Kunoichi were female ninjas. They were trained in the arts of ninjutsu, but they also learned seduction, manipulation, disguise, feminine charm and intuition. These abilities granted them access to the hearts and minds of politicians, warlords, and businessmen, making the kunoichi into confidantes and puppeteers. Posing as geisha and concubines, kunoichi not only learned to adjust the emotions of men but they also learned how to keep their own emotions under control. Most importantly, they were trained not to fall in love with their targets or to lose sight of their goal after successfully alluring their prey. In addition to playing with mens’ hearts, kunoichi could also pose as maids, entertainers, fortune tellers, and artists to gain access to their target. There was no castle guarded well enough that a kunoichi couldn’t enter.
The most frequent origin of kunoichi was that they were common girls who were orphans, runaways, from broken homes, or from poor families. They would be recruited by older kunoichi who would raise them, provide for them, and train them. However, not all kunoichi were from miserable beginnings. There are stories, such as that of Mochizuki Chiyome, which show that some kunoichi joined from a higher social status or for reasons other than hardship, although these cases are few in number.
At their core, kunoichi were ninjas. Ninjas thought and fought differently than the other combatants of their time. They understood the art of concealing themselves, their methods, and their tools. They made a liberal use of disguises and often used commonplace objects as weapons. Ninjas did what they did for the effect it had, not for the honor it brought or lost them. None of this was lost on the kunoichi.
Men are physically stronger than women on average and kunoichi were often put into situations where they had no local allies if something went wrong with their mission. Thus, kunoichi training was mainly focused upon fighting techniques that matched up female combatants to male combatants. This involved striking at pressure points, striking at the groin, locking opponents’ limbs, choking, dodging, and using small weapons coated with evil substances. Also, because kunoichi were often in close quarters with their target, they learned to fight in cramped spaces or in situations that somehow confined their movement.
In a fight, a kunoichi wielded an array of secret weapons. First, they trained to use elements of their disguise as weapons. They trained to kick hard with their wooden shoes, to whack with their umbrellas, to thrust with their bamboo fans, and to choke with their obi. In addition, they learned to weave weapons into their disguises. They hid needles in their hair, held daggers inside bouquets, and kept garrotes up their sleeves. Kunoichi were also fond of poisons and blinding powders. The kakute was a ring with a jagged edge, laced with poison. In a fight, a kunoichi could choke an opponent while inserting poison in their neck, thus disabling their opponent faster than otherwise. They would carry small boxes or paper bags filled with harmful elements that could be blown into an opponent’s eyes. Kunoichi would place poisons or drugs on nearly any weapon they carried that could enter or open the body, such as needles and kaiken. All of these elements were used to give the kunoichi an advantage over an opponent who might have previously thought her unarmed, or they could have simply made the job of killing much quieter. Kunoichi were trained with many of the standard ninja weapons, but their training deemphasized the use of large weapons, such as swords, staffs, and spears, in favor of knives, shuriken, and eye irritants. It is important to realize that even though kunoichi were ninjas and even though they trained in martial techniques they really only fought in self-defense or as a last resort. Most of their weapons were used for assassinations when the target was thoroughly off-guard or in the event a kunoichi was attacked.
To act like kunoichi were about assassinating and unique weapons is to miss who they really were. Kunoichi were undercover spies, observers, and informants first. They were masters in the art of choosing where attention was drawn. They could draw attention to themselves by performing the tea ceremony or traditional dances, by singing or playing musical instruments. They could remove attention from themselves by dressing as shrine attendants or servants, or by simply concealing themselves as a ninja would. They could manipulate minds by drawing attention to details designed to intrigue, infuriate, infatuate, or incriminate. With talents such as these, any prominent man who let his guard down around women was likely to be the target of a kunoichi. It was their strength to take advantage of mens’ weakness.
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