The Iaido Journal  Dec 2005
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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

copyright © 2005 Ray Sosnowski, all rights reserved

Reviewer’s Preface

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 President. 

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 follow. 

The Past

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 review. 

The Book 

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. 

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
b. Shogo
c. Referee Qualifications

4. Equipment
a. The Naginata
b. Carrying, Passing and Receiving
c. Training Ware
d. Bogu

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:

1. Uchikaeshi
2. Naginata Techniques:
a. Shikake-waza
b. Oji-waza
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 1. 

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 its own. 

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 <>, 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: 

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 pp. 

_____, 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 Sciences)

_____, 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 <>. 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 <>. 

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TIN Dec 2005