Naginata is a Japanese martial art that specializes in the use of a weapon that goes by the same name. 

Essentially a curved sword blade mounted to the end of a long wooden shaft, the weapon has its origins among the 11th century sohei, or warrior monks of Japan. The samurai later  adopted it as a mainstay battlefield weapon during the Warring States Period (1400 AD to  1600 AD). 

After the Ieyasu Tokugawa unified the country in 1600, thereby ending major warfare in Japan, the training and development of the art shifted away from the battlefield warriors to the women of the samurai families. To this day, the mainstream forms of the art are practiced primarily by women. 

Much as Kendo has evolved over the centuries to have live blades replaced with wood and bamboo ones, mainstream Naginata training has also done away with live blades; practice in the modern era  is conducted primarily with wooden and bamboo versions of the real weapons. 

Considered a little-known, “minor” martial art outside of its country of origin, Naginata is nonetheless practiced widely in public schools, colleges, and universities throughout Japan as a martial art,  form of physical education, and sport.

Part 1 of a YouTube video featuring an English-language introduction to Naginata from the NHK program Sports Japan.