View Full Version : Nagamaki (wrapped long-blade halberd)

Kit LeBlanc
3rd July 2000, 15:20
Mr. Backlund,

Actually it is fairly well known that Ellis Amdur teaches nagamaki, within Araki-ryu and I think in the Buko-ryu tradition. From what I have gathered these are among the few ryuha still practicing nagamaki.

I know that he is always interested in other ryuha which teach the weapon. I am unfamiliar with the ryuha you mention in your signature, are they Okinawan? I would be interested in their history and their nagamaki training.

Kit LeBlanc

Jason Backlund
3rd July 2000, 21:11
Mr./Ms. LeBlanc,

Thank you for your reply. The ryu that I mentioned originated on Honshu, not Okinawa.
As for history- the story, as was told to me by Matsubara Isao (late family source {soke} of the Matsubara Ryu) and Yamagata Takashi (my instructor in the Matsubara Ryu and the Ryuso {founder} of the Yamagata Ryu) is that the Matsubara were a samurai family prior to Meiji.
There were three important figures in the development of the family's own brand of martial art. The first character was referred to as Matsubara no Bushin (the military spirit of the Matsubara family) and was said to have existed at the turn of the fourteenth century. There is no good information on this person, he seemed to me to be the embodiment of the family's desire to create its own system. The second person was named Matsubara Norikatsu, who was said to have died in 1712. Norikatsu apparently took it upon himself to study as much as he could about Nihon Bujutsu, added much of it to the teachings originated by Matsubara no Bushin, and passed this information to his children. The third figure is Matsubara Hiroshi, the father of Matsubara Isao. Hiroshi died in 1963. He was largely responsible for taking the family traditions and turning them into a cohesive art. He abandoned a lot of the teachings that didn't make sense to him, and categorized the ones that did. He was also the one who first used the term Matsubara Ryu Bujutsu.
All of the historical knowledge of the Matsubara Ryu, as best as I can tell, was passed orally to Hiroshi, who tried his best to make something of it. As a student of history, I find most of the details of the information about the early history of the Matsubara family to be unreliable to say the least, but they are interesting stories.
As for the Yamagata Ryu, that one is easy. Yamagata Takashi's parents died just before WWII, and the Matsubara family took him in. There he became an outstanding student. His two major loves within the MA were Kenjutsu and Taijutsu. He studied several other systems of Kenjutsu and Taijutsu during his years in Japan. He moved to Orlando, Florida as a Soke Daihyo (representative of the Soke) of the Matsubara Ryu in 1972. I met him in 1984 and became a full time student. I was his uke as he experimented with many different types of techniques and theories of strategy, of which were combinations of Matsubara Ryu, other styles he'd studied, and my imput. Soon he had two new and distinct styles, and with the blessing of Isao, created Yamagata Ryu Kenjutsu, and Yamagata Ryu Goshinjutsu.
I've created an organization called Kobushin Kai, in which I teach Matsubara Ryu Bujutsu (consisting of Yari no kata, Koyari no kata, Naginata no kata, Nagamaki no kata, Yonshakubo no kata, Tambo no kata, Kumiai no kata, and In-yo no kata) and Yamagata Ryu Bujutsu (consisting of Goshinjutsu, Yoroi kenjutsu, and Suhada Kenjutsu).

I hope this wasn't too much, and if Mr. Amdur is willing, I'd like to know where he gets his keiko-nagamaki (I'd like boku-nagamaki if at all possible). I can't seem to find anyone who makes or sells them.

Jason Backlund
Kobushin Kai
Yamagata Ryu Bujutsu, Matsubara Ryu Bujutsu

[Edited by Jason Backlund on 07-04-2000 at 01:56 AM]

3rd April 2002, 15:53
In Diane Skoss's book, 'Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan', the nagamaki is defined as "a Japanese glaive with a particularly large or heavy blade". Yet, the only nagamaki I have seen (that are referred to as "nagamaki")are nagamaki-naoshi, which appear to be little more than a katana blade with a very long tsuka.

I see there are some large bladed weapons similar to a Western halberd pictured in some books, but these are referred to as only different types of naginata.

The Southern California Naginata Federation says on this page (http://members.aol.com/naginata/qa.html) that one of the main differences between naginata and nagamaki is that the handle of a nagamaki is wrapped, like a sword handle- not a wooden pole. Buthere (http://www.swordforum.com/fall99/token-kai-3.html) and here (http://www.japanesesword.homestead.com/files/polearms.htm) we have weapons that do not have wrapped tsuka that are referred to as nagamaki. The latter one in particular is surely not a naginata..unwrapped handle or not.

I know this is kind of a rambling post..sorry. But any information on the nagamaki would be greatly appreciated.


Is there anywhere on the net or in a book that I can see a nagamaki of the type that Mrs. Skoss describes (glaive with large or heavy blade)?

How many styles of nagamaki are out there?

Are there many ryu extant which still teach the use of the nagamaki in their curriculum?


3rd April 2002, 16:11
Hi Sir.
The Nagamaki (Called a Bisento in the programme..Defined by Tanemura Sensei as a "Broad, hard bladed..Large Naginata" in "Ninpo Secrets" But may not be the same..) described above was (I think) seen in the Discovery programme that featured a spotlight on the Genbukan Honbu Dojo...Wright Sensei was shown using it against an attacker armed with a sword...VERY IMPRESSIVE!
If you can get your hands on that show you will see what I mean..The blade looked about 2 feet long and 1 across and was rather cumbersome but used against a shorter blade was efficient enough..It was shown being used in a horizontal cutting motion before a finishing cut was made to prone Uke's body and the foot was used to push the blade deeply into the cut when the blade was pulled out.
I guess that would also answer the question on does anyone else train in the use of the weapon today (The blade was originally used to slice at a Horses feet in battle:saw: )...But I do not know which school the techniques were from originally..

Don Cunningham
3rd April 2002, 21:05
I actually owned a nagimaki for a short time. I eventually sold it for a considerable profit on eBay. Basically, the polearm was the same as a naginata, although a bit thicker and heavier. It had a larger blade, both in length, width, and thickness. The pole on mine was a recent replacement, probably late Meiji era, but the blade was signed and dated from the Koto period. I was told the nagimaki was the preferred weapon of the warrior monks during that time.

There was also a strange sword that was supposed to be incredibly large and was reportedly used to cut the legs of horses. I believe it was featured as one of the weapons in an Kenshin anime show. Despite this, it was apparently a real but relatively unknown weapon. I don't think the nagimaki was specifically intended to cut horse's legs, but was mainly a battlefield weapon. I understand the naginata is a scaled down version mainly for use by samurai women.

3rd April 2002, 21:29
I note that naginata from the Nanbucho period are very large..so what separates a naginata from a nagamaki?

4th April 2002, 10:07
Hey all
According to Kokan Nakayama's "The Connoiseur's Book of Japanese Swords"-The best book I've found on the nihonto (in english), in a section describing 'types of swords'; "A Naginata is a long-hafted sword, wielded in large sweeping strokes. Most Naginata have no yokote, and the blades often have a distinctive carved groove. Typically, a naginata has a wide blade with a large point and a long tang. Today the blade commonly referred to as a naginata is dramatically curved and quite wide toward the tip, while a more standard shaped blade is called a nagamaki"

Basically naginata are shorter, wider and more curved at the tip, whereas the nagamaki looks more like a long katana-shaped halberd (straighter and thinner)

As I said, my $0.02:wave:
Brendan Finn

J. R. Backlund
13th April 2002, 04:17

Nagamaki translates as 'long wrapped' which refers to their handles originally being wrapped like a sword handle. Eventually, examples emerged that didn't have wraps but kept the name because the other characteristics were the same. They are pole arms, and the most distinguishable examples have handles that are about four feet long and blades that are about three feet long. Some have longer handles and shorter blades and closely resemble naginata. Others have longer blades and shorter handles and resemble nodachi (moore swords).

Exellent examples of these weapons can be seen in a book called 'Arms and Armor of the Samurai.' I don't know the author.

I've studied this weapon. Essentially, it works as a spear that can't be grabbed by an opponent because of its long blade. If an opponent gets too close, their legs and other areas can be sliced. These were used often as infantry weapons, but were more expensive than spears and naginata, and therefore, few examples exist. Sadly, many ryu have taken up this weapon and invented elaborate techniques that make it look like a combination between a sword and a naginata. Historically, the weapon rarely ever saw that kind of action, and the soldiers who used them weren't that well trained. It is good for thrusting and slicing, but the chopping that comes so naturally to the sword and naginata is a bit awkward.

Jason Backlund

14th April 2002, 14:25
Thanks Jason. Ellis Amdur has also pointed out in this thread at Bugei (http://www.swordforumbugei.com/ubb/Forum2/HTML/001078.html) that differences in the construction also depend on the ryu that uses it, although they are all considered nagamaki. A pretty interesting thread over there.

carl mcclafferty
15th April 2002, 19:55

Just for reference some Sohei, in the 12th or so century, used shobuzukuri naginata which had shorter handles and huge blades. These are easy to confuse with nagamaki. Some Sohei used them from horseback which can even throw more confusion into it if you don't recognize the difference when looking at old prints.

Carl McClafferty

Marc Renouf
15th April 2002, 21:15
David, our dojo recently spent some time learning Kukishinden Ryu naginatajutsu, which included delving into the topics of bisen-to and nagamaki. In our parlance, the nagamaki is as described by Brendan, an approximately 3' katana-like blade with a 3' or 4' straight tsuka. The weapon than Don described would be more along the lines of what we would classify as a bisen-to.

The way it was presented to us, the nagamaki was used in a manner very similar to the naginata with a few minor exceptions. The first and probably most important of these was that unlike the naginata, the hands don't change when handling the weapon. In other words, like kenjutsu, the right hand is always closest to the blade. The other point was that there's not as much "sliding" action on the handle (in Kukishinden Ryu, using naginata bears some resemblance to sojutsu and bojutsu, where you actively use the entire length of the shaft, lengthening or shortening the distance in order to make the attacks more deceptive).

To my knowledge, there are no formal Kukishinden Ryu kata for the nagamaki, but all of the kata for the naginata can be performed easily with a nagamaki by making the aforementioned alterations in handling and distancing. Kukishinden Ryu naginata forms are simple, brutal, and direct, and the nagamaki variations preserve the spirit of those kata. Bisen-to actually does have its own separate kata (which differ substantially from naginatajutsu) but I've only seen the first two forms.

17th April 2002, 00:52
Thank you Mark. Now I can see a bit of the confusion..Bisento and Nagamaki. In my research of nagamaki, I started out wondering the difference between nagamaki and naginata, then nagamaki and bisento. A lot of different usage. The bisento only seems to be mentioned by Bujinkan sites, and requests for a picture of an original haven't been too productive.

Nagamaki? (http://www.tsuki-kage.com/images/hawley_1.jpg)

Bisento? I know..this is a wooden weapon on a cheesy site.. (http://www.warriorquest.com/customweapons.html)

J. R. Backlund
17th April 2002, 03:09
As for the first photo- pretty clear cut nagamaki to me, at least in dimensions and blade type. The pole seems like it might even be wrapped, which would perfectly fit the definition 'long wrapping.' Of course, it might just be an illusion. Some handles have rings carved into them that might look like tsuka maki from a distance. Also, that weapon has a fairly pronounced tsuba, which was common to nagamaki, at least examples that I have seen.

As for the second photo- well, I'm not quite sure what to make of that. They write nagimaki (new spelling for me) is a straight-bladed halberd. Certainly that is not the defining characteristic of a nagamaki.

As for what they say is the Bisento- that's a weapon I'm not familiar with, but theirs looks like something from China. Are they all supposed to look like that?

Jason Backlund

17th April 2002, 06:51
Your right about it looking Chinese
Looks like a sort of short-bladed Kwan-Do
Never seen one refered to as japanese before
BTW, I loved the photos of the 'ninja' and 'samurai' alongside it hey :laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

Brendan Finn:kiss:

Alex Meehan
17th April 2002, 07:28
There are a couple of pics of a what we in the Bujinkan term a Bisento on the following page:


Hope this helps,


18th April 2002, 17:51
The pole seems like it might even be wrapped, which would perfectly fit the definition 'long wrapping.' Of course, it might just be an illusion.

That particular piece is half-wrapped, I believe.

Alex, that's a hell of a weapon! I wonder how much the original, steel-bladed ones weighed?

Oh, before I go take a look at this unusual 'nagamaki'. It appears to have a katana-style blade. It was made by Takemura Masaari, circa 1862. No wrapping...a sword on a stick? :)


Richard Elias
18th April 2002, 19:03
Just FYI.
The Nagamaki in David's earlier post (not the one directly above this one) is not wrapped at all.
It's black lacquered wood with ebi-ribbing. It has iron fittings and a very unique hand guard with four up-turned tines on it. It is a VERY beutiful piece from the W.M. Hawley collection. It's one of my personal favorites. Actually, everyone that holds that thing falls in love with it.

Incidently, the guy holding it is E-budo's own Nathan Scott.

18th April 2002, 19:52
Whoops, thanks for the correction. :)

Nathan Scott
12th February 2006, 11:58
Hi guys,

I think you'll find that terminology for the various length bladed weapons in koryu often vary between different ryu-ha, as well as in different periods in time. I gave myself a headache one day trying to apply the popular terminology currently adopted by tokenkai (sword appraisal/appreciation societies) to the terms used in a Sengoku period koryu. Didn't cross over well.

In other words, there is a gray line between what is called a naginata and a nagamaki. In many cases, it is best just to use the term selected by the ryu-ha than to try to make everything fit into black and white classifications.