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Women in Martial Arts: Onna-musha

Women In Martial Arts


When thinking about Martial Arts today many have an automatic image of men fighting, often picturing pop culture icons such as Jackie Chan and Bruse Lee. While these men have made an impact on how the world perceives the arts they are not the total of it. Historically women have also been a part of martial arts.


In Japan there were the onna-musha. These were women of the bushi (warrior) class that later became the samurai. Trained in the use of weapons to protect their family and honor in times of war, they would fight alongside the male samurai. They are documented existing from the 1100’s to the 1800’s, the end of the warrior class in Japan. When their communities were invaded they would be expected to fight till the end, winning or dying with honor the same as any other warrior. Onna-musha was the title given specifically to women of the samurai.


These women fought most with a naginata, a polearm with a long, curved blade. This was often to help offset the disadvantage given by size and strength. This weapon became synonymous with women warriors of the time.



polearm with curved blade


Women known as onna-bugeisha, were primarily a last defense and safeguard of the home. They fought in a defensive manner. The onna-musha were an offensive class of female warriors. Often known to fight in battles alongside the men, historical evidence shows as many as 1/3 of bodies found on some battlegrounds were that of women.


Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen is possibly the most legendary onna-musha. She lived and fought during the Genpei War (1180-1185). Described as “a remarkably strong archer, and as a swords-woman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot” in ‘The Tale of Heike’ she was widely known. She lead troops of samurai in battle as a respected and trusted leader.


Nakano Takeko

Nakano Takeko was a leader of an all-female corps named Joshiai (‘Girl’s Army’). This group held some of the last samurai in history.  Considered the last great onna-musha, she lived from 1847 to 1868. She fought alongside her mother and younger sister in the Boshin War. During her last battle, she was killed at the age of 21. The enemy used firearms while the Joshiai had the traditional naginata. The enemy underestimated them and stopped shooting when they saw the women. This was a mistake they quickly learned as the Joshiai took down many soldiers before the Meiji started fighting again. She is thought to have taken down at least 5 men before she was hit. Her last request was to her sister to keep her from becoming a trophy of the Meiji troops.

Nakano Takeko in armor


For more Women in Martial Arts check out these posts!

Women in Martial Arts: Sarah Mayer

Women in Martial Arts: Wing Chun

Women in Martial Arts: Edith Garrud and Crabapple Martial Arts Academy has been selected the nation’s #1 martial arts schools for SIX YEARS IN A ROW by the American Budokai International!

Founded in 2013 by Mr. C. Matthew White is a 5th-degree Black Belt in Karate and 6th-degree Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu, and Master Instructor. Crabapple Martial Arts Academy has Karate lessons for pre-school children to elementary kids ages 4 and up. These classes are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need – specialized for each age group – for school excellence and later success in life.

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About C. Matthew White, Renshi:  Matt is a fifth-degree black belt in a traditional Japanese and Okinawan Martial Arts – Shuri Ryu Karatedo. He is also a sixth-degree black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu – Shintoyoshin Kai Jiu Jitsu. He is a master instructor with the title of Renshi, which means Scholar in Japanese.  Matt has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Physiology. He has been training and teaching martial arts for over 27 years. He has owned Crabapple Martial Arts Academy since 2013. Renshi White is a motivational speaker and educator, and teaches seminars in bullying, business, and martial arts training.

Crabapple Martial Arts Academy Headquarters is in Alpharetta, Georgia at 12315 Crabapple Road., Suite 124, Alpharetta GA 30004. You can locate the Chief Instructor, Sensei Robert Reed there or directly at (770) 645-0930.

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