Ninjutsu, Equal Opportunity Employer – Story of Kunoichi, Female Ninjas

You choke on the blood that is coming out of your mouth as you double over in pain, and grope for your sword. Your attacker was not another samurai and no intruder could have made it passed your castle walls, but as you breathe your last breath you realize the female companion you brought home that night was more than she seemed.

The deadly art of Ninjutsu was not exclusively practiced by men alone. The kunoichi (pronounced KOO-NOY-CHEE) or “Dragon Lady” wreaked havoc in medieval Japan. Like their male counterparts, they often used camouflage and disguise, but the kunoichi also used seduction and manipulation to make their way to their target. They would pose as maids, musicians, fortune tellers, and artists hiding weapons on their person or in instruments. Some women would pose as geishas, concubines, or even marry an intended target and poison or kill them in their sleep. Like other ninjas it was all about completing the mission, and though they were ready to fight, they avoided it whenever possible. It his hard to determine just how many warriors died because they let their guard down in the face of what appeared to be beautiful submissive woman.

Historians believe a kunoichi was probably a girl recruited from a poor family or was a runaway who was taken in by an older kunoichi who would be both mother and instructor to the young girl. Saved from poverty the girl would be a devoted if a not fanatical student, and would learn early on the ways of the assassin. Ninjutsu training is often described as a mixture of Judo, Jujutsu, and swordsmanship training with the emphasis on stealth and concealment rather than disciplined brutality like the samurai employed.

Because the women often went on missions alone and would go up against men their training focused on techniques that would allow them to fight off stronger and larger opponents. They learned all of the dirty self defense techniques like eye gouges, chokeholds, and strikes to the groin. They would purposely train in confined spaces, so they could practice practical close combat techniques, and practiced one-on-one fighting tactics rather than group fighting techniques.

The kunoichi also trained extensively with an array of weapons and poisons. One favorite weapon was the neko-te (NEK-OH-TAY) which was iron fingernails that would be fastened to the hand by leather straps. By themselves they could slash a warrior to pieces, but many times the women assassins would coat the blades with poison to get the job done faster. Many of their weapons were designed to be concealed, but the kunoichi would also learn samurai and Okinawan weapons as well. The belief was that since you were assassinating samurai, these weapons would be easily accessible in a pinch.

Some kunoichi wouldn’t even bother to train the concealment tactics of their male counterparts because they hid so well in plain site. Training also included many aspects of psychological warfare, and the women were prepared to survive interrogations and reveal as little as possible. Knowing they could be tortured and raped if caught, the women trained hard at being effective spies, saboteurs, and assassins. One female kunoichi trained her women to tend to holy shrines, so they eliminated their target they simply return to their work without being discovered. One woman assassin achieved leadership of her husband’s clan after murdering him in his sleep on their wedding night. She convinced all those around her that she had slept through the whole attack and was capable of stabbing her husband to death.

While few people are interested in becoming assassins outside of the military and espionage community there is a lot to be learned about self defense from the kunoichi. They took advantage of the fact that most men would dismiss a female as a threat, and they used an opponent’s strength against them in combat. They trained to fight men not other women and their training helped them learn how to deal with the worst case scenario. They learned how to employ concealed weapons effectively and how to be observant of details that might help them later. While these are all methods of an assassin they’re also useful to a woman who wishes to protect herself on the street. Shock a male attacker by knowing how to fight back with real self defense training, and turn the tide against them. Don’t ever let anyone tell you women can’t fight. This is a perfect example of turning “weakness into strength”.