During the 5th and 6th centuries, Zen Buddhist monks and nuns brought yoga and Indian fighting techniques similar to modern karate from India to China. These fighting techniques proved useful in war-torn China. In fact, learning to fight was as common as learning to cook or serve tea. The survival of men, women, and even children depended on their ability to protect themselves. Those who excelled became notable warriors.
Thirteen-year-old Shuen Guan is a perfect example. Her ability to fight with swords, spears, and even with her bare hands earned her the nickname “Little Tigress.” According to a legend, he saved his city from a bandit attack by fighting his way through the attackers and returned with a neighboring general and his troops. His heroic deeds were finally honored by the Emperor of China.
But not everyone can be as versatile as Shuen Guan. Specialization had a definite place in war-torn China. After learning a basic fighting skill, the trend was to add moves and techniques to suit a particular skill or body type. For a woman named Ng Mui, that meant redirecting her punches from an attacker’s midsection to the head and kicking the lower legs.
Specialization allowed people to become masters of their own styles. Mui was so competent in her style that, to prove her effectiveness, she demonstrated her moves to the martial arts masters themselves, who quickly realized that her methods would work just as well for them as for her.
That Mui was a woman is quite impressive. But what makes her extraordinary to martial arts students who practice her style today is the fact that she was a Buddhist nun! She came from a Shaolin monastery in southern China during the Ching dynasty.
One of Ng Mui’s students, Yim Wing Chun, continued this style after Mui’s death. Eventually this system became known as Wing Chun kung fu.
Interestingly, although developed for a woman, Wing Chun kung fu became the style of choice for many men. In fact, this style of kung fu became more popular as the centuries passed and became the preferred style of the late martial artist-turned-actor Bruce Lee, who introduced and popularized this style in the West in the 1960s and 1970s. For those too young to remember, visit any video store where you will find a wide selection of Bruce Lee movies. Although grade B a movie can get, they are worth watching just to observe Lee’s extraordinary athletic abilities.
Judo also has some distinctly feminine roots. While kung fu originated in China, judo has its roots in the fighting systems of feudal Japan, which from the 10th to the 18th centuries was inundated with samurai, highly skilled fighters who, often on horseback, fought with bows, arrows and swords. and spears.
In the early part of this period, samurai women shared the battlefield with men and sometimes commanded them. These martial matriarchs were often trained in the use of weapons, especially spears and small daggers.
A favorite weapon among mounted samurai was the naginata, a long pole, five to nine feet long, with a sword at the end. Occasionally called “the spear of the woman”, the naginata was the weapon of choice for Itagaki, a general in charge of three thousand warriors in 1199. Her skill and courage supposedly inspired her troops and put the enemy to shame.
Another famous female warrior from the same period was Tomoe. The name means “circular” or “turning”, and was probably given to him for his mastery of the naginata, which is used to make circular movements.
Warrior women continued to fight until one of the last civil wars in Japan. In 1877, a battle was fought with a group of 500 women in its ranks. These women, armed with naginatas, fought against Japanese government troops. Unfortunately, his abilities were not on a par with the weapons his opponents wielded.
If you were lucky enough to be a woman born into a ninja family, chances are that, along with your brother, if you had one, you would be taught to be a superior athlete at the age of five or six. At the age of twelve or thirteen, he can move on to weapons training.
Ninjas were the James Bonds of the last days: super agents who were not only superior fighters, but masters of disguise as well. Men usually dress as women and vice versa.
In the mid to late 19th century, as the need for samurai declined, the influence of women in martial arts declined. Unless the women came from a military family, it was considered outrageous for them to train alongside men in martial arts schools. If any training was done, it was done in private.
Scandalous or not, many women wanted to practice a martial art, and they did. In 1893, Sueko Ashiya became the first student of Jigoro Kano, who founded judo in Japan. Shortly after confronting Ashiya, Kano began teaching his wife, daughter, and friends.
In the mid-1920s, Kano opened a women’s section of her school so that her female students could train in a suitable environment. Although it was a breakthrough that guaranteed many women the opportunity to train, Japanese women today still train only in the women’s section and, except in special situations, they are not allowed to train with men.
But do not think that old habits are difficult to die only in the East. Until around 1976, belts worn by judo martial artists had to have a white stripe down the middle if women wanted to compete in national competitions. However, the sentence was modified thanks to some determined women who demonstrated their disapproval of the rule by fighting in competitions with only white belts, refusing to wear a colored belt with a stripe on it.
Consider another rule that prevented women from achieving the same rank as men. The original Kano school prohibited black belt women from being promoted above the fifth dan, while men could go up to the twelfth dan. In 1972, the school received letters from women around the world protesting this rule and asking the school to promote one of its top students, Keiko Fukuda, who had received her fifth-grade black belt in 1953. The campaign for Letter writing worked, and Fukuda became the world’s first sixth dan woman, nearly twenty years after becoming a. fifth dan.
Karate also did not traditionally distinguish between male and female. Karate originated in Okinawa as a defense against Japanese invaders who stripped the natives of their weapons. In addition to using their hands and feet, the Okinawans used agricultural tools to attack their oppressors. Women and men practiced their skills alone in the woods or fields using sickles or bamboo poles. Over time, even a harmless-looking farmer harvesting her crops became a force to contend with.
Sports karate became increasingly popular and widespread in the 1940s. While competition was originally limited primarily to men, women now compete in combat and kata tournaments. There are even some mixed form competitions and occasionally mixed match between men and women.
Today, notable female martial artists can be found in all styles of martial art, from boxer Kathy Long to karate champion Cynthia Rothrock. These women, and others like them, are the modern equivalents of the warrior women of centuries ago. Her determination to gain a foothold in this sport is a shining example for all female martial artists.