How are things in Estonia

by Aleksandra Kivisalu

The past few years have been eventful for us. We have registered the Estonian Naginata Federation, which now even includes two clubs. We have created documents that regulate and guide our actions. We have rules of conduct in the dojo, a code of honor, certification rules, and much more. The Estonian Sports Committee has registered our federation and expressed the hope that we will be able to adequately represent Estonia at international seminars and tournaments. We participated in The Japanese Culture Festival J-Zone 2021 had an extensive program, interacted with other budo disciplines, and gained many friends and admirers. It is so delightful to know that more and more people know about us.

We’ve become more professional too! We passed the first online grading thanks to the American Naginata Federation! Yes, we even managed to go to Belgium for a seminar and grading!  We even managed to hold our first real two-day seminar, also with grading, under the strict guidance of Mark Alexander Berghaan sensei! Currently, there are already six graded naginata students in Estonia…  I’m not the lonely naginata warrior in here anymore!

We have been training hard in the dojo and also we have been training hard online thanks to Takami Matsumoto Tanner sensei, who we consider our sensei, because this is the real truth! Tirelessly  she is training us for second year ! Our online trainings with her are measured in many tens of hours! If it wasn’t for Takami Matsumoto Tanner sensei, we wouldn’t have decided to register the Estonian Naginata Federation. Without a teacher and a spiritual friend, we wouldn’t be so sure of our future.

 It seems to me that the time when only online training was available to us that taught us not to give up. Unfortunately, it seems that many people tend to underestimate the effectiveness of online training. Actually, online training is even more than in person, translates the principles of budo. Trust and mutual understanding relationships between the teacher and the student are crucial here, as they are like nowhere else. For the succesful online-studying you need to be able to  take the words of the teacher without any doubt, directly and literally, right here and now. Because the online training´s time is limited and also because the session can be interrupted.   You must be spiritually capable to concentrate and train in a space that is more multidimensional than the usual solid world, You have to come out of your zone of comfort and train everywhere: in the tiny room, in the tent, in the field, in the car, in the hot, glaring sun, or in the rain, with a random stick instead of naginata, or even without anything. Online training tests your motivation. Online trainings are really working!

Our ordinary naginata tainings in the dojo take place twice a week, and they are traditionally led by me. In order to maintain stability and accumulate potential for further development, I try to identify leadership qualities in naginata students. In our small and young team, nobody can hide in the corner. Everyone should be able to take responsibility for the promotion and development of naginata in Estonia, be able to replace teachers, conduct training and, perhaps, become a strong leader and sensei in the future. The qualities of a sensei are the lack of selfishness, the desire to give other people more than take from them, the desire to share knowledge and follow disinterested in the principles of budo. Sensei is someone who puts the interests of the group ahead of his personal interests, someone who is able to think big and predict developing, rather than live it in one day. Someday in the future, people in our country will be able to just come to naginata practice and just enjoy it in well-equipped dojos without feeling the lack of equipment or teachers, knowing that this is guaranteed forever. Under such conditions, students will be able toquickly become very skilled and successful, and our current difficulties will remain unreal and far to them like a some medieval story.

I remember a very touching moment at the Belgian seminar when an elderly gentleman appeared at the door of the dojo during the class, and Mark Alexander Berghaan  sensei stopped the class and ordered us to bow to the old sensei. It is thanks to this old sensei and people like him that we can afford  to have naginata in Europe. A lot of work has already been done before us. Thanks! We, in turn, will be the first in our country, we will balze the trail.

So, we are doing quite well. Now we must think about the youngest generation too. After all, many students, both adults and children, stopped going to training during the pandemic. But since budo is especially usefull  if  start training from childhood, I have made every effort to restart a kids trainings and get the children back to the dojo as soon as possible.

According to the World Health Organization, today’s kids move 80% less than is necessary for their healthy development. Many parents consider, unfortunately,  that the sitting in front of the screens is a full-fledged leisure. It is all the more gratifying to see that some parents are realizing that taking up such a specific activity as the disciplines of budo is very beneficial. In our dojo we have an integrated approach to the scheduling of children’s training. We teach children several disciplines at once: aikido, self-defence basics, kenjutsu, archery, and, of course, naginata.

Training is of great importance in the development of the kid’s musculoskeletal system and the acquisition of large motor skills, grouping skills, orientation in space, as well as fine motor skills, including the ability to carry out complex manipulations with objects. Training also develops a kid’s ability to manage emotional experiences such as stress. Without dispute budo can be named physical activity that is planned, structured, in and aimed at achieving a specific goal. Budo  develop such wonderful qualities as willpower, attentiveness, both determination and restraint, respect for other kids, adults, other nationalities and cultures.

In our dojo, we have joined forces with several other teachers and have kid’s training sessions three times a week. In the best traditions of teaching budo, we work for free. As a result, in December 2021, we conducted an first grading for children aged 7-9 years.

Over the past years, I have been able to give naginata presentations in schools and leisure centers several times. Each time I was astounded that naginata could pique the interest of kids, as well as how intuitively and quickly they grasped the concept, with what enthusiasm do they shout kiai and how delicately do they complete the task in pairs. Empathy! Without it, you can’t perform techniques in pairs… Usually, during one presentation, children and I manage to master basic skills as quickly as adults. Everyone especially like the visually spectacular furikaeshi strike. I  recommend teaching kids first the furikaeshi strike. Because it is funny, nice, and a vivid experience… And this clearly that they have never try before. Kids are very happy when they manage to perform complex exercises with the naginata. I thing if kids  realize they can master  a naginata, they will feel something very close to the mystery of fairy-tale heroes’ superpower.  When we were kids too, we probably all dreamed of being good heroes.

Kids are very practical and want to check everything, and they very quickly sense falsehood. It is impossible to teach kids that you yourself do not know how or doubt. When you organize training for children, you  should constantly educating and working on yourself as well.  Kids training brings very importan an everyday pedagogical and ethical task for teachers. If we teach  kids the main thing is to remind always  that weapons is device for training, but weapons, in general, cannot  never ever beused against noone living being on the Earth. Saying this, we remind ourselves of this basics truths, too.

If you make the decision to follow the principles of budo –  constant training, organization, austerity, and sincerity, peace will come from within yourself. This is the greatest paradox. The study of budo, the martial way, brings peace and calm to life.  It brings some symmetry and balance. Budo teaches teamwork, cooperation, and mutual understanding. Budo  intrigues, broadens horizons, and educates.

At the end of this review, I want to thank you all for your kindness and support. Hope to see you soon! Have a good keiko!

Sincerely yours,