesture as much.

Wearing bogu definitely requires some adjustment.  I haven't gotten frustrated yet, but I until I become comfortable with it, practice won't be as fun as it used to be. :/


[1] most of my order from Chiba Budogu didn't arrive until last week and I'm still waiting to for my sune-ate (shin protectors) to arrive.

[2] to accommodate the bulk of it -- for example, my do (breastplate) makes my waist significantly larger!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wearing a Men (Helmet) with Ear Piercings

I have three semi-sizable (6, 8, and 14 gauge) piercings in each ear. Since I've started training with bogu (armor)[1], figuring out what to wear in my piercings under my men (helmet) has been a challenge.  Obviously I want something that won't potentially lead to bleeding when I'm struck!  And I'd like to have jewelry that I can leave in during practice, so I don't have to fiddle with taking out jewelry before practice and putting it back in after and potentially losing it.

Fortunately I already have a couple pairs of Kaos Softwear Silicone Hider Plugs, which take care of my 6 and 8 gauge holes.  They're soft and flexible and work great!

I'm having less luck with my 14 gauge piercings.  I tried Body Bonz, but I really can't recommend them.  Despite being advertised as flexible, they're really not.  Two of them also managed to fall out of my ears in the span of three days (when I wasn't even training!)  So until I can find something better I'm stuck with wearing my regular jewelry and taking it out for the duration of practice.


[1] i'll write more about training with bogu in a later post.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Naginata Posters

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted!  The past couple months have been particularly busy.  Many new ALTs (assistant language teachers) came to my prefecture from various Western countries and I've been helping them get accustomed to life in Japan and teaching.  And I've also been traveling a bit within Japan.  The combination of which means I haven't had much time to write.  In fact, I haven't been practicing much either; I'm hoping to get back to it this week.

In the meantime, I made a couple of Naginata-related posters.  The first one was a Mario-themed poster to cheer on my base school's team at a national competition:

(click to view larger)
The second poster was displayed during prefectural orientation for the new ALTs.  The more experienced ALTs made posters about activities that the new ALTs might want to get involved in, such as koto (a stringed instrument), shodo (calligraphy), taiko (drumming), etc. and I naturally chose Naginata:

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).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Long Time No Post

I'm still here, and I'm still practicing Naginata.  I haven't written anything because the things going through my head lately wouldn't take a whole entry.  They're mostly short, unrelated thoughts like:
  • It's amazing how much my mood lifts when I have a good Naginata practice, or conversely, how much it sinks when I'm planning to practice and discover that I can't.
  • For a while I was getting bored with the sheer repetition of doing engi (forms) a lot, but finding new details to focus on (like maintaining eye contact the entire time) helped me get over it.
  • One of the troubles of practicing with multiple groups of people is that I have multiple teachers who often contradict each other and I'm not quite sure who to listen to.
  • For one practice I was able to use a kashinagi[1] (all-wood naginata, in constrast to the standard bamboo+wood one).  It was really cool because it was heavy enough that I could actually feel what I was doing.  I want to practice with one more often!
  • The students at my base school are starting to use kote (wrist) and sune (shin) armor.  Although I don't have any, so far I've been able to practice with the students just fine without it.  That makes me happy.
  • I've decided to put off ordering bogu (armor) until I learn what schools I'll be at next term.  I might potentially be assigned to different schools, so it'd be a waste to order bogu I might not be able to use in a few months.
  • I am, however, planning on getting fitted for bogu in two weeks.  I'm traveling north to see the World Naginata Championships and figured I'd tack a few more things onto the trip.  I think my schools will probably stay the same, but a fitting won't lose me any money if they don't.
  • A couple weeks ago I saw my first Naginata tournament, between my base school and my visitation school.  It was really interesting.  I didn't even know there was team shiai (sparring) until I saw it!
  • My Naginata club has been bringing up lots of competitions to me.  I'm interested in participating, but my partner isn't ready for it yet.  It's kind of frustrating that competing in engi requires a partner.
  • Someone who studies Naginata in Northern California contacted me, which is nice because that's where I'm planning to move when I leave Japan (probably in about a year).
  • Although I would like to practice Naginata as often as I have the opportunity to do so (usually 4-5 times a week), the reality is that I can manage three times a week before I start feeling burnt out.

[1] かしなぎ in hiragana.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Homemade Naginata Case (and how I made it)

(click to view larger)
After I bought my naginata, I wanted to get something to carry it in.  In Japan, people use naginata bags, which are basically flat pieces of fabric with some ties attached that you roll around the naginata.  However, I wanted something that would also get my naginata back to the U.S. in one piece when I leave Japan -- a rigid case.  In the Kendo World Naginata Forum[1] I read about someone using a fishing rod case, and elsewhere on the web I read about how to make your own inexpensive fishing rod case, so I put two and two together and made my own naginata case.

Although one can disassemble a wood-and-bamboo naginata to make it slightly shorter, I made the case large enough to accommodate a fully-assembled one because one day I might also have an entirely-wood naginata and I'd want to use the case for that too!  Since I only have one naginata, I'm not sure how many can fit into the case at the same time.  I think I'll have no problem fitting at least two, which is as many as I'm likely to ever carry around at a given time.

The rigid part of the case is made from PVC pipe.  It's really easy to cut; I used the saw on my Leatherman.  The pipe I have is labelled '75'; its inner diameter is about 3.25 inches to accommodate the curve of the ha (blade).  I put a plain (closed) end-cap on one end and on the other a sleeve connecting the pipe to a threaded end-cap (i.e. you can screw off the cap to open the case).  I cleaned the joining areas with nail polish remover and then used PVC cement to bond them together.  Voila!  A sturdy waterproof case.

Next I made it pretty and easy to carry by sewing a cover for the case.  I couldn't find the fabric that naginata bags are traditionally made from, so I opted for some pretty men's yukata fabric.[2]  I interfaced it with a heavier fabric in the center section to support the straps.  A sturdy stain-resistant fabric covers the ends.  I put a 1-foot-long zipper around the top that allows one to access the screw-off cap.

The most expensive part of the whole project were the straps, because I bought nice pre-made ones.  I could've made my own or torn some off an existing bag, but I don't have many tools or an old bag here in Japan.  When walking outside I like to carry the case on my back by slinging the shoulder strap diagonally across my body; once I get indoors I use the handle.


[1] Which is a great resource, by the way!
[2] Or at least that's what I think it is.  I opted for men's because the coloration is more subdued and I didn't want my case to stand out as any more different than it already is.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Naginata Terms in Hiragana

One of the things that has bothered me about Naginata information in English is that usually the romaji (English alphabetic interpretation of Japanese sounds) doesn't differentiate between the long and short vowels or include the glottal stops present in Japanese, plus romaji can't accurately convey the few sounds that don't exist in the English language.  I myself of guilty of this when writing this blog, because I am attempting to make it as accessible as possible to people who don't know Japanese.

A while ago I tried to order an English book about Naginata, but I actually accidentally ordered the Japanese version of it -- which I at first thought was a waste because I can't read much kanji (the thousands of Chinese-derived characters that standard Japanese uses).  But it has proven to be a blessing in disguise because I can look up the kanji words in the dictionary to get the correct, accurate pronunciation in hiragana (a much more simple syllabic script that is also used for some types of words in Japanese).

When I'm writing notes I use mostly English, except for hiragana or sometimes simple kanji for Japanese words.

Below is a list of some Naginata-related words in hiragana for those of you who know Japanese and want to pronounce them correctly (or if you don't know Japanese and still want to pronounce words correctly, here's a summary of hiragana). This isn't an exhaustive list, but it contains the words I have written in my notes or in this blog thus far or ones that I usually say in practice.

  • the name of the sport: あたらしいなぎなた
  • where you practice:  どうじょう
  • numbers 1-10: いち に さん し ご ろく しち はち きゅう じゅう
  • moving/positioning: みぎ ひだり まえ あと しょうめん
  • the naginata and parts of it: なぎなた きっさき は そり ものうち しのぎ せんだんまき え いしづき
  • uniform/armor:  ぎ けいこぎ おび はかま ぼうぐ
  • commands: もくそう れい はじめ やめ さいご
  • polite phrases: おねがいします ありがとうございます
  • how you sit:  せいざ
  • practice categories: きほん えんぎ しあい
  • かまえ (stances):  しぜんたい ちゅうだん げだん はっそう わきがまえ じょうだん
  • たいさばき (footwork): おくりあし あゆみあし ひらきあし ふみかえあし つぎあし
  • targets: しょうめん そくめん すね どう
  • きあい (cries): めん すね どう つき
  • ways to swing the naginata: ふりあげ  もちかえ ふりかえし
  • はっぽうぶり (practice swings): じょうげぶり ななめぶり よこぶり ふりかえし
  • doing うちかえし (partner exercise):  うち うけ
  • doing えんぎ (forms): しかけ おうじ いっぽんめ にほんめ さんほんめ[1] よんほんめ ごほんめ

[1] I don't understand why it's さんほんめ and not さんぼんめ, but it is.

Naginata Gi (Uniforms) and Sizing

The 1st-year students at my base school just got their Naginata gi (uniforms) yesterday (before that they just wore their regular gym uniforms). They were so excited! In honor of that I'll write about my gi.

When I went to my local martial arts store, a woman who works there just looked at me from a distance and proclaimed that my keiko-gi (top) should be a size 3 and my hakama (pants) should be a size 5. She didn't measure me or anything, so I just took her word for it because a) my Japanese isn't good enough to know how to ask her for measurements, and b) the store doesn't have a fitting room.

I think both are a bit too big. The keiko-gi is supposed to be longer than the side-slits of the hakama. Mine is, but it's also little baggy. The hakama were about 2.5 inches too long -- they're supposed to sit at the waist and fall to the ankle. Until recently I just wore the hakama higher up around my ribs, but I finally got around to hemming them to the proper length.

The obi (sash) goes around the waist over the keiko-gi and under the hakama. When I was at the store they didn't seem to know what I was talking about when I asked for an obi, so a member of my Naginata club was really nice and gave me an extra one that she had. A Naginata obi is 1 foot wide; it's folded lengthwise into thirds similar to how a letter is folded to make it 4 inches wide. I don't know if obi have sizes; you just want it to be long enough to wrap twice around your waist and then tie in a bow.

Every keiko-gi that I've seen in person is white (though I've seen some videos of people wearing black ones). Naginata hakama are always navy blue or black; almost all the ones I've seen in person are black (including mine). My obi is white, but the 1st-year students at my base school got black ones.

I wear a tank top and yoga shorts under my gi (and undergarments under them).  I don't know if those are the correct things to wear under a gi, but whenever I've worn them no one said I was doing anything wrong.  Once I wore a bra (without a tank top) under my gi and when I was changing another member of my Naginata club asked if I was cold, which is the Japanese way of telling others that they're not wearing an appropriate amount of clothing.

Here's a rough list of Naginata gi sizes, based on size charts I've found online adjusted to the length of my gi. Disclaimer: It seems like different manufacturers and different countries have different sizing systems, so use these only as a starting point and try things on if you can. Also allow for shrinkage if your gi contains cotton and you'll be putting it in the dryer or ironing it.

Keiko-gi are measured by the length from the shoulder to the hem.
  • size 1 is about 27.5 inches long (probably for someone 4'9" - 4'11" tall)
  • size 1.5 is about 29 inches long (probably for someone 4'11" - 5'1" tall)
  • size 2 is about 30.5 inches long (probably for someone 5'1" - 5'3" tall)
  • size 2.5 is about 32 inches long (probably for someone 5'3" - 5'5" tall)
  • size 3 is about 33.5 inches long (probably for someone 5'5" - 5'7" tall)
  • size 3.5 is about 35 inches long (probably for someone 5'7" - 5'9" tall)
  • size 4 is about 36.5 inches long (probably for someone 5'9" - 5'11" tall)
  • size 4.5 is about 38 inches long (probably for someone 5'11" - 6'1" tall)
  • size 5 is about 39.5 inches long (probably for someone 6'1" - 6'3" tall)
Hakama are measured by the length from the waist to the ankle.
  • size 1 (or size 22 in a different system) is about 29 inches long
  • size 2 (or size 23 in a different system) is about 31.5 inches long
  • size 3 (or size 24 in a different system) is about 34 inches long
  • size 4 (or size 25 in a different system) is about 36.5 inches long
  • size 5 (or size 26 in a different system) is about 39 inches long
  • size 6 (or size 27 in a different system) is about 41.5 inches long
  • size 7 (or size 28 in a different system) is about 44 inches long
  • size 8 (or size 29 in a different system) is about 46.5 inches long
  • size 9 (or size 30 in a different system) is about 49 inches long
Which means I should have gotten a size 2 keiko-gi and a size 4 hakama.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pronunciation and Other Difficulties

In Naginata, for a strike to be considered valid you have to kiai the name of the target just before you hit it. One of these is 'tsuki', which is cried whenever you stab a target (as opposed to slice it). However, 'tsu' is not a sound in the English language. It's pronounced like 'su' but with the tongue brushing downward against the back of the top teeth.

I can say 'tsu' if I concentrate, but in most everyday speech i tend to say 'su' instead. And even if I concentrate, I haven't yet been able to pronounce 'tsuki' correctly when yelling. I think because it's an unfamiliar sound I tense up a bit and don't use the lower part of my lungs when I kiai. Plus I'm still focusing on getting my form right; I'm too absorbed with my form to worry about getting my pronunciation right too. Thus I cry 'suki' instead of 'tsuki'.

A couple days ago I went to the school I practice the least often at -- actually, it was only the second time I've practiced there. A boy has joined the Naginata club, and I was put into a group with him and another girl to practice engi (forms). At one point he started laughing, and I'm pretty sure it was at my incorrect pronunciation of 'tsuki'. It's also the first time I've encountered someone who was less than helpful at any Naginata practice. But he is just a teenage boy, so despite being a little surprised at his lack of manners I'm not taking it personally.

I work at my visitation school[1] twice a week, but one of those days is when the club doesn't meet. Because of meetings and holidays, I haven't been able to attend a practice there for three weeks. In that time, the new students have gone from being quite far behind me in terms of knowledge to ahead of me. Or rather, our knowledge doesn't overlap. They still don't know some of the happoburi (practice swings) and engi that I know, but they now have bogu (armor) and are starting to use it. And I don't yet.

Due to my schedule, I can't practice as much as the students. I just got permission to practice by myself in my visitation school's dojo on the one day a week I work at that school that the club doesn't meet. It'll help my form to self-correct using mirrors (as far as my limited knowledge can tell if i'm doing something wrong), but it won't help with anything that requires a partner, including shiai (sparring).

I'm worried about being left behind. But I'll continue practicing with them as best I can.


[1] From now on, I'll call it my "visitation school" to differentiate it from my "base school", which is the one I practice at most often. I also teach at a third school, but they don't have a Naginata club. Also, when I refer to "my Naginata club" (as opposed to a school's club), I mean where I practice with adults at the prefectural gymnasium's dojo.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Naginata Wallpapers

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

What I've Learned So Far

- All the happoburi
- uchikaeshi, both uchi and uke
- ipponme to gohonme, both shikake and oji
And all the skills required to do those things.

I'm just very slow at them and sometimes I don't remember what comes next when I'm doing engi. And obviously my form isn't all that great yet and I make mistakes. It's difficult remembering all the little details at the same time! But it'll come with practice. :)

Carrying Naginata Gear

I commute by bicycle. I don't like carrying bags on me because they trap sweat underneath them (which is especially bothersome in Japan's humid climate). The front basket on my bicycle is large enough to carry a backpack, but I've found that it's not big enough to carry all the things that I normally bring with me to work and my Naginata gi (uniform).

Also at some point I'm probably going to be bringing bogu (armor) with me. Unfortunately I can't just keep it in the dojo like most people do because I'd probably be using it regularly in two different places. So I bought this rear basket. It expands to be bigger, and it's the biggest basket I could find online. I'm pretty sure bogu will fit into it. It's also convenient because it has handles like a shopping basket and can detach from the rear rack with the push of a button. It'll be really easy to carry things around!