Samurai may be known as a man’s pursuit, but feudal Japan produced a number of legendary female warriors who took to the battlefield with a sword that still holds a high cultural position today.
The image of the katana sword continues to draw interest from women, and enthusiasts in Tokyo are now learning ancient fighting techniques adapted into an energetic sports-like activity.
Katana exercise began life as a workout intended for men seven years ago, combining ancient virtues and practices in a gym session. It found surprising popularity among women, and as a result its inventor decided to limit apprenticeships to females only.
The program was created by Ukon Takafuji, successor chief of the Takafuji-ryu school of Japanese classical dance. Takafuji-ryu was established by Takafuji’s mother in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.
He said women keep coming back as their interest grows in the ancient tradition, learning more and more about its origins as they practice. Takafuji works as the school’s main instructor.
“But the lessons were really interesting, as just until last month, we learned how to fight like a ninja, playing with two short swords”
Tomomi Sakamoto, student at a class in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward
The sword-fighting techniques on which the program is based have been incorporated into traditional Kabuki and noh dance.
Each lesson starts and ends with a bow, as mandated in the feudal warriors’ code of Bushido.
Students learn how to slash their swords across the air using half a dozen or so downward and upward diagonal or frontal cuts, facing off against an opponent.
Their posture improves through training, and with good balance they can strengthen their core muscles.
The women who attend the lessons wear “hakama,” traditional pants with deep pleats like those worn by samurai. A rigid section at the rear helps them maintain their posture and straighten their backs.
The swords weigh less than 300 grams and are made of wood covered with thick paper and special tape, resembling those used on stage. They are designed to prevent injury.
Tomohiro Tsunoda, head of Banlee Co. Ltd., which runs the training studio, said that although most women come to the class to shape up, many become deeply interested in the history and culture of feudal Japan.
Tsunoda said the sport’s rising popularity is partly attributable to sudden enthusiasm for an online game released in January.
MAGDALENA OSUMI / JapanTimes