Naginata Christmas Tourney ‘23

The first post-COVID naginata tournament in our kingdom of Erathia is over.

There is much to think and rethink.

Kicking in

You know that feeling when you try something that drastically differs from any and all past experience in conjunction and it turns your senses upside down, you want to talk about it, you want to share your experience with others, and moreover, you are eager to do it again. Yes, sir! That kind of sensation I've been experiencing upon my return from Modena. The good news I wasn't alone, thus, we [a tiny part of our small naginata community] kicked in a discussion how to slake our thirst for good old shiais.
Some introductions are needed for readers to get the whole picture. Once upon a time, I decided to create Telegram [unknown messenger platform in the EU] chat for all naginata members. You know, just to stay in touch and share videos of trainings from distant places of our huge country. For instance, that's how we communicate with and guide our Kazakh friends on a daily basis. However, it's proved to be just a mere chat amoung few. Shame on our community, the rest are lazy even to communicate, what one can tell about their training routine? Anyway, we still desperately needed a tourney this year even if the rest community couldn’t yet decide. At least to share our ENC experience with the rest who failed to go there.
Prior COVID era Ann [my wifey and kendo/naginata buddy] and I used to visit Belgium every Christmas to practice kendo and get in touch with the holiday mood. I thought, since traveling to Belgium requires extra efforts these days, it might be a good idea to celebrate Christmas by having an annual naginata tourney locally. Settled!
The next question arouse where to host the event? Since we've got vast of places, such as St.Petersburg, Konigsberg, Arkhangelsk etc., the decision proved to be a tough one. Same as with the ENC, all our ideas shattered against the wall of extreme lack of travel options. It is hard and quite expensive to travel abroad from our capital city nowadays, whereas nearly impossible to do it from other cities, provided that one ought to travel to Moscow first place. Therefore, the decision was clear; the first host city must be Moscow in order to give an equal opportunity for each senshu from other locations to plan their flights without damage. On the other hand, to our great disappointment even in this particular case many failed to come eventually...


The date was set, such as the place. Fortunately, our KAMINARIKAN dojo could provide one nice shiaijo for the date and the date itself was quite convenient - Sunday, the Christmas Eve. Personally, I haven't got much experience in organising such events as a host but I've been to many so alined with the general idea. I split preparation into three steps: (i) preparing the spot and promo, (ii) preparing senshu, and (iii) preparing shimpan. The first two aren't quite difficult to complete.
All you require for the first step is to rent a spot for desired time, to ask your dojo mate to draw a poster, to write an article about the event, to order prizes and consumables, to share the news with local and overseas communities, to receive commitments to come from the practitioners, to draft an excel competition grid [here I bow to Ann for she is the excel goddess and did a miracle] and to prepare an online broadcast [that's where I've failed due to being a digital savage]. That's all folks. Done.
Regarding prizes, I've always thought that medals or cups are overrated and fade in memory in time. I've got quite a few myself without any memory of circumstances. Thus, I wanted something special, that might be of a good use or preserve the memory of the event. What does naginataka need? Right. A naginata!
Having a good local artisan in mind, I ordered two ebu. I also ordered two habu from a bogu dealer, a good old friend of mine. By a coincidence, both are located in St. Petersburg (dunno why, but this city concentrates vast majority of martial arts enthusiasts), saved me a coin on logistics. These four pieces made splendid prizes for shiai-kyogi: assembled shiai-naginata for the first place, most precious part, ebu, for the second place, and habu for the third one. Better than medals anyway. Not mentioning certificates, it's a must as a written evidence of one fighting there in that corner of the world. Ann brought sweets and beverage from Japan that suited perfectly as engi-kyogi prizes.
The second step required some time and a consistent approach to our training routine. I'm not aware how it was done at other dojos, but I had started to prepare my naginata mates right away. It wasn't that hard, because many seniors shared their thoughts and understanding on how to do nice naginata shiais during the ENC or right after. What is precious about naginata [one usually can't find this in kendo] that anytime I can ask them any question and they are eager to give me a hand notwithstanding all that mess that happening around us these days. Here is the part where I'm praising the friendliest naginata community representatives. I do really appreciate great help from and effort of Gur Nedzvetsky naginata yondan from Israel, Katie Roshe naginata godan from the New York city, and Mark Berghaan naginata renshi from the Netherlands. Your advice fit just in place.
The most difficult step was the third one. Not because of lack of judging experience or lack of proper ranks, I say, lack of men. There are some things that can be fixed with time, knowledge and practice, and there're some that can't be fixed, you just have to accept and move on. When your numbers can't be compared, for instance, to those of kendo and you're prevented from inviting someone from abroad due to difficulties of the current situation, you've got to do it by your own means. That's tremendously sorrowful part of the whole event, I presume. Notwithstanding that, not an obstacle not to have it. It is what it is.
For example, we've got limited number of attendees and all of them are to participate. So, nobody to do only the judging part (or at least separately). Means that every senshu ought to be a shimpan at some point of time and swap to a senshu role in haste afterwards and back again. Leads to a situation where following the proper rule of shimpan etiquette is unachievable.
The deviation was inevitable. Bothered me a lot: and here he came, a knight clad in shining armour — Mark and told me that fighting and judging experience is of the essence and offered me a hand how to manage it properly. Checked our videos, gave a nice piece of advice on how to award ippons, where to focus etc. In other words, he gave practical commentary on the judging book applicable to my particular situation. That helped a lot eventually. Appreciated!

Christmas time

The event was sadden by some reluctant senshu who unexpectedly [not sure, maybe I knew from the beginning] quit just a week before the date making our numbers even lesser. Additionally, I caught cold in the beginning of that week, which made me twice as miserable, knocking out what was left of my confidence entirely. Anyway, it was the point of no return, so we made some grid adjustments and final preparations.
Daria arrived to Moscow right before our usual Saturday naginata session at the dojo the day before the Christmas Eve. She brought that nasty moisty St. Petersburg's weather with her ruining our snowy holiday mood. Nevertheless, it was a good timing, because we got an opportunity to share Mark's comments and do the final repetition of engi, shiais and shimpan under the watchful eye of our beloved signora presidente. Appreciate her help as always!
Comparing to Europeans, we are not blessed with a public holiday on December 25, so we had just a usual weekend to spare. Without any chance to make a sayonara-party after the tourney, we made it a day before.
In the beginning of this note, I mentioned Belgium with an ulterior motive. The tradition should always prevail despite anything. Thus, if we can't visit Belgium on Christmas, we'll find a piece of it in Moscow. Our sayonara-party took place in a Belgian restaurant called Leffe. Fortunately for us kriek was half the price, so we didn't care whether it's a summer or winter. The food was magnificent. Unfortunately, they didn't serve waffles and Belgian fries are the way better in Belgium. We had a good time remembering all sweet naginata moments together and planning new adventures.
Of course, the next morning became a hideous surprise for many. I was angered that nobody of those who had been assigned to help with the shiaijo preparation arrived on time. Many more little shameful things I will keep to myself. Anyway, we were able to finish all preparations with an extra hand from our fellow kendo mates nearly within the schedule. It could be better, but a smooth start, I say.
We started with shiai-kyogi by two reasons. Uneven number of participants meant that someone ought to be left behind engi-kyogi. And someone should be the shushin. On the one hand, Ann offered that the person should be the winner of the shiai-kyogi. She was hoping that Daria would win and act as engi shushin provided that she’s much more experienced than the rest of us. On the other hand, I thought to myself: "Nice plan! Maybe I can revive a bit from a cold if I win?" Too arrogant. Never happened, though.
Ann made the competition grid in order to introduce as many shiais as possible. As the result we'd got at least eight guaranteed fights each before entering the semi-finals. Only the four most successful (subject to most wins) senshu could enter the semi-finals in a random order. Considering this, we dropped the idea of having encho or hikiwake, in case of a draw the hantei would rule.
Now, it begins. I was in no shape to fight, so I struggled a lot with an ache that crippled through all my body just in order to stand straight in hanmi. In the end of the day, I was victorious in all but two fights against Daria and Ann. I might still experience primeval fear fighting them. At least it applies to my wifey. Broke a new habu somewhere in the middle of a rumble. Judging from the inside of shiaijo I still lack little skill and precision, whilst watching videos I'm getting mad at myself for overall bloody performance. Not of importance, though. I managed to bit Daria [how?!] in the semi-final, but lost to my wifey in the final, scoring 2:1. Pity, since I needed that habu awarded for the third or the first place. In the end of the day got two ebu and zero habu.
I dunno whether you share the same lack of shiai/shimpan memory with me or not, but I can never remember the most of details of any shiai I fight or judge. I won't be good at describing how others fought. However, I can share some general experience of overall senshu and shimpan performance. For my personal taste both were not good enough, could be better. I wish none of fukushin were to idolize their shushin. Any shimpan should have been [as they should be in general] firm with their own judgement and final decision, without any hesitation or uncertainty. However, this comes with experience and depends on personal courage, I assume. Therefore, I can praise everybody for what they did. Good job! As for the engi-kyogi, I'm not mature enough to comment the performance. Maybe next time.

Achievement unlocked

Shiai-kyogi results:
  • 1st place — Ann Bragina
  • 2nd place — Andrew Bragin
  • 3rd place — Max Ryzhov
  • Fighting Spirit — Nika Polikarkina & Natasha Vodzinskaya
Engi-kyogi results:
  • 1st place — Andrew Bragin & Max Ryzhov
  • 2nd place — Daria Belova & Elizabeth Golubeva
  • 3rd place — Daria Litunenko & Alex Panasenko
We definitely hosted a unique tournament on a beautiful day. We accommodated and fought against nice naginataka. Hopefully, the next one will be hosted in a more suitable place for Xmas such as Konigsberg and will attract more practitioners. May it become an annual Christmas tradition in our kingdom. Surely, everybody needs to travel more, get eager for more practice and knowledge and muscle up. That's what we're going to do next year!
Moreover, we celebrated X Anniversary of Russian Naginata Association on a grandeur scale and returned safely home to roast some lamb, open a bottle of rich Greco di Tufo and celebrate Christmas with Bruce Willis at Nakatomi Plaza on tele.

Thanks to Daria, Katie, Gur and Mark for your guidance. Thanks to all participants for their performance and effort. Thanks to all kenshi who gave a hand! And thank you for reading this short note of mine.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!