Naginata and Kendō

Both Naginata and Kendō originate in the martial arts practised by the Samurai of ancient Japan. Because of their mutual origin a great number of similarities may be found in equipment, methods, competition rules and spirit. However they are also distinct in many ways, especially when considering specific motions typically performed with their respective weapons. The following section aims at describing characteristic differences specifically for readers with Kendō background.


Naginata clothing is very similar to Kendō clothing, although different colours are usually worn: white keiko gi and black or blue hakama. Additionally, Naginata keiko gi are typically made of thinner fabric and have slightly shorter sleeves (elbow length) when compared to their Kendō counter-parts. Naginata armour also exhibits small changes and additional features.
Tare: identical to Kendō (not like in Jūkendō)

Dō: usually identical to Kendō, though shallower versions are known to exist.

Sune Ate: The additional leg protection used in Naginata is the most noticeable difference to Kendō armour. It is essential for competitions, as Sune is among the most important striking targets in Naginata. Leg protectors consist of usually 6 vertical strips of bamboo mounted onto an oval padded base and fastened by cords below the knee and close to the ankle. Sune Ate may be improvised by using any kind of durable fabric and used Shinai parts.

Men: Kendō Men are suitable, though not ideal, for Naginata practice and are predominantly found outside of Japan. Naginata Men feature shorter Men Buton and an alternate stitching pattern making them less obstructive for specific Naginata techniques. Additionally Naginata Men often feature broader Tsuki Dare for increased throat protection (as in Jūkendō), as rapidly changing stances result in greater vulnerability when receiving tsuki. The method of tying the Men as it is customary in western Japan (5 wraps around the head, starting at the top) is often found to be more suitable for Naginata, as it secures the Men more firmly, especially during rapid turns of the head.

Kote: Kendō Kote can be used for Naginata training although being rather impractical due to their relatively inflexible construction. Naginata Kote are usually softer and thus more flexible around the wrist area. They also feature an additional compartment for the index finger, which greatly simplifies changes between various specific stances.
Concerning Shiai version of the Naginata, the habu's bamboo strips require equal attention and care as any Shinai used in Kendō in order to prevent injury by splintered weapons. Habu are considered expendable material, while Ebu are reused after being outfitted with new Habu.

Kamae, striking targets and basic strikes

Naginata uses the same 5 basic kamae known in Kendō. Their use is however distinct, as the body is always turned sideways, as opposed to the frontally facing the opponent as in Kendō. The various kamae are of greater significance in Naginata as they are essential for the execution of basic strikes. While many Kendōka exclusively fight from chūdan no kamae and other kamae are only extensively used in kata practice, rapid changes between chūdan, hasso and wakigamae are essential in Naginata. The use of different body orientations (right shoulder towards the opponent, left shoulder towards the opponent) is also commonly encountered.
All basic striking targets known in Kendō are also found in Naginata, with the addition of Sune (lower leg). Diagonal cuts to the head (soku men) at an angle of 25-30° are also found more commonly.
Due to the unusual lateral posture, the greater number of basic strikes and the fact, that footwork needs to be practised on both sides, Naginata fundamentals are more elaborate than their Kendō counter-parts.

Scoring criteria in Shiai

In Naginata strikes are not necessarily required to be executed with fumikomi ashi, as there are also alternate valid patterns of movement. Kendō's requirement of continuous kiai and motion through the opponent is also not practiced in Naginata and zanshin is shown in a different manner. Yet the principle of ki ken tai ichi is equally important in the execution of any strike. Kiai also names the intended target, but is usually only short, although controlled breathing is performed in the same way.
Body movement and strike are performed synchronous, as in Kendō. The footwork used in Naginata is however performed in softer gliding motions and the sharpness of cuts is derived from the correct application of body rotation. Other criteria such as cutting with mono uchi and zanshin are of equal importance.

Significance of kata

In Naginata kata is thought of as more fundamental than in Kendō. Due to the relatively recent development of Naginata as a Budō discipline it still has stronger ties to Koryū Naginatajutsu, which uses kata as a principal method of teaching. Particularly Tendōryū Naginatajutsu and Jiki Shinkageryū Naginatajutsu have had considerable influence on modern Naginata. Many high-ranking teachers of modern Naginata also practice Koryū Naginatajutsu. Although experience in koryū schools can be useful, it is not required and might indeed be confusing for beginners.
Finally the importance of kata is reflected in the existence of pure kata competitions (Engi)  and two distinct sets of kata, consisting of respectively 7 or 8 forms.

Naginata versus Katana

While both Budō disciplines focus on engagements using only one type of weapon (Katana vs. Katana, Naginata vs. Naginata), many ancient schools also include various mixed forms. Next to Katana and Naginata these may also include staff, spear, short sword or other weapons in order to prepare students for all expected types of engagement. Mixed forms are generally referred to as Isshu Jiai, though this is often particularly used for engagements between Naginata and Katana (Shinai). Isshu Jiai shows each weapon's tactical advantages, which is usually subject of elaborate discussion among both factions.
These mixed matches are appealing for both sides as they require adaptation to an unusual tactical situation. Isshu Jiai presents combatants with new situations and distances distinct from those usually practised. However this also bears a latent risk of injury, usually with a slight disadvantage on the Kendōka's side. Because of this, a solid foundation of skill reflected in a rank of no less than 2nd dan is required for Isshu Jiai.

Original German text: Andreas Nicol
English translation: Mark Littlewood

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