Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Naginata World Championship

The 5th World Naginata Championship was held in Japan in 2011 and I went to watch and support the Oita girls who were on the national team. My club had planned to go in force to support the Oita girls who were representing Japan (the engi^ team). In the end there was too much dilly-dallying and we missed the window for making group plans, so I went by myself and met up with the others who made it at the championship. The contest was held in Himeji, famous for a really beautiful castle. Unfortunately for the poor international contestants the castle was undergoing renovations! I visited the castle back in 2005 so it wasn’t a problem for me and I didn’t have time for sightseeing anyway.
There were a few performances by local school children. The high school girls' rhythm naginata display was beautiful.

It was really interesting seeing the behaviour of everyone at the Championship. I’ve spent enough time in Japan now that I had forgotten how intense things are for people outside Japan who are into Japanese stuff. Many of the contestants were obviously really into Japanese martial arts in the almost reverent way I remember from my Aikido days. I feel so differently about it after watching the school tournaments and so on, it was both nostalgic and (at the risk of being mean) a bit funny. For example, at the start of the opening ceremony all the contestants were lining up very seriously, often bowing as they came into the hall. The announcer told them to begin the parade and then the theme from Rocky started to play. So much for the “sacred space for the cultivation of a warrior spirit” pretentiousness! On the other hand, I got really irritated with the Japanese crowd. The difference in the level between the Japanese contestants and most of the other countries’ contestants was huge, and the people around me kept saying things like “after-all, foreigners just don’t understand Japanese martial arts” and “they are bigger and stronger but they can’t match us for skill”. There’s an obsession here with viewing everything through an ethnic/racial prism (I know it happens everywhere, but for obvious reasons I am more aware of it in Japan). It didn’t occur to them that the Japanese representatives have been doing naginata since kindergarten while most people from other countries probably started in their 20s or even later. It didn’t occur to them that naginata is so obscure that there are not many high ranked teachers in other countries and less overall talent to draw from. They were also laughing at some of the representatives for wearing kendo armour not naginata armour. They have no idea how expensive and difficult to find that kind of stuff is overseas, it’s so normal for them. I felt especially bad when a contestant’s armour came loose and the referee stopped the match so he could fix it. He started to retie it but he was facing the wrong way. The referee expressed disapproval but didn’t indicate what he was supposed to be doing. He kept swivelling around trying to figure out what he was meant to be doing with no-one helping him and the crowd laughing uproariously. That was a low point, but overall it was a fun day. An American name Kevin caught the fancy of the crowd and he got lots of cheers.

The UK team only had three members and one fainted during the opening ceremony, so Australia beat them to a pulp and that’s all that really matters ;) If I’m in a financial situation to join the next one (it’s held every four years) I definitely will. I would be decimated in the actual fighting section but my engi^ is as good as many of the representatives. I’m also much more modest, of course. And, you know, I have the tiny advantage of training with the all-Japan champion (and her grandmother).

Supporting our girls!
Australia's Team
This is the Swedish engi team. In case you couldn't guess.

^In an engi match two people “fight” according to a predetermined sequence. Multiple pairs perform the same routine and the judges award the “match” to the pair who performed the moves best.
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  1. Thanks so much for posting videos! I missed Saxton's match because my friend wanted me to stay with her while the naginata she bought was assembled and I only heard about it later.

    BTW, hi! I just noticed that you started watching my blog. Can you send me some contact info (Facebook or something)? Since we're relatively close (I'm in Saga) it'd be cool if we could get together sometime!


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