by Eduardo Brito
At the end of the article you will find a chronological listing of pictures of several key moments of Naginata in Portugal. I decided not to overfill the text with several pictures and links to videos but to provide them as a chronological listing with descriptions at the end of the article.
Unfortunately, as the history of Naginata in Portugal mostly handed down through oral transmission and private communications between teachers and students, we do not have third accounts for most of the statements we present here.
Also, please take note that the author will sometimes reference himself as I, we (in case of the APNagi, in the case of him and his teacher, or in the case of himself and his students. It should be clear however when taking into account the context of the statement), or as Eduardo.
昔々(A long, long time ago…)
Atarashii Naginata, as far as we can tell, was introduced by Charlotte Vandersleyen-sensei when she came to study Architecture in Portugal. She first lived in Lisbon before eventually moving to Porto. We have no knowledge of any prior Naginata practices in Portugal prior to this or of any other Naginata group in Portugal that isn’t/wasn’t connected to Charlotte after that time.
When she arrived, the APK (Associação Portuguesa de Kendo; Portuguese Kendo Association) already had in their statutes the reference to Naginata. At that time, Charlotte had decided to enroll in the local Kendo club and took her Naginata with her to the dojo to practice Naginata by her alone in the dojo, before the start of the Kendo practice.
As there was no one teaching Naginata in Portugal and since Charlotte was sandan at that time, she asked if she could start a Naginata group for the year that she was going to stay in Portugal (initially, she was going to stay for just 1 year in Portugal). She accepted to trade Naginata classes for 1 year of free Kendo classes and, with the help of Andre Raboen-sensei (from Netherlands), which lent 10 naginatas to the group, Naginata started in Portugal.
While Charlotte was teaching the Naginata group in Lisbon, some people from other parts of Portugal (Santarém, for instance) and even people from Madrid (Spain), joined the class and seminars she organized. Despite efforts from the sensei, the training group in Lisbon dispersed when Charlotte transferred to an University in Porto and decided to stay there for the rest of her stay in Portugal.
At that time, the APK decided that they would not be supporting Naginata furthermore and so, because of this, Charlotte decided to create the APNagi association, with her own funds, so that future Naginata practitioners of Portugal would have the chance to participate in international seminars and competitions so that, on a later date, she could present the APNagi to the ENF.
Charlotte lived in Porto until 2012, for a total of 6.5 years of living in Portugal. During that time she was able to have a dojo in Porto, teaching regular classes, organizing seminars and holding gradings during those seminars. At one point in time, she had about 10 regular students that were graded as 6Kyu. Most students, however, gave up when they were asked to start wearing bogu. As there was no rental bogu scheme in place at that time, as what had happened with the APK, many just decided to quit.
During this time, a second group showed up in Lisbon, that had Luís Querido (which some of you might know from 2009’s ENF seminar), plus two other people that belong to the current Naginata group, plus people from the local Iaido community. This group dispersed when Luís went to live abroad, the two other people went to the north of Portugal to pursue their careers and the people from the Iaido group was unable to keep themselves organized as a constant study/practice group.
Luís Querido deserves here a special mention because he was the one, along with Charlotte, that went to the ENF seminar in 2009 in Prague and presented Portugal to the ENF at the GA that took place there. It was the first time Portugal was presented to the ENF.
From the Porto group, although some quit because of the situation with the bogu, other persisted. In particular, Diogo Pinto, who was also practicing Kendo at the same dojo that Charlotte was practicing Kendo at (KCP – Kendo Clube do Porto).
The KCB – Kendo Clube de Braga started its activities in 2010, with Diogo Pinto as the Kendo instructor. After Charlotte had left Portugal, Diogo, at the end of a Kendo practice, picked up some sticks that the gym had and mentioned that he missed doing Naginata with Charlotte. Up until that time, although I had some knowledge of Japanese martial arts, I had never heard of Naginata. Diogo showed me some techniques and that made me get interested in it.
After researching about it and after Diogo mentioning several more times that he would like to do Naginata again, I talked to Charlotte and we decided to organize an introductory seminar in Braga the next time she would be coming to Portugal. There were still naginatas in Lisbon, that had been left over there for the people to practice. As people were not practicing, we arranged for them to be delivered to us.
Having the naginatas ready and with Charlotte planning to come to Portugal 3 to 4 times a year, also due to personal reasons, we got everything ready for the seminar. This first seminar was on the 15th October 2011. As it is “tradition” with our group (and this being 2010), nobody took photos of that seminar (not that I know of, at least!). Still, this was the beginning of the start of Naginata practice in Braga. This Naginata group is the oldest group in Portugal that practices Atarashii Naginata regularly, several times a week. (Please check our schedule at facebook.com/KendoClubeBraga; we are currently holding online Zoom keiko during the covid lockdown and everyone is welcomed to join us for practice! We are planning on continuing the asa geiko even after the lockdown is over, at least for a while).
During the next months, while Charlotte was still in Portugal, we did several more practices together although, not long after that, Charlotte went to live abroad. For the next year we had Diogo being the senpai of the dojo and teaching Naginata, according to Charlotte’s planning, while she was away.
During this time we filmed all the classes and sent the videos to Charlotte so she could review what we had done during practice and provide comments and feedback on the corrections we needed to do in each exercise. Looking back, this was way more difficult at the time, due to technological constraints, than what it is today, which is super easy, barely an inconvenience.
With this group, and with the Kendo group being quite big at the time, lots of people were trying out Naginata quite often (although only 1 other person, besides myself, stayed from that time). After some time, Diogo quit teaching the Naginata classes. This happened on the same week I went to the ENF Seminar in 2012 in Sweden, about 1 year after I had started practicing Naginata.
I believe that was the time Portugal restarted talks with the ENF about joining the federation. These were very hard times since:
- My sensei was not living in the same country as me;
senpai had quit Naginata;
- Which led to a few of the people that were doing Naginata at the time to also stop it.
- I only had a 4th Kyu in Naginata (did 5th Kyu with Charlotte and 4th Kyu at the ENF seminar) and 1 year of experience in Naginata;
- None of the old students of Charlotte from Porto were doing Naginata, nor the students from Lisbon, nor students from other parts of the country that had been to seminars before;
- Some months later in 2013, Diogo also quit Kendo and our dojo population went further down.
At one point in time, the only person at the dojo was me, carrying on the rent of the space and practicing by myself so people would know that there was still a Naginata dojo in Portugal and trying to have it promoted.
Despite that, we continued filming the class and sending the videos to Charlotte for feedback.
The Battle of Evermore
Between 2013 and 2018 several things happened with the Braga dojo and with Naginata in Portugal.
A special side remark here: in May 2015, the KCB (the Braga dojo) was able to get their own physical space for practice. This is their own space which is not shared with any other club and all practice that is held there is dedicated to Budô.
For most of 2012 to 2015, the Braga group only had Naginata twice a week (sessions of 1.5 hours, which were then upgraded to 2 hours, and sometimes 3 times a week, depending on the availability of the town hall, which was one of the training halls we used for a while). After the establishment of the dojo, we started having Naginata at least 3 times a week. Practice was (and is) always held, even if there is only one person at the dojo. Sadly, it does happen, some times. Many people in the European Naginata community will know this feeling quite well, too.
Since 2012, the APNagi and the KCB, along with members from the Lisbon group in more recent years, have presented Naginata at the biggest anime convention in Portugal every year (Iberanime). In the period between 2013 and 2016, thanks to a very flexible work/study schedule of most members in Braga, we were able to have the summer fully booked with ATLs (“Free time” activities for middle and high-school children during the summer; some primary school students too). We were also presenting and offering workshops and trial classes at the university and at several Japanese cultural events in the north of Portugal. In 2018 Braga was also the “European City of Sports” and we also presented Naginata there.
Also, since 2012 we have been lucky enough to have had several seminars a year with Charlotte-sensei. Sometimes, even though we were unable to get a space for ourselves, especially before Braga had its own dojo, we would improvise and practice in parks at the city or at the beach. True story: at one of these practices, at a park in Porto, we were asked NOT to move away from our practice spot and continue things as we were already doing so that a couple could do a photo session for their wedding with us in the background. That was… A unique request. No photos of that, sorry. Also, quite interesting to know, in the beach, when the sand is harder from the water, you can trace your ashi sabaki in the sand and see what you are actually doing.
In these seminars we host with Charlotte, we practice several hours a day, usually 6+ hours, and we try to make the most out of it, always. They usually last for 2 days. At some of these seminars, we have held gradings for our students. Myself, the author of the article, has actually only graded once in Portugal and all other gradings were in international events (ENF seminars, INF seminars and NNR Spring Seminars) and many of my students have graded in international seminars or competitions.
When we host gradings, we usually prefer to have guests in the jury that already know our standards and guidelines for kyu gradings, although we have also held gradings by ourselves after Eduardo reached Shodan.
It should also be said that, with the exception of the 2012 ENC in Prague, since the start of this second phase of Naginata in Portugal, Portugal has always been represented in all ENF and INF events that were held in Europe.
In 2014, Portugal was accepted as an ENF temporary member and in 2016 Portugal became a full member of the ENF. After 2016, we have tried to become members of the INF but, up until now, without success.
In 2014, Portugal participated for the first time at an ENC (Stevenage, UK) but only on the goodwill, since we were temporary members and not allowed on the ENC itself; at that time we had two members in the goodwill; Eduardo and Filipa, which some of you will know.
In 2016, we had the first participation of Portugal on the ENC. At this ENC, Eduardo was able to bring a fighting spirit award and the 2nd place at the goodwill. In 2018, Eduardo was able to bring the 2nd place in the goodwill again. At the WNC 2019, in Wiesbaden, Germany, Portugal could not participate in the championship as we were not (and still aren’t) INF members, unfortunately. We did however participate in the Goodwill and Eduardo lost on the quarter-finals against a senshu from France.
Besides the official events, we have participated in several international Naginata tournaments including the Tokunaga, Jaques Mercier and Simon Charton cups in France, the Inazuma Cup in Germany, Isabelle D’Hose Cup in Belgium, among others. Despite that, we have attended even more seminars than competitions. Some of the several seminars we have attended were the NNR Spring seminar and the BNA Annual Naginata seminar. People from APNagi have also attended classes at dojos from The Netherlands, Germany (specifically, Mainz), Belgium and Czech Republic.
In 2015, Portugal had their first Yuudansha. It is still the only yuudansha in Portugal, for now, but we hope that will change in the next few years.
In 2018, feeling the stagnation in the growth of the group and several contacts who failed to start Naginata in their hometowns, we personally contacted all the Kendo dojos in Portugal and two dojos replied but only one actually decided to start a group. This is the current group that we have in Portugal at the moment. This was the first big success we had with reaching out/people reaching to us to establish a new Naginata group.
Although what you can read in this section of the article is mostly positive, we have gone through lots of hardships through these years. We have lost several students along the way. Many of the presentations and workshops have yielded no results at all. Most contacts we have received of people wanting to start groups have also not yielded results and, finally, it took us a lot of time to establish another Naginata group in a city nearby Braga but we were finally able to do it in 2019. We had been trying to go to Guimarães for several years but unsuccessfully. Before Guimarães, we had also tried to establish a new group in Viana do Castelo, which is further away from Braga, and even more to the north of Portugal, very close to Spain, but it ultimately failed.
The Song Remains the Same
In 2018 we were able to start a study group in Lisbon. In 2019 we were also able to start a new group in Guimarães, at the beginning of the year. The group in Guimarães is also being led by Eduardo with weekly regular practices and with people coming over to Braga for additional practice.
In 2019, Portugal was also the host for the ENF seminar for the first time ever. The feedback for this event was overwhelmingly positive from everyone who participated in the event (and in the sayonara party…!). While Lisbon is somewhat far away, we were able to do (until the corona lockdown) a 2 day seminar every 2 months. We also film the explanations at the seminars so that people can remember and repeat what was taught there.
In the last quarter of 2019, the Lisbon group started doing weekly classes. In 2020, when we called for the annual APNagi registrations, Lisbon registered 7 members in our association (more are practicing Naginata in the group but are not as regular or did not want to register for now) and 4 from Braga/Guimarães. Unfortunately, with the corona virus pandemic, the plans for this year have shifted quite a lot. Despite that, we have been organizing practices together with the help of video conferencing software, as most people are also doing nowadays.
We believe that this lockdown will only allow for paired practice around September… Until then we will continue practicing kihon through videoconferencing and we will begin doing practice outdoors, without contact, whenever possible. It’s quite ironic that we depended on video for so long at the beginning here in Portugal, and at this point in time, this is the way most people are currently practicing all around the world.
The difference is that, because now everyone is doing, and because the internet, computers, smartphones and everything has evolved much in terms of power during these last 10 years, people from all over the world are joining practices together, in real time, and we’re seeing all the different practice methods that people have from different dojos.
We plan on continuing this long distance kihon practice, even when lockdown is over. From what we’ve seen, it’s better than just video recording because we can do immediate feedback and help people understand the difficulties that they are facing. Also, after it’s over, we send the recording to the participants and they can then see what they were doing during practice and/or study it afterwards and remember the exercises.
We will also be continuing with recorded practice review and feedback, in all groups, since it’s always useful for us to view and review ourselves while emerged in practice but also to help the groups further away to check on how they are doing without a senior person supervising the group.
Online video conferencing like Zoom is good for immediate feedback but sometimes it is not possible for the groups/individuals to actually do this because of poor internet connections at the practice location or because of overlapping schedules between their practice and the practice of the APNagi members that review the videos.
We hope that after lockdown we will be able to find new groups that are willing to start their practice in this magnificent budô, with the best community in Europe and worldwide! We also plan on submitting ourselves for INF appreciation. Wish us luck!
Time for some eye candy.
You can see most of this content in our social media pages ( facebook.com/KendoClubeBraga facebook.com/APNagi@firstname.lastname@example.org ).
We took the liberty of doing some selections of images, links and videos that are/were related to important marks in our timeline. We are not including newspaper clippings because we are not sure we are legally allowed to do it. We do provide links to the original articles whenever possible.
Some links and videos will contain recordings or images of other budô that the groups also practice. We hope this does not cause the reader any inconvenience.
Also, please let us know if you want us to remove any photo, recording or link of you that is presented here in this article.
No pictures from 2006. I guess the tradition of forgetting to take pictures is now already quite old 😛
Seminar at the Expo (Lisbon)
Another Seminar (Lisbon)
Charlotte at the CKL dojo
Regular class in March (Porto)
Charlotte-sensei presenting and demonstrating Naginata at FNAC.
July 2008 (Porto)
Seminar in October (Lisbon)
Outdoors practice (Porto)
Seminar in Rio Maior (Portugal)
Practice at the beach (Porto)
No images from this year
INF Seminar in Sweden
BNA Seminar in March
NNR Seminar (April)
Seminar in Braga with Charlotte (she’s the one taking these two photos), before our senpai stopped.
Practice at Braga after our senpai stopped.
ATL in Braga (June)
Isabelle D’Hose Cup + ENF Seminar
Tokunaga, Jacques Mercier and Simon Charton Cup (February)
Isabelle D’Hose Cup + ENF Seminar (Belgium; November)
ENC + ENF Seminar 2016
INF Seminar 2017 (Mainz, Germany)
Iberanime OPO (Porto, Portugal)
ENF Seminar (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
The KCB representing Naginata and Kendo at a event promoted for the “European City of Sports”
(Yes, we know about the tile on the article… Disregard it, please)
National Naginata Seminar (June; Braga)
Goodwill final: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVjdYpcCODg
Seminar in Lisbon (November)
January (Monthly practice by the Lisbon Group)
February (2 day seminar, Lisbon)
Naginata presentation at a Japanese culture event “Festa do Japão” (Lisbon)
WNC 2019 (Wiesbaden, Germany)
Quarter-final with JM Gaffie
Start of Naginata in Guimarães (officially). Poster and link to promotional video inside.
ENF Seminar (November; Braga, Portugal)
Video of the dojo “singing” Happy Birthday for the 10 year celebration of the KCB during lockdown! (Some people had to leave earlier, including Charlotte-sensei… Sorry, this was the best we could do).
We hope you have enjoyed the article. Please provide us with feedback so we can improve the article. Thank you very much for reading it and hope to see you soon at a next Naginata event!