Cuba and Naginata !

Cuba, I never expected to find myself on my way there. But a friend of mine said she was in dire need of a vacation away from the cold and wet winter. I replied jokingly ‘where are we going?’, she answered ‘Cuba’, I said ‘when?’, and here we were. Only a few weeks later on the plane to Sunshine and an all-inclusive resort.

Cuba? Hmm isn’t there Naginata in Cuba? My automatic travel-Naginata connection trigger went off. Yes, there is actually. In the last year I had received several emails from a Naginata association in Havana, Cuba.

I had seen some videos and wondered if I could visit them to see what they were doing.

I sent an email to Mr. Yausel Romero and I was happy to receive his reply that I was welcome to visit one of their practices. This was the main weekly practice at the Sensei’s house were people of several dojo came together.

I arranged a taxi to take us to the practice after a touristic visit to the city Havana little over a two hour drive from our resort.

We arrived in a neighborhood in the east of Havana. When we drove into the street we saw Mr.Romero waiting at the garden fence. We were welcomed and taken into the house to meet Sensei Nubia Bregado Gutiérrez and some of the other people managing the association.

Sensei explained about the history of Naginata in Cuba which started when there was a visit by the budokan delegation in 2000. Sensei at that time was already a well accomplished karate-ka with much experience in international competitions. Naginata in Cuba since that time had continued with the first Naginata book translated by Alex Bennett. But there had also been an influence by a koryu which was unknown to me before with senseis living in Mexico. To summarize, over the years since the start of Naginata in Cuba. Sensei had evolved it into 4 forms of Naginata which were all being taught in the single association. Atarashii Naginata being one of them. The association nowadays has about 70 members of which a large number of children.

After this introduction I had the honor to witness a few demonstrations of several groups of different levels. These were very motivated people of all ages.

They all came together in the yard of the sensei were they used self-made Naginata of all sizes to practice. Each dojo had their own color of keikogi while wearing black hakama, which were all made in Cuba itself.

What was immediately a nice thing to see that Sensei had a clear and strict structure for the practice.

The people all spread out so to most efficiently make use of the space available.  Sensei gave the commands for the greeting and bowing that all people did with good care and attention.

It was clear to me that these people had worked hard with a serious heart filled with dedication to the art including it’s etiquette.

After the demonstration I was asked if I would like to show something.

I started with Happo buri hachi go kan, they then showed me their version which was multidirectional.

Next I showed the kamae and basic kihon, furiage men, furiage sune, do, soku men, soke sune, and furikaesi men.

Cuba has been isolated in a way from the rest of the world and during many years there has been no more instruction or technical information for atarashii Naginata that has come into Cuba. The atarashii Naginata which was brought in by the budokan in 2000 has been somewhat changed during the years of isolation. Sensei had created a Naginata out of what she had learned, the book, the other Koryu and her experience in Karate.

One could say she has created her own Cuban Naginata style for Cuba.

There exists a wish to gather all Naginata into the one existing association that exists in Cuba now. Atarashii Naginata could be a part of that. Sensei expressed being in contact with the INF zone director so in that way things are on the right track.

It was an interesting trip meeting friendly, dedicated people. We don’t know what the future will bring for Cuba when and if it opens it’s  doors further to the world and enabling it’s people to travel more.

But I am sure this group will continue regardless what the future brings and it would be nice if atarashii Naginata would be part of their curriculum.

Mark Berghaan