As mentioned in the previous entry, a week after making my public tea ceremony debut (as in my first time attending in kimono and expected to know what I was doing), I went to watch my first naginata match. A number of my classmates and teachers were competing at dojo in a high school in Izumo that is well-known for their naginata-team, so I tagged along to cheer them on. Since the population of Shimane is relatively low the number of people practing naginata is also fairly low, but Shimane is known for having very strong naginata wielders anyway.

The competition was held by the Shimane Naginata Federation (you can read more about the International Naginata Federation here). It consisted of matches for elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, and adults. There are two ways to compete: engi-kyōgi and shiai-kyōgi.

At my level, I’ve only done engi (non-competitively). If you practice karate or the like, you would understand this as a kata, but in layman’s terms, it is a set series of strikes and blocks to focus on practicing correct form. In naginata, this is done in pairs. So far I’ve learned five out of the eight basic shikake-ōji engi.

Shiai is sparring in armor–think kendo, only with a longer weapon so you can hit your opponent’s ankles. I’ve seen my classmates practice this, but it was my first time seeing regulation matches. I don’t have armor, though, I haven’t even tried this myself!

As you can imagine it is very difficult to take pictures of these matches on a smartphone. I tried anyway! Note the variety of ways to hold the naginata:

It may look cool, but this is not a clean hit! To get a point, you need to hit your target with the curve of the blade closer to the end of the weapon, and you need to call out the name of your intended target. In this case, the strike to the shin was done too deep.

One of our teachers is the best in Japan two years running, and she defended her title here at the local level, too. Good job, A-sensei!

Good job, Shimane Martial Arts Hall team!

If I have the opportunity, I would like to try competiting or test taking while living here and practicing among this group. Depending on where I live in the future there is always the chance I could continue practicing, after all. The only problem would be trying to take armor home with me… hmm. Not to mention those are a little pricey… I suppose my teachers and I will just have to keep an eye out for used gear or something I could rent. Hmm, come to think of it, I would be placed at the adult level among teachers–winning probably wouldn’t be in the cards, but I hope I’d at least put up a good fight! There’s always the option of competiting just with engi, too.

That said, kimono competitions already keep me plenty busy, and I’m really happy just to see myself progressing with the naginata. Whether I compete with it or not, I’m not particularly as focused on that as I am on channeling some of the samurai spirit left over here in this city.