Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Originally published in Kendo World magazine vol. 7.2, 2014.
In 1941, the Dai-Nippon Butokukai published a set of generic kata and teaching guidelines entitled Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa (see Kendo World issue 6.3) for the purpose of promoting a unified form of naginata to be taught in schools all around Japan. Naginata was adopted into the female physical education program in 1913 as an extracurricular activity, and then elevated to an elective subject from 1937. Until that time, naginata instruction in schools had always consisted of the study of ryūha techniques, mainly from the Tendō-ryū and the Jikishin Kage-ryū traditions, with no unified curriculum from one school or the other. Thus, the Butokukai’s initiative gave momentum to the modernisation of the naginata education that would continue on throughout the war.However, the Naginata-dō Kihon Dōsa failed to achieve its purpose because it was seen as a simplification of the Jikishin Kage-ryū, more than as a unification of different traditions, and above all else because it did not constitute a modern system in which a naginata exponent would face another naginata practitioner. Instead, it continued to promote the old pattern of a naginata facing a sword, which was inconvenient in a school curriculum because the students were required to become proficient in the use of two very different weapons in a short period of time.A naginata versus naginata approach was to be devised the same year by Niino Kyūhei (Nihon Kokumin Naginata-dō Kyōhon — see Kendo World issue 6.4); his system consisted of basic strikes that could be used in shiai and easily combined in kata. In fact, he created a set of five patterns entitled “Naginata Dantai Taiteki no Kata” (“Naginata Kata in Formation Against the Enemy”), which resemble the forms currently practised in modern naginata. Although it was clearly a long-awaited evolution in terms of pedagogy, Niino Kyūhei’s influence did not successfully disseminate beyond the borders of Shiga prefecture where he taught.The last step in naginata's evolution during the war was finally made by Sakakida Yaeko, a Tendō-ryū exponent who was commissioned by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to create a new official naginata versus naginata system that would be used as a component of the tairenka (physical discipline) classes in Japan’s schools. This method consisted of basic techniques and a set of seventeen kata that would later become known as the “Monbushō Seitei Kata” (hereinafter referred to as the “MSK”).The MSK has since fallen into obscurity; today, nearly all practitioners are unaware of its existence. Nevertheless, because it served as a basis for the inception of modern naginata’s curriculum after the war, its relevance to the history and development of naginata should not be overlooked. A survey of the MSK may be conducted based on the guidelines that were officially released in 1944 by the MOE, and a report of a round-table discussion between Sakakida Yaeko and several officials from the MOE (“Naginata - Yōmoku no Seishin to Sono Shidō”, published in Gakuto Taiiku, 1944). The guidelines were published in a series of three bulletins (one for primary education, one for high school and one for normal school), which detailed the tairenka classes’ naginata curriculum for each grade. Those guidelines were produced in text only and did not feature any illustrations.
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