Ines Vuckovic/Dose

Jingū Kōgō wielded the naginata sword as well as any man.

Our Unsung Heroes series brings history’s unknown badasses out of the footnotes and into the spotlight.

What if I told you there was a female samurai/actual royalty who led her fighters in the nonviolent domination of southern Korea centuries ago?

1880 Yoshitoshi painting

Although historians question how much of Empress Jingū’s story is actually true, it’s known for certain that she was born around 169 A.D. and was married to the 14th emperor of Japan, Chuai. After his passing in 201 A.D., Jingū took the throne in place of her young son, Ōjin. She was traditionally considered the 15th imperial ruler of Japan, but was removed from the list of emperors during the Meiji period (1868–1912) when an evaluation of her reign concluded that Ōjin was actually the 15th emperor. However, she’s still considered (and is designated as) a legendary figure in Japan.

Traditionally, samurais were considered to be male warriors while women were considered homemakers and daughters. Empress Jingū broke that stereotype early on. Trained in tanto Jutsu, she was skilled in using the kaiken dagger and naginata sword, which went on to become two of the most popular weapons used by female samurais.

With these tools, Jingū led warriors into southern Korea around 200 A.D. and established control—all while she was supposedly pregnant. In other words, she defines what it means to be a badass.

Empress Jingū set the bar pretty high for what it meant to be a powerful female warrior and is credited for igniting a wave of female samurais during the Genpei War. Even though her accomplishments go largely unacknowledged by history books, she lives on forever on the Japanese bank notes that bear her image.