By Baptiste Tavernier
Originally published in Kendo World 6.3, 2012.
In 1941 the Dai Nippon Butokukai published a set of generic kata and teaching guidelines entitled Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa, for the purpose of promoting a unified form of naginata in schools, as it had already been the case with kendo in 1906 (Dai-Nippon Butokukai Seitei Kenjutsu Kata – for more information refer to Kendo World 5.2, pp. 29-38).
Naginata was admited in girls schools since 1913 as an extracurricular activity and was furthemore elevated to an elective subject from 1937. However, naginata instruction in schools had always consisted in the study of ryūha techniques, mainly from the Tendō-ryū and the Jikishin Kage-ryū traditions (also rarely from a few more ‘minor’ ryūha such as the Kyōshin-ryū or the Bukō-ryū). Thus, and contrary to kendo which had a somehow unified curriculum since the Taishō period, naginata instruction was totally different from one school to the other, depending on which ryūha was traditionally taught in the area. That was indeed a barrier to naginata dissemination nationwide, and therefore the Butokukai decided to address the matter.
The now infamous Shin Budō (“New Budo”), a militarist and nationalist magazine published during the war, rejoices in its 1941/05 issue (cf. p. 68):
“Naginata moves and styles vary from one tradition to the other and as a result, this was a cause of worries for the promotion of naginata in schools. There has been for a long time a hope for a unified style; at last, the Butokukai has just created the Naginata Kihon Dōsa. This long pending problem has finally been solved. This should be congratulated.”
The Dai-Nippon Butokukai Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa Guidelines provide a unified form of reihō (etiquette), kamae, footwork, zangeki (cuts) and a set of 5 kata that would be later known as “Butokukai Seitei Kata”. The original textbook does not feature any illustrations. However, the guidelines have been fortunately quoted or republished several times during the war in a fistful of manuals that contain pictures or drawings of the kata.
Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa starts with a short foreword and a general introduction:
“The Dai-Nippon Butokukai recognises the value of naginata-jutsu as a form of budo for girls. We opened a naginata-jutsu training course at our Head Quarters and we have been trying to promote the art since. We soon came to realise the necessity of raising good instructors and thus founded the Naginata-jutsu Kyōin Yōsei-jo (Naginata-jutsu Instructor Training Center) in June 1934. Now, we have more than a hundred graduates. […] We are truly joyful to see how naginata-jutsu has become very important as teaching material for physical discipline classes in National People’s Schools. […] Since ancient times, naginata-jutsu was studied in various ryūha which featured different kinds of naginata, ways of handling them, and etiquette. It is has thus very difficult to adapt naginata-jutsu into a teaching material for schools.”
A research committee was appointed by the Butokukai to work on the inception of a unified form of naginata. Members of the committee were:
– Kendo Hanshi: Ogawa Kinnosuke and Sonobe Masatoshi.
– Naginata-jutsu Hanshi: Sonobe Hideo, Mitamura Chiyo and Yoshimura Seki.
– Kendo Kyōshi: Mitamura Kunihiko.
– Naginatajutsu Kyōshi: Sonobe Shigehachi, Nishigeki Kin, Sonobe Asano, and Moriya Kuno.
– Seven Butokukai officials and directors were also members of the committee, among them: Mori Hisashi, principal of the Budō Semmon Gakkō, and Konishi Shin’emon, kendo Kyōshi. The following quoted text outlines the process involved in researching new forms of naginata-jutsu for girls’ education.
“Committee members are authorities from both the Tendō-ryū and the Jikishin Kage-ryū traditions. The Dai-Nippon Butokukai nevertheless asked each of its regional branches if they knew any naginata ryūha with ancient and honourable lineage; research revealed, among others:
– The Suzuka-ryū and the Anasawa-ryū in Miyagi.
– The Jōzan-ryū in Fukushima.
– The Shinkage Hikita-ryū in Tottori.
– The Ōishi Shinkage-ryū in Yamaguchi.
– The Higo-koryū in Kumamoto.
However, as these traditions have a small number of adherents, Tendō-ryū and Jikishin Kage-ryū were both confirmed as the main ryūha in naginata-jutsu. This is why their representatives were appointed as committee members.
The first research committee meeting was convened on February 27, 1940. Sonobe Masatoshi Hanshi who expressed his deep enthusiasm regarding the committee, regrettably succumbed to an illness a few days before the meeting. A second meeting was held on May 8, a third on September 12, a fourth on October 5-6, and the final one on December 23, 1940. After careful deliberation, we agreed on the guidelines and submitted the final draft to the Budō Kōsa Iinkai [Budo Examination Committee]. The guidelines were adopted at the General Meeting on January 21, 1941.”
The “Dai-Nippon Butokukai Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa” received with lukewarm enthusiasm. Shortly after the inception and the publication of the guidelines, Mitamura Chiyo, head of the Tendō-ryū tradition, declared that the kata were unrealistic, and she subsequently resigned from her position as Butokukai instructor in May 1941. In the aforementioned Shin Budō lampoon (idem, p. 68), there incident was depicted as follows:
“There are rumours of some dissatisfaction in some ryūha regarding the creation of this unified form of naginata. This is unbelievable! With today’s situation, when it comes to budo development each ryūha cannot be stubborn about its own principles. Apparently, some people say that one year of discussion and examination was not enough to expound their theories, and that they are not happy with the conclusions… Nothing in budo can be deemed unsuitable. The dissemination of this kind of exaggerated rumour may cause distrust towards the budo world. It comes from overemphasised legends about ryūha antagonism and factional disputes. To what extent this kind of gossip can hurt and warp the world of budo? No one can know. People who convey such rumours should endeavour to grasp the whole situation and think first about the good of the budo world.”
A closer look at the kata will help the reader decide whether or not they were unrealistic; but we can assume in any case that Mitamura Chiyo was displeased not only with the kata, but with the fact that most of the techniques were incorporated from the Jikishin Kage-ryū tradition. The five kamae follow the Jikishin Kage-ryū style; there is a strong emphasis on furiage-waza, and above all on kuruma-gaeshi waza, which are “trademark” techniques of this tradition. The only technique in the kata that can be identified as a peculiar to Tendō-ryū waza would be the first move in nihon-me, close to the harai-otoshi that can be found in the kata named “Tani-tobi“.
As a result, the intended unification did not happen and the situation in schools remained unchanged: classes instructed by a Jikishin Kage-ryū instructors were based on the Butokukai’s Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa, and schools with a Tendō-ryū instructor continued practicing the kata of that tradition. Schools where naginata classes were instructed by teachers from neither the Jikishin Kage-ryū nor the Tendō-ryū sometimes adopted the Butokukai’s guidelines, and sometimes rejected them choosing instead kata or techniques from other traditions, such as the Katori Shintō-ryū.
The Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa failed to achieve its purpose because it was seen as a simplification of the Jikishin Kage-ryū more than a unification of different traditions. A few naginata manuals for schools were published by Tendō-ryū exponents during the war (Gakkō Naginata-dō no Shiori and Gakkō Naginata-dō Shūtoku no Shiori – reprinted in Kindai Naginata Meicho Senshu 6); they do not mention the Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa and focus on the Tendō-ryū’s standard curriculum. They also surprisingly introduce the “Dai-Nippon Butokukai Shin Seitei Kata” (“Butokukai New Kata”) which is a modified version of the previously devised kata: it follows the exact same sequence but has the Jikishin Kage-ryū peculiar components expurgated (mainly, kuruma-gaeshi strikes are replaced with strikes from hassō). On the contrary, the Jikishin Kage-ryū adherents have preserved the kata of the Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa, and continued to provide instruction for many years after the war, as one can see in a 1981 book entitled Zukai Kōchi Naginata.
The Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa was also a failure in the sense that it did not constitute a modern system where a naginata would face another naginata. Instead, it still promoted the old pattern of a naginata facing a sword, which is inconvenient as a school teaching material because the children have to become “proficient” in the use of two very different weapons in a short period of time. Naginata versus naginata methods were to be devised later on by Niino Kyūhei (Nihon Kokumin Naginata-dō Kyōhon) and subsequently by Sakakida Yaeko who created a set of techniques that would be later known as the Shikake-ōji and are practised widely today.
Overview of the Guidelines
“The purpose of this method is to make the basics of naginata-jutsu and the kata easy to learn, to forge the body and the mind, to cultivate the spirit of budo and to foster womanly virtues.
One shall train with unified mind and body, revere etiquette, embody a sense of honour and cultivate a serene yet resolute character.”
The naginata described in the Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa is shorter than the ones used by practitioners of the Jikishin Kage-ryū or Tendō-ryū, evidently because they were to be wielded by children. The guidelines indicate:
“The length of the shaft shall be chosen freely, as long as the total length of the weapon is comprised between 165cm and 180cm.”
The guidelines are then divided in 4 parts: kihon-dōsa, oyō-dōsa, kata, and notes for instructors.
3. Kihon-dōsa (Basic movements)
a) Lining up (the heads are facing sideways; on command, heads face forward).
b) Taking positions.
˚Saikei-rei (deep bow).
˚Kei-rei (standard bow: 30°).
˚Orishiki (crouching bow).
˚Chūdan (kissaki is pointing towards the opponent’s right eye).
˚Jōdan (kissaki is not on the centreline, but out to
˚Waki (the ishizuki is higher than the kissaki, and the blade faces diagonally upwards).
˚Suri-ashi mae / ato.
˚Hiraki-ashi migi / hidari.
Note: there is no mention of ayumi-ashi.
f) Cuts (the term zangeki “cut” is used instead of uchi “strike”)
˚Kuruma-gaeshi ue cuts (this does not exist in modern naginata anymore. It is based on the Jikishin Kage-ryū waza called mizu-guruma, a kind of inverted furikaeshi.
˚Kuruma-gaeshi shita cuts (furikaeshi in modern naginata).
˚Tsuki (tsuki from chūdan and furikomi-tsuki).
Targets and the cuts that one can use to strike at them:
˚Shōmen –> furiage ; kuruma-gaeshi shita.
˚Sayūmen –> furiage ; kuruma-gaeshi ue.
˚Sune –> furiage ; kuruma-gaeshi ue.
˚Dō –> furiage ; kuruma-gaeshi ue.
˚Kote –> furiage ; kuruma-gaeshi ue ; kuruma-gaeshi shita.
˚Inkō tsuki (thrust to the throat) ; shinka tsuki (thrust to the solar plexus).
This section describes each cut in more detail, with different rhythms (i.e. each cut can be made in one move, two moves, etc.)
4. Oyō-Dōsa (Applied movements)
This section does not give any information on the content of each exercise, only the names.
As mentioned in the introduction, the original textbook published by the Butokukai does not feature any illustrations. Fortunately, the guidelines were republished in July 1941 in the book Kokumin Gakkō Naginata-dō Kyōzai Kaisetsu. Each kata is supplemented with one picture in which represents each step of the sequence. Those pictures are virtually illegible, and we decided not to include them in this article.
In Sonobe Shigehachi’s Naginata Yōgi, published in 1944, the Butokukai Seitei Kata is supplemented with 24 pictures that illustrate each sequence step by step. However again, the poor quality of the pictures combined with the poor condition of the damaged copy in our possession prevented us for using them in this article. Fortunately, the book Zukai Kōchi Naginata, published in 1981, features a new set of 24 illustrations in the exact same positions that were represented in the 1944 book. We thus chose those pictures to illustrate the “Butokukai Seitei Kata” in this article.
Butokukai Seitei Kata: Ippon-me.
Illustration from Kokumin Gakkō Naginatadō Kyōzai Kaisetsu
The kata guidelines start with an introduction explaining that the tachi should be handled the same as in the “Kendō Kihon“ and the “Teikoku Kendō Kata” (known nowadays as the Nippon Kendo Kata). There is then an explanation about the different bows, especially the orishiki or “crouching bow” for the tachi (which is different from the usual sonkyō); followed by an explanation about the reihō that one must demonstrate between each kata and at the end of the whole set.
6. Notes for Instructors
– In every situation, always impart reihō to the students.
– Repeat ceaselessly the exercises. Build the students’ mental strength.
– Make the students strike at the void before striking at the dummy.
– Always do warm up exercises.
– Make sure that the students understand the principles behind the kata.
– Make the students repeat the kata alone, then with a partner.
– Make the students recite the written works of the Emperor. Make the students sing the Budo Anthem.
– Balance your classes with both practical training and lectures.
– Follow and respect the sequences prescribed in these guidelines.
˚An., “Gakkō Naginatadō no Shiori”, in Kindai Naginata Meicho Senshu 6, Tokyo, Hon no Yusha, 2004.
˚An., “Gakkō Naginatadō Shūtoku no Shiori”, in Kindai Naginata Meicho Senshu 6, Tokyo, Hon no Yusha, 2004.
˚Bennett Alexander, Naginata: The definitive guide, Auckland, Kendo World Publication, 2005.
˚Dai Nippon Butokukai, Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa, Kyoto, Maruyama Kigen, 1941.
˚Nakamura Tamio, “Kindai Naginata Shōshi”, in Kindai Naginata Meicho Senshu 8, Tokyo, Hon no Yusha, 2004.
˚Niino Kyūhei, Nihon Kokumin Naginatadō Kyōhon, Kyoto, Shinnō-sha, 1941.
˚Shin Budō, issue 05-1941.
˚Shūtokukan Kenkyūbu, Kokumin Gakkō Naginatadō Kyōzai Kaisetsu, Tokyo, Shūtokukan Kenkyūbu, 1941.
˚Sonobe Shigehachi, Jōshi Budō Naginata no Tsukaikata, Tokyo, Tōyō Tosho, 1942.
˚Sonobe Shigehachi, Kokumin Gakkō Naginata Seigi, Tokyo, Tōyō Tosho, 1941.
˚Sonobe Shigehachi, Naginata Yōgi, Tokyo, Hōbunkan, 1944.
˚Sonobe Shigehachi, Zukai Kōchi Naginata, Tokyo, Sebidō Shuppan, 1981.
˚Sugino Yoshio, Naginata Kyōiku no Riron to Jissai, Tokyo, Kanda Shobō, 1942.