Zach – Okay, they weren’t called “Samurai.” The term for Japanese women warriors was Onna-Bugeisha. Bu- means war or fighting,(martial) gei- means “performing arts” but not how we typically think of it. To the feudal Japanese pretty much anything could be an art, including wrecking faces. So, Onna-Bugeisha means “woman martial artist.”
Anna – I want to be an Onna-Bugeisha.
Zach – Tomoe could teach you all about it.
Anna – After this I want to learn to cut off heads.
Zach – But first let’s introduce our panel for today. First, we have our resident Samurai expert, Tomoe Gozen, woman samurai. Then we have Matilda of Tuscany, woman soldier for the Pope. Then we have Gaspar Correia, conquistador and “historian.” Voted most likely to become a fantasy novelist. Next we have Admiral Nelson, hero of Trafalgar. Finally we have…Napoleon who…ordered a sandwich today.
Napoleon – Hey! You think that is what I am remembered for?
Zach – Don’t care.
Anna – Let us begin. These women martial artists, the Onna-Bugeisha were disproportionally represented in history.
Gaspar – Come out and say what you mean, Anna.
Anna – There were a lot of them but they’re hardly mentioned in history.
Gaspar – Wasn’t that easier?
Matilda – I understand these Onna-Bugeisha quite well. The Bugeisha were traditionally trained to fight as samurai. After all, they belonged to the Bushi warrior class. They trained how to fight using Katana, tanto and their most famous weapon: the Naginata.
Nelson – Wait a moment. Why the naginata? If they are to defend a home or castle, why a polearm? Why not something shorter and more usable in close confines?
Tomoe – Small women need reach and power. Naginata gives woman reach, can keep enemy away. Great for defense. These women were trained for defense. Not go out on battlefield. They stay home and defend. Imagine hallway with three women, each with naginata. You want to go down hall?
Nelson – I would say not.
Napoleon – You would say nothing, you stupid English…
Zach – Napoleon? What did we say about being polite?
Napoleon – If I can’t say anything nice…
Zach – Very good.
Anna – When the lord is away with his army, sometimes the castle may be attacked.
Matilda – I owned a castle and know about castle defense. It is not easy. These women had a hard job and were trained well.
Nelson – I did some reading and besides our own Tomoe Gozen, we have other examples of Onna-Bugeisha. There was the legendary Empress Jingu, Nakano Takeko, and Hojo Masako. Now, Empress Jingu launched an invasion of Korea in 200AD or so.
Gaspar – Now these Onna-Bugeisha lived dangerous lives, wandering the country side -
Anna – Gaspar! We just said they defended their homes!
Gaspar – They wandered the countryside slaying demons and rescuing people from oni. With their magic swords they slayed evil and righted wrongs.
Tomoe – This Gaspar person is stupid man. At the Siege of Suemori, during battles of unification, Suemori castle was besieged and the lord’s wife fought with husband to save castle. Many women in Japan risked lives to defend castles and homes. Often Naginata was above doorways: easy to get to in case of emergency.
Matilda – Hojo Masako, after her husband died ( I wish my husband had died early )she became a nun as was tradition. However, she was pulled back into politics and was very powerful.
Napoleon – A Japanese nun in charge of a country? I think I like.
Tomoe – Pig.
Nelson – Yes, he is a pig. But after the unification, there grew several fencing schools for women that were devoted to the naginata. I like the saber, but I think I would like to learn the naginata.
Tomoe – Admiral Don Juan at battle of Lepanto used a big sword like staff, close combat. Same thing.
Zach – These women were home makers and important in their own right. But they were also necessary in military strategy. When their husbands were off, it was up to them to rule the castle and defend it if necessary.
Tomoe – Many women trained to fight from young age. I trained many years.
Matilda – And it showed. You kick butt. We need to spar sometimes.
Napoleon – Ha! French women are much stronger.