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  • Shin-atarashi naginata?

    Since I was contributing to some heavy thread drift in the Scotland thread, I thought that I would start a new one here to share some thoughts.

    David asked me:
    You sounds afraid of the evolution of the naginata, and I do understand what you mean. In a way, it would be good that, at least in the book of Alex, we get an history of the movement... Where does it come from, why do we do naname buri shitakara ?
    On the other hand, it also gives you a proof that this martial art is living and evolving. I am not saying that everything has to change, but accepting some change can sometime be more difficult but if we try to understand them maybe we will evolve with our naginata.
    I've read Alex's book and found it to be fairly informative. Naginata may be evolving, but evolution is not synonymous with progress. Sometimes evolution can be maladaptive and lead to extinction. Evolution also has to be able to meet and overcome challenges. So I think that it is perfectly acceptable to challenge the changes that are happening in naginata these days. What makes naginata different from jogging or aerobics? To me it is the fact that it is Budo, and presents us with difficult challenges to overcome and force us to grow. When we "dumb it down" or make it easier to learn (or more pointedly, lower standards so that less qualified people can teach) then we lose what makes it unique and valuable. The older movements are constructed not only to challenge us physically, but psychologically as well. Doing kata "by the numbers" as awase-geiko is a perversion of those principles. In my opinion, we should approach shikake-Oji with the spirit of shinken-shobu. We should practice Happo-buri as true kihon, not as seperate abstract "swinging the naginata" exercise.

    Please do not mistake my statements as representing a closed mind. But I am unconvinced that the changes we are seeing have any value. Somebody please convince me.

  • #2
    First of all, it can be as hard to learn jogging as to learn naginata depends how deep you involve your heart into it. Naginata means more to us, so we decide to follow this way...but I believe nobody practice in the same way, everybody feels the movement a little differently. We are all following the same scheme like in joge buri, but as Mrs Tanaka have a very interesting way to describe this movement, it can be very hard for someone else to feel what she describes... another teacher will describe the same joge buri and focus on another particular point, and this is why I believe it is interesting to listen to several point of vue and slowly find your own. Of course this is a life time work, it's never finish, you should always evolve and listen to everybody's point of vue, improve your technique with it. And, with the experience you'll get, you should be more critical, a say yes this advice sounds good, or no this advice does sound good. Even if you are not use to do the exercise in such a way, try it, try to understand why. Don't forget about the old way, always keep try new ways. I have a teacher in my dojo who is learning us very interesting movement, that he's getting from tai chi, and it's really helpful to open your mind. I believe the problem with some of us in naginata, is that we close our mind to some techniques. Of course we need to learn the basics, but beside, we should try to open our mind to all the spatial possibilities of the naginata'strike.

    Comment


    • #3
      Hello Bruce,
      We are arguing on all fronts it seems
      Originally posted by Bruce Mitchell
      When we "dumb it down" or make it easier to learn (or more pointedly, lower standards so that less qualified people can teach) then we lose what makes it unique and valuable. The older movements are constructed not only to challenge us physically, but psychologically as well. Doing kata "by the numbers" as awase-geiko is a perversion of those principles. In my opinion, we should approach shikake-Oji with the spirit of shinken-shobu.
      I have been touching this before and after reading (Sweden's only copy of) Alex's book I am futher convinced that "dumbing it down" was excactly what was done when modern naginata was created during the 40's. Shikake-Oji is kata by numbers and they have little to teach except good kihon. I fail to see benefit of adding an "aura" to them that does not exist (and never did) if we compare them with koryu kata. Kihon, maai and hopefully some zanshin is a good start but nothing more as I see it.

      Comment


      • #4
        Guys,

        This is a really interesting debate, may I add in my youthful Naginata development but wider budo experience, this applies to all budo.

        However, I think Jakob & David make an interesting point in any development of a budo that is not yet widely spread & is on a steep learning curve.

        "Dumbing down" is I think a very harsh use of terms, for learning and teaching any budo. But for Naginata especially we in Europe are starting from a "low base".

        As a teacher for many years in other budo, I think attempting to bring any students too much mystic or budo feelings (you know something as simple as seme, kigurai,, zanshin, shisei, nobiai etc etc) you overwhelm the student.

        Sure shikake-oji is kata, learning the movements, which can be learnt quite quickly. BUT only after few years do individuals probably start putting or really feeling or understanding the wider movement, how, whys etc etc.

        I have seen some (western) teachers attempted to dive too deep, when the mind of the student is clearly not ready (not in naginata I hasten to add)

        Far from "dumbing down" - the level of teaching is always to ones best ability - but I think it is good news, just to get the students up to a technical level of proficiency, then teachers like Japanese or senior graded can perhaps bring and demonstrate the deeper points that you talk about Bruce.

        Of course its shallow perception that its all just waving things in the air, naginata, sword, stick - whatever, anyone in Budo knows it goes far deeper than this, but my understanding from my Japanese sensei has said, without a hint of disrespect, students really only start to embrace all the concepts of a kata (even simple number 1, of any style) from about san-dan onwards. Until then the "mind is like a child" - its muscle memory, copying and hopefully thinking for themselves.

        All budo evolves, because of the changing stages of youth, and life experiences they bring. Naginata in particular is going through what I believe other budo went through 30-50yrs ago, how do we impart this budo to youth (not only Japanese youth) but importantly for ourselves, Westerners ?

        Agree with Jakob, its a good start to get movement right, perhaps some comprehension of maai & zanshin - in fact a round of applause to get them doing all the shikake, good kihon, before attempting to move them into bogu.

        David's experience betrays he is much further up the naginata comprehension "road". Its also a fabulous insight - but too early to begin trying to develop or convey to what is still a relatively "youthful" student audience in Europe.

        Helen Nagano sensei, takes the "junior" class at most INF seminar I notice, and far from teaching "by numbers" - I think its is a success, method wise, for such a large number, or indeed even small number. She makes it easy to learn, what's wrong with that ? She points out sublties but never overloads students.

        If you want Naginata to grow, you have to respect the teacher is going to be lower graded in Naginata (in Europe) until it develops. 5-7 dan in Kendo is now the norm in Europe. Less than 25 years ago, the level was 2-3 dan.

        Bricks may be boring, square and not much, but the rest of building sits on top.

        The concepts you speak about, even my Japanese sensei (& others I am privileged to meet) are still getting to grips with, let alone convey that very personal feeling (David too speaks about). How do you witness zanshin ? kigurai ? You just do, how do you teach that ? You don't - you develop it.

        Comment


        • #5
          I dont practice Atarashii-Naginata. Ive seen it done, and Ive fenced against it maybe 1 or 2 times. I have, however, had a couple of interesting conversations with people who study koryu Naginata (and who also had dan grades in Atarashii-Naginata) about this very topic, so have some interest in it. I have only an academic interest in this, so dont go stabbing me in the sune!

          Basically, Atarashii Naginata is a completely constructed art. Trying to rationalise the movements in the style as those that you would do with a real naginata is.... problematic to say the least.

          Never mind me, let me point you to an essay by someone who is more than qualified. You probably have read it before though: Ellis Amdur 'Women Warriors of Japan' (look in particular at part 5):

          http://www.koryu.com/library/wwj1.html

          Some quotes regarding the formulation of Atarashii Naginata:

          [the kata were] 'made for the express purpose of training school children'

          'According to some of its leading instructors, particularly those of this generation, the kata were created by taking "the best techniques from many naginata ryu." Perhaps some may feel that I am stating this a little too strongly, but this is an absurd idea'

          'Sakakida [tendo-tyu] herself only states that she observed the old ryu and tried to absorb their essence. Then, forgetting their movements entirely, she devised the new kata.'

          'The atarashii naginata competitions are an imitation of those of kendo. Sadly, the matches often resemble a game of tag with the shinai. It is striking to see how few of the kata movements are utilized by the practitioners. The kata movements, thus, are not relevant to the other wing of the system.'

          ..............................

          The reason I mention this is not to antagonise people who study Atarashii Naginata, but in response to Bruces line of questioning..... basically, Atarashii Naginata was - from the outset - heavily devolved from the koryu it supposedly inherited.... so with further evolution on the horizon (of which I am not familiar with because I am not a practitioner) the rationale is... what? To make Atarashii Naginata easier and to increase membership? By what people have written here, and what ive read and discussed, it certainly isnt to promote how to use an actual Naginata.

          ..............................

          A lot of kendo people have some of the same issues. But kendo isnt as devolved as Atarashii Naginata. Sure, its changed, but kendo slowly (then quickly!) evolved into its present form. Atarashii Naginata did so at a much more rapid rate (right?). Also, kendo seems a lot more solid renmei wise, and has a large following now, both here (in Japan), and abroad. Some kendo practitioners with an interest in the mechanics in the actual sword will study iai, or actual kenjutsu itself, or both (like yours truly).

          If you are interested in the whys-and-wherefores of actual Naginata movements, maybe its time to try and seek out the ever elusive koryu naginata practise?

          I dont know if I am actually contributing to this thread or not!!!

          Comment


          • #6
            Your dialogue is interesting G-Man.

            >>dont know if I am actually contributing to this thread or not!!!

            Are you bored, and I'm wondering how many people in Japan speak English with Sottish acents (tee hee)...no doubt you're having fun in Japan.

            Instead of just contributing to Naginata debate, take it up mate ! don't stand on the sidelines ;-)

            Comment


            • #7
              heh heh, thanks Rach.

              I am a little bit bored I must admit! I cracked my ribs at keiko and so havent been going to the dojo lately. I tried, but then I got the flu. I'm going to try tomorrow.

              The 'Scottish' accent thing is a moot point. Next time we meet, you can check my japanese ability yourself!!!

              As for taking up Naginata. I would love to try some koryu stuff, but I am too busy with kendo and my own sword-fun-and-games to take up anything else. Besides work, play, etc etc no time my fair lassie.

              Comment


              • #8
                Sorry folks, but I'm still not convinced. Most of you have missed my point entirely. Breaking something down to teach it to a beginner is different than changing the technique to make it easier. Of course it takes a long, long time for technique to develop, but if you change the technique it will never develop correctly. Yes a beginer, intermmediate, and advanced student will be working on different things, but they should all have the same goal.

                I have of course read Ellis Amdur's stuff. I respect him a lot, but he doesn't practice Atarashi naginata, so while his observations have value, they are not coming from a point of direct experience in Atarashi Naginata.

                While I cannmot speak for Helen Nakano Sensei, I have had the pleasure of training with her at US seminars for over ten years now, and have heard her talk many times about brining the correct spirit to your practice. She did an interview in Furyu a few years back and talked at length about this.

                A lot of kendo people have some of the same issues. But kendo isnt as devolved as Atarashii Naginata. Sure, its changed, but kendo slowly (then quickly!) evolved into its present form.
                I appreciate your joining the thread Mr. McCall, but I am wondering where you are getting this information? Not as devolved? I have heard several people who study both naginata and kendo argue the other way. I would argue that naginata has a more recent connection to it's koryu roots than kendo, as modern kendo is a wee bit older. Modern kendo has a many critics as atarashi naginata, and having recently read Dr. Bennet's "The Black Ships of Kendo" article, I would say that the challenges facing modern kendo are even greater that what is facing naginata at this point.

                Try to think about things this way, pretty much all of the older atarashi naginata teachers (many of them the devolpers of atarashi naginata) came from Koryu schools, and many of them still teach both. When you watch these teachers doing Atarashi naginata, their movements are much different from teachers who are twenty years younger. So shouldn't we all strive to reach the level of those older teachers? Of course it is terribly difficult, but that doesn't mean that we should change the art to make it more accesible or easier to teach.

                Shikake-Oji is kata by numbers and they have little to teach except good kihon. I fail to see benefit of adding an "aura" to them that does not exist (and never did) if we compare them with koryu kata
                Yes, there is a difference betwen koryu kata and shikake-oji, but I stand by what I said, we should approach shikake-oji with the feeling of shinken shobu (the same approach that we should have in shiai-geiko). It is not kata by the numbers, but a method to teach people how to properly use the naginata. It should also be a tool to develop the proper spirit. It is the difference between listening to a piece of classical music played by a student or by a master musician. One moves you and the other doesn't.

                we should try to open our mind to all the spatial possibilities of the naginata'strike.
                We have a saying her in California, that you should keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out. I think the fact that I am interested in debating this issue and trying to understand other points of view is being open minded.

                I would also like to clarify here that I am not trying to critize any one teaching naginata in Eurpope, the US, or Japan. What I am critical of is the technical changes that are being mandated from an organizational level. This includes changes to contents of testing, changes to how basics such as happo-buri are practiced and changes to the way shiai is conducted.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bruce Mitchell
                  We have a saying her in California, that you should keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out. I think the fact that I am interested in debating this issue and trying to understand other points of view is being open minded.

                  I would also like to clarify here that I am not trying to critize any one teaching naginata in Eurpope, the US, or Japan. What I am critical of is the technical changes that are being mandated from an organizational level. This includes changes to contents of testing, changes to how basics such as happo-buri are practiced and changes to the way shiai is conducted.
                  Hello Bruce Mitchell-san,

                  What is the meaning of the name? Shin atarashi means new new? I am not so familiar with naginata and have never had the opportunity to see it. I guess right now in the US there is a kendo boom at the moment. Especially down here in Southern California. Are there any dojos of naginata that you know in the LA area? I would be interested to visit and watch one. Thank you in advance.

                  Alex

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Bruce Mitchell
                    Yes, there is a difference betwen koryu kata and shikake-oji, but I stand by what I said, we should approach shikake-oji with the feeling of shinken shobu (the same approach that we should have in shiai-geiko). It is not kata by the numbers, but a method to teach people how to properly use the naginata. It should also be a tool to develop the proper spirit. It is the difference between listening to a piece of classical music played by a student or by a master musician. One moves you and the other doesn't.
                    There is the rub. As I see it, shikake-oji is not kata/classical music and will never become it even if you train for 50 years. They were not created by a samurai as a way to keep his students alive, but by a school organization who wanted a gymastic form that was easy to learn and especially easy to teach (and not linked to any other organization than the Mombusho). They might be a good introduction to koryu (or at least give you a reference) but nothing more as I see it.
                    I would also like to clarify here that I am not trying to critize any one teaching naginata in Eurpope, the US, or Japan. What I am critical of is the technical changes that are being mandated from an organizational level. This includes changes to contents of testing, changes to how basics such as happo-buri are practiced and changes to the way shiai is conducted.
                    I think we are a bit in the dark about these changes here in Europe. Could you tell us some more about this? What excactly are they changing and how does it make us drift away from proper budo?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      They might be a good introduction to koryu (or at least give you a reference) but nothing more as I see it.
                      Words fail me here Jakob. If you can't see the difference in spirit and intention between the older generations and the new then I really don't know what to tell you. And if you really believe that shikake-oji is just "kata by the numbers" then you will create that reality with your practice.
                      What excactly are they changing and how does it make us drift away from proper budo?
                      As I have written here before, testing standards have been lowered in the past three to four years (check your INF materials), happoburi has been changed slowly over time, and even shikake-oji is changing slightly. For example, I heard tell of some students who did not pass testing in Japan last year because they were doing things "the old way". Not only does this attitude devalue the "old ways" but it is in effect a criticism of older teachers who are continuing to teach naginata as it was taught to them. Eliminating techniques like ishizuki-tsuki, rather than looking to adopt safer equipment is a degradation of the art.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Ive spoken to people with vast experience in Koryu who have had held dan grades in Atarashii Naginata. I currently practise kendo and koryu (not Naginata) in Japan. But, as I stated, my interest is academic. I'll butt out and leave you to it.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Bruce Mitchell
                          Words fail me here Jakob. If you can't see the difference in spirit and intention between the older generations and the new then I really don't know what to tell you. And if you really believe that shikake-oji is just "kata by the numbers" then you will create that reality with your practice.
                          I never said there is no difference between skilled people doing shikake-oji and the unskilled ones - I am certainly most impressed by high ranking sensei when I get to see them in action. I am not impressed by the shikake-oji pattern though and I clearly fail to see the inner meaning of them. Suicidal charges against a chudan, strikes that does not (or perhaps not even were ment to) work in either RL or shiai, and all this done with a naginata that fail to come close to the sensivity of a kata naginata (or a real one, I imagine). Good kihon training, sure - but so can rythmical naginata be. I fail to see the reason to approach them with the same terms and intention as koryu kata.
                          As I have written here before, testing standards have been lowered in the past three to four years (check your INF materials),
                          I agree that removing bogu from the shodan test was very (,very) strange. But otherwise has the testing standards really lowered? Changing numer of forms and techniques does not necessarily mean that you are allowed to do them sloppier (or are you?)
                          happoburi has been changed slowly over time, and even shikake-oji is changing slightly.
                          How?
                          For example, I heard tell of some students who did not pass testing in Japan last year because they were doing things "the old way". Not only does this attitude devalue the "old ways" but it is in effect a criticism of older teachers who are continuing to teach naginata as it was taught to them.
                          I heard about the same thing at the last INF seminar. As it turned out the "old" things were supposed to be newer the the "new" things. But if you are correct, it is really a strange as naginata claims old tradions and history.

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