By Baptiste Tavernier
Originally published in Kendo World 7.2, 2014.
In 1941, the Dai-Nippon Butokukai published a set of generic kata and teaching guidelines entitled Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa (see Kendo World issue 6.3) for the purpose of promoting a unified form of naginata to be taught in schools all around Japan. Naginata was adopted into the female physical education program in 1913 as an extracurricular activity, and then elevated to an elective subject from 1937. Until that time, naginata instruction in schools had always consisted of the study of ryūha techniques, mainly from the Tendō-ryū and the Jikishin Kage-ryū traditions, with no unified curriculum from one school or the other. Thus, the Butokukai’s initiative gave momentum to the modernisation of the naginata education that would continue on throughout the war.
However, the Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa failed to achieve its purpose because it was seen as a simplification of the Jikishin Kage-ryū, more than as a unification of different traditions, and above all else because it did not constitute a modern system in which a naginata exponent would face another naginata practitioner. Instead, it continued to promote the old pattern of a naginata facing a sword, which was inconvenient in a school curriculum because the students were required to become proficient in the use of two very different weapons in a short period of time.
A naginata versus naginata approach was to be devised the same year by Niino Kyūhei (Nihon Kokumin Naginata-dō Kyōhon — see Kendo World issue 6.4); his system consisted of basic strikes that could be used in shiai and easily combined in kata. In fact, he created a set of five patterns entitled “Naginata Dantai Taiteki no Kata” (“Naginata Kata in Formation Against the Enemy”), which resemble the forms currently practised in modern naginata. Although it was clearly a long-awaited evolution in terms of pedagogy, Niino Kyūhei’s influence did not successfully disseminate beyond the borders of Shiga prefecture where he taught.
The last step in naginata’s evolution during the war was finally made by Sakakida Yaeko, a Tendō-ryū exponent who was commissioned by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to create a new official naginata versus naginata system that would be used as a component of the tairenka (physical discipline) classes in Japan’s schools. This method consisted of basic techniques and a set of seventeen kata that would later become known as the “Monbushō Seitei Kata” (文部省制定形, hereinafter referred to as the “MSK”).
The MSK has since fallen into obscurity; today, nearly all practitioners are unaware of its existence. Nevertheless, because it served as a basis for the inception of modern naginata’s curriculum after the war, its relevance to the history and development of naginata should not be overlooked. A survey of the MSK may be conducted based on the guidelines that were officially released in 1944 by the MOE, and a report of a round-table discussion between Sakakida Yaeko and several officials from the MOE (“Naginata – Yōmoku no Seishin to Sono Shidō”, published in Gakuto Taiiku, 1944). The guidelines were published in a series of three bulletins (one for primary education, one for high school and one for normal school), which detailed the tairenka classes’ naginata curriculum for each grade. Those guidelines were produced in text only and did not feature any illustrations.
We recreated the seventeen patterns of the MSK based on what was described in the guidelines. Here, we must acknowledge that such a process cannot be deemed valid in most cases, because through text only the description of a kata may retain its sequences (for example: “strike to the head, then block, then final strike to the left shin”), but it inevitably fails to convey adequately many technical aspects (how should I strike the head, what is the direction of the blade when blocking, what is the whole body movement involved when striking the left shin?). Fortunately, however, regarding the MSK we know most of the technical syllabi upon which the kata were built:
— Sakakida Yaeko explained in the monthly magazine Kendo Nihon in 1982 that the shikake-ōji patterns practised currently in modern naginata were created based on the MSK. Indeed, both kata have similar moves and a few identical patterns. Modern naginata practitioners are therefore equipped with a base of knowledge of the MSK.
— Nevertheless, one can reasonably assume that some technical aspects may have changed when arranging the MSK in order to form the shikake-ōji. If one refers to the report of the round-table discussion between Sakakida and the Monbushō officials, one would see that several technical points have evolved from one kata to another. Dissimilarities and resemblances all appear in the report.
— Sakakida states in the report that whenever the naginata is moved, the whole body should move as well in unison; this fundamental concept has been preserved in shikake-ōji, and is well known by modern naginata exponents. Positions of the rear hand for each type of strike are also mentioned; they globally match those in shikake-ōji, with the exception of tsuki. The way of performing thrusts in the MSK is extremely peculiar, as it was copied exactly from the jūken-jutsu (bayonet) tsuki, with the rear hand reaching the solar plexus. This technique does not exist any longer in modern naginata.
Combining the knowledge we have of modern naginata, the indications that were left to us in the official guidelines and the round-table discussion, it is possible to recreate the MSK. There are nevertheless a few points that we cannot peremptorily ascertain. Firstly, there are scarce explanations on how to demonstrate zanshin, and only up to the fifth kata. Therefore, we decided in our reconstruction to adopt the modern way where ōji takes two steps back after the final attack, for every pattern. Secondly, there are no details of how to thrust with the ishizuki: should the thrust be done the same way it is performed in modern naginata or in the jūken-jutsu style? Thrusts with the ishizuki in the MSK are made to the lower abdomen, but attempts to perform the technique in the jūken-jutsu style have proven to be quite awkward. We therefore adopted the modern manner of execution for our reconstruction. Finally, there are no explanations regarding the ishizuki attacks to the head. However, as Sakakida Yaeko was a Tendō-ryū exponent, we can assume that those strikes in the MSK are done in the same basic manner as those particular to that ryūha.
The Monbushō Seitei Kata
The 1944 official guidelines for the tairenka naginata can be summarized as below:
1 — Kihon (basics)
The content of the guidelines’ kihon section is entirely consistent with the modern naginata curriculum. The only difference worth mentioning would be the kirikaeshi sequence, which then included two tsuki to the throat.
Reihō (tachi-rei; za-rei).
Kamae (rittō – now “shizentai”; hōtō – now “mugamae”; chūdan; hassō; waki; gedan; jōdan).
Cuts (single cuts, nidan waza, sandan waza and renzoku waza).
Kirikaeshi (tsuki, tsuki, sa-yū men and sa-yū sune).
2 — Ōyō (advanced techniques)
The ōyō section is divided in three parts:
• Three “harai then strike” exercises (harai-tsuki, harai-men, harai-sune).
• Three “degashira then strike” exercises (tsuki while the opponent is assuming hassō; men while the opponent is assuming waki; sune while the opponent is swinging up (furiage) their naginata).
• The 17 attack/defence patterns that would later be known as the Monbushō Seitei Kata, and that served as a basis for the creation of modern shikake-ōji.
At the time of the official release in 1944, the MOE organised a round-table discussion with Sakakida Yaeko and several officials in order to further explain some aspects of the guidelines. Present were Sakuma Keizō (MOE – Bureau of Physical Education), Hayashida Toshisada and Tanaka Yoshio (Commissioners, Ministry of Education), Sakakida Yaeko (MOE – PE study committee), Ueshima Shizuko (teacher at Sakai Municipal Women’s High School), Fujisaki Hiroyuki (Director, Tokyo Physical Education Department), and Ishibashi Fujino from the Tokyo Mukojima Western Public School.
The round-table starts with usual comments on Japanese history, martial arts and womanly virtues:
[…] We built our nation by means of the art of war. During the 3,000 years of Japan’s glorious history, our unshakeable people have been nurtured with the spirit of war. The spirit of militarism has become the flesh and blood of the people. […] “Budo” means putting into practice this spirit of militarism. The Way of the Empire combined with militarism gives life to our traditional budo[…] It is crucial that our female students, as daughters of the Empire, cultivate a healthy body and a daring spirit, train their manners and their preparedness. Through naginata, our traditional female budo, students will forge themselves, polish a frigid and dignified spirit and cultivate womanly virtues.
[…] However, nowadays, a naginata is a very rare weapon, and obviously nobody in the near future is going to fight battles using a real naginata. To put it simply, if we would have been thinking about a martial art that women could actually use, then we would rather have opted for bōjutsu, judo or tanken-jutsu… What made us choose naginata is the fact that naginata has been seen as the representative martial art for Japanese women.
[…] We are at war, and we need the strength of motherhood in order to exalt the fighting spirit and morale of our officers and soldiers at the forefront. Thanks to those naginata guidelines, women, as subjects of the nation, will be able to polish a virtuous strength. As daughters of the Empire, they must train in those guidelines and embody them in their daily life. As wives and daughters of the samurai, they shall raise their readiness.
The MOE also advocates here the separation between state education and ryūha. This is still the case nowadays.
[…] We have respect for all the ryūha, and it is important that we continue to hand down from now on and for ever the excellent spirit and techniques. However, […] those guidelines do not follow exclusively a particular ryūha, neither are they a compilation of techniques coming from each different ryūha. […] Our naginata is an original system that has been devised to fit our school education system. There is intention neither to unify the ryūha, nor to deny them. […] To put it simply, naginata education in school, from now on, will specifically follow those guidelines, and we will thus ask each ryūha to continue promoting their art outside the school system.
Naginata’s characteristics get standardised according to these numbers: for primary schools, the weapon shall be 6-shaku long (182cm), weight more than 750 grams and feature a blade of 42cm; from junior high school, 7-shaku (212cm), over 860 grams and with a 55cm blade. The guidelines promote outdoor training exclusively.
During the round-table discussion, Sakakida Yaeko gives detailed explanations of the technical aspects that form the basis of her new naginata system. As naginata practitioners will see, most of the technical syllabi she created still pertain to modern naginata:
I think that if one practises kihon well enough, she will have no problem when moving on to ōyō.
I strongly advocate to polish the basics first, especially furiage men. When women perform this technique, it is soft and strong at the same time. But just swinging up your weapon is not enough; tenouchi and the tai-no-hiraki (the body facing sideways at the end of the strike) are of the outmost importance here. It has nothing to do with muscular strength; it is really crucial to stress that women should not use their arms’ strength when they cut.
Women are frailer than men. But by building on this lack of muscular power, we can achieve tremendous things. Of course, men’s budo is also based on softness rather than brute force, but this aspect is the very essence of women’s budo and thus must be even more emphasised. These new guidelines insist, for each technique, on tenouchi, grip and tai-no-hiraki. Students must be aware of that. They will tend to disregard tai-no-hiraki, will cut with their body not facing completely sideways, and thus will not be able to use their strength to the fullest. In other words, the main objective of practising kihon is to be able to cut by using a full tai-no-hiraki. For example, when you perform a furiage men, you must do so facing the hips to the front, and only when you slash down should you be facing completely sideways again. This is tai-no-hiraki. At the very moment where you turn your hips (tai-no-hiraki ma-yoko), the energy of the blade is dramatically increased. You do not need to use brute force, rotating your hips gives you enough strength to perform each and every strike. Also, correct tenouchi will make your techniques strong. However, it is important to note that even if one endeavours to be extremely strict about her tai-no-hiraki, it is crucial that she first polishes her kamae. Kamae, or posture, allows you to keep a replete spirit (kihaku).
Next, let us examine the position of the back hand when slashing. When performing a sune cut, sayū men cuts or tsuki, the back hand should end up in front of the solar plexus. For a dō cut, the back hand is on the hip and for a cut to kote it should be on the hip as well but slightly forward to your centre line.
Women have a tendency for passivity; this is why I decided to emphasise tsuki in order to make them more aggressive. The tsuki in these guidelines must be performed with full vigour and full mind. The back hand reaches the solar plexus and the sori of the blade should rotate when penetrating. My point is that you should not thrust using your hands, but rather indeed the whole body. I was inspired by jūken-jutsu. Bayonet techniques use a leaping footwork called tobikomi, but I chose to use instead suriashi and fumikomi when thrusting with the naginata.
Now, let us talk about the ōyō part of the guidelines. Those patterns are quite practical, but it is important that the students should not deviate too far from what is taught. If one thinks that it is fine to focus on speed or softness, she would be making a big mistake. What is important here is to nullify the strength of your opponent then draw near, or to use your opponent’s power in order to strengthen your own strike. Nullifying the opponent’s strength is especially effective against tsuki; it is called nayashi-ire-zuki. In the last pattern, 17-hon-me, which was devised for normal school students, the attacker does consecutive cuts to the head and to the body. The defender blocks the strikes and gradually attracts her opponent; she eventually finishes off with a thrust. These are the kind of techniques that are in the ōyō section.
Regarding harai and degashira techniques; when performing a harai, one has to use the curve of the naginata‘s kissaki and sweep her opponent’s weapon downward. Also, one must rotate the kissaki from below towards where the opponent’s front hand is the weakest. These are the important points when training in “harai then strike” exercises. Harai is not about merely slapping the opponent’s weapon. The meaning of harai is to forbid the opponent starting another attack. No muscular strength is needed when attempting a harai, even a powerless person can perform a successful harai if she does it according to the principles. This is very important. Regarding degashira, it is crucial to pressure the source of the opponent’s technique. Degashira is not a spiritless strike, but on the contrary a slash released in a flash. One should respond to the movements of her opponent’s kissaki or front hand, and unleash her naginata at once.
Now, I would like to warn you about two or three points in the ōyō section that one can easily misunderstand.
First, makiotoshi. A makiotoshi technique can be very large or sometimes small. Depending on the way you perform makiotoshi, the ensuing waza may be affected and change accordingly. If you do a very large makiotoshi, the ensuing tsuki or cut or any move of the naginata might become difficult to perform. This is a critical point. In the guidelines, there is a pattern (kata No. 8) where one performs a makiotoshi on an incoming hidari-men cut, and finishes off with tsuki. This technique starts from gedan, so it is the largest makiotoshi of the whole series. Consequently, this has an impact on the ensuing tsuki: because the makiotoshi is extremely large, when performing the final thrust the back hand cannot go completely up to the solar plexus, but instead should rest in front of the lower abdomen. Secondly, there is a pattern called tsuki ni tai suru makiotoshi. The makiotoshi here should be smaller than the one in the previous case. At the end of a makiotoshi, one’s kissaki should, as a norm, settle on her body’s centre line. Therefore, in this pattern, one just has to rotate the sori of her blade, and thrust with her whole body; the back hand ends up in front of the solar plexus.
Let us talk about mochikae. Everybody tends to perform mochikae very quickly… It is indeed of some importance to be fast. However, when it comes to mochikae, accuracy is more essential than speed. Only when one has trained diligently on her accuracy, will she be able to become naturally fast. Students who have fast mochikae are generally the ones who perform uncompleted strikes. Therefore, instructors should always emphasise large and accurate mochikae.
When training in kirikaeshi, one should keep in mind a few points. Kirikaeshi‘s pattern is as follows: tsuki-tsuki-men-men-sune-sune. It makes a rhythm, and it is easy to fall into that trap – I mean, to be caught by that rhythm. During kirikaeshi, after each tsuki, one has to pull her naginata back with strength, and at this very moment it is easy to end up with a crumbled posture. Also, one must remember to do large cuts and therefore perform large mochikae. If the tenouchi and the tai-no-hiraki are fully mastered, there will be no suki (opening). Thinking that there would be no opening in one’s posture if performing a very quick mochikae is a big mistake. Even a slow mochikae should leave no suki for the opponent.
Finally, I really want to emphasise that an unbalanced, “light on the feet” unsettled posture is the worst thing to have. The whole body should settle in its centre. Flexibility and reactivity to all kinds of attacks is of course important; but your body should be filled with a spirit like a huge rock. However, having an immobile posture would also be wrong. An unperturbed posture is the key. I think that the posture called shizentai in judo is very important in naginata as well. This posture has not even a tiny bit of suki. Nevertheless, some may advocate that it is important to have the mental readiness that enables one to create a glimpse of suki in his posture and then to be able to react freely when the opponent is lured in to strike.
To conclude, I would say that the essence is to polish a strong spirit, full of resolution, that can deal with everything that is coming at you.
In the three instalments on wartime naginata (Kendo World 6.3, 6.4 and the present issue), we saw different attempts to modernise the discipline into a unified curriculum. All three methods failed in their pursuit as they were either rejected or interrupted shortly after their inception. However, because it was certainly the most “official” of the three, being patronized by the Ministry of Education, and because it had severed the ties with the prominent naginata ryūha of the time and was a real evolution in terms of pedagogy, Sakakida Yaeko’s method was eventually revived after the war, and transformed into a modern sport. The transition to the new naginata was supervised by Sakakida herself. She reused her kihon almost unchanged, but aggressive components such as the bayonet style thrusts were expurgated. The MSK were finally simplified and remoulded into the shikake-ōji, a set of basic movements still used nowadays to impart modern naginata techniques.
• Gakuto Taiiku Kankōkai (ed.), “Naginata – Yōmoku no Seishin to sono Shidō”, in Gakuto Taiiku, 1944.
• Ishigami, T. (ed.), “Yaeko, Ichizu ni Keiko Suru Hanashi”, in Kendo Nihon, June & July 1982
• Monbushō, Kokumin Gakkō Tairenka Budō (Naginata) Kyōju Yōkō, Chūtō Gakkō Tairenka Budō (Naginata) Kyōju Yōmoku, Shihan Gakkō Tairenka Budō (Naginata) Kyōju Yōmoku, Narabi ni Dō Kyōju Yōmoku (kō) Jisshi Saimoku, republished in Kindai Naginata Meicho Senshu 7, Tokyo, Hon no Tomo-sha, 2004.