Kick-ass women

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women’s achievements and promote gender equality. In the world of martial arts, women have made significant contributions and have broken through barriers to pave the way for future generations. In this blog post, we will explore the history of women in martial arts, highlight some famous female martial artists in Japanese martial arts, and discuss the importance of promoting women’s participation in martial arts.

History of Women in Martial Arts

Picture of a female samurai from history.
Tomoe Gozen, Japanese martial artist

Throughout history, martial arts have been primarily dominated by men. However, women have always been a part of martial arts history, with examples dating back to ancient China and Japan.

For example, Tomoe Gozen (12th century) was a samurai warrior who fought alongside her husband, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, during the Genpei War. She was known for her archery and swordsmanship skills.

There were even entire groups of women, such as the Onna-bugeisha (12th-19th century). They were female warriors who practiced various martial arts, including archery, swordsmanship, and naginatajutsu. They were trained to defend their homes and families during times of war.

At various points in Japanese history, women practiced martial arts in secret due to cultural norms and societal expectations. In the 20th century, the status of women in martial arts began to change, and women began to participate in martial arts openly.

Famous Female Martial Artists in Japanese Martial Arts

  1. Junko Tabei: Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. She was also an accomplished rock climber and a black belt in Kyokushin karate.
  2. Keiko Fukuda: Fukuda was the highest-ranking female judoka in history, achieving the rank of 10th dan. She was also the first woman to be awarded a 9th dan in judo.
  3. Ronda Rousey: Rousey is a former UFC bantamweight champion and an Olympic medalist in judo. She is also a black belt in judo and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Why should women take part in Martial Arts?

Martial arts offer numerous benefits to both men and women, including improved physical fitness, increased confidence, and self-defense skills. However, many women still face barriers to participation in martial arts, such as gender stereotypes, lack of representation, and intimidation.

That is to say, it can be scary starting a martial art when you are a small woman and everyone else in the class is over 6 feet tall, male, and full of testosterone.

At Bristol Shorinji Kempo Dojo we have people of all sizes. Even our teachers come as a mis-matched pair; Sensei Mike is big and male, and Sensei Nicki is small and female. Some of our senior students fill the niche in between, so whatever your body type you’ll find someone who understands you in our classes.

Two martial artists practicing Shorinji Kempo at the Bristol Dojo.
Sensei Mike and Sensei Nicki demonstrating how being small is not a disadvantage.

Given the benefits that come from practicing a martial art, it is important that nobody feels excluded from trying it!


Women have made significant contributions to the world of martial arts, and their achievements should be celebrated and recognised. By highlighting the accomplishments of famous female martial artists in Japanese martial arts, we can inspire future generations of women to pursue their passions in martial arts.

It is essential to promote women’s participation in martial arts and create an inclusive and diverse community that benefits everyone.

On this International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the accomplishments of women in martial arts and continue to support women’s participation in all areas of life.

Parts of this blog post were drafted by ChatGPT.

Published by Nicola Higgins

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something* martial artist, Girlguiding Brownie and Ranger Leader, and actuary. She somehow also finds time to read, fuss her cat, and occasionally spends time with her husband. * please note that "ten or more" is still something.

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