Onna Bugeisha, the Female Martial Artist

Gentle like cotton, sharp as a sword

Being a martial artist that happens to be female, I have always marveled at the stories of historical warriors that happened to be female, such as the Onna-Bugeisha (女武芸者) or Female Martial Artists in Japan. As a little girl I wore princess dresses but was concealing at least a few plastic or wooden weapons such as katanas and daggers (I mean, you never know what or who you meet during your epic adventures as a child).

Female warriors of the past and present have always inspired me, because they are independent, know how to defend themselves both verbally and physically and seem to have had and have the freedom to make their own decisions. Japan, where the roots of BJJ are anchored, is no exception.

There, too, a number of ladies, the aforementioned Onna-Bugeisha, fought alongside Samurai men and protected villages. Some are even believed to have led armies into war or ruled over certain clans in feudal Japan. The most renowned Onna-Bugeisha are Tomoe Gozen, Nakano Takeko and Hōjō Masako. To me, any woman who fought or fights to become (more) independent, whether as a Martial Artist or in any other way, especially in past or heavily male-dominated societies, is an example.

When Role Bonito approached me for ideas for their female kimono line, I couldn’t help but thinking about these Onna-Bugeisha. After all, even though their traditional kimonos are somewhat different in style, function and shape, they fought in kimonos nonetheless. Creating a kimono in their remembrance empowers women – the modern Onna- Bugeisha – in the BJJ.

Another striking aspect of Onna-Bugeisha is that when you look at how they have been depicted on either paintings or how they present themselves on photos/portraits they always look beautiful, serene, gentle and soft yet at the same time strong, sharp, independent and tough. Role Bonito captured all of this in the following sentence, which you can find inside their Onna-Bugeisha Gi: Gentle like cotton, sharp as a sword.

I think that this phrase and this Gi symbolize the many amazing women I have met during competition and training. No matter how many bruises they have on their legs (I lost count of how many people told me to leave ‘him’ haha) or how messy their hair becomes during rolling, they remain gentle like cotton and sharp as a sword, just like our fighting ancestors, the Onna-Bugeisha.

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