Naginata – The Japanese Polearm

Key Point: The Naginata is a polearm with a curved, single-edged blade mounted on a long shaft. Its length is between 210 to 240 centimeters or 6.89 to 7.87 feet.

If you ever felt intrigued by Japanese weapons this article is for you. Here we discuss the Naginata polearm. You will see what the Naginata polearm is, how it was used, and why it eventually stopped being used.

As always, I will give you the key takeaway of the entire article, before expanding the topic in a little more detail. So, let’s begin with … What is the Naginata?

Naginata is a traditional Japanese polearm with a curved, single-edged blade at the end of a long wooden shaft. It was used primarily by female warriors, known as onna-bugeisha, during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. The long reach of the Naginata made it an effective weapon for keeping enemies at a distance, while the curved blade allowed for a wide range of slashing and thrusting attacks. Today it is used as just a tool in traditional Japanese martial arts.

That was the key takeaway of the article. Let’s delve into the history of this weapon next. Starting with the …

Origin Of Naginata

Naginata is a traditional Japanese polearm that was used by female warriors in the Heian period (794-1185). It was initially created by blacksmiths who wanted to improve the design of the Yari. Which was a spear-like weapon that was commonly used by samurai warriors at the time.

The Naginata was designed to have an even longer reach than the Yari and could be used more effectively in close-quarters combat. The first Naginata was made by combining a Yari spearhead with a curved blade from a Japanese sword, creating a weapon that was versatile and deadly.

And now that we explored the origin of Naginata a little, it’s time we check out an example of a battle where Naginata was used.

Battle Where Naginata Was Used

One of the most famous battles where Naginata was used was the Battle of Fujikawa in 1180.

During this battle, the forces of the Taira clan were defeated by the Minamoto clan. The Taira clan was known for their cavalry charges, and sadly they went against a weapon that worked perfectly against cavalry charges.

The Naginata’s longer reach allowed the female warriors to attack the horses and riders from a safe distance. While the curved blade at the end of the polearm was used to go at the riders directly.

Now, let’s take a look at the dimensions of Naginata.

Its Dimensions

The Naginata was six to eight feet in length. With a curved blade at the end that measured around two feet. The total weight of the Naginata is around four to five pounds. Which made it light enough for a female warrior to wield effectively.

Let’s see what materials were used to make it.

Materials It Was Made From?

The blade of the Naginata was made from high-carbon steel. Which was heated and then folded over many times to create a strong and durable blade (a similar process to the manufacturing of the Katana blade)

The shaft of the Naginata was made from a lightweight wood such as bamboo or Japanese white oak. These were chosen for their strength and flexibility. The blade and shaft were then attached using a metal collar, which was typically made from copper or brass.

Now let’s take a look at how the weapon was used in battle.

How It was Used In Battle?

The Naginata was primarily used by female warriors, who were known as Onna-bugeisha. They were trained in the use of Naginata from a young age and were skilled in using the weapon both defensively and offensively.

Its long reach made it an effective weapon for keeping enemy soldiers at bay. While the curved blade at the end of the polearm was used to strike at the enemy from a safe distance.

The main appeal of the weapon was it enabled its wielder to inflict damage on an opponent from a safer distance.

And for that very reason during the Sengoku period (1467-1603), the Naginata gained widespread popularity among samurai warriors, who used it in battle with other polearms such as the Yari (spear) and the Nagamaki (long-handled sword). It was effective and it provided a measure of safety to its user. Hard to beat that.

Now, let’s see how it compares to other polearms of Japan.

How It Compares …

Compared to other polearms used during the Sengoku period, such as the yari and the nagamaki … The Naginata had a longer reach and was generally considered to be more versatile.

The yari, a spear-like weapon, was primarily used for thrusting and had a shorter range than the Naginata. The Nagamaki had a shorter reach than the Naginata but could be used more effectively in close combat.

Buts, despite all of its advantages, the Naginata eventually disappeared from the battlefield.

Let’s take a look at why that happened.

Why Did Naginata Disappear From The Battlefield?

The use of traditional weapons such as the Naginata began to decline as firearms became more effective.

Firearms were more effective against armor than traditional weapons.

And, the samurai class, began to lose its social and political power during the Meiji Restoration. Which was the final nail in the coffin for widespread Naginata use. Since they were the ones that used the Naginata the most at that point.

As a result of these two main factors, the use of traditional weapons like the Naginata began to decline. A somewhat similar process happened to the winged spear, as you can see here.

But for the conclusion to our article, let’s see how the Naginata is used in modern times, if at all … let’s check it out.

Naginata In Modern Times

So, first off, the naginata has found a cool niche in contemporary martial arts. In many traditional dojos, you’ll see folks practicing naginatajutsu, a martial art that revolves around this weapon. The naginata itself, with its characteristic curved blade and long wooden shaft, has become a staple in these circles.

Now, the cool thing is, in atarashii naginata (that’s “new naginata” in Japanese), folks aren’t just swinging it around for the sake of tradition. Nope, they’ve adapted it. Picture this: a naginata with an oak shaft and a bamboo “blade” used in practice, forms competitions, and sparring. It’s like the naginata is having a second life, and it’s loving the attention.

But wait, there’s more! In the world of sports, you’ve got naginata tournaments popping up globally. Yeah, you heard it right. People are going head-to-head, showcasing their skills with the naginata. It’s not just a relic from the past; it’s a dynamic tool in the hands of modern warriors.

And hey, it’s not just about battles anymore. The naginata has become an art form. In the Bujinkan and koryū schools, like Suio Ryu and Tendō-ryū, practitioners embrace the naginata as a part of their heritage. It’s not just swinging a polearm; it’s a dance, a connection to the past that’s very much alive today.

So, the naginata isn’t just sitting in museums collecting dust. It’s out there, in dojos, in tournaments, and in the hearts of those who appreciate its grace and power. Who would’ve thought, right?

And there you have it, a quick dive into how the naginata is making waves in the modern world.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two.

Take care!


Samurai Weapons: Tools of the Warrior” by Don Cunningham

“The Samurai Sword: A Handbook” by John M. Yumoto