The Weapon


A Naginata

The Naginata is a polearm originating in medieval Japan. It was used by Japanese Samurai, Samurai women, foot soldiers (ashigaru) and Buddhist warrior monks (Sôhei). A Naginata might be roughly described as a sword with a very long hilt, rather than a spear. Because of this unique construction, proper use of a Naginata is characterised mainly by powerful cutting movements, while thrusts are a secondary option. The weapon's length allows various attacks to all body parts, resulting in the gradual introduction of leg protection to Japanese armour.

                                             
                                                          Samurai                                    Sôhei

The dimensions of blade and hilt have shifted over the course of time, resulting in a variety of designs. Many ancient schools of Naginata use their own specific type. Overall lengths could range from 1.50 m through 2.50 m although even larger examples are known to exist. Blades could measure between 30 cm and 120 cm and were mounted either with or without tsuba (guard). Naginata blades were manufactured using the same elaborate techniques as with Japanese swords, combining soft and hard types of steel to create a durable cutting edge, and are therefore equally prized for their quality.


A Naginata blade of Shôbuzukuri make featuring a short fuller and long tang

Military History of the Naginata

The word ?Naginata? is found in writings as early as the 10th century. The weapon was used by soldiers on foot and on horseback. Due to its length it could not be easily carried in daily life in the same manner as a sword, but was considered a weapon of war. Its spatial requirements made it unsuitable for use in tight formations and the development of tactical formations after the 15th century saw its decline on the battle field. Japanese infantry in the mass armies of the 16th century mainly consisted of pikemen and musketeers. The Naginata saw its greatest use during the 10th to 14th centuries, when when single combat was still common and opponents recited their ancestors' achievements before engaging. Naginata were expected to be found in a Samurai's arsenal next to sword, spear and bow.


Mounted Samurai with Naginata, sword and bow

Naginata in other languages

No fully adequate translation of "Naginata" has been found to exist in English or any other European languages. Many weapons of similar appearance may be found in European medieval armouries, such as various types of glaives or halberds, though none of these are known to have been used in a fashion similar to Japanese naginata. Because of this, no attempts of new word creations have found widespread acceptance and thus "Naginata" is commonly used as a loan word.


One form of European halberds called "Kuse" in German

Original German text: Andreas Nicol
English translation: Mark Littlewood

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