Kunoichi – female ninjas

Kunoichi - female ninjas

Weird hobbies: In a world where disagreements are settled more often through court mediation than murder, it might seem like kunoichi have died out. But women ninjas still exist…

By definition, if you can see a ninja, then it’s not a ninja. And shades of shadowy black flatters everyone, so gender isn’t really much of an issue when it comes to who can and can’t be a ninja. Unfortunatly, the media in the West tends to portray martial artists as either men or scantily-clad women whose ability to execute four backflips in a row isn’t impeded in the least by their stiletto heels (although stiletto heels, exerting on average more pressure per square inch than an elephant, can be useful) . However, there does in fact exist a long tradition of women warriors who are strong, intellegent and – yes – sexy (when it’s practical, of course.) They are kunoichi.

Kunoichi, which resembles both the kanji character for ‘woman’ and the phrase ‘nine and one’ (as men have nine orifices on the body, while women have one more), is the technical term for a female practicioner of ninjuitsu or ninpo. Like their male counterparts, the shinobi, kunoichi are skilled in both assasination and espionage. However, a woman’s training concentrates less on direct battle and more on using disguises, poisons and their gender to their advantage. After all, what man would suspect a beautiful, weeping woman of being his personal Angel of Death? Training for kunoichi began at a young age. According to Runiko Hayes, who holds a black belt in ninjutsu and is the wife of celebrated martial artist Stephan Hayes, head kunoichi would travel around the country collecting orphaned girls. They would raise the girls in the ways of the ninja and the girls would, in return, be forever loyal to their teachers. A kunoichi’s loyalty, to both her clan and her mission, is extremely important. Without loyalty to the clan, she might be persuaded to reveal the recipe to a secret posion or the key to an encrpytion. Without loyalty to her mission, she might be persuaded to forget about extracting government secrets or assasination and let herself fall in love with her target.

Kunoichi, for the most part, targeted men, though I don’t think it far-fetched to suppose that their targets were occasionally women as well. Women tend to be underestimated and considered less threatening than men, even today, nearly forty years after the beginning of the feminist revolution. Centuries ago, when the way of the kunoichi was being pioneered, that was even more true. Disguised as prostitutes, fortune-tellers, musicians, servants, geishas and dancers, kunoichi would be able to eavesdrop on confidentital conversation or slip letters off desks and into their kimono sleeves without anyone noticing. Should the information not be forthcoming, they take what might be considered a more elegant form of forcing the info out than their male counterparts: while men are trained in the manipulation of katanas and nunchucks, women are trained to manipulate their bodies and their victim’s emotions.

That’s not to say that women don’t use weapons – they just don’t use what are seen as traditional weapons. Again, kunoichi prefer subtely. A sword with a shiny three-foot long blade isn’t exactly ‘subtle’. A sharper-than-razors blade hidden in the folds of a dainty laquered fan, on the other hand, is probably as subtle as one can get – unless one considers that the needles holding up a kunoichi’s silky hair are usually sharpened and coated with neurotoxians. Posion, blinding powders and knives were easily hidden in the folds of a kimono (or, for us modern girls, underneath the skirt of a poofy pink prom dress) as well as in musical instruments and sex toys. The most-favored weapon was the neko-te, or ‘cat hand’. It consists of iron claws, often dipped in deadly serums, attached to leatherbands that wrapped snuggly around the palms or fingers. The neko-te is effective for scraping flesh and gouging out eyes, but even without weapons, kunoichi are fearsome opponents. Their training includes how to use gouge out eyes with their bare fingernails, and how to use women’s lighter frame and greater flexibilty to their advantage. Kunoichi are also skilled at improvising and turning household objects into weaponry – umbrellas and parasols can be temporary shields and heeled shoes can break bones. (See? Useful stilettos!)

In a world where disagreements are settled more often through mediation and courts than murder and cunning, it might seem like the kunoichi have died out. While certainly less common (or perhaps just better hidden) today, women ninjas still exist. In fact, the women practitioners of Bujinkan, a martial arts system containing nine schools which includes ninjustu, are holding the first-ever global kunoichi conference. It will be in Hannover, Germany from September 17th to 19th, 2010 and more information can be found at http://www.bujinkankunoichi.com/home. Studying martial arts is an excellent way to get in shape, gain confidence and learn how to defend yourself, but many modern-day kunoichi use their skills everyday by working in law enforcement, security or private investigation.

So the next time you catch a whiff of perfume on the night breeze or see the edge of a dress fading into the shadows, feel safe knowing that a kunoichi is near-by. Unless, that is, she’s after you.

Mookychick female-friendly ninja links

Above art by amazing Getabo