llamaenterhear
Username: Password:

Author Topic: Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson  (Read 5547 times)

0 Members and 1 Lonely Barbarian are spying on this topic.

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson
« on: August 15, 2004, 10:25:08 PM »
This is an article in the latest issue of Dragon Magazine, the official D&D magazine. I have decided to post this as a history lesson, and for many other reasons, not limited to: teaching the truth to anime-trained Japanophile munchkins who think that samurai were undefeatable and that the katana was the ultimate sword and was a one-up on the European sword (which is not, in fact, just a club with edges); dispelling the myth that platemail and knight armors were clunky, clumsy, and slow; and just for fun.
Again I repeat, I did not write this! This was from Dragon Magazine, and was written by one John Clements, a notable scholar on these matters.
The article is very long, and very involved, so I will be writing it up in a series of installments. If you don't want to read a lot, you probably shouldn't start reading, though I encourage everyone (especially Kalabar and a few other katana-enthusiasts) to read it.
So, without further adieu...




Samurai v.s. Knight

  From countless works of literature, films, and roleplaying games, two heroic archetypes stand out as models of martial mastery: the heavily armed and armored European knight and the honorable and deadly Japanese samurai. Each possessing their own unique arsenal of weapons and characteristic fighting styles, these historic warriors have been depicted and idealized countless times as nearly invincible heroes of peerless ability and skill. Aside from these fantastical depictions, the questions of who these historical champions were, what equipment they used, and how they did battle remain. These queries also lead to an even greater question, one that can be answered only on the battlefield of imagination: In a fight between these two breeds of legendary warriors, who would win?

The Scenario
  First of all, where would these two lone warriors meet, and under what circumstances? Since the conditions of this imaginary fight could play a major factor, such an encounter would best take place on a flat, firm, open field wth no cover and plenty of room to maneuver. Although each is an accomplished horseman, it is conducive to have the single-combat duel occur on foot and without use of missile weapons. Interestingly, both combatants are probably used to the same climate and weather, so this factor should not influence their battle.
  There are many intangibles to consider. The ability of each combatant to read or size up his opponent and determine the threat the other poses is an important consideration. Is each briefed on the nature of his opponent and his armaments, or is the encounter a blind one in which neither knows anything about his adversary?
  Given these variables, let's assume that each of our ideal combatants has been informed about the other and is therefore mentally prepared and composed.
  Of course, if we are supposing a clash between two "typical warriors", we must also ask exactly what is considered typical? The knights of circa 1100 CE and the samurai of circa 1200 CE were roughly evenly matched in equipment, but the same comparative warriors during the 1400s were quite dissimilar. Each of the two historical warriors in question fought with equivalent technologies, under fairly simlar climates and terrain, and for similar reasons, but it's difficult to think in terms of a "generic" medieval knight or a "standard" samurai warrior. With respect to a European knight, it's also difficult to choose which nationality and what type of warrior from which portion of the Middle Ages to use. With the samurai, though, we only deal with a single, homogeneous culture.
  As for the knight, are we assuming he will be a mail-clad Norman with sword and kite shield from the year 1066? Perhaps he could be an English or French chevalier of 1350 in partial plate with arming sword ready for a judicial duel in a closed ring? Will he be a Teutonic knight of circa 1500 in a head-to-toe suit of articulated Gothic plate-armor and wielding a bastard sword?
  Will the samurai be wearing the older box-like Muromachi armor and armed with a tachi blade, or will he wear the later close-fitting Kamakura-period do-maru armor and use the more familiar katana? For that matter, would the samurai be allowed to use both his long katana and his wakizashi short sword together?

The Warriors
  We can reasonably assume that the personal attributes such as individual strength, speed, stamina, age, health, and courage are fairly consistent  between such professional warriors. Assuming we can somehow control for these attributes, we can match combatants with some equality. It is not unrealistic to believe that neither was likely decisively stronger or faster than the other. However, we can't discount physiology as a factor which might be an advantage for the European (16th-century samurai armor examples are sized for men around 5'3"-5'5", while European armor from the same period and earlier fit men ranging from just under 6' to about 6'5"), but other evidence suggests average European heights in the 16th century were just above 5 feet. While the European concept of physical fitness among knights of the 15th century emphasized the classical Greco-Roman youthful physique of a narrow waist and broad shoulders on a lean frame, the Japanese ideal was one of a more mature man having a wider base and broader middle- no doubt reflecting the natural ethnographic characteristics of each race, but also influencing the fighting techniques they employed.
  We might also want to consider the forms of warfare in which each swordsman possessed experience. The early samurai engaged in a ritualized style of warfare where individual champions might fight separate battlefield duels following established protocols, as opposed to a later mounted archery style of combat amid pike formations of lesser foot-soldiers. There were a few larges scale (often disastrous) military expeditions to Korea and elsewhere, but most of a samurai's battles occurred in the environment of his home islands.
  Knights emphasized mounted shock warfare with couched lances and - off the field- a concern for chivalric and judicial duels as well as tournaments of all kinds. The Western way of war was directed more at a traditional battle of annihilation as part of an overall campaign of conquest. Yet, individual challenges, whether to the death or not, were frequent. Knightly arms and armor were the result of a dynamic interaction of Latin, Celtic, and Germanic cultures as well as Turkish and Arabian influences. The environment knights fought in were extensive and diverse, ranging from the cold of Scandinavia to the deserts of the Middle East, from the plains of Western Europe to the deep forest of the Eastern Europe, and the swamps, fields, and mountains in between.
  Culture might also play a role in this contest. Samurai warriors existed in a hierarchical and conformist culture that rewarded obedience and loyalty over individuality. Knights existed ina more complex and fluid society that emphasized self-expression with a long tradition of reliance on individual initiative. Both cultures had experience fighting against outsiders and foreigners: the Europeans encountered the Turks, Mongols, Saracens, and others; the Japanese encountered the Koreans, Chinese, Mongols, and others. Thus, in considering the historical record on cross-cultural collisions in different locations, we might want to give the edge to the more socially diverse Europeans on this matter.
  On an individual basis, we must consider what effect the quality of fatalism within the samurai code of bushido might play, or rather the resolute eacceptance of death that motivated the fiercest samurai. We cannot overlook the quality of piety and faith that could motivate a noble knight to great feats, or of the ideals of chivalry that he might uphold to the death. It's possible a medieval European knight would have a certain disdain and scorn for his foregin, "pagan" adversary. Of course, the Japanese warrior's well-known attitude of proud invincibility and readiness to die for his lord could equally make him vulnerable to an unfamiliar foe. Contempt for life and contempt for a dangerous, unknown opponent you might underestimate can be distastrous combination. While courage is important, fighting spirit alone is insufficient. There are surely intangibles here we cannot measure with any reliability. These and other non-quantifiable, psychological factors aside, we are left with armor, weapons and training to decide the victor.

Next, Weapons and Armor.
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Weapons and Armor
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2004, 11:51:57 PM »
The Armor
  Armor changes things in sworsplay. If you've never trained in it, you can't imagine how it affects your movement and the execution of even simple actions. It has been said that while Europeans designed their armor to defeat swords, the Japanese designed their swords to defeat armor. There is a certain truth to this, but it's a simplistic view. The better Japanese armor was constructed of small overlapping lacquered metal scales or plates tied together with silk cords in order to specifically resist the slicing cut of the katana. It allowed significant freedom of movement while offering excellent protection. If it got wet, however, the silk cords soaked up water and it became terribly heavy. Although the earliest styles of samurai armor were designed with large square plates as a defense against arrows, the later forms were intended primarily to be used by and against similarly equipped swordsmen and to lessen the tremenedous cutting capacity of their blades. It was durable, effective, and provided for ample movement. How would it hold up the stabs of a narrowly pointed knightly sword? This is an important question.
  Medieval European armor was designed and shaped more to deflect strikes and absorb blunt force blows from lances and swords. A knight's armor varied from simple byrnies of fine-riveted mail, which could absorb slices and prevent cuts, to well-padded soft jackets and metal coats-of-plates, which were designed to protect equally from concussion weapons as well as penetrating thrusts. A complete suit of fully articulated rigid plate armor required specialized weapons to effectively defeat it. Plate armor was constructed to be invulnerable to sword cuts- even, it can be surmised, those of the exceptionally sharp katana. Some high-ranking 16th century samurai lords actually owned pieces of contemporary European armor, gifts and purchases which they even wore into battle. They did not prize them merely as exotica. For foot combat, this armor was well balanced, maneuverable, and sometimes even made fo tempered steel. It was well surited for wear in combat, and is far from the awkaward, lumbering cliche presented in Hollywood.
  Without weapons designed to defeat plate armor, any fighter armed with a swrod alone (katana or not) would have difficulty. Indeed, full European plate armor with mail might very well damage the keen edge on particularly fine katanas. After all, we should not forget that despite the katana's vaunted cutting ability, the samurai were able to successfully rely on their armors as defense against it. There is every reason to imagine knightly armor would have been just as effective if not more so. If we therefore assume the armors to be more evenly matched, say mail and partal plate for the knight as used around 1250, things would get more interesting. However, the samurai did often carry a thick dagger, which would have been quite useful against plate. Interestingly, each warrior was highly skilled in using armor-piercing daggers and with close-in grapppling (something not generally known about knightly fencing skills).

The Shield
  We must consider whether the knight in this hypothetical duel will be armed in the familiar shield and short sword style or will use only a single longsword? If armed with a shield, we must ask what kind? Will the knight employ a center-gripped type with front umbo or one worn by enarme straps? Will the shield be the highly effective "kite" shape with its superb defense or one of the smaller, more maneuverable convex "heater" styles? How about a thick steel buckler?
  There's a reason virtually every culture developed the shield and why they were used for thousands of years: They were very effective. In 15th-century Europe, it was only the combination of the development of full plate armor and two-handed swords combined with heavy polearms and powerful missile weapons that finally reduced the long reigning value of the shield in warfare. The medieval style of sword and shield fighting is distinctly different from the two-hand grip and quick full-arm slashing cuts of Kenjutsu. Medieval short swords are properly wielded with more of a throw of the arm and a twist of the hips while making passing steps forward or back. Both cuts and thrusts were thrown from behind the shield while it simultaneously gurrads, feints, deflects, or presses. A sword and shield is a great asset over a single sword alone. Fighting wth sword and shield offers a well-rounded and strong defense that safely permits a wide range of both direct and combination attacks.
  The shield was not used in the ways typically shown in movies, video games, stage-combat, or historical roleplaying organizations. Fighting against a medieval shield is not simply a matter of maneuvering around it or aiming blows elsewhere. A sword can cut quite well from almost all angles around or underneath a shield. Indeed, since the shield side is so well guarded, the opponent is the one limited to attacking to only one region- the unshielded side. As it comes out from behind the shield to strike, an attacker's weapon can be counter-timed and counter-cut, which is an effective tactic to employ against a shield user. Yet a shield user's attacks are not at all one sided. A shield can be used offensively in a number of ways and at very close range.
  Katanas are powerful swords used with strong techniques, but thinking they could simply cleave through a stout medieval shield is absurd. A shield cannot simply be sliced through, even with a katana. Medieval shields were crafted of fairly thick wood covered in leather and usually trimmed in metal, making them highly maneuverable and difficult to cut into. More likely, a blade would be momentarily stuck if it struck too forcefully. Unlike what is seen in the movies or described in heroic literature, chopping into a shield's edge can temporarily cause the sword blade to wedge into the shield for just an instant and thereby be delayed in recovering or renewing an attack (and exposing the attacker's arms to a counter cut). Shields without metal rims were even favored for this reason.
  Kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship), although consisting of very effective counter-cutting actions, also has no real indigenous provisions for fighting shields. A skilled warrior could certainly improvise some, but those unfamiliar with the formidable effectiveness and versatility of a sword and shield combination would have a hard time.

The Samurai's Sword
In major battles fought by both types of warrior, both samurai and kights typically wielded a sword in one or two hands. For the knight, the primary weapons had always been he long lancea nd the sword, and to a lesser degree, the poleaxe, dagger, and mace. The sword was always the foundational weapon of a knight's fencing training. For the samurai, however, the sword was but one of three major weapons, along wth the bow and the yari (thrusting spear) used from horseback. We should consider that, despite their later acquired reputation for swordsmanship, the samurai's primary weapon was, in fact, not the sword. The sword did not become a premier weapon of samurai culture and reach its cult status until the mid to late-17th century, when the civil warring period ended. It is something of a myth that every individual Japanese samurai was himself an expert swordsman (no more true than that every Wild West cowboy, such as they were, was an expert gunfighter). After all, the expression so associated wth bushido, at least in history, is "the way of the horse and bow", not the "the way of the sword". Besides, unlike knightly chivalric tales and combat accounts, the majority of single combats between samurai described in feudal Japanese literature took place with daggers and not swords. But for the sake of discussion, let us assume both fighters use swords in this imaginary case.
  As a sword, the Japanese katana is unmatched in its sharpness and cutting power. Furthermore, it is particularly good at cutting against metal (but it only cuts through other swords in movies and video games). However, medieval plate armor is well known for its resistance to cutting, and cutting at a moving target hidden by a shield or a greatsword is not easy. While the edge of a katana is very strong, with a sharp cutting bevel, it is a thick wedge shape and still has to move aside material as it cuts. Although this is devastating on a draw slice against flesh and bone, it is much less affective against armors. Realizing this, several styles of Japanese swordsmanship devised specific techniques not to cut at armor, but to stab and thrust at the gaps and joinst of it just as the Europeans did against their own plate armor. Except for major conflicts in Korea and encounters against the Mongols, the katana developed in comparative isolation and is not quite the "ultimate sword" some of its ardent admirers occasionally build it up to be. The katana's exceptionally hard edge was prone to chipping, and needed frequent re-polishing, and its blade could break or bend the same as any other sword might. It was not designed to take a great deal of a buse, and is not flexible nor intended to directly oppose soft or hard armors as some forms of medieval swords had to be.
  The katana's design was not set in stone. It was changed and altered over the centures like any other sword, being slowly improved or adapted to the different needs and tastes of its users in terms of cross section, curvature, and length. In the 13th century, for instance, its point had to be redesigned because it was prone to snapping against the metal reinforced "studded" leather armor (essentially equivalent to Europeans brigandine armor) of the Mongols and Chinese. By the 18th century its blade, no longer earnestly used against armors, tended to be made longer, lighter, and thinner for classroom practicing.
  True, Japanese feudal warriors did have their own form of greatsword in the long no dachi blades. These, however, were employed specifically by lower ranking foot-soldiers against horses (and presumably, on occasion, against pikes). So we cannot draw an equivalency between these and medieval greatswords used in knightly fencing arts or to the true two-handers of 16th-century European battlefields.
  Overall, the katana was a very well-rounded design: excellent at cutting and slicing, yet good at thrusting and suitable for armored or unarmored fighting on foot or horseback, either one or two-handed. It was a carefully crafted and beautiful weapon reflecting generations of artistry and fearsome necessity, but it was still only a sword- a man-made tool of well-tempered and expertly polished metal. Although the details of manufacture differed, they were made by the same fundamental scientific processes of heating and working ore by shaping and grinding as were other fine swords around the world throughout history.

The Knight's Sword
  Having equipped our samurai, we must turn to the sword to be used by our knightly combatant. It must be understood that there was a great diverstiy of knightly swords and armor types. European swords were, in a sense, always specialized rather than generalized dsigns: There were swords for foot combat, swords for horseback, single and double-hadned swords, straight and curved swords, swords for armroed and unarmored fighting, swords for tournaments, swords for civilian dueling, swords ideal just for thrusting or just for cutting, and swords only for training.
  A knight's sword was typically a one-handed weapon originally intended specifically for use with a shield. Their blades are wide and fairly thin, but rigid, with chisellike edges intentionally designed for cutting through mail armor and depp into flesh and bone wth a quick, forceful blow. They were light, agile, and stiff, yet flexible enough to withstand the tresses of use. They varied from the wider, flatter kinds to rigid, tapering, sharply pointed variations well suited for stabbing both plate and laminated armors. The later wide-based and acutely pointed style of bastard sword was superb for thrusting. So, even though Japanese armor was made of the same quality steel as their weapons, nothing in its crafting made it superior to armors European blades were designed to penetrate.
  Although the medieval sword and shield combination was fairly common, longer blades usable in two hands were in widespread use from about 1250 to roughly 1600 in Europe. When we talk about medieval European longswords or war-swords (or even greatswords), we are not dealing with a single uniform style. Some swords had wide, flat blades with parallel edges well suited to powerful cuts. Later, swords specifically designed for facing heavier armor had narrower, much more rigid blades of diamond-shaped or hexagonal cross-sections that tapered to hard, sharp points. They were used to bash at armor before stabbing and thrusting into joints and gaps. They could also be employed to thrust like short spears or slam like warhammers, yet they were still capable of cutting at more lightly armored opponents.
  The difference between these two European blades is significant and once more underscores the distinction between the manner of using a katana and a straight medieval Euriopean sword. The tapering blade form has a different center of balance and is often lighter. Its point of percussion is located farther down the blade, and its fine point is capable of making quick, accurate, and strong thrusts. The wider style can make a somewhat greater variety of strikes and delivers more effective cuts overall. The latter is more agile and easier to guard and parry with. It can also more easily employ its versatile hilt in binding, trapping, and striking. Its proper style of use (wth its tighter movements, various thrusts, and infighting with the hilt) is rarely depicted with any accuracy in movies and staged performances.
  The reach factor also cannot be overlooked. Although a skilled fighter can effectively use a short blade against a long blade or vice versa, and although neither longswords nor katanas had standardized lengths, overall the katana is significantly shorter than European two-handed swords and greatswords. A longer weapon wth two edges does have advantages- especially if used by a man taller than the wielder of a shorter, single-edged weapon.
  Surprisingly, the longsword or greatsword is arguably a more complex weapon than the katana. It has two edges that can be used, was well as a verstile crossguard and pommel permitting a variety of specialized techniques. Another element to consideris that European swords could be used in "half-sword" techniques where the second hand grips the blade itself to wield the weapon in bashing, deflecting, binding, and trapping as a pole-axe or short spear can be used. This was especially effective in fighting against plate armor.
  Knightly blades could be excellent swords, but they are often denigrated merely as crude hunks of iron while samurai swords are venerated and exalted sometimes to the point of absurdity by collectors, enthusiasts, and films. The bottom line is that medieval swords were indeed well-made, light, agile fighting weapons equally capable of delivering dismembering cuts or cleaving deep into body cavities. They were far from the clumsy, heavy things they're often portrayed as in popular media and far, far more than a mere "club with edges". Interestingly, the weight of katanas compared to longswords is very close, with each on average being less than 4 pounds.

The Swordsmanship
  If instead of a sword and shield we match a knight with a longsword or greatsword against a katana-armed samurai, this makes a significant differenc in how we judge the fight. We must not fall into the trap of judging the medieval longsword in terms of what we know about classical Japanese fencing. It is a mistake to think that the straight, double-edged medieval sword with cruciform-hilt is handled like a curved katana. While there are certainly similarities and universal commonalities between the two styles of swordsmanship (such as in stances and cuts), there are also significant and fundamental differences. They each together make the same basic seven or eight cuts and thrusts. As a curved blade with an especially keen edge, the katana is superior in the potential use of quick, short slices. Yet, as a long straight blade tapering to a keen point, the longsword is better at thrusting. Additionally, its dual edges, enabled by a graspable pommel, allow it to attack along more lines than the eight standard cuts. Having two edges to work with permits back-edge and reverse cuts. This allows a larger number of strikes from different angles.
  The katana is wielded in a quick, flowing manner with a torque of the grip as well as a push of the hips. Pulling a curved blade in this way makes it slice as it shears. The footwork is more linear, with short, quick hopping (even shuffling) steps. In contrast to the slicing slash of a curved, single-edged, Japanese blade, medieval swords were made for hacking, shearing cuts delivered primarily from the elbow and shoulder and employing wide passing steps. The movements are larger, with more fast whirling actions as the two edges are employed, the pommel alone gripped, or the hands changed to different positions on the hilt. As a straight blade, it strkes more with a point-of-percussion on the 6 or 8 inches of blade down from the point as opposed to the curved katana, which uses more of the first few inches. If we bring into the equation the medieval bastard sword with compound-hilt of side-rings and bar-guards as well as half-grip handle using various methods of holding, this could also be a significant factor. Such hilts allow for a variety of one or two-handed gripping options and gives superior tip control for thrusting or edge alignment.
  When contrasting these two styles of sword we should also keep in mind a number of points. We classify each as longswords and both were designed for the same purpose: killing. Differences between them result from the particularities of their functions and the ways they accomplish the goals. We should also keep in mind that Japanese swords and sword-arts reflect a living tradition, and one with a long-standing interest group in the West promoting its study. In contrast, the medieval heritage has for decades had virtually nothing but Hollywood fantasy, medieval enthusiast groups such as the SFCA, and roleplayers representing it.
  From this, it can be seen that a direct comparison of a European sword to a Japanese one is not possible. They are "apples and oranges", so to speak.

Onward to Conclusions...
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Hypotheses and Conclusions
« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2004, 01:05:38 AM »
Educated Guesses
  As our hypothetical fight ensues, any number of things might happen. In the course of striking at one another, a chance blow by either side could end the fight. The katana might or might not be able to make a lethal or incapacitating cut (something difficult to do against plate armor, let alone a mail coat wth a shield). The knight, unfamiliar with the nature of his opponent, might throw out a strike that makes him vulnerable to a well-timed counterattack. Of course, the samurai might also underestimate the power of the medieval sword's cleaving blows and agile thrusts, even against his armor. The average European two-handed sword is as much as a foot longer than the average katana and is not at all slow or defensive. It has a versatile hilt used for binding, trapping, and parrying. The katana is also a fast weapon that cuts strongly and guards well.
  There exist numerous techniques for infighting using the longsword's "half" guards, and there are also many techniques for striking with a shield, but then the katana excels at close-in slices. Of course, against good armor, such actions can be negligible, and fighting against shields was relatively unknown in Japan. So on one hand, the knight's fighting style- either of close-in sword and shield clashing, or large passing steps wth long-reaching shearing cuts and plunging thrusts with a longsword or greatsword- might give him the advantage. On the other hand, the intense, focused, counter-cutting style of the samurai with his razor-keen blade and own experience in armored fighting might instead give him the advantage.
  It could be argued that the samurai by nature would have a tactical advantage in attitude and fortitude as a result of the psychological elements of his training. He is well-known to have integrated unarmed techniques into his repertoire as well as having a keen sense of an opponent's strengths and weaknesses. Still, much of this is intangible and subjective. Besides, although not widely appreciated, it is now well-documented (particularly from medieval Italian and German fighting manuals) that European knights and men-at-arms fully integrated advanced grappling, wrestling, and disarming techniques into their fighting skills. There is no evidence to the myth that knightly martial culture was any less sophisticated or highly developed than its Asian counterparts- its traditions and methods only fell out of use with the social and technological changes brought about by advanes in firearms and cannons.
  Those who think the medieval sword and shield were just brutish, artless armaments are as greatly misinformed as those who imagine that the katana was handled in some mysterious and secret manner and can cut through anything. And, while it is known that the average samurai had a large inventory of unarmed fighting techniques at his disposal, these too would be unlikely to play a part against a shield-wearing warrior.

Keeping Our Hypothesis Broad
  So, given the complexities of the question of what kind of knightly arms and armor from what period we could consider in a hypothetical knight-samurai encounter, it might be easier to imagine an unarmored duel, sword against sword, without shields. Let's assume then that our cross-cultural gladiatorial fantasy would be fought by two respective 15th century warriors with single swords alone. In this way, we essentially have two fighting men experienced in using a long sword as well as fighting unarmed.
  This solves a lot of questions, but even here the issue is problematic. We still need to ask what kind of katana and what kind of longsword? What length of blade and handle? There was no generic model for either weapon, after all. So, assuming that we choose two weapons of comparative dimensions, we could choose the knightly longsword of the cruciform-hilted, double-edged, slightly tapering variety.
  Under each scenario, the katana would have a slight advantage. It's adept in unarmored, cut-and-thrust fighting where the slightest wound from its keen edge could perhaps sever a hand or disable an arm. It could also thrust well and might even threaten a pressing or slicing draw if close in. The half-swording techniques of the longsword would also not be nearly as viable here, although its hilt design might prove useful. While the longsword would be menacing in its quick and long-reaching thrust, its stabbing attacks would perhaps not be all that unfamiliar to a samurai used to facing spears. On the other hand, the knight would not be unused to facing a curved, single-edged blade, likely being skilled in or familiar with the falchion, badelaire, messer, long grossemesser, and even Turkish scimitars. So again, the outcome of the match would come down to intangibles of personal attitude and individual prowess.
  Some would suggest that the samurai was simply a better swordsman and more tenacious warrior and would likely out-fight his European counterpart. Others argue a skilled, superbly conditioned knight using either a sword and shield combination or a longsword or greatsword in full mail or plate would be near invulnerable and brutally overpowering. Practitioners who are experienced with one type of blade tend to favor whatever they're most familiar with.
  In one sense, we are talking about very different approaches to armed personal defense, but it's all the same when reduced to two armed combatants facing one another. There are many universal commonalities and shared fundamentals between both European and Japanese feudal warriors, but there were also significant technical and stylistic differences in their respective approaches. If not, their martial histories and ther arms and armors would not have been so distinct.

So What Can We Really Know?
  Overall, there are far too many variables and unknowns to decisively judge who would win in a battle between knight and samurai. The fight cannot be reduced to any generalized statements about who had the historical advantage in skill or who had the superior array of arms and armor. All we can really do is give an opinion based on what we know about these warriors' means and manners of combat.
  Before reflexively reacting with a strong opinion one way or another when thinking about this subject, we might want to stop to ponder the same imaginary contest as held between two samurai, such as a samurai of the Muromachi era versus a Kamakura one. We could do the same for the knight, posing the problem of who would defeat whom: an 11th-century Flemish knight or a 14th-century Burgundian one? By doing this simple mental excercise, we can see the inherent problems of arguing one way or another over such imaginary fights.
  While the techniques and principles of Kenjutsu are highly effective, they might be direly pressed to combat the proven efficacy of a warrior using a sword and shield method- a technique that proves doubly effective against an opponent with a single sword. As well, the formidable utility and versatility of European longswords or greatswords cannot be ignored, especially when combined with European armor, although a fine katana can also be a truly awesome weapon.
  There are many other factors that could b raised when speculating on a hypothetical combat between a knight and a samurai. In the end, though, the question of who would win such a duel is really unanswerable. Being a great warrior is a matter of individual ability and technical factors that are not exclusive to any one culture or time period. The better fighter wins the fight, and whoever does win is therefore considered the best fighter- or at least the more fortunate.

About the Author:
John Clements is one of America's leading instructors and practicioner-researchers of medieval and Renaissance fencing, having studied the subject for over twenty-four years and researched and taught in six countries. He teaches and writes on historical fencing full-time, is a director of ARMA, the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (www.thearma.corg) and author of the books "Renaissance Swordsmanship: The Illustrated Use of Rapiers and Cut & Thrust Swords" and "Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Techniques and Methods", both from Paladin Press. His forthcoming works are "Historical Training in Medieval Martial Arts", "The Longsword Fencing Study Guide", and "Renaissance Swords: From Battlefield to Dueling Field".
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson
« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2004, 01:49:38 AM »
Phew. Done.
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline Scrasamax

  • The Rogue Scholar
  • Emperor
  • ****
  • Posts: 3480
  • 20% Cooler
  • Awards 2013 Most Submissions 2012 Most Quest Submissions Elite Systems Guild Gold Creator 10 Hall of Heroes 10 Elite Questor
    • Scras' Blog
    • Awards
Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2004, 07:11:43 AM »
Impressive work Cap'n, I must say. It was an interesting read to boot. I think I have read some of Clements works elsewhere. There are a few points I would like to make/bring up for discussion.

I cannot agree more with the overly romantic vision of the katana being the ultimate weapon ever forged in creation. It is indeed an excellent weapon, but attacks that cleave through hardened wood, and steel and ridiculous, especially to someone who has experience with the sword. A sharpened katana cannot cut through a two and a half inch piece of hardened wood, I tried, it hurt.

The european blades were certainly not the pieces of garbage they are often portrayed as. In fact there are quite a few surviving medieval swords of European make that are of incredible quality, while there are just as many katanas that fall into the category of scrap iron with a handle. An interesting note, during the Tokugawa Shogunate, when the Samurai were being pushed into a artsy-fartsy, and their best known period, many samurai were actually selling their swords to pay for the expenses of the royal courts and replacing them with wooden replicas since the day of the fighting samurai was fading.

Rambling on. I think Clements makes one mistake in his article. Swordplay in Europe is not limited to the elements of fencing. Scholars (hence my knowledge of the matter) have several instruction manuals in the instruction of swordplay, including the two-handed sword. Aside from attacking and defensive postions, there is alot of grappling, throws, and a general feel of anything goes. This is also well before the advent of chivalric combat. Most assume fencing is the only school of European combat as the majority of manuals are relegated to fencing.

This is caused by something rather interesting. The renaissance was centered in Northern Italy, where fencing style was very popular, it was also a place where the printing press found an early footing. Books were more readily available, and many more fencing manuals survived to the modern day. On the fringes of the Renn. the practitioners of normal swordplay were relegated to hand copied manuals that were fewer in number and signifigantly fewer survived.

One word about the round shield. Many round shields had a metal band around the edge of the shield. Many more, however, lacked the metal band because the wooden shield could catch an opponents weapon, disarm him, or extend him out for a potentially lethal counter-attack.

Thank you. Whew.


Stout Lagerale of the Dwarven Guild
STR: 4 | END: 4 | CON: 4 | DEX: 2 | CHA: 2 | INT: 4

Tentacle Tentacle Sanity Schmanity

Offline ARMAteer

  • Nomad
  • *
  • Posts: 1
    • http://www.thearma.org
    • Awards
Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2004, 07:56:07 PM »
CaptainPenguin,

Thanks for the great review of the article, but you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble by just linking to it on our site instead of writing the whole thing up: http://www.thearma.org/essays/knightvs.htm

Mr. Clements is the Director of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA), and you can find many more of his writings as well as those of other scholars and experienced practitioners of historical European martial arts there.  You are also welcome to discuss the subject with members on our forums (please read the rules before posting).

To address a comment from Scrasamax, the definition of fencing has changed over the last few hundred years.  In the Medieval and Renaissance periods, "fencing" generally referred to the entire art of defense (note the root word of "defence" and "offence" - archaic spelling), both armed and unarmed, and included all manner of grappling, swordplay, dagger fighting, polearms, etc.  Only more recently has it come to refer strictly to swordplay.  Many manuals of the period actually contain much more material on wrestling than they do on armed combat.  You can see many of these manuals, which are highly illustrated and in some cases quite technical, on our website.

If you are interested in learning more, please keep in mind that ours is a scholarly association dedicated to historical research and the faithful rediscovery of deadly combat arts, not a role-playing organization.  (We have plenty of role-players involved, we've just learned to keep these parts of our lives separate for the sake of authenticity.)  Thanks for your interest.
ARMA Scholar

Offline alex_champ

  • Nomad
  • *
  • Posts: 1
  • Dazed and Confused
    • Awards
Re: Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2010, 11:58:57 PM »
In my opinion, I don't think a knight could stand a chance against a samurai.

Offline Ancient Gamer

  • Hammer of the Citadel
  • Emperor
  • ****
  • Posts: 3885
  • Enough about you, let's talk about me!
  • Awards 2013 Best Play By Post Game Golden Creator Elite Systems Guild Elite Plot Guild Elite Item Guild Hall of Heroes 10
    • Coldforged Home
    • Awards
Re: Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2010, 03:33:31 AM »
Hehe, hypothetical discussions no one can verify!!! I like it, it is the penultimate geekiness!

So, the true power of the medieval knight was the mounted heavy knight charge. I wonder how those katana wielding pussies would fare against a lance in their chest.

Authentic Strolenite™©®

"Secretly a Squirrel"
Guild Master of the Squirrelati
Scourge of Nutanuns!
Harbinger of Acorns!


Offline dark_dragon

  • Strolenati
  • Lord
  • *
  • Posts: 401
  • Awards Hall of Heroes 5 2011 Sub of the Year
    • Awards
Re: Samurai v.s. Knight- A History Lesson
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2010, 05:30:57 AM »
Well. I've personally seen some pretty good modern practitioners of various Japanese martial arts (mostly in the jujutsu family). As well as a couple of reasonable swordsmen from European schools.

The one thing that sticks to my mind is how bloody fast the skilled practitioners of Japanese martial arts are. Seeing a seventy year old man dance circles around another practitioner 40 years his junior is quite something. The techniques of European swordfighting seem slower in comparison (Or perhaps more accurately, they have a different tempo).

Another interesting points that the article makes is that the physical training emphasis is different. From personal experience, I find that this reflects the way of fighting. I'm a fairly big guy (2m, 120kg, and much broader around the chest than the waist), but I have been thrown around effortlessly by experience practitioners (Of Shodokan Aikido, in my case), often decades my senior (ie: no spring chickens), weighing half my weight, and being no taller than my chest. The stronger and more committed your blow, the more effective their techniques are. The Thrusting techniques of European martial arts require upper body musculature in a way that Japanese martial arts techniques do not. And in Aikido in particular, emphasis is strongly put on using your partner's movement, taking balance, and deflecting the attack. A European knight, who is used to being "brutally overpowering" may find himself in a position where all his upper body conditioning and forceful thrusting (absolutely no sexual innuendo intended, so don't even try.) is next to useless, and in fact, counter-productive.

Another interesting thing to note are the various stances present in the European versus the Japanese schools. A lot of the European historical texts show stances that would seem off-balance and prone to easy counter attacks to an Aikidoka. The use of longer swords and reaching, thrusting attacks leads to easy retaliation. Especially since the Europan blades, designed for piercing, are blunt enough to be handled, while the katana cannot.

If I was a betting man, and if we consider two equally well trained fighters (with same length of training and experience), fighting with their native armour and with swords only, I'd put my money on the trained Japanese swordsman.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2010, 05:39:44 AM by dark_dragon »
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."-Philip K. Dick