Christian Warrior Academy

 The following are three articles by J. Clements, ARMA Director

1.    The Medieval European Knight vs. The Feudal Japanese Samurai?

2.   Longsword and Katana Considered

3.   Katana vs. Rapier: Another Fantasy Worth Considering

The Medieval European Knight vs. The Feudal Japanese Samurai?

By J. Clements, ARMA Director

From time to time it is interesting to ponder the outcome of an encounter between two of history's most formidable and highly skilled warriors: the Medieval European knight and the feudal Japanese samurai.  The thought of "who would win" in an actual fight between these martial experts of such dissimilar methods is intriguing.  Who would emerge victorious or who was historically the better fighter is a question occasionally raised, but it is really a moot question.  In the case of comparing a knight to a samurai, each warrior used armor, weapons, and methods oriented towards the particular opponents of their day and age.  Therefore, neither can be looked upon as being universally more effective under all conditions against all manner of opponents.  In one sense, it is like asking who are better soldiers, jungle fighters or ski troops?  It depends upon the situation and the environment. Still, it's an interesting encounter to consider.  Having some small experience in the methods and weaponry of each, as well as a few cross-training opportunities, I offer my humble thoughts on the matter.

The Scenario

First of all, we must ask where is it these two lone warriors would meet? Under what circumstances? Since the conditions of this imaginary fight could play a major factor, it can be proposed that such an encounter would best take place on a flat, firm, open field with no cover and plenty of room to maneuver. Though each is an accomplished horseman, it would also be conducive to have the single-combat duel occur dismounted, alone, on foot and without use of missile weapons. Interestingly, the same climate and weather for each would be just about right.

There are a great many intangibles to consider here. The ability of each combatant to read or size up their opponent and the threat they posed would be an important consideration.  Are both to be briefed on the nature of their opponent and his armaments? Or will the encounter be a blind one in which neither knows anything about their adversary?  We might want to just assume that each of our ideal combatants has been informed to some degree regarding the other and therefore mentally prepared and composed.

Of course, if we are supposing a clash between two "typical warriors", we must also ask exactly what will be considered typical?  The knights of circa 1100 and the samurai of circa 1200 were roughly evenly matched in equipment.  But the same comparative warriors during the 1400's for instance, were quite dissimilar. Each of the two historical warriors in question did fight with equivalent technologies, under fairly similar 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 not easy to choose what nationality, and what type of warrior from which portion of the overall Middle Ages.  With the samurai though, we are dealing with a single, homogenous culture and one in which versions of their historical martial traditions have survived, in one form or another, fairly intact.  Thus we have a somewhat better idea of the average samurai's training and ability through the centuries than compared to contemporary European warriors.  Then again, it's sometimes argued that today's version of modern civilian budo("war ways") is not equivalent to the historical military bujutsu ("war skills") of the samurai. At the same time, while we may not have an extant tradition of knightly martial arts any longer, we however do have volumes of actual training manuals from the era describing in technical detail for us just what their skills and methods at the time were all about.

As for the knight, are we assuming he will be a maile clad Norman with sword and kite shield from the year 1066?  An English or Frenchchevalier of 1350 in partial plate with arming sword ready for duel in the champ clos?  Will he be an Italian condottieri from 1450 resplendent in full regalia? Or will he be a Teutonic knight of circa 1400 in a head-to-toe suit of articulated Gothic plate-armor and 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 perioddo-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? These are significant matters that get at the heart of why such a question as who would "win" or who is the "better" fighter (or even whose equipment was better) really is unanswerable. 

Of course, for the sake of engaging discourse let us hypothesize just what would happen if these two comparable individuals, each highly trained and experienced in the respective fighting skills of their age, were to meet on the battlefield in single combat to the death (!).  As an amusing historical diversion we can at least make an educated guess to what would possibly be, not the result, so much as some of the key decisive elements of such an encounter.

The Warriors