By Baptiste Tavernier.
Originally published in Kendo World 6.4, June 2013
We already introduced in Kendo World the Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa teaching guidelines that were published at the beginning of 1941 by the Dai Nippon Butokukai in order to promote a unified form of naginata in schools. We saw that this initiative somehow failed because of the antagonism between the two major naginata ryūha: the Jikishin Kage-ryū and the Tendō-ryū. Exponents of the Tendō-ryū tradition considered the Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa to be a simplification of the Jikishin Kage-ryū style rather than a unification of different traditions, and thus refused to follow the new guidelines. As a result, the intended unification of naginata did not occur, and the situation in schools remained unchanged: children instructed by a Jikishin Kage-ryū instructor learned the Butokukai’s Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa, while classes with a Tendō-ryū instructor endeavored to practise the kata of that tradition. Schools where naginata classes were instructed by teachers from neither the Jikishin Kage-ryū nor the Tendō-ryū, sometimes the Butokukai’s guidelines were adopted, and sometimes rejected in favour of such as teaching materials as kata or techniques from other traditions, such as the Katori Shintō-ryū.
The Nihon Kokumin Naginatadō Kyōhon
In this rather confused state of affairs, an almost unknown but noteworthy initiative was that of Niino Kyūhei. He decided to ignore the Butokukai’s new guidelines and did not affiliate with an existing naginata ryūha, but rather devised his own methodology. He created exercises that would impart basic naginata moves and advanced techniques in order to develop in his students practical skills for shiai. He also conbined those different techniques into a new set of five kata entitled the Naginata Dantai Taiteki no Kata. He published Nihon Kokumin Naginatadō Kyōhon (The Japanese People’s Naginatadō Textbook) in November 1941, which served as naginata teaching material at the Ootsu Women’s High School in Shiga prefecture.
This book was in a way revolutionary. The Butokukai’s Naginatadō Kihon Dōsa did not constitute a modern system where a naginata would face another naginata, but promoted instead the old pattern of a naginata facing a sword, which is inconvenient as a school teaching material because the children had to become proficient in the use of two very different weapons in a short period of time. Certainly aware of this issue, Niino Kyūhei devised instead a naginata versus naginata method.
Dedication and foreword
The book starts with a dedication by Miwa Kikusaburō, Principal of Ootsu Women’s High School in Shiga prefecture:
Niino Kyūhei-sensei, naginata-jutsu Renshi and kendo R5-dan from the Dai Nippon Butokukai, is a long-known budo scholar. He recently wrote a textbook about kendo and contributed much to the pedagogy of this art. He also supports innovative opinions regarding naginata teaching methodologies. Niino Kyūhei-sensei remains sceptical regarding the sole repetition of old naginata forms or “kata”, and rather advocates that the students learn basic moves and continue further with shiai. He believes that the students’ interest in naginata will grow as they engage in mock fights, and that they should ultimately experience the quintessence of both spirit and technique.
Indeed, such farsightedness deserves our respect.
In order to discipline minds and bodies at our school, we decided to make naginatadō mandatory for our senior students. We are proud of the great results we obtained and will always be grateful to Niino Kyūhei-sensei’s enthusiastic and forceful guidance.
We should be delighted that naginatadō is now a compulsory subject in both elementary schools and high schools. The spirit of budo will spread, now that the youth have the opportunity to study all its techniques.
However, for that to become a reality, the lack of suitable teaching manuals was, until now, extremely regrettable. This is why our qualified sensei, after many years of research, wrote this book, the Nihon Kokumin Naginatadō Kyōhon. This textbook is easy to read and the main points are easy to grasp.
To conclude, I believe that this book will contribute in many ways to the disciplining of minds and bodies, and will meet the expectations of this craving world. This autumn, the whole country will be brewing with the exaltations of budo spirit and body-forging.
I sincerely recommend this book.
Miwa Kikusaburō, August 1941.
The dedication is followed by Niino Kyūhei’s words of introduction. In this, the author outlines the spirit of bushido and the ideal of yamato-damashi (Japanese soul), and introduces some aspects of naginata history. He explains his motivation for publishing his book in the last part of the introduction:
Recently, budo’s prosperity suddenly reached the extremes. Naginata-jutsu finally gets the opportunity to rise as a budo for girls and to spread as a very pertinent way to foster virtue in women, to nurture the spirit, and to discipline the mind and body. This is especially true since naginata is instructed in girl’s schools. I also rejoice over the fact that naginata is now taught in elementary schools as well.
However, each ryūha has its own different and complicated style, its weapons and their peculiar usages. Some traditions also have some quite irrational ways of using the body. All this, from a pedagogical point of view, can become a great obstacle. As I mentioned earlier, modern naginatadō is a method created in order to discipline and nurture the mind and the body. It is not necessary anymore to instruct in schools the difficult kata of different old traditions. I believe that what is most important is to teach the spirit of naginatadō, along with a practical way of using the techniques.
Nowadays, as we live under the Kokka Shintaisei (national politic), it is imperative to devise a suitable naginata methodology expurgated of the aforementioned obstacles.
For about ten years, I studied naginata-jutsu. As I humbly wished to contribute to the development of naginata, I decided to introduce to the naginata instructors in girl’s schools, elementary schools and high schools, this very simple and practical method based upon the fruit of my research.
With regards to what is published in this book, the pedagogy is based on group-instruction for beginners, made of simple representative basic moves and the five series of the Dantai Taiteki no Kata. I believe this is an extremely adequate teaching material for schools. I do realise that due to my lack of competence and my poor writing, it cannot be faultless, but it is my hope that various wise instructors will perfect this method with their experience and research.
July 1941, The author.
The militaristic flavor of Niino’s method
Niino’s method was released one month before Japan entered the Pacific War. In 1941, a significant change was made in schools when “physical education” was officially renamed “physical discipline”. The militarisation of education in Japan was by then almost reaching its climax, and it is thus not surprising to find many militaristic elements in Niino’s pedagogy. “Discipline” being a keyword of the time, the guidelines naturally start by stressing its importance in a short paragraph entitled “The Meaning of Discipline”:
“Budo”, our National Spirit, is not about the mere practice of techniques, but is a way to discipline our mind and body, nurture our potential power, and at the same time remind us of the teachings of the five ethics: jin (benevolence), gi (justice), rei (courtesy), chi (wisdom) and shin (sincerity). With the spirit of bushido as a base, he who studies budo will grow his mind and body stronger and stronger, will accomplish his duty, will endure every hardship, and by conjugating the two ways of literacy and military, will become a splendid person who contributes to his nation.
This is followed by the “Four Instructions on Discipline”
* One who studies budo shall always demonstrate correct manners.
* The dojo is a place where one polishes mind and body. One shall always keep the dojo clean and shall devotedly discipline mind and body with a solemn attitude.
* One shall always keep training gear and garments clean.
* One shall handle with great care bōgu, tachi or naginata, as if they were one’s soul.
The above instructions on discipline concern budo in general. When it comes to budo for women, it is particularly crucial that the students show demeanour and etiquette with grace, and display the feminine virtues of old Japan.
The militarisation of the training routine described in the textbook is clear. For example, one will notice that every single move is made under commands given by the instructor. The class begins with:
“Migi he narae!—Naore!”
(line up, face to the right!—At ease!);
“Zenretsu nanpō mae he!—Gūsū nanpō mae he!” (Front row step forward!—Even numbers step forward!);
(the bowing sequence)
The instructor also gives commands for every posture, strike, and block, and even every move featured in the kata.
Niino also introduced the idea of training in formation, like a military unit. Girls had to go through a routine called uchikomi kiri-gaeshi, arranged in a quincunx in several rows. The term uchi (strike) that was used before in naginata training was also replaced by zangeki (slash). Uchikomi kiri-gaeshi consists of nine techniques performed one after the other, left and right:
Shomen cut from jōdan (left and right)
Men cut from hassō (left and right)
Sune cut from hassō (left and right)
Dō cut from waki (left and right)
kote cut from waki (left and right)
Tsuki with the ishizuki to the chest from waki (left)
Kote-shomen cuts from hassō (left)
Tsuki to the chest from chūdan (right)
Tsuki to the throat from gedan (right)
Tsuki with the ishizuki to the chest from waki (right)
Kote-shomen cuts from hassō (right)
Tsuki to the chest from chūdan (left)
Tsuki to the throat from gedan (left)
Uchikomi kiri-gaeshi in formation
Finally, Niino introduces the five kata of the Naginata Dantai Taiteki no Kata, which can be translated as “Naginata Kata in Formation Against the Enemy”. Each series features very easy, but in fact very practical techniques, which have to be performed in formation as well. Pictures in the original textbook show three pairs of girls moving at the same pace, like a unit.
In ippon-me, shikata dodges a thrust made in the jūken-jutsu style (bayonet technique) and ripostes with a sune cut. The next series is based on the same pattern, shikata dodges a thrust made to the throat, but strikes back with a men cut. In sanbon-me, shikata blocks a direct sune cut, then evades to the side and ripostes with a men cut. Yonhon-me is the opposite of the previous series, with a men block followed by a sune cut. Finally, in gohon-me, shikata dodges a very big men cut from jōdan and and ripostes with a mowing dō cut.
It is hard to ascertain the impact that Nihon Kokumin Naginatadō Kyōhon had on the naginata world during the war. This method focused on naginata versus naginata training and was made of basic strikes that could be used in shiai and easily conbined in kata. Although it was clearly a long-awaited evolution in term of pedagogy, it seems that its influence did not get past the scope of Shiga prefecture. Niino Kyūhei’s textbook is still unknown to most naginata practitioners and instructors in Japan and around the world. Nevertheless, it is worth studying, as it stands as a precursor of Sakakida Yaeko’s research that would later be instrumental in the establishment of modern naginata, based on the Shikake-ōji and shiai. Interestingly (although it is not possible to tell for sure if Sakakida’s work was influenced by Niino Kyūhei), series 1, 3, 4 & 5 of the Naginata Dantai Taiteki no Kata look familiar, as one can find some of their technical elements in the Shikake-ōji and the kata that are currently taught in naginata.
In the next installments we will provide a translation of the Naginata Dantai Tai Teki no Kata guidelines as they appear in the Nihon Kokumin Naginatadō Kyōhon.