“I constantly wrote myself off during the process when something went wrong, I kept swinging the wrong way”, the third-year Psychology student explains how frustrating his first practice in the dojo was. “I started because I wanted some exercise and to try something new; I found a pamphlet at the Albert Heijn advertising a dojo near my house.”

What is Naginata?

Naginata is a Japanese martial art, it is weapon based and involves quick, swift movements. The naginata is the sword that opponents use, it is a bamboo blade that is two metres long, and opponents use this to stab or hook their partner.  It dates back to feudal times and was used by soldiers, warrior monks, and, most famously, female warriors of the nobility.

When Bas could not get a strike correctly, it continued to frustrate him. But he quickly realized that his mindset was all wrong. Naginata aims to create an uber focused mindset where you can make decisions promptly and be confident in them. “My coach told me when you swing up without bringing your sword back in time to your torso, you leave an opportunity for the opponent to attack you in a vulnerable spot. I wanted to learn how to use mindfulness in a fast-paced environment.”

Personal Growth

People who practice naginata, use it to improve their mindfulness, and as a Psychology student, Bas claims there are many parallels between the two. It is not the winning that matters but the peace of mind and no hesitation that allows you to grow as an athlete. As Bas explains, naginata is referred to as ‘budo’, the warriors’ way. “Many use naginata as a tool for self-growth.”

Bas van der Kris – Naginata – Sport – EM – Wouter Sterrenburg (2 of 2)
Bas is practicing for the European Championships: “Naginata is almost like a dance.” Image credit: Wouter Sterrenburg

Not only does Naginata help with learning about how to remain in this state of mind in practice, but it also goes beyond the dojo. Bas comes from a family of musicians and has played the guitar for years. “When you are at practice, you are fully present for the two hours focusing on what you can do to improve, and although I’ve been a guitarist for far longer than an athlete, it’s helped me become a better musician.”

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European Championship

The European Championships take place every two years. Every country sends two teams (composed of two people each). Bas will be competing in the technical competition this upcoming weekend. “It’s almost like a dance since it is so highly choreographed and practiced. Although my partner and I look like we’re fighting, we know exactly what the next step is.” Bas will perform his ‘choreography’ with his partner in front of judges, and be up against other teams from across the continent.

The stakes are high, but Bas already feels lucky enough to compete. “I saw people from the Dutch team compete a few years ago, and to be in this position now is exciting. I’m nervous but trying to stay calm because being part of this experience is already an achievement.”

Future Goals

It is a paradox to ask what the goal of continuing naginata is for Bas since it is the journey that matters, not the outcome. He hopes to continue naginata for years and to visit Japan at some point. “Almost 90 percent of the best naginata athletes in Japan are elderly women in their 70s. If I can be anything close to that, I’ll be happy.”

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