“Were there ever any female samurai?” Asked Robyn.
“You bet.” I said. “They were upper class warriors called onna-bugeisha. Empress Jingu, who led a miraculously bloodless conquest of Korea in 200 AD, likely doesn’t count because she was royalty, but there were other impressive female fighters that followed.
In the Kamakura Period Genpei War, Yoritoma’s cousin Yoshinaka’s concubine, Tomoe Gozen, was one of the finest.
‘Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and
charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and
as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to
confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled
unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down
perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka
sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an
oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more
deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.’
The Tale of the Heike
Remember when Yoshinaka took Kyoto, and Yoritomo sent his brother Yoshitsune to kill him? At the Battle of Awazu on February 21, 1184, Gozen rode into the enemy forces, flung herself on their strongest warrior, Honda no Moroshige, and unhorsed, pinned, and decapitated him. Despite all the bravery, Yoshinaka's troops were outnumbered and overwhelmed. Down to his last few warriors, he told Tomoe to flee because of the shame his name would carry if he died with a woman. Tomoe escaped capture and after the battle became the wife of the samurai who ultimately defeated her in battle. She later became a nun.