The Thorned Flower
January 2, 2006 · 8:30pm EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389

The Helki Monogatoari speaks of a young warrior who, in the battle of the River Uji, was faced by a powerful enemy warrior, and after grappling with him, threw him from his horse and then cut off his head. This young warrior was Gozen Tomoe, wife of Yoshinaka Minamoto and one of the most famous samurai women in Japanese history.

But Gozen Tomoe is just one of many women in the Bujutsu tradition. Masako Hojo, wife of Torimoto Minamoto was known as the "general in nun's habit" and Takeko Nakano, who after killing many men during a battle with a naginata had to be shot in the chest to be defeated, are as relevant to the history of Bujutsu as those of Munenori Yagyu and Musashi Miyamoto.

The women of Kagoshima fought against the imperial army during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, and their fierce spirit was a strong resistance although they were vastly outnumbered.

Samurai and bushi (warriors) wives had a high status in the household, since they were responsible for the expenditures, the education of the children, the maintenance of the house, and even the defense of their homes. "A role of as many tasks as the day has hours," said S. Ariyoshi, "secured only by her strength and ability to be proficient in all of them."

Even those women whose households could not afford servants often devoted part of their already busy day to training buki waza (martial techniques) and for very practical reasons: They were expected to be able to defend their homes without any help.

The wife of a samurai had also another role to fulfill, and that involved caring for her husband's reputation. An untidy house and poorly prepared and presented meal would reflect badly on her husband's image and could cause him to lose his status in his Lord's eyes (daimyo). Not surprisingly, S. Ariyoshi wrote in one of her works, "A samurai's wife who was considered to be acceptable with both a weapon and her household had already mastered thrice more skills than her husband, for she had to be a good warrior, an outstanding housekeeper, and a wise administrator."

Many women of several clans were trained diligently in the use of weapons, unarmed combat, and related arts. Although loud arrogance was undesirable, these women were firm in their beliefs and although religiously respectful of their elders and husbands, they were by no means weak of words and actions. Women of the Aizu clan were known to diligently encourage their children to learn martial arts, and even some took charge of their instruction if circumstances made other options impossible. Some women warriors were effectively used in espionage and assassination by feuding clans.

Although no Bujutsu genealogies acknowledge women, their influence is undeniable, and the tales of their skills and heroism, and also of their beauty, are still with us through legends, plays, books, and epic poems.

An ancient poem described them as "thorned flowers." There was a degree of danger in them, but that made them all the more fascinating - the female samurai.


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