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.