Naginata made a fresh start as a sport after World War II and in its new form, “Rhythm Naginata”, in which practitioners perform to rhythm such as music, was created. This study examines the process in which Rhythm Naginata was created and developed and the main instigators, and explores possibilities in the future development of Naginata as a field which demonstrates the diversity of budo arts.
The budo arts were originally developed for combat. In post-war Naginata, however, Rhythm Naginata came to be utilised in the training and acquisition of basic moves and techniques such as forms of etiquette through the traditional process of learning Kata. This is because modern budo arts aim for character building, and are practiced by people as popular forms of traditional physical exercise. In tracing the origins of Rhythm Naginata, we find that “Naginata-Mai” (dance) was performed in Shinto rituals throughout Japan for invoking rain or abundant crops. Naginata-Mai, which was an elegant system of exercise considered suitable for girls, was created by Ozawa Unosuke. He was an educator who invented bujutsu-taisō (martial art calisthenics) in the latter years of the Meiji era when Naginata had yet to be approved as an authorized field of study in the education system.
In the post-war era, Rhythm Naginata was initiated by Sonobe Shigehachi, headmaster of Jikishinkage-ryū. It is clearly stated in a bulletin published in 1966 that he coined the term “Rhythm Naginata”. Sonobe’s successors, Yamamoto Misao and Kajiyama Takeko, demonstrated Rhythm Naginata accompanied by piano for the first time as a public display at the 10th National Athletic Meet. In 1961, Mori Kiyoko, a teacher at Asaka Junior High School in Saitama Prefecture, created Rhythm Naginata for junior high school students, and demonstrated it at a Naginata meet. Yano Tsune, who studied the Tendō-ryū Naginata as one of the first generation of students in the Butokukai’s Naginata course, led the performance of Rhythm Naginata by students from Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences at the Kobe Universiade in 1985. It was accompanied by traditional Japanese music and mainly displayed techniques from classical Naginata. Rhythm Naginata successfully achieved two outcomes: 1) it could be utilised as an effective educational medium; and 2) as a representation of Naginata’s cultural value it contributed to the spread and development of Naginata by showcasing its aesthetically pleasing movements and skills required in using a long weapon. Further study is needed to ascertain the connection between Naginata Mai and Rhythm Naginata.