By Stefano Carlini
Naples is a very special Italian city.
Founded by the Greeks 2,500 years ago, for centuries it has been the capital of a kingdom that has experienced countless cultural and political influences throughout its history. Governed by Normans, French, Spanish and Austrians, geographically located in what is a European offshoot at the centre of the Mediterranean, all these contaminations have made it a culturally flourishing and lively metropolis.
And it is in this city that in 2014 a group of friends, united by their passion for kendo, founded the Shuuenkan.
In this city full of contradictions and social, economic and cultural extremes, unlike in other Italian cities, the Japanese fencing arts have never really managed to flourish since they began to spread throughout Italy. This situation was the first obstacle that the initiators of the newly founded association for the promotion and practice, in the beginning only of kendo, had to face. With innumerable efforts, the necessary contacts and sponsors were found to be able to create the conditions for affiliation to the Italian Kendo Confederation and begin practice and training, so that it could grow and independently dedicate itself to the development of its projects in the Naples area.
Shuuenkan’s first contact with the world of naginata came a few years after its foundation, thanks to its president’s meeting with third dan Stefano Carlini.
It was 2018, when Mr Carlini and the dojo’s management first organised an event dedicated to naginata in Naples.
Since then, Mr.Carlini’s visits, which from the city of Ravenna faced the long journey to Naples, became more and more frequent appointments, which every time a little bit more, immersed Shuuenkan in the fascinating practice of naginata.
Unfortunately, meanwhile came the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, which stopped all activities.
However, this year the Shuuenkan, with a view to rebirth and expansion, wanted to inaugurate a course expressly dedicated to the study of naginata, whose head teacher is naturally Mr Carlini, who has also honoured the Shuuenkan with his inclusion among the dojo’s practitioners.
This new step is very important for the impulse it gives to the project, with a strong social connotation, promoted by this dojo in Naples, which as a distinctive feature has the proposal of a practice in a completely free form.
Naples is a peculiar city, crossed by strong social tensions, Shuuenkan has wanted since its foundation to be based in Materdei, a working-class district in the historic centre, squeezed between the rich hillside districts and the ancient and more intensely populated ones in the city centre.
After the pandemic events, the Shuuenkan began its collaboration with the ‘Giardino Liberato di Materdei’, a social reality located in an 18th-century convent that the city administration entrusted to a citizens’ committee, so that it could become a hub for activities open to the entire neighbourhood and all citizens. Thanks to them, the project of totally free practice was able to see its realisation. And it is from here that they want to spread as much as possible the principles of budo, which through their practice can bring concrete benefit to the improvement of society.
This was also the reason why the first naginata event in 2018 was held in Scampia, a Neapolitan suburb, sadly famous worldwide for being a place of degradation and crime.
Bringing the practice of naginata to such contexts is a strong message of hope, as well as a concrete commitment to sow a seed that will blossom by helping to beautify, perhaps even with just a small shrub, the ugliness that our society sometimes creates.
The Shuuenkan strongly believes this.
Anyone who practises naginata, however, knows how expensive it can be, from the monthly fees for renting practice venues, to the purchase and maintenance of equipment, to participation in stages and events held outside the city. All this has created around the naginata almost an aura of exclusivity. With its project, Shuuenkan wanted to overcome these obstacles by offering the possibility of free practice and with other initiatives that it puts in place and wants to put in place, so that it can focus on just one of the main aspects of naginata, the enormous value that its teaching and practice can have in the personal growth of the individual.
In fact, naginata, with its profound aesthetics of inflexibility and elegance of gestures, contrasted with the passion and ardour of shiai and its strong didactic value developed in the recent Japanese past, can bring manifold benefits through its teaching and dissemination.
To advance these ideals, the Shuuenkan has created a project that has its roots in the gratuitousness of practice, but from which several other objectives branch out.
First of all, Shuuenkan self-finances its activities thanks to the contributions of those practitioners who can afford it, and from next year it will also be able to be recipients of the percentage donated to charity from the Italian tax return. In addition, a fund-raising campaign has also been set up through which it intends to pursue several goals. First of all, there is definitely the renovation of the premises that house the dojo, also as a thanking to the ‘Giardino Liberato’ for their cooperation and for the benefit of the entire community as well. Then to be able to provide uniforms, bogu and naginata, completely free of charge for all those who cannot afford them. Also to finance the participation of young people from the dojo in federally and internationally organised training events. And closely connected to this, there is the desire to succeed in bringing naginata also to young people in the schools of Naples.
These are the ambitious goals that the Shuuenkan of Naples sets itself, finding strength through its passion for the practice and dissemination of naginata.