top of page

Onna, what? Never heard of it...what is Bugeisha??

The burst of chaotic blur and sheer ferocity halted abruptly, and she stood over the motionless bodies gazing fixedly upon you with gleaming naganita still perched high from the preceding slice that fell the last man. Her mind's eye already weighed you and foresaw the outcome. She awaits your approach.


I admit to being somewhat familiar with Japanese pop-culture references and lingo that has inundated the American consciousness in recent decades, but I'm nowhere near "Otaku" level (a word for a person obsessed with Japan stuff).

However, I had not come across the word "onna-bugeisha" until a couple of years ago when I was doing academic research into the Oriental martial arts through Horizons University of Paris as an online masters program.

One topic of research, which required a paper and a presentation project, was Bushido (or, the way of the bushi, aka samurai class of medieval Japan).

In case you're not familiar with samurai, they were the warrior class that were permitted to carry the single-edged katana sword (or other weapons) and train in the martial arts, in contrast to the lower class which could lose their heads just for eyeing a samurai disrespectfully and were not allowed to possess a sword or to know the martial arts. They could be compared to the knights of feudal Europe, but all that's mostly common knowledge nowadays.

While researching, I came across information that, to my surprise, not all samurai were men, and also, not all were Japanese. Some were women, and some were foreigners.

And that's were the onna-bugeisha comes in: some women (usually married to male samurai) were mightily trained warrioresses who tested their mettle in real combat and not for mere symbolics.

Here is their entry in Wikipedia (hopefully, no academic snobs will bother me for quoting wikipedia! It's just a blog post.):

Onna-bugeisha (女武芸者, "female martial artist") was a type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility.These women engaged in battle alongside samurai men mostly in times of need.

Above is a slide from my Bushido presentation about the female samurai that carried a keiken blade on themselves at all times. Ishi-jo was a woman who made it into the annals of samurai history and is illustrated in Japanese woodblock art in a lethal pose wielding the long naganita.

For the curious, here is my short BUSHIDO presentation in a pdf download.


My Onna-bugeisha painting began in an art class where I was demonstrating how to draw an eye on a digital tablet PC to my students in South Korea. Probably because it was around the same time I was preparing the report on bushido, my imagination saw a painted face and the cold gaze of a bugeisha peering at her enemy through her fallen, raven black hair.

Now, I have no idea if the bugeisha warrior women painted their faces white like the geisha that did long ago that borrowed the tradition from China during Japan's Heian Period (c. 1000AD), but because that porcelain visage is so iconic to the Nippon culture, I wanted to put it together regardless of historicity.


Now I am re-releasing the Onna-bugeisha art piece as a new design for apparel and accessories that can be purchased from my Character Issues Art Shop.

This time, in addition to the usual t-shirt/sweatshirt assortments, I added cool leggings and a skateboard print that can be assembled to ride or used as a wall decor.

This shop is hosted by Threadless, the original print-on-demand business. They provide the artist with the best share of returns compared competitors and the customer with a satisfactory product.

So, if you purchase an item from the shop, I'd love to hear how you liked it. Please give a short and sweet review about the art/design, print quality, and quality of materials. TY!

P.S. If you become my fan subscriber via Scratchbang, you could enjoy the base price.

17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page