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

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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!

Buying Naginata Gear

At the various places I practice Naginata, there are naginata that I can use already there. Which is good, because I don't think I could carry one on my bicycle! One of the members of my club gave me her daughter's old uniform to wear, but the hakama (pants) were too short.

Then a friend took me to a local martial arts supply store. There I bought my own uniform, and they machine-embroidered my last name on my hakama (in katakana) for free!

I went back to the store last week to finally buy my own naginata. For a while I was reluctant to buy one because I didn't want to transport it back to America when I move away from Japan. But after reading online, it sounds like it's difficult to find Naginata gear in America. Most people order gear from Japan and have it shipped to America. So I figured if I'd have to transport it anyway, I may as well get one sooner rather than later.

I'm planning to keep it at home so I can practice occasionally on my own outside. The asphalt of the parking lot won't be great for footwork, but I can practice the rest. I especially want to practice furikaeshi[1], though I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.


[1] Ignore the woman's grunting; I've never heard anyone do that!

Practicing Naginata at School

In Japan, the new school year starts in April. And the new students also join clubs then. Since two of the schools I teach at have Naginata clubs, I recently started practicing with the new students at those schools three times a week, unless I have a meeting or there's a change in the school schedule due to holidays, etc. I practice as long as the new students do, which is 2-3 hours each evening. So far the new students are only learning kihon (basics) and engi (forms). The older students wear bogu (armor) and shiai (spar).

I'm lucky because Saga is exceptionally strong in Naginata. One of my schools won the All-Japan High School Naginata Competition last year, and the coach at the other school is the Naginata World Champion!

How I Remember What I've Learned

I remember things by writing them down and reading them later. I take notes during breaks or just after Naginata practice. Later I type them up into a reference document and I read my books to make sure I didn't make any mistakes in my notes or forget to add any details. I read my reference document once in a while and bring it to practice with me.

And of course, repetition in practice helps a lot too.

Books about Naginata

It's difficult to find books in English about Naginata. I couldn't find any for quite a while, until I stumbled across an online copy of Illustrated Naginata. At times it's not very clear, but it's certainly a lot better than nothing!

I also have a hardcopy of Naginata: the definitive guide, which is much better. It took me a long time to find a copy because it is out of print. It is still available on the website above -- which I didn't use because they don't seem to ship affordably within Japan. I ended up finding a copy on but in the regular section (not in the English books section). It was mailed to me from Singapore.

Learning Naginata in Japanese

My Japanese is not very good, but sufficient to manage everyday life with only occasional help from my friends. When I learn Naginata, people speak to me in Japanese with an English word thrown in once in a while. I mostly learn by mimicking others and then watching what they do when they point out that I've made a mistake. Sometimes they have to move my hand or arm into the correct place. Despite not being good at Japanese, I don't feel like I have any problems trying to understand what I'm being taught. Though I think it'll be more difficult when I start learning shiai (sparring).

My Naginata Club

My Naginata club meets at various times, anywhere between once a week to once a month. The club only practices kihon (basics) and engi (forms); there's no shiai (sparring). The club is almost all women, except for one man. (I have since started practicing with two other groups, and the other groups are all girls.) The oldest members are in their 80s. I sure hope I'm as active and as in as good shape as they are when I'm that age! They're really inspiring.

What I Like About Learning Naginata

One of the first things I liked about learning Naginata is the feel of it in my hands -- I'm a very tactile person. Moving the naginata[1] around feels natural and intuitive to me in a way that almost no other sports do. Also every time I practice I learn something. And like most exercise, Naginata makes me focus on how my body works and makes me feel stronger.


[1] From now on, I'm going to refer to the martial art as 'Naginata' and the weapon as 'naginata'.

How I Started Studying Naginata

I sent an email to someone at my prefecture's international relations association asking her if she could find someplace where I could study Naginata. She was able to find a club that meets at the prefectural gymnasium's dojo. I started practicing with them last November.

My Sports / Martial Arts Background

Growing up, I was a swimmer. I didn't do any other sports, so I don't think my senses of aim, balance, etc. are all that good. I'm active every day (I commute by bicycle). My endurance is good but I'm not good at high intensity exercise. I've always been rather flexible, and I'm fairly strong for my size (I guess at this point I should point out that I'm 5'2"). Several years ago I studied Wing Chun Kung Fu for almost a year before new commitments precluded my continuing study.

How I Became Interested in Naginata

I work at a few high schools in Saga, Japan. One of my schools had a Cultural Festival in November 2010. The school's Naginata Club performed Rhythm Naginata at the festival. It was my first time seeing Naginata, and I thought it was very interesting. I then watched one of their practices, which involved practicing Atarashi[1] Naginata forms and sparring. I was impressed with how graceful, strong, and bold the students were. I'd like to be that graceful and bold.


[1] 'Atarashi' literally means 'new'. Atarashi Naginata is the modern sport version of Naginata, as opposed to the older, now rarely practiced combative martial art forms.