Japanese Samurai Versus Medieval Knight

Knight versus SamuraiWould a Japanese samurai defeat a Medieval European knight? That’s a question John Clements attempts to answer in his essay titled “The Medieval European Knight vs.
The Feudal Japanese Samurai?

In this “amusing historical diversion”, Clements uses over 7,000 words to explain the key elements of an encounter between the two warriors. While I recommend you read the essay, here’s my 300-word summary for those of you that grew up with MTV.

The Scenario

We’ll imagine that these warriors are both highly trained and experienced in the fighting skills of their age. Both fighters will have similar strength, speed, stamina, age, health and courage. They are meeting on the battle field in a fight to the death 😯

The Armor and Shields

It has been said that while Europeans designed their armor to defeat swords, the Japanese designed their swords to defeat armor. Curiously, each warrior was highly skilled in using their respective armor-piercing daggers.

And while we know the katana was a powerful sword, Clements says, “thinking it could simply cleave through a stout Medieval shield is absurd.”

The Swords

The rounded Japanese katana was made for cutting and slicing. It could be used one or two-handed, on foot or on horseback, with or without armor. The Medieval sword was well-made, light and agile, capable of delivering dismembering cuts or cleaving deep into body cavities.

Those who think the Medieval sword and shield was and is just a “wham-bam, whack-whack” fight are as greatly misinformed as those who imagine the katana was handled in some mysterious and secret manner and can cut through anything as if it were a light-saber.

Nick vs Mami, Knight vs Samurai

Me and the missus in disguise. The knight image (before I paint shop pro’d it) came courtesy of KnightForHire.

So what can we really know?

Each warrior used weapons, armor and techniques necessary to overcome the enemies of their day and age. Therefore, we can’t say that either the knight or the samurai were universally greater under all conditions and against all opponents.

In the end though, my own answer to the question of who would win is that it is unanswerable…but would be an awesome experiment.

Yes, it would! So who cares that it’s an unanswerable question, who do you think would win?


  1. Mike

    I guess I would have to go with the Knight as that armour would be difficult to get through… but bonus points would go to the Japanese for trying hard!

  2. mckeown

    I think it would be a tie because the knight and the samurai have so much in common. They both started training with a sword as early as six years of age (especialy with knights during the 15th century). they both were trained by a master,and they both followed a code. the knights had chivalry and the samurais had bushido.however i think that most people will say the samurai.because they were around longer than the knight. this is because japan was an isolated island and mostely the fighting was clan warfare so the the need for new inventions was not so important.the warfare of europe changed quite dramaticly compared to japan in the middle ages and when the gunpowder was introducced to europe it was then end of the knight. fire arms was introduced to japan later on and also ended the samurai because anyone could use a firearm but the sword needed much more skill. if i have made any mistakes on what i have said please feel free to correct me 🙂

    • Nick Ramsay

      What you’ve said makes sense. There’s no doubt that these days the samurai is more popular, but when it comes to the fight, the knight was probably just as lethal.

  3. brent

    oh wow where to start…..ok so im a mamber of the sca heavy fighting group and i fight samurai style, katana and armor is all authentic. i have been doing so for 4 yrs now and am consitterd one of the better fighters…….BUT the sca is primaraly made up of people who fight with sword and shield.trust me guys the task of getting your katana in a trained shield weilder’s openings is sutch a hard thing to do its now even funny. you have no ‘push power’ and defense is very hard when you have a giant heater shield in your face,basically the onaly way to win is to pick em off before they can get romotley in their striking range (trust me again…..not an easy task).

    and armor ooooohhhh the armor……..plate armor is invincible against a cutting weapon like the katana(unless you happen to cut like a strap or something)(witch btw were mostly hidden)

    remember the katana is not magical or a super sword, its a sword.and swords evolve to defeat armor,in this case samurai armor.witch is either iron or leather with a shit ton of silk lacing . but why i told you that is the katana is a weapon designed to cut through said silk cords and leather. where as the claymore or basket hilt exct exct is designed to “bash”in armor and make the armor fail at spots thus decreasing mobility of the enemy.

    in summary while the samurai is trying to slash through a knights plate armor, said knight will get his shield in the samurai’s face and just throw shot after shot untill so many bones are broken and so mutch internal bleading has occoured that death is inniment.

    im a samurai at heart but there is no doubt im my mind that the knight would win under one on one circumstances.

  4. jc

    Were there no samurai with shields? I’ve googled about it and found mixed answers. I feel one of the main reasons for shielding is because of archers. I can’t imagine an entire army allowing themselves to be taken by archers alone.

  5. brent

    well there were shields but they probably arnt what you are thinking of, (they are more like the roman square shield) the samurai “shield” was more of a wall that was sort of portable than a shield, and you are deffinatly right it was used against castle attacks to block against archers(and in some cases gunners) untill the unit got close enough to the doors to safely enter. i have a pic of one that came from a 16th century painting if you would ike me to show it=]

  6. Nic

    This is for the idiot posted the comment about European swords, such as the “claymore” and the “basket-hilt” are intended to “bash in” armor and cause a lack of mobility. This is perhaps one of the most absurd statements I have ever read. Swords are meant to do basically two things – and that is to cut and to thrust; whether the cutting is done through slashing, hacking, slicing or whatever, it is still the displacement of material through the impact or drawing of a sharpened edge. Swords were NEVER made to bash or blugeon. People like you are the reason why so many think that Europeans just were mindless idiots on the battlefield and used their sharpened swords as maces and clubs. If they wanted to bash someone’s armor in, they would use…..a MACE or a CLUB; perhaps a warhammer!

    The European warriors were extremely well trained combatants, whether a knight or an infantryman, they were well adept at their craft, and their craft was killing their opponent before they themselves were killed. Their swords were not 15 lb. slabs of unsharpened steel used as clubs. In fact, a typical longsword with a 35 inch blade and a 7 to 9 inch handle would weigh in between 2-3 lbs. – actually lighter than a typical katana which had a blade that was about 7 or 8 inches shorter at least. A typical katana weighs in at around 2.75 to 3.25 lbs. because of the thickness of the blade, which had to be made thick becuase their steel was junk.

    The Euro-swords, in all honesty were a much more advanced and complicated weapon than the katana. They were double-edged, which adds a plethora of new techniques not available with a single edged saber like a katana. They could be used in the “half-sword” and the hilt and pommel could be employed as a devestating weapon as well. Yes, the katana is a great cutting weapon, namely slicing and draw cutting – but so is the longsword — AND, the longsword is a great thruster, excellent chopper and a very good slicer as well. This makes the double edged Euro swords more advanced and overall more useful in battlefield situations…and in dueling situations as well.

    So, finally I will answer the question, who would win; knight or samurai. Both men would be trained for years, but the knight in most cases longer. What most common folk don’t know is that “samurai” is just a social class, not a warrior class. Their were women who were labeled as samurai. So, the common samurai would be just basically trained in his “arts.” On the other hand, the knight is not just a social class, but a warrior class that involved training that started at about age 7 or 8 and continued on. These men were drilled constantly in battlefield technique weapons training, as well as a rather extensive hand to hand training that is just as effective as any Asian martial art.

    So, here is the scenario – both men are dismounted. The samurai stands about 5’3 at best, the average height for Japanese at the time. The samurai is dressed in his armor that consists of uncured leather and wicker that is weaved together with silk lace, for this was the common form of Japanese armor. He is armed with the ever so vaunted katana, blade length of 27 inches and sharp as hell, but to be that sharp the edge has to be extremely hard, which could chip and crack if contacted on another hard surface. His sidearm is his wakizashi, just a shortened version of a katana. The knight approches the samurai, towering over him at at least 5’9 because knights were known for being tall, most likely he would be near or over 6’0. He is dressed in plate armor, which is NOT bulky and hard to move in like the misinformed public thinks. A knight’s armor, not the head to toe plate armor but a breastplate, greaves, pauldrons, spaulders, gauntlents, bracers and helm – is highly mobile and easy to move in, especially for a highly trained knight. He is not armed with arming sword and shield, though. This knight is armed with a longsword – a very verstatile sword that is used both two handed and single handed, which excels in both cut and thrust. It is through-tempered which makes it very flexible. The edges are very sharp but not overly sharp like a razor blade, like his opponents sword. The blade length is 36 inches and is double-edged. His sidearm is a long dagger tucked in his belt.

    …The two begin their duel: Now, let’s look at the factors that are in play here: First, the height of the combatants. The samurai is 5’3 and we will say the knight is 5’9. That is a 6 inch difference, a definate advantage for the knight. If you have ever been in a fight you will know that height/reach is an advantage for sure. Second, the armor of the two warriors. The samurai is armored in leather and wicker, with perhaps the smallest amount of iron or steel if he is rich or fortunate. His armor weighs in at around 45-60 lbs, depending on the amount of heavier materials being used. The knight is armored in his plate armor, which is surprisingly light and extremely well made. The Europeans were reknown for their armor crafting. His armor weighs in between 50-65 lbs. This is another point for the knight, becuase looking at the total wieght of the armor in question, the knight has the edge with the stonger material. Third, the weapons. The samurai has his katana, which is a good sword. But, it excels in cutting softer targets like open flesh and leather and cloth, not metal. The extemely hard edge of the katana will chip easily if struck hard against the metal armor of the knight. His only real shot is to use the rigidness of his blade and try to thrust through the armor. It is also single edged, which lessens the amounts of manuevers to be used. Also, his weapon is curved, allowing for reduced thrusting ability. The knight has his longsword, which at first we notice it is 9 inches longer! This is a HUGE advantage for the already taller knight. His weapon is extremely versatile with its double edge format; able to slash, strike, chop and thrust all equally well causing an abundance in technique and manueverability. He can strike with his cross-guard and his pommel, and he can use his armored hand to grip the sword in the middle of the blade and fight in half-sword techniques, which jut adds to the versatility of this weapon. The longsword is through-tempered, alowing for an edge that is not overly hard which makes the edge extrordinarily resilent. Also, his sharp sword is only facing leather armor. The last factor really isn’t a factor for most people, just something I would like to throw in here. The knight is definetely a Christian, a Catholic who is devoted to God Almighty and lives by the code of Chivalry. The samurai is a Shinto who lives by the code of Bushido. For me this is an overwhelming factor.

    …Given all the factors I would say the outcome is quite obvious.

    • Ed

      As much as that’s well thought-out and insightful, you’ve forgotten one very major thing. The samurai were originally archers. Then they became mounted archers, then mounted spearmen and archers, and finally the version that you’ve put forwards. This creates another scenario. We now have a 5’9” knight with 50lb of armor on a horse, chasing a 5’3” samurai with only 40lb of armor, also on a horse. With a bow. Shooting arrows at the knight, who can’t catch him. Eventually, one of those arrows will kill the knight. Admittedly, not very honorable, but the knight still dies. Also, you make the assumption that the katana was the primary weapon of the samurai, which it wasn’t. Their primary weapon would have been either a bow or a spear, though in some cases a naginata and rarely (in certain periods) a nagamaki. The knight would not likely have used a spear unless mounted. Thus, you have a samurai with a 5-foot-plus long spear (definite reach advantage) which would have no problem piercing even heavy armor (that’s what spears do…) and that’s assuming that the knight hasn’t been killed by the arrows.

      That said, I’d agree, katana-wielding samurai against longsword/shield wielding knight is bad news for the samurai. I just don’t think it would have happened that way.

  7. brent

    ok ok ok,no rudeness was needed,i withdraw my statement on “bashing in” i forget,ppl dont actully get out there and do this for real every day like i do….soooooooo i feel now i need to explain what i said.when i said bashing in, i ment think about it, when a sword,ANY sword, hits plate armor, it isnt going to cut through it.it will dent and crease in the spot being hit, and if the hit was strong enough it will break in that spot thus allowing for the sword to cut the exposed flesh underneath,so while the euro sword wasnt ment to bash thru bones and crack creat helms,it WAS first needed to break through the plate. i tried to onaly give my imput on japanese samurai for that is what i can ACCURATELY talk about,many of your facts my friend are far wrong on samurai.one day i will correct you on them but now i dont have the time.
    i feel this should be a polite disscussion please keep it that way.

  8. Nic

    I am sorry if I was rude, but I get so fed up with this topic that sometimes it makes me angry. People have a false idea of European weaponry and battle tactics, largley thanks to Hollywood. On the other end, people also have an extremely canted idea of Japanese battle tactics and the capabilities of the ever so vaunted katana. The katana is just a sword, plain and simple. The samurai who were warriors were just that…warriors. They are not some overly mystified magical warriors who can use their supreme blades to cut a boulder in half. These horrid misconceptions are cuased by a number of differing factors, namely Hollywood, Japanese anime and the unyeilding fascination of the west for “Oriential mysticism” and the idea that if it is Asian, it must be good.

    One thing I would like to call out though – is that you said that some of my statements about samurai were false. If you are going to make that assumption then you need some proof to back up your claim. I am well qualified to displace information about both Japanese warrior culture and European warrior culture, I have studied both extensively for over 5 years. At first, I started off with the idea that the samurai was the “end all, be all” of the historical warrior elites. I thought his nearly worshipped katana was the god of all swords (thanks to the factors that I listed above) and that no warrior class in the world could touch the samurai. Through much study and alot of humility being displayed on many forums with experts who often corrected my misinformation and lack of knowledge, I began to see that my idea of samurai was extremely jaded. There swords are not some enigma of ancient metallurgy, but a solution to a problem. The Japanese had notoriously crappy iron to work with, so bad that Europeans would of just discarded it, but it was all they had to work with. These iron deposits were in the form of iron sand, a black, gritty sand that contains a high amount of iron. They smelted this junk and created half-way workable material out of it, but it still contained an insane amount of impurities. Through much trial and error the Japanese smiths figured out that if they fold and re-fold the metal while in the heating process, some impurities are driven out of it and makes the metal more agreeable. The popular curvature of the katana was not (at first) done on purpose, but was a result of the quenching process and the heat treating. The clay coated their blades so that the edge would remain extremely hard, and the spine of the sword would remain the soft, rather crappy steel that it was before. When the clay covered blade which was red hot hit the water, the hard edge pulled backwards against the soft spine, resulting in the curve, or “sori.” All of the pretty little lines and patterns that you see in the steel is just a result of the process of folding and the forging/tempering process, which as a result was ONLY done to strengthen the junky steel. Here are some definitions of some terms that may help you understand:

    Hardening (Quenching): Once the forging or stock removal process is completed, a blade is heated to critical temperature (point where the steel is non-magnetic, approx. 1400 degrees depending on the steel) and then cooled quickly in a type of quench medium. This process hardens the blade, so that it may retain a cutting edge without wearing quickly. Quench mediums can vary depending on the type of steel being used. They include water, brine (salt water), oil (natural and synthetic), and modern quenching polymers.

    Tempering: When a blade is hardened, it is very brittle as it comes out of the quench, and if stuck on a hard object can actually shatter. Tempering is a thermal heat-treatment where the blade is heated to a temperature below that which the blade was hardened at (usually between 350-500 degrees), and is held at this temperature for a predetermined length of time. This reduces the hardness very slightly, but greatly reduces the brittleness and the amount of stress in the blade.

    Differential Tempering: In this process a blade is through hardened (see below) to a high degree, and then heat is applied to the spine of the blade to make it softer and more flexible. This leaves the edges hard, but the body soft enough to withstand shocks and impacts. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Tempering tongs are simple tools that consist of a standard set of tongs that have a bar welded to each of the jaws. The tongs are heated and applied to the spine of the blade. This softens the blade, but leaves the edge hardness intact. Another method that requires a more delicate touch is to use a propane torch. Gently play it across the spine of the blade until the desired hardness is reached. The second method is more difficult to master and has a larger margin of error.

    Through Hardening: Quenching a blade so that a consistent hardness exists throughout the blade’s thickness. With through hardening, there needs to be a compromise between having an edge hard enough to retain its sharpness, and having a softer, more flexible body that won’t break when it is used.

    Differential Hardening: Quenching a blade so that the edges are harder than the spine or body of the blade. The Japanese sword is the most common example of this type of quenching. The spine of the blade is coated with a clay mixture, then heated and quenched. The thick clay coating on the spine acts like an insulator and causes the coated portion of the blade to cool more slowly (the slower the cooling, the softer the steel). This style of heat-treating is what is responsible for the curvature in a Japanese blade, because only one edge is hardened (hardened steel has a larger grain size than softer steel). There are a number of smiths today that use this method on double-edged sword blades. The hardening on both edges causes the blade to remain straight. The use of clay is also responsible for the visual effects (hamon) in the steel.

    On the other hand, Europeans had a vast amount of quality iron to work into steel. They had no need to use the process of differentially hardening and forge folding that the Japanese used to strengthen their steel because the Euro steel was superior. So, most Euro blades were through-tempered and a good portion were differentially tempered (not differentially hardened). This means that the steel is basically homogenous, or basically the same hardness all the way through the blade. Some blades had minor adjustments done to the edge as a result of differentially tempering, but in many cases it was not necessary becuase the quality of the steel produced a great blade that was flexible, tough and extremely resilent. Have you ever heard of the Rockwell scale, or RC – it is a modern method of testing the hardness of steel. A katana would have an RC at the edge of around 50 to 60, with a back or spine at around 40 to 45, give or take. A Euro sword would be about 52 RC all the way through, or if it was differentially tempered; a spine at 50 or so and an edge at 54, for example. You can take a well made Euro sword and bend it all the way back and it will spring right back into place, try this with a katana and it will remain bent (its called “taking a set”).

    You may be asking yourself; “why all this talk about swords?” Well, I have come to notice that in the argument of knight versus samurai, the majority of the times it comes down to katan versus longsword or katana versus arming sword, viking sword, rapier or any other Euro sword – but mostly katana versus longsword becuase of the similarities of the two weapons in function. They are both swords that are used mostly two-handed but also one-handed.

    All in all, when it comes down to longsword versus katana – I will still go with the longsword for a variety of factors. Namely becuasue of its length to weight ratio is superior to that of a katana, and it is double edged which allows for more techniques to be used. Also the crossguard and pommel can be employed as a weapon as well – but with a katana the kashira (butt-cap) can also be used like a pommel, but to a lesser degree. BUT…I still love the Japanese sword. For cutting soft targets like open flesh and cloth, it is outstanding with it’s razor sharp edge. But, when it comes to cutting tougher material like cured leather and chainmail even, the katana loses its luster with me. It’s super hardened edge will easily chip and crack. Also, the thickness of the katana blade plays into it as well. Common physics tells us that a thinner surface takes less drag to displac material, and the Euro sword because of its superior steel and its forging/tempering process, allows it to be significantly thinner in cross-section than a katana, whom some say is like a thick crowbar. The typical cutting Euro sword is thin and sharp – but also wide at the center of percussion – another point in physics that allows for a more effecient cut. But, with all that being said the way the katana is designed, it does suprisingly well in displacing material becuase of it’s edge geometry – namely becuase of the edge is created off of the main bevel creating that signature edge that all well made katana share. But, some Euro swords also have this function as well. It is really apples and oranges – and what the sword in question will be facing.

    So people, always remember that samurai are not magical warriors that use swords that were made of metal from meteorites (I have actually heard this!) – they were just men who were trained in their specific art with their specific weapons – just like any other warrior culture. European knights were just as well trained and in most cases more well trained than the common samurai, and they faced a variety of different opponenets who all wielded different weaopns and wore different armors. This is why European swords evolved as they did – because armor evolved. The weapons of the times had to change along with the times – but Japanese culture in that era was resistent and stubborn to change, holding on to tradition and alienating all outsiders. This is another plus for the European warriors, they knew what had to be done to continue to excel on the battlefield.

  9. Steve in Nagoya

    Very interesting topic, but why European Knights versus Japanese Samurai? Historically these types of duels could never have taken place. By the time Europeans reached Japan firearms were the weapon of choice.

    I think it would be more interesting to find out if there are any historical records (Japanese or European) of actual sword fights between Europeans and Japanese taking place. The Portugese and Spanish soldiers must have had some training with swords and knives since the firearms of their day often malufunctioned, took a long time to re-load, and were not very accurate. Or how about Japan versus Korea or China? How well did the Samurai fair against these countries in sword duels?

    • Nic

      Nagoya, you are absolutely correct about the Spanish and the Portugese. During the 17th century, Portugese and Spanish missionaries did come to Japan in hopes of winning converts to Christianity. There has been vague reports and stories passed down that Japanese and Europeans fought during these times in minor skirmishes. But unfortunately for the sake of our discussion, these times were passed the age in Europe when true knighthood and the art of steel weaponsmithing were at their peak. When the Europeans travelled to Japan in the 1600’s, the advent of firearms had overshadowed the importance of melee weapons, and the Europeans began to see the future, so to speak. So, during these times the centuries old craft of steel weaponsmithing declined very dramatically to facilitate the working of early flintlock and matchlock firearms. The quality of melee weapons such as swords took a back seat. The Portugese and Spanish were armed with swords, but these were poorly made sabers and cutlasses, not the premier masterwork quality longswords and arming swords of years past.

  10. Steve in Nagoya

    Thanks for the info Nic. Were the European made sabers of poorer quality than the Japanese Katana? I’m just curious based on skill and technique how the European swordsmen matched up to the Samurai. If their swords were of similar quality, neither were wearing armour or had a shield, and they were about the same size who do you think would win?

    • Nic

      As far as the sabers carried by the Portugese and Spanish sailors…Yes, they were of much poorer quality than a typical katana of that era. But, the longswords and arming swords of 100-500 years prior to this were extremely well made, just as good or better than any katana.

      Remember, during this time Europeans were basically “giving up” on swords and other melee weaponry and transferring their interests into firearms. They were considerably less trained in melee tactics than in ages past. I would say that these sailors were, on the norm, just basically trained in hand-to-hand combat and weapons training. But, there could of been a few exceptional individuals among them…this we can never know for sure.

      But…I would have to say in my honest opinion that if a basic Portugese/Spanish sailor armed with his saber or cutlass faced off against a Japanese warrior armed with a katana, the sailor may be in a bit of trouble because the common samurai would, in my opinion, be better suited and more well trained in his weapon and melee/hand-to-hand combat. But, the sailor could just brandish his pistol and pop a lead ball in the samurai’s chest and that is all she wrote…

  11. Von Hase

    There are two important advantages not mentioned in favor of the samurai in this thread.

    The Japanese developed a high carbon steel smelting process while figuring out how to use the poor quality iron they had. In the folding process, the Japanese would put charcoal into the iron, creating steel that was higher quality than the Damascus steel that Europeans coveted. Their steel was simply better.

    Next, the samurai’s martial arts were in fact much more evolved than the western combat styles. Also, the samurai martial arts involved a great deal of momentum countering and redirection, giving an advantage to them when facing larger more heavily armored opponents. While there is a great deal of over exaggeration about the samurai’s martial arts, all one need to to see the capabilities of these styles in action in the real world is take a look at Aikido, Judo, or Jujitsu which are derived from the samurai arts. These are highly effective and potent styles that offer the samurai many more options in combat than their western counterparts who relied upon freestyle and prowess. Most importantly the samurai arts were specifically designed to counter a direct and focused style like that of the western knights.

    Therefore, these opponents had very clear similarities, and their differences play against the other’s strengths and weaknesses. This theoretical conflict will truly boil down to ‘if’s.

    First, let’s assume that both fighters have had good training, and are of equivalent raw physical and talent. The western knight is larger, and his armor is heavier, giving him a strong advantage in mass, but to further this the knight may employ a shield granting a six square feet of flat leverage to apply this mass advantage. The samurai is smaller and wearing lighter armor, giving him an advantage in mobility and speed, both on foot and upon horse as the samurai steeds were smaller and lighter than the knight’s draft warhorse, but also in striking with weapons. The knight’s weapons and fighting styles will be able to minimize the samurai’s armor if a solid strike is achieved, however the samurai is extremely well trained in using mobility and momentum redirection to avoid being hit. The knight’s armor will be extremely difficult for the samurai’s katana to penetrate, however, the samurai’s combat style is specifically designed to target weak points in armor at the joints which the knight’s armor also has.

    If our opponents are allowed use of every advantage they may take, their combat will resemble the following.

    A unit of knights versus a unit of samurai will be a short fight. The samurai will outrun and shoot them down with close to 20 volleys of arrows that are each very unlikely to miss a target the size of an entire unit of mounted knights. Any knights who survive will be sorely outnumbered in the fray that follows. While they may take a few samurai with them, it is unlikely that they will even take their own number, as the samurai will team up on any remaining foes. However, I am assuming that this discussion is about a theoretical contest between one knight and one samurai.

    The knight will be unable to catch the samurai on horseback, who will be firing arrows that can penetrate his armor. The samurai were lethally accurate horse archers, and it is probable that the samurai could hit the knight, and possible that the samurai could kill the knight with one of his shots before running out of ammunition. However, the knight has a shield, and arrows do not move at the speed of bullets, making it not only possible but likely that any well aimed arrows end up embedded in the knight’s shield. The samurai however, will probably be aiming for the knight’s horse to dismount him, then fire remaining arrows at the fallen target. If the knight’s horse is barded in plate, the likelihood of it being brought down is reduced, but so is the mount’s speed making it even less possible for the knight to catch the samurai. For all intents, we will have to call this part of our contest a draw based on the ifs.

    Let’s assume the samurai manages to dismount the knight, but cannot kill him before running out of ammunition. The samurai now turns the tables on his foe, and does a jousting charge with his spear. The advantage is clearly to the knight, who has training in dealing with such an attack. Within a few passes, the samurai will likely be dismounted unless he gets a very lucky shot in. The difficulty of the weight and leverage of the spear in that position combined with the horse’s movement far outweigh the advantage of being on your feet on solid ground and able to sidestep at the right moment with full control of much faster weapons.

    If the samurai did not manage to dismount the knight, the samurai will dismount and perform the same tactics mentioned above. The samurai would not joust charge another cavalry unit, as their fighting style gives them far more advantage on foot against a single mounted foe, and they are also well trained in this situation. However, the knight’s lance is even more unwieldy and the samurai even more mobile and faster.

    The end result is the contest that seems the be the true focal point of this discussion, knight versus samurai on foot.

    The samurai will have used the katana, and possibly the wakizashi, depending on preferred stance. He would not have used the spear against another elite unit in single combat. Bushido would forbid it, but so would the samurai’s training which taught him as a spear fighter how dangerous it is to get tied up with your own weapon by an opponent who closes distance. Nor would the samurai use the naginata, as it was considered a woman’s weapon. The weapon choice of the knight is going to be the most important factor.

    If the knight takes a two handed sword, or even the hand and a half mentioned above, the fight will be bloody, and play the the strengths of the samurai’s speed, accuracy in striking armored weak points, and better skill at fencing with a faster weapon. Also as previously mentioned, the samurai will likely attempt to get his more heavily armored opponent to the ground prone as quickly as possible, and has ample training to do so. However, the fighting style of single sword combat actually leaves both fighters extremely well balanced and thus defended against such tactics, and the samurai were not the most adept defensive fighters, favoring initiative over a second strike. If the knight can connect before the samurai dismantles him, the knight could win, especially if the knight is able to keep his footing.

    The knight’s best advantage would have been his sword and shield. The longsword had reach, nearly comparable speed, and enough power to chop through the samurai’s armor. The shield afforded him the ability to defend a large amount of strikes, as well as overrun his smaller opponent. This fight will come down to wits, pure and simple. Both fighters have the tools to kill one another. They are both well trained, accurate to a target the size of an eyeball in melee, and most importantly experienced in controlling a fight. By nature of the training methods, the samurai is more accurate with his katana against the knight’s armor, allowing him to make disabling strikes that will lead to victory. The knight is accurate enough to make disabling and killing strikes through the samurai’s armor. And both of these fighters are able to do these things reflexively with no hesitation. To control a fight, the knight can overpower the samurai and chop him to bits as he struggles for footing and a good shot around the shield. The samurai can unbalance the knight, especially if the knight over extends any of the attacks, shield bashes, or attempts to overrun. Once unbalanced and prone, the samurai is very likely to end the knight. Whichever fighter has more wisdom in controlling a fight is going to win. The fighter that creates an advantage for himself despite his opponent’s attempts to stop it is going to make the strike reflexively and win. The advantage on foot leans slightly toward the knight, as his equipment requires the samurai to be more precise and cunning. However, the samurai were exactly that.

    However, despite all this discourse on the subject, my conclusion is that if both fighters are equally skilled in their own arts it will be a draw. While both fighters have a fair amount of advantages over the other, leaning samurai while mounted and leaning knight while on foot, the simple fact of the matter is that these two fighters also have developed their reflexes around the expectations of safety within their styles of combat. They’re going to make mistakes because they aren’t going to expect what the other opponent is doing, and reflexively move into a killing blow. The samurai will sacrifice defensive posture for a sure strike when one is unconsciously offered by the knight, and at that point take a lethal blow through an area of armor he would not have expected the knight’s blade to pierce. The knight is going to take a lethal strike in a weak point of his armor not expecting such a fast thrust to be accurate enough to do so, most likely the face or the neck, and the samurai is likely to take an uppercut swing into the armpit not expecting an attack from that angle (as witnessed by the design of their armor), which will sever an artery and allow him to live long enough to write a haiku about this strange foe who dressed like a turtle and fought like a tiger.

    In response to the Portugese and Spanish encountering samurai… There is an account of such a skirmish in a Chinese harbor, where the Europeans ‘innocently boarded a Nipponese vessel’. The ‘Nippons’ numbered five and with double swords ‘fought like the devil’, killing nearly ten times their number before the Europeans decided to back off and shoot them out of abject terror. Other accounts of European swordsmen against samurai can also be found in Japan. Japanese fencing was clearly superior to western fencing in each of these combats. (But the same would be true of a knight on those boats. They’d have destroyed the unarmored fencers, and would have met their deaths at gunpoint.)

    There is no mysticism to the arts of the samurai, however there was certainly science, and that science evolved over 1000 years into an extremely potent war art.

  12. Von Hase

    If for some chance the European knight were up against a female samurai, the contest would be over before it begins. She’d gun him down with arrows, and if that didn’t work, she’d trip him with her naginata then carve her kanji into his back. She’s faster, lighter, and has more than a yard of reach with a weapon designed to trip opponents as well as dismount them. If they are both mounted, the knight will be sniped or at minimum dismounted. If the knight is mounted and the female samurai is not, the knight will be dismounted. The naginata user specifically trained for dismounting foes that spear charged. If the female samurai was mounted and the knight was not, she would dismount, keep her distance, force the knight to pursue on foot, then trip him once he got moving too fast. On the ground, the knight would not be able to get up and close ground before the female samurai could end him. if the knight tried something like grabbing the naginata from the ground, he’d lose fingers (if not the arm at a joint) as the blade of the weapon is longer than his arm.

    All kidding aside, any knight worth his weight in armor isn’t going to fall for the bait of chase in the first place, and this fight will be a stalemate as the female samurai isn’t going to engage the knight on his terms nor is the knight going to engage her on hers.

    Yet again, this contest is a draw.

  13. Von Hase

    However, I believe the contest in question to have been assumed both male fighters. I also assumed since this pairing was not possible historically that we are pulling the most advanced versions of gear and fighting styles from the respective samurai and knight histories. A 17th Century Samurai against one of Charlemagne’s knights would be no contest, nor would a battle between a 15th Century German knight and an 8th Century Samurai who was little more than a highly trained archer. The assumption is that both fighters are in their peak of training, ability, and experience, geared in the best arms and armor appropriate to their eras. For the knight, this means plate armor, with chain armor at the joints for the greatest compromise of movement. The plate of this armor could be pierced by the high carbon katana, and the chain could actually be cut by this weapon. The reason the Europeans were so fascinated by Damascus steel is because it had such good penetration against their armor, which was much weaker and more brittle. This has been tested in the modern world and found to be true. Certainly, there were poor quality katana created, but there were also poor quality European swords. In fact, very few European swords had thrusting tips. Since this argument is assuming a ‘cream of the crop’ vantage, both fighter’s weapons would have to be assumed ideal, as would their armor. For the knight, this meant that the armor fit extremely well and was only encumbering by the weight and heat. The French did somersaults in their plate armor at camp before the battle of Agincourt. Clearly, an experienced wearer was not restricted in by it for the purposes of movement. The only disadvantage was that it slowed the wearer somewhat. This brought with it a hidden advantage, power. When an arm wearing 20 pounds of steel swings a 3 pound weapon, the effect of the added mass on the lever makes that seem like a 13 pound weapon. The samurai also wore steel armor in what Europeans would call lamellar and scale configurations. This armor was much lighter than the knight’s, and would be considered equivalent to that of mid to heavy European infantry. It was not treated to the degree that sword steel was, and therefore not as high quality. It was however, still high carbon steel and able to afford more protection per unit of weight, allowing the suit to be much lighter and therefore faster than the knight’s. Yet, due to the mass effect, the knight will be equally able to penetrate the samurai’s armor with a well placed shot, and the samurai’s armor held much more surface area of ‘weak point’ making the slightly less accurate knight as likely to do so as the samurai.

    There is a reason this thread is so long. These two fighters would have been profoundly well matched, and in all honesty there is just no definitive answer other than the skill of the fighter.

    If these two forces were at war for any length of time, both sides would have developed methods for dealing with their foes. The Europeans and the Japanese were nothing if not innovative when necessity arose. The Japanese would develop better martial arts maneuvers for unbalancing their heavier foes, as well as practiced targeting the narrow weak points in their armor. The Europeans would have trained more shield wall tactics. Both armies would have very quickly elected to put as many infantry troops and archers between one another as possible. Finally, who is to say the samurai wouldn’t have developed use of the shield after seeing it’s successes, or the knights a martial art of their own? After any contact between these two groups, the debated contest would be moot.

    Therefore, the only thing we have to debate is the initial contest itself, which would have been a draw, and perhaps a few rematches that would boil down to the skill of the fighters.

    I’ve practiced martial arts since age 5. My father was a kung fu instructor. In 1995, I began practicing Aikido, and have also studied Kendo and Iaido. I have fought heavy weapons (a sport approximation of the knight’s style of combat) since 1985, and have done historical fencing since 1998. I’ve debated this subject with the best of them, both verbally and on the sparring field. There is no clear advantage to either the knight or the samurai.

    (The winner of this fight is the guy with the gun, which is the fencer who had enough sense to stay out of melee range with either of those dudes, knowing full well he’d lose if he dared to cross blades. The best he could hope for in melee with them would have been getting a killing blow lodged into their armor, at which point they’d have anywhere from 10 seconds to 3 minutes to chop him in half before bleeding to death or falling from shock, which was far more than they’d have needed because if the fencer opened himself enough to do so, the killing blow would already have been coming. Guns. Lots of really big guns. That’s why we use them now instead of swords and armor.)

  14. Von Hase

    Yes, this means Cowboy > Ninja = Pirate > Samurai = Knight. Ask Charles Bronson, or a history book. 😉