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.

Please enjoy this daily series of comics about my tea ceremony adventures while I’m on vacation! This is the last one, I’ll be back in a couple days with replies and other content.

See some of those blurry naginata photos here!

Fun fact: In addition to the naginata, the prefectural martial arts hall offers classes in wrestling, archery, sword use, and even ping pong and ballroom dance, but they do not have karate classes. This is what I originally went in looking for, so it was sort of by happy accident that I started practicing the naginata instead. That said, I love it!

Seiza, the proper style of sitting on the floor, can be done in a few ways–one is the rather common sense approach to just support your rear in the nest of your feet, but this leads to cutting off your circulation rather quickly. Another approach I hear a lot from martial arts practitioners is to keep your rear slightly elevated off your feet, but this leads to pain in the knees–which is why when I have to get out of seiza I’m usually told “rest your knees” instead of “let some blood back into your feet.” For people who really have bad knees (or who are not held to the same standards as Japanese people), the third option is to get a little stool to fit between your legs and rest on.

I’ve been looking for ways to improve my seiza posture and endurance, but the greatest reassurance I’ve found is that circulation should improve with practice, and it doesn’t seem anyone has ever had their toes fall off due to this posture. I practice seiza while reading or studying kanji so as to keep my mind off the burn, but when I think I’ve been doing it for half an hour, it’s only been eight minutes. Furthermore, it’s one thing to practice this while I’m at home on my carpet, but it seems my feet go cold twice as fast when I’m on the tatami mats in the tea classroom. Perhaps it’s just that my sense of time is altered there?

If I’m going to practice the tea ceremony, I’m just going to have to deal with it and get better! Does anyone else have any seiza training tips you’d like to share?

By shouting “men” I’m not shouting that I must attack the masucline gender. Rather, like in kendo, men (面) is a strike at the face.

I’ve been practicing the naginata at the Shimane Prefecture Martial Arts Hall for six months now under the tutelage of a few teachers, including the #1 ranked competitor in Japan for two years running (she’s quite cool!). While not as well-known as kendo or kyuudo, the naginata also has a long history closely tied with warrior history. While it’s hard to say exactly where it started (some sources say it’s based on the weapon General Guan Yu used in China’s Three Kingdoms era), one of it’s most famous wielders in Japan was Benkei, who had a lot of ties out here in the San’in region!

In the Warring States era, warriors used this sort of sword-on-a-stick to reach horseback riders, but as the country transistioned into a time of peace over the course of the Edo era, it gradually became the weapon of choice for samurai women, should the time ever come when they must protect the home. It was considered ideal for women because they wouldn’t have to be too close to their opponent, and despite its reach, it can be used in narrow spaces. As women started to receive education outside of the home as Japan was westernizing, they frequently learned how to use the naginata as part of their physical education. While it sounds like it may be a male-dominated sport outside of Japan today, in general, it seems to be more popular with women here. In my class, for example, we only have two male students. (Conversely, the judo classes are pretty skewed in the other direction!)

While it’s okay to practice in regular street clothes, most of my classmates (albeit most of my classmates aren’t even half my age!) wear traditional style clothes for practice, including the pleaded trousers know as hakama. Hakama also have a rich tradition of use in many places, but the ones used for martial arts practice are thick, washable material that’s okay to get a little rough in. They can be a bit drafty, though–I always wear something underneath–and they don’t carry the same forced-formality as a kimono. Case in point, some of my young classmates fool around by sticking their arms down the slits at the slides and then flapping them around like wings.