In Finland, we have been lucky: unlike many other countries, we have not had complete lockdowns even during the hardest times of the pandemic. But even in this relatively lucky situation practicing naginata has not always been easy during COVID times. Our dojo was temporarily closed during spring 2020 along with everything else. In summer 2020 we had some opportunities to train outside and inside, but in fall 2020 the situation got worse and regular practice was put on hold again until spring 2021. Now we are hopeful that we can keep practicing with masks and other precautions, and that the situation will not get worse again.
Keeping up a good spirit has not always been easy when you are quite inexperienced, eager to practice but uncertain about when you can return to the dojo to train inside and receive instruction on your technique. Naginata is a long weapon, and my apartment does not have an especially high ceiling, so the only strike I was able to practice inside was doo. My November and December 2020 were characterized by looking out of the window, waiting for the rain to stop, so that I could take my naginata outside to practice happooburi and strikes by myself in my backyard or on a close-by basketball field.
Online we saw people who build practice dolls or entire private dojos to keep themselves entertained during lockdown. We did not have this possibility, but we sewed naginata bags with shoulder bands so that we could cycle with our naginatas. That way, me and my fellow practitioner Aino, with whom we live only 5km apart, could at least practice together outside on the basketball field or in a parking lot close to her home. We tried to benefit from the few light hours in December, corrected each other’s technique as well as we could, and when it started to rain we took shelter and drank tea in order to warm up. Kote are actually quite good in keeping your hands warm, especially if you put thin gloves underneath. Unlike mine, Aino’s apartment has a high ceiling but small rooms; her corridor was just wide enough for one person to practice furikaeshi and learn not to hit the walls.
Outside, there was enough space for all strikes, but sometimes other things made practice interesting. In Finland, it is not common to get comments from strangers even if you are doing something unexpected, but practicing naginata apparently crossed the line sometimes. I remember a kid shouting “what the heck, they’re sword fighting!?” – I really wanted to correct them! Another time, a paddler walked by and, fascinated by the practice, wanted to challenge us to a duel with their paddle. (It goes without saying that we refused.)
Even if the pandemic situation required a lot of creativity to keep practicing, it also had an unexpected positive side for us. Because of the situation, the Greater New York Naginata Federation organized a graduation exam online on Zoom. We are very thankful for them for allowing us to participate in their graduation exam as well, and for the ENF for recognizing the exam. Taking a graduation exam is always stressful, and for inexperienced practitioners like us even more so to do it in front of webcams, hearing the instructions over the speaker. Even so, it was a great opportunity! The possibilities for graduating have been especially sparse with the pandemic situation, and it was wonderful to receive feedback from teachers across the ocean.
All in all, the pandemic has influenced our practice in unexpected ways. We are sending best wishes for everyone who has been affected by the situation and hoping that all naginata practitioners can resume regular practice in their dojos soon.
Image text: When it snows just enough, you can use the weather conditions to trace and correct your steps.