13. Tomoe Gozen’s Heroic Stand
As contemporaries described her: “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.”
By 1184, Tomoe had become famous because of her fighting skill and feats of arms. Her greatest exploit came that year, at the battle of Awazu, when she was part of a small force of 300 samurai that was set upon by a far bigger army of around 6000. She fought with extreme courage and skill against overwhelming odds, but eventually, Tomoe’s force was whittled down from 300 to only Tomoe, her commanding general, Minamoto Yoshinaka, and five other warriors. With the end drawing near, Yoshinaka ordered her to leave the battlefield, as it would be shameful for him to die alongside a woman. Reluctantly, she obeyed, beheading one more enemy warrior on her way out, then faded from history.