The Naginata Sword – “The Reaping Sword”
Japan has been known for their swordsmith and craftsmanship in making weapons. One of these traditionally made weapons is the Naginata. The word Naginata means “The Reaping Sword” or “The Mowing down Sword”. It is made from Japanese Blades, also known as Nihonto, and it is usually made in the form of a pole. The Naginata is made of a long shaft, commonly wood or metal, with a curved and single-edge blade at the tip of the shaft. The blade that is placed directly inside the shaft is measuring from 6 to 9 feet, with the part that is mounted inside the handle having the same length as the blade.
Initially, it was used by foot soldiers and Warrior-Monks during the war. It was also used by soldiers who were mostly archers. Moreover, young men samurai who was too inexperienced and too small to use a full length Katana used the Naginata. But, eventually, it was no longer used for warfare. Through the years, the Naginata has been used for different purpose: one of which is a symbol for samurai families, wherein they display it at a particular place at their homes. Also, as a custom, it has also been used by Japanese Men as gifts for their brides and became an essential part of a woman’s dowry.
The Weapon of Samurai Women
The Katana is the more popular weapon for the Male Samurai. It has been believed that the Naginata was the weapon of choice for Samurai Women, it was normally used as training for self-defense and defense for their children. The Samurai women were expected to defend their homes and children when their husbands were sent to war or away from their homes. This is contrary to the belief that women during those ages should be submissive to their families and husbands. The most famous woman samurai with outstanding Naginata skills was Itagaki. She led a garrison of 3,000 soldiers at the Torizakayama castle, fighting bravely alongside her men before being overpowered by her enemies. During the Edo Period, women from Samurai families were trained and must learn and master the art of Naginata by the time they reach the age of 18.
Naginata vs Yari
Yari is also a popular traditional sword handmade from Japanese blade. The major difference of Yari from Naginata is its form, the Yari looking like a straight-headed spear. The Yari is made of a straight blade instead of the curved blade used in Naginata. The size of the blade can vary from a few centimeters to 3 feet in terms of the length. With the Naginata having a long shaft, the Yari’s shaft is produced differently, with varying lengths, shapes, widths, others are made of wood, bamboo or steel. These shafts were often decorated with metals, pins, and pearls.
There are different varieties of the Yari, depending on its shape and form, such as Sankaku Yari, Ryo-shinogi Yari, Kikuchi Yari, Jumonji Yari, Kata Kama Yari, Kagi Yari, Bishamon Yari, Tsuki Nari Yari, Hoko Yari, Sasaho Yari, Su Yari, Omi No Yari and Kama Yari. During the year of battles and wars, like Naginata, it has also been used by samurai and foot soldiers in addition to their armor. However, during the Edo era, it was considered useless and impractical. After some time, Yari was still produced but as ceremonial weapon or weapon used by policemen.
Length of Naginata: The Source of its Strength
The Naginata is known for being lightweight and its long range. Historically, its length has been efficient for dismounting and disarming cavalry riders. It is considered as the weapon most appropriate for Samurai Women. During a fight, it maintains a safe distance between the Samurai woman and its enemy thus decreasing the enemy’s advantage of strength, height, and power. It also keeps the warrior to be out of reach from their opponents, then creating a huge advantage. The curved knife at the edge of the shaft can be used to stab, cut or even hook an opponent. The weight of this weapon creates a larger power while cutting or striking, with this injuring the opponent severely. The strength is maximized through a sweeping or in a circular motion with changes in hand position along the length of the shaft.
The Naginata: Modern Times
Today, the art of Naginata is a popular sport in Japan and around the world. It is a sport of grace, strength, and elegance, which can be enjoyed by both Men and Women. Naginata martial artists wear an obi, hakama, and uwagi. It is the same type as what a kendo practitioner would wear. The armor used for sparring is known as bogu, to complete the gear the martial artists are required to wear gloves and shinguard.
There are two main divisions in the study of its art: the Kata and the Shiai. The Kata teaches the basic techniques in using the weapon, they normally use oak as a shaft with a substitute blade as a version of the Naginata. The Shiai is a more protective way of learning the art of Naginata. They equip themselves with shinguard and uses a version of Naginata using oak wood and two strips of curved bamboo at the tip. The tip of both the shaft and bamboo is padded with leather sleeves. The art of Naginata teaches discipline and enhances a person’s stamina and concentration through graceful movements and elegance.
The Dispute over Its Origin
There are three essential theories that revolve around the origin of the Naginata sword. The first theory is that it was originally used for farming, the long staff with sharp stones at the end were incidentally proven to be effective during the time when the farmers were attacked by enemies. Later, when steel became popular, the sharp stones were replaced by metal pieces and it has been refined to what it is today.
The second theory is that it was brought by Chinese migrants but was later developed and enhanced by the Japanese. There have been evidence that it has been utilized in China since 3 B.C. It is said to be a descendant of the Chinese weapon called Guan Dao. The Guan Dao is also a type of Pole weapon with a curved blade, which was used by Chinese cavalry.
Lastly, there is also a theory that it is initially made of bronze and later replaced by steel by the Naginata ancestors. But, despite the arguments about its origin, it cannot be denied that the Naginata is not just a weapon but a work of art.
Other Popular Japanese Swords
The Tachi is also a popular Japanese sword, it is known to be the ancestor the Katana. The word Tachi means “the soul of bushi” or in other words the “soul of the samurai”. It has a curved blade with an average length of 30.70 inches, which is longer than a Katana. Since it is considered old, it is usually used as court sword during ceremonies. During the war, it was normally used by Cavalry and horsemen, it is worn and hung to the belt cutting-edge pointing downwards.
The Katana is one of the most popular Japanese swords, it is also known as the “samurai sword” It has relatively the same features as Tachi, with its curved and single-edged blade, with an average length greater than 60 cm or 23.5 inches. It is hung through a belt-like a sash, called an obi, with the cutting edge pointing upwards contrary to how the Tachi is worn. They normally wear it this way so that they could hit and strike the enemy easier and quicker. It has been proven effective during close combat warfare. At this modern age, the Katana continues to be popular among martial artists as well as artifact collectors.
The Wakizashi, also known as the “honor blade”, is one of the traditionally made Japanese swords. It is almost the same as the Katana, but it is shorter, with an average length of 50 cm or 20 inches. It was usually worn by a samurai together with the Katana. During the battle, it was usually used as a backup weapon for killing or beheading the enemy or at times in the performance of the ritual suicide. A samurai never removes the Wakizashi sword and is worn at all times. A Samurai normally wears it from the time he wakes up and sleeps with the sword under his pillow. It has been noted that there is a tradition wherein the Samurai leaves the Katana when entering a castle or a palace, but does not remove the Wakizashi and continues to wear it on the premise.
The pairing of the Katana and Wakizashi follows the concept of the Daisho. The word Daisho is derived from the words Daito, which means long sword, and Shoto, on the other means short sword. So, in a literal sense of the word, it means “big-little”. It is characterized by the pairing of a short sword and whatever long sword would fit with it.
The name Nodachi is translated as the “field sword”. The Nodachi has the same features as a Tachi, the difference is that the former is notably longer. Since it is a long sword, it cannot be used in closed spaces or small areas, thus it is normally used in an open field. It is distinct on how the soldiers would carry this sword: the butt of the handle is placed on the palm of their hands, with the flat edge of the blade on their shoulder then the cutting edge is placed facing their enemy. In the battlefield, these swords are thrown to the enemy.
During the World War II, the Japanese sword that was used by the army is the Gunto. This type of sword was produced after the samurai era and was worn by officers of the Imperial Japanese army. The demand for handmade swords are declining and the need for mass production of this so-called weapon is gradually increasing. Thus, to satisfy the demand for the production, they recruited people with little or no knowledge of the craft of handmade weaponry. Moreover, shortcuts in creating these type of weapons were adopted by tempering the blade in oil rather than water.
There are two types of Gunto: The Kyu Gunto or the old military sword and The Shin Gunto or the new military sword. The Kyu Gunto was used during the period from the year 1875 up until 1934. It is styled according to the European and American sword at that time. The Shin Gunto were manufactured during the period of 1935 to 1945. These swords were styled in resemblance to the traditional Tachi sword.
It is also a traditional Japanese sword and it is said to be the descendant of Tachi. It is smaller and it is commonly worn like that of a Katana, which is hung through the belt with the sharp edge side upward, as opposed to how a Tachi is worn. The Uchigatana is more popular to use than the Tachi mainly because of its convenience and its efficiency during fights and battles. To make a comparison, the use of Tachi is composed of two actions: first is the drawing of the sword and second is striking. Wherein, when using the Uchigatana, striking an enemy can be done in one swift action.
It is more commonly known as the “armor piercer” or “mail piercer”. This type of Japanese sword has an average length of 20 cm to 22 cm, and may even be smaller at the size of 15 cm. It is normally used in close range grappling or fighting.
It is a type of sword with a blunt edge, which is primarily used for practicing Iaido. It is normally made of Aluminum-zinc Alloy that is lighter and more cost effective than steel. It is used for martial arts practice and is not effective for the sword to sword fighting.