Iaido Journal Dec 2005
Book Review: Naginata – The Definitive Guide
by Alexander Bennett, Ph. D.
Kendo World Publications Ltd., Auckland, NZ, 2005.
Hardback, US$25.00. 374 pp.
Reviewed by Raymond Sosnowski, MD.
3 December 2005
all rights reserved
A disclaimer is in order here – the opinions represented here my own,
and are not to be ascribed to the organizations that I represent,
namely, the (US) East Coast Naginata Federation as Administrative
Secretary and the Capital Area (AKA Northern Virginia) Budokai as
From my previous reviews (Sosnowski, 1997, 1999), I do tend to take a
dim view of books with titles that include terms like “Definitive”
(Ozawa, 1997) and “Complete” (e.g., Donohue, 1999), since they usually
do not really live up to their grandiose titles. However, I am
pleasantly surprised that this volume does come quite close to living
up to its title; it has many more assets than liabilities. Given
the dearth of English-language Naginata books, this one is not only the
best, but also will set a rather high standard for any that
Until the founding of the INF (International Naginata Federation) in
1990, there were no official English-language Naginata texts available
that I know of. In 1990, the book’s author translated the 1987
Japanese-language version of Illustrated Naginata into English (AJNF,
1990); it’s an introductory text with all the non-bogu material to
advance as far as 1-dan. In my opinion, anyone beginning training
in Atarashii Naginata should start with this manual – the large
illustrations, the attention to details, and the inclusion of “bad
examples” to avoid are invaluable to beginners and dangai (AKA
mudansha, kyu-level; under dan grade).
The 1995 Japanese-language text Naginata Kyoshitsu, a volume in the
“Sports V Course” series, was translated by the book’s author in 1999
as Naginata (AJNF, 1999). It contains all the material (including
bogu work) to advance to 3-dan except for how to be motodachi, in this
case, the leader for group kihon (part of the 3-dan examination).
It was a welcome addition, but was a bit lacking in that it still was a
translation – what was needed was a text written in English for
non-Japanese, which, of course, brings us to the text under
Naginata – The Definitive Guide is structured as follows:
Most of Chapter 1 is devoted to the “History of Naginata;” it is an
amplification of an article that the book’s author wrote for the
“Naginata World” column in Kendo World magazine (Vol. 2, no. 4, 2004,
pp. 82 - 87). The remainder of Chapter 1 is devoted to “Two
Pioneers” of Naginata: Mitamura Chiyo and Sonobe Hideo, also based on
“Naginata World” articles (Vol. 2, no. 2, 2003, pp. 82 – 84, and Vol.
2, no. 3, 2004, pp. 78 – 80, respectively). There are more
wonderful old black-and-white photographs in the book than accompanied
the original articles.
- Chapter 1 – What is Naginata? (listed as “The History of
Naginata” in the Table of Contents)
- Chapter 2 – Form and Theory
- Chapter 3 – Practical Lessons without a Partner
- Chapter 4 – Practical Lessons with a Partner
- Chapter 5 – Practice in Bogu
- Appendix 1 – Tournament Regulations
- Appendix 2 – Updated Tournament Regulations (listed as “New
Tournament Regulations” in the Table of Contents)
- Appendix 3 – Supplementary Notes to Tournament Regulations
- Appendix 4 – Kata Outline (listed as “Kata” in the Table of
- Appendix 5 – Possible Examination Questions (listed as “Grading
Examinations Questions” in the Table of Contents)
- Appendix 6 – Glossary of Naginata Terms (listed as “Glossary” in
the Table of Contents)
I find that the “Guide” itself begins in Chapter 2, which presents what
the practice of Naginata is all about. Chapter 2 is divided up
into five parts, each with several subsections:
1. Naginata Concepts
a. Why Naginata?
b. Mechanics & Mentality of Engagement
c. Striking Opportunities & Waza
d. Characteristics of Naginata
2. Competition and Forms
a. Shiai - based on a “Naginata World”
article (Vol. 1, no. 3, 2002, pp. 86 – 87).
b. Shikake-Oji - based on a “Naginata World” article (Vol. 1, no. 4,
2002, pp. 86 – 87).
c. Kata - based on a “Naginata World” article (Vol. 2, no. 1, 2003, pp.
84 – 85).
d. Ishu-Jiai - based on a “Naginata World” article (Vol. 3, no. 1,
2004, pp. 80 – 81).
e. Rhythm Naginata
3. Grading Examinations and Qualifications
a. Dan Grades
c. Referee Qualifications
a. The Naginata
b. Carrying, Passing and Receiving
c. Training Ware
The Equipment subsections are reprinted from Naginata (AJNF, 1999);
bits of Section 1 are merely hinted at in Naginata (AJNF, 1999).
As I see it, Chapter 2 is the heart and soul of this book – it
encapsulates the art beyond the mere nuts-and-bolts to a great extent,
especially in the first two sections – although the inclusion of
“Rhythm Naginata” at the end of Section 2 is really a bit of a stretch
in my opinion.
The remaining chapters do describe the nuts-and-bolts of Atarashii
Naginata. Chapter 3 goes through the kihon (basics):
1. Shizentai & Rei
2. The Five Kamae (Stances)
3. Tai-sabaki (Footwork)
4. Happo-buri (Practice Swings)
5. Practice Strikes (-uchi) [including the gorei (verbal commands) and
kamae for motodachi]
6. Defensive Blocks
Although much of this material appeared in the first six sections of
Chapter 2 in Naginata (AJNF, 1999), some more descriptive material has
been added, the picture-text layout has been improved, and gorei
(verbal commands) and kamae for motodachi has been added – this last
aspect is a very welcome addition.
Chapter 4, which is pair practices, is the longest chapter in the book:
2. Naginata Techniques:
3. Shikake-Oji [1-8]
Although much of this material has appeared in the latter nine sections
of Chapter 2 in Naginata (AJNF, 1999), again some more descriptive
material has been added, and the picture-text layout has been
improved. There is a wonderful pictorial and text segment added
to Uchikaeshi pointing out properly receiving the strikes. In
Shikake-Oji, there is an added series of panoramic pictures
illustrating each one (however, I would have liked to see the addition
of floor marks that are used in engi competition for reference).
Chapter 5, which concerns bogu training, consists of:
1. First Things First
2. Putting Bogu On [and Putting It Away]
3. Training Sequences
4. Keiko Types and Attitude
Although much of this material appeared in Chapter 3 in Naginata (AJNF,
1999), again some more descriptive material has been added, the
picture-text layout has been improved, and the sections have been
reordered into a more logical progression.
I will comment on the various appendices in the Discussion section
below, except to mention that the glossary in Appendix 6 was adapted
from the glossary in Naginata (AJNF, 1999).
Structure and Content. The overall structure of Naginata – The
Definitive Guide is the same as that of Naginata (AJNF, 1999).
Sections and subsections have been slightly reordered to improve the
logical flow, which I like.
Every author has to make a number of judgment calls with respect to
content – what to put in, and what to leave out. With respect to
the core material, Chapters 2 through 5, I’d say that the author
basically got it right – I’ll make a few comments in the following
section. I do have a few issues with Chapter 1 and the Appendices.
Chapter 1 is largest one in the book after Chapter 4. It is well
done, and well written, but within this context of this book, I feel
that it is too much extraneous material for a “Definitive Guide” in one
volume. Now the background history certainly deserves more than
the scant “two pages worth” of material found in Naginata (AJNF, 1999);
however, I feel that part of those 63 pages could have been better
utilized on additional technical topics. I am also prejudiced
since the history has already been covered about a decade ago by Ellis
Amdur in his two fine essays (Amdur, 1995 and 1996; revised editions
published in Amdur, 2002).
I have mixed feelings about including both Appendices 1 and 2.
Appendix 1 is the current official English translation, dating from
1995, of the Tournament Regulations, and Appendix 2 is an unofficial
English translation of the current Japanese-language Tournament
Regulations used by AJNF (All Japan Naginata Federation), dated April
2002. Given that Appendix 1 will be changed in the near future
(hopefully) by the INF, I would have opted for just Appendix 2.
This information is distributed to shimpan in a series of booklets
anyway. Instead I would have been tempted to republish the
contents of the booklet “Handbook for Running a Tournament” as Appendix
My primary issue with the appendices is the relegation of the seven Zen
Nihon Naginata Kata to an outline format in an appendix (Appendix
4). This is where I believe that the “Definitive Guide” falls
short of its title; material that is required for 4- and 5-dan
examinations has been given short shrift. A reduced history
(Chapter 1) could have provided the pages needed (assuming the total
number of pages remains approximately fixed) to make this a chapter of
However, in the “Naginata World” article (Kendo World, Vol. 2, no. 1,
2003, pp. 84 – 85) on “Kata” (Shikake-Oji are considered to be oyo waza
[applied techniques] and not kata per se), the author said that the
AJNF planned to publish its first ever Japanese textbook in Summer
2004. And, in an on-line note <http://www.kendo-world.com/forum/showthread.php?t=8536>,
message #3 dated 26 Oct 2005, he said that a separate book on the Zen
Nihon Naginata Kata was being assembled to augment Appendix 4. I
and many others will certainly look forward to that.
The Examination Questions in Appendix 5 are just that – questions with
no answers. Lists of questions with answers exist – I have two
sets; as I recall the most recent one is 23 pages long. Seeing a
set of answers makes the written examinations for yudansha (dan grades)
seem less formidable. I would have preferred to see answers
included, or pointers to where in the book the answers are. This
is also where I believe that the “Definitive Guide” falls a bit short
of its title.
What’s Missing? There are a number of minor aspects that have
been omitted that I feel deserve a mention:
- There is no graded curriculum as to what you are responsible for
at what level for dangai; just looking at this can be overwhelming to
beginners. Minimum INF Grading requirements for dangai are
missing, which would have implied a graded curriculum.
- There are no details, especially photographs, for critical
aspects of Shikake-Oji. Given that Shikake-Oji 1 through 5 are
covered in Illustrated Naginata (AJNF, 1990), details for Shikake-Oji
6, 7 and 8 would have been helpful here as they are also missing from
Naginata (AJNF, 1999).
- No shimpan licensing test requirements are included (another
- There is no mention of the INF Passport (record booklet) for
- There is no index. A reference book like this needs an
index; I realize that this is a cost-saving measure, but it is not one
that I can agree with.
Summary & Conclusions
Naginata – The Definitive Guide breaks new ground in that it was not
conceived as a translation, but as a text written in English for
non-Japanese. The author contributes both new material and
amplified essays from his writings for the “Naginata World” column in
Kendo World magazine. Although the technical material basically
comes from the author’s translation of Naginata (AJNF, 1999), some more
descriptive material in terms of text and photographs has been added,
and the picture-text layout has been improved. A second text has
been promised that covers some of the shortcomings.
This text contains solid material for the mid-kyu through mid-dan grade
holders, but falls off somewhat for beginners and high-dan grade
holders; beginners are best served by Illustrated Naginata (AJNF,
1990). This text contains everything required up to sandan (3rd
degree black belt), representing at least five years of dedicated,
regular training. This text contains some things required up to
godan (5th degree black belt), representing at least twelve years of
dedicated, regular training. For instructors (sandan and above)
and study groups, it provides solid reference material.
All Japan Naginata Federation, 1990. Look-Learn-Teach Illustrated
Naginata, translated by Alexander C. Bennett, All Japan Naginata
Federation, 3-2-9 Nishidai, Itami-shi, Hyogo-ken, Japan 644. 159
_____, 1999. Book Review: Sports V Course: Naginata, translated
by Alexander C. Bennett,
International Naginata Federation, Japan. 105 pp.
Amdur, Ellis, 1995. “The Development and History of the
Naginata,” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 4, No. 1., pp. 32 –
49. Reprinted in Amdur (2002).
_____, 1996. “The Role of Arms-bearing Women in Japanese
History,” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 5, No. 2., pp. 10 –
35. Reprinted in Amdur (2002). Also available online at
_____, 2002. Old School – Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions,
Edgework, Seattle, WA. 275 pp. Available at
Donohue, John J., 1999. Complete Kendo, Tuttle Publishing,
Boston. 177 pp.
Ozawa, Hiroshi, 1997. Kendo: The Definitive Guide, translated by
Angela Turzynski with illustrations by Tamiko Yamaguchi, Kodansha
International, Tokyo. 173 pp.
Sosnowski, Raymond, 1997. “Book Review: Kendo: The Definitive
Guide by Hiroshi Ozawa,” Journal of Japanese Sword Arts #83, 9(8),
12-14, August. Revised version, dated 7 April 2001, submitted to
The Iaido Journal of EJMAS (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and
_____, 1999. “Book Review: Complete Kendo by John J. Donohue,”
Journal of Japanese Sword Arts #104, 11(9-10), 6-9, September-October,
1999. Revised version, dated 18 March 2001, posted on The Iaido
Journal of EJMAS (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences)
Several on-line forum threads, in which Naginata – The Definitive Guide
was mentioned or discussed, include:
Naginata – The Definitive Guide can be ordered on-line from the Kendo
World website at <http://www.kendo-world.com/kw_publications/index.php>.
It has the approval of the INF, and the profits are going to the INF to
help in the internationalization of Naginata.
Both Japanese-language Naginata books mentioned, Illustrated Naginata
and Naginata Kyoshitsu, are still in print, and are available from
Mugendo Budogu, LLC, under Books at <http://budogu.com/shopsite_sc/store/html/page16.html>.