Naginata as a martial art

Naginata is a Japanese martial art encompassing both physical and mental aspects. It trains stamina, dexterity and reactivity as well as self discipline, concentration and resolution. Furthermore Naginata is characterised by the Samurai virtues of courage, respect, righteousness, benevolence and honour. Next to the physical development, Naginata cultivates the development of character and personality.

Training in armour

Naginata practice

Each practice session usually starts with warm-up and a short meditation, followed by a traditional greeting of teachers and training partners. The training itself can be divided into three broad categories:

  1. Basis exercises (kihon)
    Kihon incorporates basic stances, footwork and basic strikes.
  2. Forms (kata)
    Kata consist of predetermined series of attacks, defences and counter-attacks, performed by two partners. Strikes are stopped at a safe distance to avoid injury. In Naginata there are two distinct types of kata known as Shikake Ōji and Zen Nichi Kata or Renmei no Kata (Federation Kata). Shikake Ōji consists of 8 forms, while the federation kata contains 7 forms, which are usually practised by 3rd dan graduates and upwards. (see grades).
  3. Competition Training (Shiai)
    Shiai training is performed in armour in order to enable partners to practice basic strikes without stopping. Only specific protected areas are valid targets. Shiai training also includes defensive and counter-techniques.
Practice sessions end with a second short meditation as well as thanking teachers and other students for the training.

Basics training

Basic strikes and targets

In competitions only protected areas are valid targets. In kata training strikes are stopped before connecting with the opponent. Striking targets are usually known by their according part of protective armour:
  • Men: a vertical cut through the head
  • Soku Men: a diagonal strike to the head in a 25°-30° angle
  • Tsuki: a thrust to the throat
  • Kote: a vertical cut through the wrist
  • Dō: a horizontal cut through the abdomen
  • Sune: a diagonal cut through the lower leg

Valid targets in Naginata

Basic competition rules

Naginata knows two distinct types of competition: free armoured combat (Shiai) and a formalised kata competition (Engi).


Shiai pits two combattants in armour against one another. Three judges preside over the match and declare any valid strikes as points. A match is set for either 3 or 5 minutes and is won by the fighter to either be the first to score two points or leading with one point at the end of the set time. Should both or none of the competitors score one point the match is declared a tie. For competition finals a tie can result in overtime, allowing the match to continue until any one contestant scores a point. Should tied matches be otherwise undesirable a decision can also be reached by a referees' vote (hantei), each referee declaring by a show of flags the superior contestant.
Any breach of rules (e.g. leaving the marked court, losing grip of the naginata, falling) results in a penalty point to the offender. Two penalty points result in one regular point to the opponent.
To be deemed valid, a strike must fulfil several criteria:
  1. The attack must be deliberate and determined, shown by a shout (kiai) at the time of the attack, naming the intended target.
  2. The attacker must remain alert immediately after the attack and must show control over his opponent.
  3. The attack must be initiated from the proper distance (maai), such that the cut is made with the foremost third (mono uchi) of the blade.
  4. Strike and body movement must be synchronised
Altogether a strike is to be performed as a unity of body, mind and weapon (ki ken tai ichi).



In Engi two teams of two Naginataka compete against one another and are usually judged by five referees. Each team performs the same set of two or three predetermined Shikake Ōji-forms. The team to be voted superior by the majority of referees wins the match. Although all movements are predetermined, attacks must be performed under the same criteria as in Shiai. Furthermore techniques must be performed accurately and partners must perform their movements in harmony and proper timing.
Sketches and measurements of competition areas may be found in the download section.



In Naginata participants may earn grades by passing appropriate examinations. Beginners start with 6th to 1st kyu grades (student's grades), usually taking 6 months of preparation time before each examination, whereafter 1st through 5th dan grades (?teacher's? grades) may be attempted. However higher dan grades require a preparation times equal to the number of the previous grade in years. (one year for 2nd dan, two years for 3rd etc.). Finally the grades of Renshi, Kyōshi and Hanshi may be awarded. Naginata uses no system of coloured belts or other visualisation of grades.

Zen Nihon Naginata Kata

Original German text: Andreas Nicol
English translation: Mark Littlewood

to the top

© 2010 Deutscher Naginata Bund
— powered by TμCMS —