The umbrella term martial art simply means the art of fighting. But deeper than that, it is a form of self control and awareness of the damage violence can do.

Statue commemorating Nakano Takeko outside Hokai temple.

In my chosen martial arts style, Shorinji Kenpo, you are said to either possess the qualities of the tiger (hard, masculine, quick, straight forward) or the dragon (soft, fluid, surprisingly effective, and equally as strong as the tiger).

When I think of the girls I am most inspired by in the Sites of Girlhood, it is often the girls who on the surface may appear to follow their cultural standard for behavior but eventually reveal themselves as the true opposite. In short, embodiments of the dragon.

My love of martial arts inspired the subject of my first search: female martial artists. The onna-bugeisha, or female warriors, and Nakanao’s story was the first result I came upon. Once the girls could train to use weapons with the expectation that they were capable of protecting their household, family and honor in times of war. They were also in control of their own finances and homes. After the Tokugawa Shogunate came to power, girls were expected to be quiet, passive and obedient. This also meant the girl warriors could no longer travel on their own without the accompaniment of a man. Desite, their skill level the girl warriors were not allowed to fight in the Army instead they had to settle for membership in a voluntary corps.

Nakano inspires me not only as a martial artist but also as a girl. She began her training at six years old, in a time where it must have been hard to train as a female. Yet she stuck to it, tried her best and excelled. Her skills were so great that she was asked to lead a voluntary corps of twenty girls, known as the Joshitai (or Girls’ Army), in battle at just twenty-one years old. She gathered all of her bravery and took the challenge head on. She may not have won on that occasion, but her actions in trying to stand for what you believe in despite adversity make her a Great Girl to me. The girls she would have led have very similar stories to that of Nakano’s, I am sure.

Reading how a change in government rule drastically changed their position in life really made me appreciate how I can openly practice something I love alongside other girls and women who also love what I do. Women may not specifically wield swords to protect their loved ones today, but Nakano’s actions remind me of all the females in the different branches of the military and police forces who carry weapons to help protect others.

-Brittany Hill, Junior Girl

This post is part of our Sites of Girlhood project, exploring historical sites and memorials associated with girls under the age of 21.

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