Women of Jujutsu


The percentage of women in the Jujutsu world is relatively small.  In most Jujutsu dojos, both traditional and modern, there are often only a couple of women.  This is due to several factors.  First, the martial arts are still traditionally seen as a male endeavor.  Second, Jujutsu in particular requires close contact, and is significantly more physical in nature than most other martial arts.  Thus, even though a few women may start training at a Jujutsu dojo, it is often unlikely that they will continue training. 

Throughout history, those who did "make it" were an enigma.  They stood out.  They were special in some way - succeeding in a male dominated field and a warrior field.  You may say that is old-fashioned thinking, but the modern militaries still do not let women into combat as foot soldiers. 

So as a motivation to you women Jujutsuka out there, in our style or any other style, take a look at some of the women who have hung in there.  There are many more I am sure, but these reflect some of those many who have the drive and determination to not only succeed in Jujutsu, but to survive!

"Jiu-jitsu, if followed in all its details, will make a weak woman stronger and will make of any reasonably strong women one who is the physical peer of any man of her own size. The day has gone by when women prize weakness as a dainty attribute of their sex, and the science of jiu-jitsu points out the path for the new physical woman to pursue.  BE STRONG!  There is neither grace nor beauty in weakness."  (H.Irving Hancock from the 'Introduction to Physical Training for Women by Japanese Methods (Jiu-Jitsu)’, New York and London, G.P.Putnam's Sons, 1904, pages xi-xii)

After the abolition of the samurai class in 1868, members of the general population were permitted for the first time to study the old warrior arts.  By 1880, jujutsu was even taught to foreigners.  The International Society for Jujutsu opened in Kyoto around 1899.  Japanese jujutsu and judo teachers traveled to many countries at the turn of the century, some teaching the older jujutsu, some teaching the new Kodokan judo syllabus, while others taught a little of both.

Publications in English began to emerge in the early 1900s and women quickly became involved practicing jujutsu, promoting the art and writing books as well.

'Jujitsu for Ladies - The Art of the Weak', Chicago: Dignam’s Magazine, 1905.

Jujutsu continues to be practiced in the West today.

The Fine Art of Jujitsu
by Mrs Roger Watts (Photographs by G. W. Beldam), London: William Heinemann, 1906..

The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence LeMar, the World Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl
by Gardiner and LeMar,  Wellington NZ, privately published, 1913.

The Kokusai Jujutsu Ryu - International Jujutsu Institute (IJJI) carries on the tradition and syllabus of the Kyoto Kokusai Jujutsu Daigakuin (1899-1945).  The original Kyoto Institute was opened during a time of Japanese nationalistic aggression and aimed to train imperial forces and intelligence personnel.  Few women trained in the organization during this period. Professor Kam Hock Hoe, a graduate of the Kyoto Institute, who also instructed there, began teaching jujutsu to women and men. He opened his own school in Kuala Lumpur in 1935. 

One of the major early works about women and modern budo is by Japanese judo master Fukuda Keiko (7th dan), granddaughter of the famous jujutsu master Fukuda Hachinosuke (master of Okuyama-nen jujutsu, Kiraku ryu and Tenshin shinyo ryu jujutsu).

Born for the Mat: A Kodokan Kata Textbook for Women by Keiko Fukuda, Japan: privately published, 1973.

Fukuda sensei performing jujutsu against a sword attack.

Jujutsu Women of History


Left to right:  Unidentified, Kitabatake (Berlin), Ishiguro (Paris), Yukio Tani (Budokwai), Gunji Koizumi (Budokwai), Beatrice Woolhouse (Budokwai). The occasion was a contest between a German team and a British team held in London in 1938. Photo courtesy the Budokwai.

In 1918 Gunji Koizumi opened a dojo called the Budokwai in London.  Member number 60 was Katherine White-Cooper.  In 1919 Katherine was joined by another woman, and by 1920 there were 25 women.  Four of these women received black belts. They were Eva Anderson, Beatrice Woolhouse, A.H. Barker, and Enid Russell-Smith.

The first woman to get a dan grade in Japan was Sarah Mayer, who received it from the Kyoto Butokukai in February 1935.

In 1924, Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu founder Seishiro Okazaki taught a women's self defense class at Hilo High School and in 1929 published a book called The Science of Self-Defense for Girls & Women.

The Hawaiian YWCA taught Judo to Miss Harrison, Floy Robinson, Kennette Griffith, Myrtle Nelson, Emma Cawdry, and Elva Class.  Early Hawaiian female black belts included Shizuko Murasaki, Matsue Honda, and Yasue Kuniwake.


Although there were martial arts such as Naginata-jutsu that accepted woman, the difficult physical training in Jujutsu for women was not started in Japan until the beginning of the 20th century.  Here we see a Japanese woman performing Waki Gatame as a knife disarm.


Ayako Akutagawa, 2nd dan, circa 1936. Photo courtesy Shinji Kozu.  

In 1926 the Kodokan started the first women's section.  The first woman to earn dan grade in Judo was Katsuko Osaki in January 1933.  Other early female blackbelts were Masako Noritomi, Ayako Akutagawa, Yasuko Morioka, Masako Wada, and the famous Keiko Fukuda.

A page from an early advertisement for Jujutsu, circa 1920's.  The meaning is clear, Jujutsu is made for those weaker to use technique to defeat those stronger.


Ruth Gardner,Judo Blackbelt - circa 1948.  Photo courtesy of Robert W. Smith

By the mid 20th century there were perhaps a few hundred women worldwide who practiced Judo and Jujutsu.  However, in the Judo tradition, few participated in Randori, only kata.  In Jujutsu, however, the self-defense aspects were emphasized, and the percentage of women Jujutsuka was smaller than the female Judokas.


Esther Azumi Takamoto - Performing Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu 1940's

Bernice Jay
Bernice Jay (second from left) receives her second degree Jujutsu blackbelt in 1949 at the Okazaki Dojo.

Bernice Jay, wife of Wally Jay, began her Jujutsu study in 1944. She studied with her husband Wally, a student of Sieshiro Okazaki, and also other senior Okazaki students such as Tony Gonzales, Moon Watanabe, Jerry Tarutani, and Wallace Takabayashi. She received her Shodan in 1947, her Nidan in 1949 and her third dan blackbelt after Okazaki died.

Lucille Estes
Professor Lucie Estes, wife of Bud Estes, an early pioneer of Jujutsu in America, taught Kodenkan Jujutsu for over 40 years.  She began in the 1940's and was promoted to 6th degree blackbelt (Rokudan) in 1982. She died on September 28, 1982.

Professor Louise Imi Okazaki Mullins is the youngest daughter of Seishiro Okazaki.  As with most children of a Jujutsu sensei, she started training at home along with her sisters, Betty and Myrtle.  Their father taught them Jujutsu and Amma with him as either the uke or the massage patient.  In 1994, Professor Mullins was promoted to Godan and Professor by Shoshin Ryu, an offshoot school of Danzan-Ryu.

Julie Vierra is awarded a Mokuroku (Blackbelt) from Prof. Okazaki.

Sensei Barbara Gessner is the Chief Instructor at the Rutgers Kodenkan in Rutgers, NJ. She holds the rank of Godan, 5th degree black belt from the AJJF.

Sensei Denise Gonzales began her Jujutsu training under Prof. Wally Jay in 1965.  She received her blackbelt in 1976.  She currently holds a 3rd Degree (Sandan) in Jujutsu.  She recently won the Gold Medal in the Senior Masters division at the 1998 Judo Nationals in Chicago.  She is also active in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu competition.  She practices Okazaki Amma, and teaches at the Konjokan Dojo in Sacramento, CA.

Sensei Dara Masi The Dojo Cho (Head Instructor) of Suigetsu Dojo is Dara Masi.  She founded Suigetsu Dojo on December 1, 1994.  She began her study of the martial arts in 1986 and received her Shodan (1st degree black belt) in 1993.  She was promoted to Nidan (2nd degree black belt) in 1995 and received her Sandan (3rd degree black belt) in 1998.  She has studied JuJutsu with many prominent masters both in the United States and Japan.  Her focus remains with Hakkoryu JuJutsu as a student of Dai Sensei Dennis Palumbo.

Sensei Masi is a prominent instructor in her own right and has taught JuJutsu seminars throughout the United States for private schools and large organizations.  She has served on the Board of the National Women's Martial Arts Federation for four years as its Treasurer, and is the President of the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors which she founded in 1998.

Sensei Melanie Fine
Melanie Fine joined Suigetsu Dojo as co-owner and instructor in December of 1995.  She began her study of the martial arts as a graduate student in 1976.  She studied Tae Kwon Do for two years and then began an 18-year study of Tang Soo Do under Master Maynard Stanley in Cincinnati, Ohio.  She received her Shodan in 1982, Nidan in 1985, and Sandan in 1991.  She was Head Instructor of Karate Temple in Columbus, Ohio, for seven years.  Upon moving to Corpus Christi, Texas, she continued teaching Tang Soo Do, and began studying Aikido and Arnis.

In 1994, she met Sensei Masi and became her student in JuJutsu.  She received her Shodan in 1999 and Nidan in 2001.  In addition to her continuing study of JuJutsu, she is training in T'ai Chi Ch'uan as a student of Master Wasentha Young and in Soshoryu Iaido and is a member in the Sosho Shinrenbukai Federation.

Sensei Fine is a lifetime member of JuJitsu America and the National Women's Martial Arts Federation.  She served on the Board of the NWMAF for seven years – five years as Treasurer, and two years as Chair from 1990 through 1997.

Sensei Karen Panker is the Chief Instructor at the Virginia Kodenkan.  She is currently a Nidan.  She is also a 1st degree Blackbelt in IchoYama-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu.

Kyoshi Zosia Gorbaty has been studying martial arts since 1976. She practiced the arts of Nisei Goju Karate and Mas Oyama Karate before joining Master Zulu in 1981 as a brown belt.  In 2000 she received the rank of 6th degree black belt in the Zujitsu-Ryu system. Kyoshi Gorbaty has been teaching at various sites in the New York area for 20 years.

Tammy Webb started training under professor Sig Kufferath in 1984.  She was awarded blackbelt in 1998, scoring one of the highest, if not the highest, on a black belt test in the last 15 years at Kufferath's school.  She performed all techniques from Yawara, Nage, Shime, Oku, Kiai No Maki, Shinnin No Maki.  She also was required to perform punch and kick defenses and a three-man attack at the end of the test.  In this test she was attacked continuously by three men until told to stop.

Prof. Jane Carr is a 7th Dan in Jujutsu.  She began training in 1960.  She is an Okazaki massage therapist and also Headmaster of the Redding Jujutsu school.  She received her Shichidan (7th degree) and professorship in 1982 and is a high ranking Jujutsu woman.

Shinan Pereira and Candy Soto

Shihan Candy Soto PhD. MA, one of the highest ranking women on the East Coast. Shihan Soto holds the rank of Kaiden (equivalent to 9th/ 10th degree black belt) in Miyama Ryu Combat Ju-Jitsu. This is the highest rank awarded in this system. She was one of the first females awarded this rank. She was awarded the rank of Kaiden (red and white belt) on October 30,1993 by the late, world known, and respected Shihan Antonio Pereira.

Shihan Soto has been dedicated to the Martial Arts for over 35 years, but she has devoted over 25 years to Shinan Antonio Pereira’s “Miyama Ryu Combat Ju-Jutsu” faithfully since 1978. Shihan Soto has training in Judo and weaponry. Trained by Gene James (Founder of Bushido Ryu), Shihan Campbell of Miyama Ryu, and Michael Alvarez (who later specialized in ancient Taino weapons fighting). Shihan Soto specializes in Anti-Rape Tactics, Live Blade (knife techniques) and Ju-Jutsu for children and adults. Shihan Soto has taught men and women in the N.Y.P.D., the N.Y.D.O.C. and, many others in Law Enforcement. Her love of the Fighting Arts, and her fear of the N.Y.C. streets is what inspired and led her to create the two violence prevention programs that would teach women and children how to stay safe under all circumstances, and avoid becoming the next victims of a senseless crime.

Shihan Soto is the Founder of F.A.S.T. (Female Alternative Street Tactics) a violence prevention and self-protection program created to empower women of all ages and help them avoid all forms of attacks and confrontations.
Shihan Soto is Director and Co-Founder of “Secure Your Child” (S.Y.C.) an anti-child abuse program that teaches street awareness, kidnapping prevention, anti-bullying, and self defense to children ages 4-12.

For more information on any of the programs: call # 718 991-3004 or email Shihan1@optonline.net

Shihan Darlene C. DeFour is an 9th Dan in Jujutsu. She started training in the early 80's when she was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  It was in the style of Danzan Ryu.  She trained under Shihan Otis Harris.  Shihan Otis Harris' first three black belts were all women.  As she progressed in rank, her teacher would allow her and Sensei Jackson to teach more and more.  She presently teaches San Yama Bushi Jujutsu in Harlem.  She is a psychology professor.  One area of her research interest is violence against women.  She trains under the founder Shinan Hector Negron.  She received her Kaiden (9th degree) Senior Instructor title and is one of the highest-ranking Jujutsu women in the world.  She presently serves on the Board of the San Yama Bushi Jujutsu and Judo Association.

It is my hope that this short glimpse of Women of Jujutsu is motivational. Seeing those who went before will help to motivate any women that may be training or may be interested in training in the Martial arts. All of the Martial arts are wonderful. This history shows that it can be done, it should be done, and is being done. Jujutsu is a gentle art; hard, but it sets you apart and puts you into a very elite group of intelligent, strong willed, and successful women.

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