Martial Arts for Women: Century-Old Book Details Moves

This drawing from the self-defense book shows an abdomen strangulation technique that can render an attacker trying to rape a woman unconscious.

Credit: Kiyohara Ryusai/Public domain


A translation of a martial-arts book published in 1914, which was written by a woman for women, describes a group of Japanese women who banded together to form the Women’s Self-Defense League in order to fight off attacks from men.


Nobatake Yaeko wrote the book — whose title translates as “Self-Defense for Women” — under the pen name Nohata Showa — and she published it in May of 1914. In the book, she describes and illustrates a number of martial-arts techniques that women can use to fight off attackers. These techniques include throws, ways to break an attacker’s arm and a technique that strangles the abdomen of an attacker who is trying to rape a woman. [See Photos of the Images of Martial-Arts Techniques from the Book]


It has a detailed chart showing the weak spots on a man (called Kyusho). “Kyusho are points on the body that can cause damage if struck hard, or they can be used to resuscitate a person. If you violently strike any of these Kyusho, it can render a person unconscious and even stop their breath. Good and proper people would do well to learn these points,” Showa wrote. The book, written in Japanese, was translated by Eric Shahan, who specializes in translating 19th- and early 20th-century Japanese martial-arts texts. Shahan also holds a San Dan (third-degree black belt) in Kobudo.


The techniques described in the book are derived from a martial art called Jujutsu. “The fundamentals of Jujutsu is to use the opponent’s power. You can win by moving nimbly at the right time, without using much power. Should you ingrain these techniques into your body, even a cute weak girl can wrap up a large man and achieve a win!” wrote…

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