Mar 14, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Naginata of the Samurai

The Samurai were some of the greatest and most disciplined warriors in history. One thing they were well known for was having the right weapon for the right situation. A Katana or Tessen had limited use against a mounted opponent. The Naginata was designed to put distance between the Samurai and his opponent.

At a glance, the Naginata looks similar to a spear with a long thin curved blade, but it is actually related to the poleaxe, halberd, and even more so to the glaive. The wooden pole was anywhere from 5 to 6 feet in length. The end of the Naginata was fixed with a 3 foot sword-like blade that had a long steel piece with a hole opposite the sharp end. This thin sliver of metal was slid through a steel cap in the end of the pole and a wooden peg was squeezed through the hole lined up with a hole in the pole. This made it easier for the warrior to sharpen his blade by removing it first instead of trying to maneuver around that entire cutting surface with a very long pole pulling on it.

The blade was forged by the same processes as a katana. It curved slightly, which made it an excellent slashing weapon, unlike a typical spear. Don’t let the curve fool you however as it was strong enough to use as a stabbing weapon just as easily as a spear.

With the length of the shaft and the blade, the Naginata was very versatile against multiple enemies. The Samurai often spun the weapon around in circular patterns to keep all enemies at a distance. The long blade was perfect for slashing at enemies, mounted or on foot. The weapon was more on the heavy side, like most pole-arms, which gave it, increased power when impacting an opponent. If the blade didn’t slice you in half, it would knock you off your feet.

The Naginata’s use did not start with the samurai, but eventually became a staple in situational combat for the Samurai and the other soldiers of the Japanese military. The earliest recordings of it's use was by warrior priests in 750 AD. Eventually it was phased out with the integration of firearms into Japan, but it was not forgotten. Many samurai trained their wives and daughters how to use the Naginata. The length of the weapon eliminated the size advantage of a man trying to break into their home. During the years after teh Japanese military moved towards gunpowder, the Naginata was rarely used by anyone other than a woman or a warrior priest.

In other parts of the modern world where this weapon is practiced, the majority of its practitioners are male. In Japan, it is considered more of a women’s weapon. During the Edo Period (1600-1800's) the Naginata became a staple of Women Samurai. The weapon was rarely in use in actual combat anymore, and was often prominently displayed in the homes of Samurai and given as presents to brides.

By no means would a sane man think of the Naginata as weak just because it is considered a girl’s weapon in its birth country. There are stories of women in Japanese history leading soldiers to defend their castles against invading troops and slaying more men than anyone else on the battlefield. This was a weapon with a bloody purpose that required excellent skill to control.

After World War II, all martial arts was banned from Japan, but in 1950 the ban was lifted and in 1955 a new foundation was created to revive the Naginata in Japanese culture. The art of the Naginata was altered to become a sport and in 1968 through the All Japan Naginata Federation it was reintroduced into social programs and is an available option for school education in Japan.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

*Updated March 19, 2012: Some details were slightly off and are now corrected after reading more about the Naginata history on the All Japan Naginata Federation website. The website is very informative and if you want more on the Naginata, I would recommend visiting.


  1. Kickass! I had no idea Japanese women used this weapon. That. Is. Awesome! I definitely wouldn't want to be on the business end of a Naginata wielded by a man or a woman.

  2. No you wouldn't. Definitely scary to face off with.

  3. Um... sorry but this article is a little off m(_ _)m
    The naginata was not primarily used by samurai men. It was used in a limited way on the battlefields of the twelfth century, had almost died out in the field by the fifteenth century and was subsequently used exclusively by women and priests. It is associated historically with figures like Tomoe Gozen and Musashi-do Benkei (woman and priest respectively). It was also never used by peasants; I think you may be confused with the yari. Naginata was part of the school curriculum for girls before the war, but has not been included as a general PE subject since the 1950s. Sorry to be a pedant but I train in naginata and am quite passionate about it's history as a women's weapon!

  4. Thanks for the response, maybe I should reword some of that. I wasn't implying that commoners were trained, just soldiers. I've linked the Naginata to my other Samurai articles which is why I wrote about the Samurai. I did not realize that the schools stopped training in the 50's. For some reason I thought it had been restarted sometime after the Korean War, but I could be mistaken. A shame if I am, I was pretty excited about that bit. I'll double check these and update this article. Thanks for the feedback. :-)

    1. I have updated and expanded on the points you made. I wish I had ran across the All Japan Naginata Federation website while originally typing this post. I saw a few misinterpretations on my part right away. Thanks again Sophelia. I'd rather be get my facts straight than be clueless.