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Victorian Naginata Renmei

A very big congratulations to all those who graded today - it was a long, sweaty and intense session but you should all be exceedingly proud of yourselves. A very big thank you to both Alastair and Peter for making the trip to Melbourne to run the seminar and grading; the effort was deeply appreciated. And a welcome and thank you to Melissa for joining us at the class today - as always, we thoroughly enjoy getting to train with our interstate and/or international naginata friends!
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Last 'official' training for 2017 which meant we tried to add a little bit of festive cheer to the class in addition to our normal techniques; pinaginata*, tsukiball** and precision strike testing with ballogu***. Everyone showed great spirit and it was an excellent way to round off a year of hard work from all. Enjoy your break and for those who suffer from training withdrawal 'unofficial' training will be back on the 30th December. Thanks for being part of the VNR for 2017!

*Strike a pinata with a naginata
**Tennis ball tsuki strikes on a moving target
***Hit balloon-festooned target points on Fang's bogu.
5 Photos - View album
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​​​​In addition to being to having the benefit (and pleasure) of Stuart's company at last Saturday's training he added to that the safekeeping of some fascinating naginata-related items. I will be looking to find some way of safely storing these so that everyone can have the pleasure of being able to access them in the future. In the meantime, I'll try to post some of the digital versions of these to be enjoyed.

Item one: 2 x black and white photographs of Iso Matsui. Photograph two has a hand drawn (in whiteout and ink) close-up frame
Typed notes on reverse of both photos:
Miss Iso Matsui, 20, is the halberd champion of Japan. In this form of fencing, highly esteemed by Japanese women, Miss Matsui won the final round in the Tokyo tournament in which competitors from all parts of the country participated. Miss Matsui was trained by her father, who is himself a renowned fencer.

This first piece was apparently purchased from a newspaper selling off some of its archives. A little quick searching online has found a copy of the photo in page 5 of The Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin) dated June 12, 1926. If you visit the link to the preview of the page you can see that the white-out frame on the second photo matches exactly what is printed in the paper for the article. Link:
2 Photos - View album
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Zen Nihon kata: Nihonme

Normally naginata practitioners wouldn't begin the zen nihon kata forms until they have attained san (3rd) dan. However with dan gradings in Australia being so difficult to attain (generally requiring attendance at one of the annual International Naginata Federation seminars or attending an overseas grading) we have generally looked to start teaching the forms earlier.

The kata themselves are fairly recent (1977) and were designed to "incorporate as many facets of traditional schools as possible which would serve to enhance comprehension of the more sophisticated technical and mental aspects difficult to teach just through Shikake-Oji".[1] The use of the wooden kata rather than the oak and bamboo atarashii naginata serves to require deeper understanding and skill by the practitioner in utilising the aspects of their weapon to properly execute each kata. As with the shikake-oji kata practitioners should be working to display good spirit and kiai, refined technique and display a supportive working collaboration with their partner to show the kata at its best.

Today, several senior students began learning nihonme, or the second of the kata which progresses as follows:

From tachi-mae (ie. 6 metres apart)
Uchi: Move into hasso-no-kamae
Shi: Move into gedan-no-kamae

Take two ayumi-ashi steps (right foot crossing first) to reach the point of engagement and then:
Uchi: take the opportunity with a third step to cut for soku-men
Shi: as Uchi strikes for soku-men pivot 180 degrees on the back (right) foot and harai with the ebu to knock their naginata diagonally down

Uchi: Use the momentum from the harai to bring your hands and naginata above your head, stepping forward (with the left foot), as if about to make an another attack; maintain your hands in the same position as they were from soku-men. As the do cut from Shi begins to sweep through, move backwards to avoid the cut (naginata remains overhead)
Shi: Pivot 180 degrees again with fumikae-ashi, bringing the naginata in a sweeping movement across to strike at the Uchi's do, kneeling with the right knee down as you do so.

Display zanshin (show awareness and readiness to react).
Uchi: Maintain distance and assume chudan-no-kamae using either ayumi-ashi or okuri-ashi.
Shi: Stand up and move back to the centre line in chudan-no-kamae

A useful video example for reference of this kata can be found here at 54 seconds in.

1. Bennett A. Naginata. History and practice. Bunkasha International. 2016. Available at
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Kudos to everyone at training today - it's always hard to get motivated on these cold mornings! Thank you to all the senior students, especially Michael and Adam, for so enthusiastically doing some self-directed bogu/shiai work and helping out in general. Just remember that it's just as important to remember to retreat after an attack as it is to make one!
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Here we'll just cover some general etiquette notes for use in the dojo and training.

Weapon etiquette:

You should always show proper respect for weapons in the dojo; even though they are unbladed you should act as if there is a live, sharp blade at all times. Ensure that when walking with it that the blade is angled forward so others can see it clearly. As an extension to this, you should try not to walk behind anyway wielding a weapon without letting them know of your presence; if it is very close quarters you may need to wait till they have finished their exercise before walking past them.

When laying your weapon on the floor, you should make sure the blade is facing towards the wall with the blade in a direction AWAY from shomen. If there is limited room to place your weapon, line it up behind another but try to keep them close together so as to not intrude on walking space. When replacing your weapon on the rack, try to ensure that it lines up with the others already there.

If you have a personal weapon make sure it is clearly labelled with something to help you identify it easily. Never handle or use another persons weapon without their consent and if a naginata is being handed over the person offering the weapon should offer it with the blade facing towards them and away from the receiver.

Dojo etiquette:

Shoes and socks should be removed before entering the dojo floor and always remember to rei (bow) towards shomen (head of the room) before leaving or entering.

Show respect to everyone in the dojo whether senior or junior or a non-practitioner. It is important to cultivate a good attitude and behaviour as your actions reflect not just upon yourself, but upon those that you train with.

If you arrive late, do not interrupt those who have started training. Let the instructor acknowledge your arrival, get yourself changed and begin a short warm-up off to the side. If you have missed bowing in, please bow in to shomen before joining the main group.

Should you need to leave the dojo floor or an exercise let your training partner know and if possible, let the current instructor know. Fiona and I are fairly easy-going on this point - we trust that you know yourself well enough to excuse yourself if you feel it necessary.

Phrases of note:

Onegaishimasu (Please): This is used as you rei prior to start training with someone. You don't have to do this every time you start to work with a new partner but it is a polite way to show respect. It can be interpreted as 'please, teach me' or 'please work with me' depending on usage.

Arigato gozaimasu (Thank you): This is the present and future version of the phrase and is used to thank your partner or instructor in advance for giving their time and effort to you.

Arigato gozaimashita (Thank you): The past version of the thank you - used after you've finished training with someone.

Hai (Yes): This is used when responding to instructions or advice from others. It's generally interpreted as agreeing or attending to that persons words.

Shomen ni: Turn to face shomen

Otagai ni: Turn to face each other
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Since it's the start of the year, we're going to spend the next few of these posts going back over some of the basics, starting with hanmi. Hanmi, or side-on posture, is a big feature of atarashii naginata. The major advantage of this posture is that it exposes a minimal amount of your body to your opponents attack. Main points to bear in mind for hanmi are:

- keep your shoulders, hips and heels of the feet in direct alignment (although the back foot will protrude forward a little to prevent your heels crossing)
- relax the shoulders but maintain an upright stance
- keep your balance in the centre of your body; try not to sit back with weight on your heels as this makes it more difficult to move quickly
- keep your head facing directly at your opponent, over the forward shoulder, and maintain eye contact
- where possible, attempt to keep your forward foot pointing directly at your opponent with your rear foot perpendicular
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A very warm welcome to our three new beginners today and a big thanks to all the other practitioners who assisted in guiding them in the basic. A big thank you to Michael who made a good go of taking on some of the motodachi and instructional roles today too!
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Many of you have had your first taste of the zen nihon kata in the last class of last year or the first of this one. Now that many of you are at least passingly familiar with the eight shikake-oji kata we felt this was a good time to start trying to introduce these new forms to you. Normally, zen nihon kata aren't something you need to be able to demonstrate in a grading until yodan (4th dan) but we feel it's impractical to have our practitioners wait until they've reached sandan (3rd dan) before they begin to learn it.

Now, the reference material for the zen nihon kata is limited and while Alex Bennett's excellent book has written descriptions for each of the kata, there's no photo depictions. However, we have located a very good video reference of the eight kata to help you see the difference in style between these and the shikake-oji waza.

On a side note, we'd like to welcome back Anthony to training after a few years hiatus and say a fond farewell to Ansel and Cathy who are moving to Singapore. Hopefully we may see them back again in a few years too!
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Thank you to everyone who's been a part of or supported the VNR in 2016 - classes may be over for the year but the budo spirit lives on!

Don't forget that the MBK has a NYE keiko for all the arts if you wish to say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new with a naginata in hand!

Also, while there may be no classes until we return on January 7th there are things you can work on wherever you are! Footwork isn't limited to the dojo floor - keep an eye on your heels to make sure they're not overlapping, watch your hip and shoulder placements for hanmi and be aware of where your keeping your weight.

Don't have a naginata to train with at home? Grab a mop/broom handle and look at your grip and the width of your hand placements.

And, as I like to remind you all, remember to breathe! You've got some time before we get you back on the dojo floor so take a moment to breathe in, breathe out and relax!

Be safe over the holiday season and we'll see you all in 2017.
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