What is Naginata?
The naginata is an ancient Japanese pole arm that is essentially a Japanese sword blade mounted on a long handle. The blade varies in length from as short as 6 inches to over 2 feet with the average blade being around 15 inches long. They also vary in the amount of curvature and width of the blade. The length of the pole also varies from as short as 2 or 3 feet to over 10 feet long. The average pole is around 6 feet long. These changes reflect the different uses and needs over the past 1000 years.
The early users of naginata were foot attendants to the samurai, and warrior monks. The primary use was to cut horses legs during battles. In about 1400 the fighting style changed to using a long straight spear in massed formations. The naginata was not suited for this style of warfare. It then was left home for the women to guard the house and castle with. All samurai class women were trained to use the naginata and a small dagger.
In Japan today, naginata is taught as a means of physical fitness and spiritual enhancement for girls in Junior High School and up. They have various levels of contests from the "Empress Cup" for the individual All Japan Champion down to local club and school contests. Because of this background, the vast majority of naginata participants in Japan are women. In the USA, the United States Naginata Federation has roughly 40% men.