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Thread: Elite infantry in Medieval times

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    Member Member Magister Pediyum's Avatar
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    Question Elite infantry in Medieval times

    To whom it belong to during what time it operated what was its + and -

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    Tovenaar Senior Member The Wizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Well, that's easy.

    Varangian Guard, Byzantine, very loyal and good in the offensive as well as the defensive, but cost about seven times what a normal thematic soldier cost.

    Yeni çerii, Ottoman, first professional forces in Europe since Roman times and superbly disciplined and motivated. However, they wanted to get paid a lot and rebelled a lot. Being the Sultan's personal regiment, they also liked their personal power and abused it. Much like the Praetorian Guard, only more effective on the battlefield.



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    Abou's nemesis Member Krusader's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Maybe worth mentioning the Swiss army in late Middle ages.
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    Member Member Magister Pediyum's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Yes Swiss are the best heavy infantry in late middelages they used square formation something like syntagma that was used by phalangx in antique
    but thus they had little chance against crossbow fire read about death of Charles I of Burgundy under the walls of Nancy on 5th January 1477

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    Member Member Basiliscus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    If this topic is not restricted to the European theatre, then I would say the samurai are the most effective infantry. The katana was a prolific killer of men, superbly forged by folding the iron millions of times over. The blades were of better quality than even those created by the legendary swordsmiths at Toledo.

    Unlike the knights of europe, the Japanese also respected archers. The samurai were trained not only with the katana but also many took on archery, and were skilled in both sword and bow. Their dedication and fighting spirit was second to none.

    However, like the knights of europe, the samurai were obsessed with personal honour, and this was a major problem for them. In civil war, such as plagued Japanese history, this was not such a problem. But when foreign armies invaded, such as the Mongols, their discipline and lack of honour meant they were more proficient as a unit than their samurai enemies.
    " 's a ruaig e dhachaidh, air chaochladh smaoin "
    " And sent him homeward, Tae think again "
    (translation by John Angus Macleod)

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    kortharig werkschuw tuig Member the Count of Flanders's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Brabançon mercenary companies. Pikemen avant la lettre hailing mainly from the duchy of Brabant. Most famous display: Bouvines where they fought till the end. Feared by knights because of their ruthless reputation and iron discipline (well, on the battlefield at least).

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    Scruffy Looking Nerf Herder Member Steppe Merc's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Weren't Samurai mounted horse archers primarily?

    And I would have to second Wiz's inclusion of the Yan Cerii, as well as other Janissary regiments.

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    is not a senior Member Meneldil's Avatar
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    Default Re : Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Mongols were quite regarding when it came to honor, probably as much as the Samurais, if no more...

    There's no real answer to this question, as warfare changed quite a lot during middle age.
    My answer would be Swiss Pikemen or the Turkish guys.
    Last edited by Meneldil; 05-30-2005 at 18:51.

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    Tovenaar Senior Member The Wizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    I beg to differ. On of my favorite quotes:

    "Honor is nothing without victory." ~ Subedei Baghatur

    Sums up the entire Mongol idea of war in a single go.



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    Ambiguous Member Byzantine Prince's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re : Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Quote Originally Posted by Meneldil
    My answer would be Swiss Pikemen or the Turkish guys.
    Yeniceri were Christians converted to Islam in youth not turks although much later they started recruiting turks(but not middle ages anymore).

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    Boondock Saint Senior Member The Blind King of Bohemia's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Dismounted Knights and men at arms of the English armies of the 14th and 15th century. Virtually unbeatable with archery fire and in prepared positions.

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    Abou's nemesis Member Krusader's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    What about the Free Companies during the Hundred Years War? They hired for their skills, which militia usually didn't posess and most were veterans of earlier wars?

    Another elite infantry might be the Almogavares.
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    Member Member Magister Pediyum's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    In medieval days companies where based on solid gold payment so the most quality one where small and was made up of 'second-son' knights and lesser nobility.
    Dismounted Knight fights only like infantry when he has to he is a lord and it is a question of honor and glory for him to fight as somethig else then mounted 'tank'

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    Boondock Saint Senior Member The Blind King of Bohemia's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Many of the free companies were very professional such as the forces which aided the King of Navarre in his scheming in France but the majority were cold, calculating killers who laid waste to large areas of France, which took decades to recover from their brutality.

    But i suppose the great English Chevachees were probably as bad.


    The Catalan Grand Company were also a very professional and ruthless force who even after the death of Roger De Flor terroised Thrace and took Athens under their possession.

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    is not a senior Member Meneldil's Avatar
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    Default Re : Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Quote Originally Posted by The Wizard
    I beg to differ. On of my favorite quotes:

    "Honor is nothing without victory." ~ Subedei Baghatur

    Sums up the entire Mongol idea of war in a single go.



    ~Wiz

    I think I read in Secret History of the Mongols many records of mongols being executed because they denounced their leader, or for other silly reasons.

    Edit : I think the main difference between Mongols and Samurais was that the Samurais' notion of honor was rather on an individual basis, while for the Mongols, it was rather the honor of the whole community.

    BKB, the catalonians you're speaking about are the ones who were hired as mercenaries by the Byzantines ?
    Last edited by Meneldil; 05-30-2005 at 19:54.

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    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Well, I would say Varangian Guard(and I think they are the best medieval infantry of all times) because it's in my fav empire and also because they are very powerful at attack and also at defence...
    Also, in late Medieval times I would also prefer Swiss Armoured Pikemen( the Swiss are my second fav after the Byz).....

    But I would also say the samurai(especially Kensai)....

    I think BKB was not reffering to the mercenary catalans the Byzantines hired....
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    Boondock Saint Senior Member The Blind King of Bohemia's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Yes they were hired by Byzantium. The Emperor had De Flor killed then Roger's troops defeated local Byzantine forces and went on the rampage.

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    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Didn't know that....

    But didn't the Byz hire condotteri cavalry because they didn't have enough local troops in the late years???(1300-1453)

    Í want to find out more about the mercenary troops that the Byz had...

    Thnx !
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    Tovenaar Senior Member The Wizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    The Nicaean empire had a corps of Western knights in their service... since the Westerners called themselves 'Latins' the corps was called Latinikon.

    Furthermore, the Turkish mercenaries they hired also had their own corps. Also, at one point the Nicaean empire also had Cuman thematic troops on its eastern borders. These Cumans were the same that had fled first to Hungary after Subedei and Batu Khan had invaded Russia. Both the Turkish mercenaries and the Cumans (who dissapeared from Byzantine armies as the frontier was pushed westwards by the waves of Turkish migration to Asia Minor) were organized into a corps, which was called, paradoxically, Skythikon. Proof of how great an impression the Skythians had made on the Greeks.



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    Member Member Basiliscus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Quote Originally Posted by Steppe Merc
    Weren't Samurai mounted horse archers primarily?
    Indeed they were originally, but by the time Europeans arrived around the 16th century they had progressed more towards melee infantry. These roles were made famous by people such as Miyamoto Mushashi, who roamed around looking for individual duals - to exemplify their honour in battle.

    Quote Originally Posted by Meneldil
    I think the main difference between Mongols and Samurais was that the Samurais' notion of honor was rather on an individual basis, while for the Mongols, it was rather the honor of the whole community.
    I would agree with that point and it would seem that the Mongol's "community focus" made them such a formidable enemy in battle, whereas many of their enemies (European Knights and Japanese Samurai) entered battles with a more selfish approach. Not until the introduction of guns and the pike-and-musket battle unit did European knights have to adapt their perception of honour.
    " 's a ruaig e dhachaidh, air chaochladh smaoin "
    " And sent him homeward, Tae think again "
    (translation by John Angus Macleod)

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    Member Member Magister Pediyum's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Come on people 'Medieval' not renascence not Equites, infantry what about Fekeete Sereg/Black Brigade of God king Corvinus

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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    The Samurai used to be the only "actual" soldiers the Japanese had around, and made up both the infantry and the cavarly. The richer and/or higher-status ones fought on horseback, the rest on foot. The former were mounted archers first and foremost until around the Mongol invasion attempts, which introduced the concept of massed infantry archery (Japanese archery used to be on a rather one-on-one basis, with the mounted guys in armour fighting semi-ceremonial "jousts" with each other) and quickly led to the horse-archer being badly outgunned. The mounted samurai quickly shifted their main attention to long spears after that and mostly became shock cavalry.

    Japanese infantry, be they samurai or (later on) ashigaru, tended to have a bow, spear, pike or naginata as their main weapon - the sword was for backup. Although certainly fierce and effective, I don't think there was anything particularly rearkable about their quality as warriors by the standards of the world at the time and frankly I strongly suspect a feudal Japanese army would have utterly collapsed in the face of contemporary European knights - the massed lance charge was absolute murder for most anyone who didn't know how to counter it.

    Most places and rulers of the period we call "medieval" had crack troops at their disposal, usually in the form of picked household troops or an elite bodyguard assembled from the best warriors of the realm or somesuch. These guys would most commonly fight on horseback, at least in medieval Europe where "elite warrior" was pretty much synonymous with "horseman", although they would naturally fight on foot if the situation required.

    The likes of the Swiss, the Brabancon spearmen or the Almughavars, however, cannot IMHO be properly called "elite" troops; rather, they were people who had found a very effective military method used en masse, which tended to make the degree of individual weapon skill a somewhat secondary consideration. By and large they weren't so effective because they were mighty warriors, but rather because they were highly disciplined and fought as cohesive units - rather like modern armies do. Anyway, where these guys came from the way of fighting that made them so fearsome as battlefield units was the norm, not an exception; and I think one of the prequisites of "elite" status would specifically be training and/or equipement above and beyond the norm, whatever that is, and in the context this isn't fulfilled. These guys were "elite" in comparision to the feudal armies of their time from other regions but not to the forces their home regions could muster.

    The likes of Janissaries or the Varangian Guard, however, would merit the title on the grounds of being picked forces trained and equipped above and beyond the level that was the norm among the rank-and-file infantry of their "home regions". Ditto for any less institutional "guard" units some rulers might raise or end up with in their forces.
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    Member Member Basiliscus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman
    Japanese infantry, be they samurai or (later on) ashigaru, tended to have a bow, spear, pike or naginata as their main weapon - the sword was for backup.
    You are correct about the use of weapons, and is a point I forgot temporarily . It wasn't until after the Tokugawa unified Japan, and the idle samurai had little to do, that the sword took on its importance as the soul of a warrior.

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman
    Although certainly fierce and effective, I don't think there was anything particularly rearkable about their quality as warriors by the standards of the world at the time and frankly I strongly suspect a feudal Japanese army would have utterly collapsed in the face of contemporary European knights - the massed lance charge was absolute murder for most anyone who didn't know how to counter it.
    Although this is clearly a hypothetical situation, and therefore yourself nor myself cannot be 'right' or 'wrong', I would tend to agree to disagree to your points made. As a direct comparison, I believe that a 16th century European army would have overcome a similarly numbered 16th century Japanese army, as the Japanese had only had limited exposure to guns (in comparison to their European counterparts) and therefore I think they would have been defeated as you say.

    But, I think in individual combat (and perhaps this is outwith the context of this thread) the samurai were better trained and better armed. Western-style European armour (being made from primarily metal) would have little resistance to a blow from a Katana, whereas the boiled leather armour of the samurai would have slowed down a blow from an inferior quality western sword. The samurai's armour also allowed greater flexibility than the european armour (perhaps of the earlier - 13th/14th century varieties anyway) and the samurai helmet also allowed greater field of view than the metal visored helmet.

    However, not all samurai or knights were trained uniformly, and so this argument has a serious flaw in that it does not take into account the differences in regional training across say Japan or Europe. And also, there was different variations in European arms and armour (for example, the Greeks and the English would have been armoured and fought differently).

    I am interested to hear from anyone with somethign to add to this, as I have already stated, as a fictional event, there is no real right or wrong!

    " 's a ruaig e dhachaidh, air chaochladh smaoin "
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Oog. Not the bloody "katana defeats iron anvils" line again - it most emphatetically does NOT. It's a "slashing", draw-cut sword, essentially a hand-and-half sabre; and slashing and cutting swords universally sucked beans against metal armour, nevermind plate which started requiring special tools to bet through.

    Case in point, the Japanese swordsmen themselves went after the joints of armoured foes; the Japanese style of lamellar armour (they incidentally made it out of both leather and iron, as did all lamellar-users; leather lamellar was lighter and cheaper, iron heavier and more expensive but also measurably more protective) seems to have left them frightfully vulnerable by European standards.

    Another case in point, the Europeans fairly soon gave up trying to hack through each others' mail with cutting swords (which mainly just ruined the edge; a katana or any other "slasher" would and did fare even worse, as the "draw cut" tends to skim off) and started using piercing thrusts instead; worked by far better and enabled some tactical evolution to boot.

    Axes and maces, with their greater leverage, were the tools of choice for "brute-forcing" through most metal armour, although even two-handed axes (icl. even most halberds) tended to struggle with solid plate.

    Third case in point: a great many warriors who made heavy use of curved swords also liked to have a straight cut-and-thrust sword, an axe and/or a mace available for dealing with armoured opponents.

    Individual weapon skill, however, is somewhat irrelevant. What counts is how the warriors are deployed and the methods they fight with, and to be quite honest, the Japanese probably never had anything that could reliably check the massed couched-lance charge of European heavy cavalry. Even their pikemen, as they appeared by the end of the Sengoku Jidai, fought in rather loose formations compared to what their European equivalents did; the rest of their infantry or their cavalry would not stand a chance against contemporary European chivalry of any period, and would have their hands full enough with the infantry too.

    The fact is, the lance charge was pure murder. Around the First Crusade both Byzantine, Turkish and Egyptian armies pretty much simply collapsed against it before they started devising effective countermeasures (clouds of skirmishing horse-archers worked relatively well, as well as using rough terrain as a "shield"), and until the advent of the pike most European infantry went equally to bits when subjected to it (although there were exceptions, normally involving spears and good discipline).

    To the credit of the Japanese, however, it has to be pointed out that unlike the Europeans with their obsession of the overspecialized lance shock charge (which had a fair few problems and was an eventual tactical dead-end), their shock cavalry was much more flexible, maneuverable and controllable; moreover, their main weapon, the two-handed long spear, survived the one-handed couched lance by many centuries also on the continent by many centuries. Even by Napoleonic times the a type of light cavalry known as uhlans and the Russian Cossacks fought with long two-handed lances. "Lance-fencing", it is called; while it tends to lose out to the lance-and-shield combo in pure shock effect it keeps the polearm useful past the initial impact and allows for rather more tactical flexibility.

    It's just that Byzantine and Muslim heavy cavalry was equally rather more maneuverable and professional than their European colleagues - but they still tended to get swept off the field in a head-on clash for quite a while...
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    Very Senior Member Gawain of Orkeny's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    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 histories 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 French chevalier 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 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? 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

    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 could match combatants with some equality. It would not be unrealistic to believe on a whole that neither was likely decisively stronger or faster than the other. Although, we can’t discount physiology as a factor and this would certainly be a reasonable 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 would fit men ranging from just under 6’ to about 6’5”). Although, other evidence suggests average European heights in the 16th century were just above 5 feet. Interestingly, while the European concept of physical fitness among knights by 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. To what degree this occurred is worth contemplating.

    We might also want to consider the forms of warfare each swordsman was experienced in and focused upon. 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 amidst pike formations of lesser foot soldiers. Their clan warfare was decidedly feudalistic yet with acquiring and honor and renown also being a goal. Skirmishing was not also uncommon and there were a few large scale military expeditions to Korea and surrounding islands. But most combat occurred in the environment of the home islands.

    Whereas in contrast, 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 for knights 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 Arabic influences. The environment knights fought under was 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 East, and the swamps, fields, and mountains in between. There is also no question that athleticism, physical fitness and conditioning were integral parts of knightly chivalric virtue as considerable literary and iconographic evidence from the period testifies.

    We cannot overlook the role that culture might play in this contest. Samurai warriors existed in a hierarchical and conformist culture that rewarded obedience and loyalty over individuality. Knights existed in a 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, would we want to give the edge to the more socially diverse Europeans on this?

    On an individual basis then, we must consider what effect might be played by the quality of fatalism within the samurai code of bushido, or rather the resolute acceptance of death that motivated the fiercest samurai. But then, 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 foreign, “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 a disastrous combination. While courage is important, fighting spirit alone is insufficient. There are surely intangibles here that we cannot be measured with any reliability. These and other non-quantifiable, psychological factors aside, we are left with weapons, armor, and training.

    The Armor

    Armor changes things in swordplay. If you’ve never trained in it, you can’t imagine how it affects your movements and 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 good freedom of movement while offering excellent protection. But if it got wet, the silk cords soaked up water and it became terribly heavy. Though the earliest styles of samurai armor were designed with large square plates more as a defense against arrows, the later forms were intended primarily to be used by and against similarly equipped swordsmen and to lessen the tremendous cutting capacity of their swords. It was durable, effective, and provided for ample movement. But how would it hold up to 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 maile ("chainmaile") that could absorb slices and prevent cuts, to well-padded soft jackets, and metal coats-of-plates which were designed equally to protect from concussion weapons as penetrating thrusts. Maile armor existed in numerous styles and patterns but arguably reached its zenith in 15th century Western Europe, where closely-woven riveted links could resist any drawing slice as well as being proof against many slashes and thrusts from swords. Maile of such equivalent was not used in Japan.

    A complete suit of fully articulated rigid plate-armor, which has been described as unequaled in its ingenuity and strength, was nearly resistant to sword blows and required entirely different specialized weapons to effectively defeat it. With its tempered steel and careful curved fluting it was just 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). Plate-armor for foot combat was well-balanced, maneuverable, and sometimes even made of tempered steel. It was well-suited for fighting in, and is far from the awkward, lumbering cliché presented by Hollywood. Unless you've worn accurate well-made plate of this kind, it is impossible to really know how it influenced the way a knight would move.

    Without the necessary weapons designed intentionally to face and defeat plate armor, any fighter armed with a sword alone would have difficulty (katana or not). Indeed, full European plate armor with maile 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, if not more, effective. If we therefore assume the armors to be more evenly matched, say maile and partial plate for the knight as used around 1250, things would get more interesting. However, the samurai did often carry an excellent thick dagger which would have been quite useful. Curiously, each warrior was highly skilled in using their respective armor-piercing daggers and with close-in grappling (something not generally known about actual 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 long-sword? 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 (a fist-gripped hand shield)?

    There’s a reason virtually every culture developed the shield and that they were literally 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 pole-arms 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. Strikes are thrown from behind the shield while it simultaneously guards, feints, deflects, or presses. A sword and shield is a great asset over a single sword alone. Fighting with sword and shield offers a well-rounded and strong defense that safely permits a wide range of both direct and combination attacks.

    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 side –the non-shield side. While a large shield does indeed close off a tremendous amount of targets to an attacker, it also limits, to a far smaller degree, freedom to attack by the shield user. As it comes out from behind their shield to strike, an attacker’s weapon can be counter-timed and counter-cut –and this is indeed one 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. Even with a katana a shield cannot simply be sliced through. Medieval shields were fairly thick wood covered in leather and usually trimmed in metal. Not only that, they were highly maneuverable, making solid, shearing blows difficult. More likely, a blade would be momentarily stuck in the rim 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 very reason.

    Kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship), though consisting of very effective counter-cutting actions, also has no real indigenous provisions for fighting shields. Although a skilled warrior could certainly improvise some, those unfamiliar with the formidable effectiveness and versatility of a sword and shield combination will have a hard time. The shield was not used the way typically shown in movies, video games, stage-combat, or historical role-playing organizations such as the SCA. Fighting against a Medieval shield is not simply a matter of maneuvering around it or aiming blows elsewhere. If a warrior does not really know the shield, or hasn’t faced a good shield fighter, then they cannot be expected to know how to ideally fight against it.

    The Samurai’s Sword

    In major battles among each warrior, a suit of armor was typically worn and a sword wielded in one or two-hands. For the knight, the primary weapons had always been the long lance and the sword, and to a lesser degree the polaxe, 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 with the bow and arrow and the yari (thrusting spear). We should consider that, despite their later acquired reputation for swordsmanship, the samurai’s primary weapon was, in fact, not the sword. The sword really did not even 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 every wild West cowboy was an expert gunfighter). After all, the expression so associated with bushido is "the Way of the horse and bow", not "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 not swords. But for sake of discussion, let us assume such for both fighters 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 no, 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. Though this is devastating on a draw slice against flesh and bone, it is much less effective 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 joints of it just as the Europeans did against their own plate armor. Except for major interaction 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 as. 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 (...and no, they won't slice through cars or chop into concrete pillars either). It was not designed to take a great deal of abuse, and is not as resilient in flexibility 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 centuries like any other sword, being slowly improved or adapted to the different needs and tastes of their users in terms of cross section, curvature, and length. In the 13th century for instance, their points had to be redesigned because they were prone to snapping against the metal reinforced "studded" leather armor (essentially equivalent to European brigandine or armor) of the Mongols and Chinese. By the 18th century their blades, no longer used earnestly against armor, tended to be made longer, lighter, and thinner for classroom practicing.

    True, the Japanese feudal warrior 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.

    Over all 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. Though the details of manufacture differed, they were made by the same fundamental scientific processes of heating and hand-working metal by shaping and grinding as were other fine swords around the world throughout history. Regardless of how they are designed or constructed, all swords have the same goals and perform the same functions: that of guarding against attacks while delivering their own lethal blows.

    The Knight’s Swords

    Having equipped our samurai, we must turn to the sword to be used by our knightly combatant. It must be understood there was such a great diversity of knightly swords and armor types. European swords were, in a sense, always specialized rather than generalized designs: there were ones for foot combat, ones for horseback, single and double-hand ones, straight and curved ones, ones for armored and for unarmored fighting, ones for tournaments, ones for civilian duelling, ones ideal just for thrusting or for cutting only, and ones only for training.

    A knight’s arming sword was typically a one-handed weapon originally (but not always) intended specifically for use with a shield. Their blades are wide and fairly thin and rigid, with chisel-like edges intentionally designed for cutting through maile armor and deep into flesh and bone with a quick, forceful blow. They were light, agile, and stiff, yet very flexible to withstand the trauma of use. They too varied with time from the wider, flatter kinds to those rigid, tapering, sharply pointed and well suited for stabbing both plate and laminated armors. The later wide-based and acutely pointed style of bastard sword was superb at thrusting. So, even though Japanese armor for the most part was made up of the same quality steel as went into their weapons, European blades would likely not encounter anything especially difficult with it that they didn’t already face.

    Although the Medieval sword and shield combination was fairly common, longer blades useable 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. There were 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 or hexagonal cross-sections that tapered to hard, sharp points. They were used to whack and bash at armor before stabbing and thrusting into joints and gaps. They were also employed as short spears and even warhammers, yet were still capable of cutting at more lightly armored opponents.

    The difference between these two European blade forms is significant and once more underscores the distinction between the manner of using a katana and a straight Medieval European sword. The tapering blade form has a different center of balance and is often a lighter blade. 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. But the later 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 techniques and style of use is rarely depicted with any accuracy in movies and staged performances. Almost never is the proper historical usage shown with its tighter movements, various thrusts, and infighting with the hilt.

    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 in general is significantly shorter than European two-handed swords and great-swords. A longer two-edged weapon does have advantages -especially if used by a taller man against a smaller with a shorter single-edge weapon. Surprisingly though, the weights between the two weapons are actually very similar and vary within the same degrees.

    Surprisingly, the longsword or greatsword is arguably a more complex weapon that the katana. Though there were single-edge versions, it generally has two edges that can be used, as well as a versatile crossguard and pommel permitting a variety of specialized techniques. Another element to consider is that European swords could be used in "half-sword" techniques where the second hand literally grips around the blade itself to wield the weapon in bashing, deflecting, binding, and trapping in all manner of ways that virtually make it a pole-axe or short spear. This was especially effective in fighting against plate armor. We must ponder would this be unusual for the samurai or just very similar to fighting with a short staff? Either way, with its especially sharp edge, a katana is not employed quite like this.

    Knightly blades could be excellent swords, but are often denigrated merely as crude hunks of iron while samurai swords are venerated and exalted sometimes to the point of absurdity by collectors and enthusiasts (something the Japanese themselves do not discourage). Bad films and poorly trained martial artists reinforce this myth. 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

    It can be difficult for those not familiar with the nature of a Medieval longsword or greatsword to understand its true manner of use, since the general public as well as martial artists of Asian styles are far more familiar with the katana's style. So, if instead of a shield and sword we match a knight with a longsword or greatsword against the katana armed samurai this could make a significant difference. But, we must not fall into the mistake of judging the Medieval longsword in terms of what we know about classical Japanese fencing. It is a mistake to think the straight, double-edged Medieval sword with cruciform-hilt is handled like a curved katana.

    While there are certainly similarities and universal commonalties between the two styles of swordsmanship (such as in stances and cuts), there are also significant and fundamental differences. They each make the same basic seven or eight cuts and can thrust. But 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 a better thruster. Additionally, its dual edges, enabled by a graspable pommel, allow it to attack along more lines than just eight standard cuts. Having two edges to work with can quickly permit back-edge and reverse cuts. This permits a far larger number of strikes from different angles. These back edge cuts make up a significant portion of how the straight longsword was wielded and have seldom been appreciated or correctly demonstrated.

    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 actions 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 (such as placement of the thumb on the flat of the blade or upon the lip of the cross). As a straight blade it strikes more with a point-of-percussion on the first 6-8 inches of blade down from the point as opposed to the curved katana which uses more of just 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 the waisted or half-grip handle using various methods of holding, this could also be a significant factor. Such hilts allow for a variety of significant one or two-hand gripping options and gives superior tip control for thrusting and edge alignment.

    When contrasting these two styles of sword we should probably also keep in mind a number of points. We classify each as longswords because both were blade weapons designed for the same purpose, killing. It is from this fact that they even have any similarities we can compare. Differences between them are result of the particularities of their functions and the ways they accomplish their 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. While in contrast, our Medieval heritage has for decades had virtually nothing but Hollywood fantasy and role-players misrepresenting 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. They’re both fruit, both delicious, but you can do different, though very similar, things with each.

    Educated Guesses

    As our hypothetical fight ensued, any number of things might happen. In the course of striking at one another, a chance blow by either side could possibly end the fight. The katana may or may not be able to make a lethal or incapacitating cut (something difficult to do against plate armor, let alone a maile coat with a shield). But the knight, unfamiliar with the aggressive style or nature of his opponent, might throw out a strike that makes him vulnerable to a well-timed counter-attack. 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-hand sword is longer in handle and blade than the average katana by several inches to as much as a foot or more and is not at all slow. It has a versatile hilt used for binding, trapping, and parrying. But the katana is also a fast weapon that cuts strongly and guards well and comes in a variety of lengths.

    Despite its considerable reach though, there are numerous techniques for infighting using the long-sword’s “half” guards and there are many techniques for striking with a shield. But then the katana is very good at close-in slices, which a straight blade cannot effectively do nearly as well. 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 with long-reaching shearing cuts and plunging thrusts with a longsword or greatsword –might prove decisive. On the other, the intense, focused, counter-cutting style of the samurai with his razor-keen blade and own experience in armored fighting might prove decisive. Then again, maybe they’d kill one another?

    It could be argued that the samurai by nature could have a tactical advantage in attitude and fortitude as a result of the psychological elements of his training and fighting methods. 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. They also studied considerably on tactics and the military “sciences.” There is no evidence to the myth that knightly martial culture was any less sophisticated or highly develop than its Asian counterparts –its traditions and methods only fell out of use with the social and technological changes brought about by advances in firearms and cannon.

    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 wielding warrior. Some could suggest that the samurai was simply a better swordsman and more tenacious warrior and would likely out-fight his European counterpart. Others could say, “No way,” and argue a skilled, superbly conditioned knight in full plate armor using either a sword and shield combination or a longsword would be near invulnerable and brutally overpowering. Still others could rightly point out that such over-generalized statements either way are un-provable conjecture. There are so many elements to address and practitioners who are experienced in one form of sword art or familiar with only one type of blade and not others will tend to favor what they’re familiar with. It is rare to find individuals with a deep grasp of the attributes of each method and the arms involved.

    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. Those who presume the use of Medieval long-sword merely involved a brutish hacking are also under a tremendous delusion. It is a mystery how such beliefs can be held independently of those who today assiduously study and train in the subject as a true martial art, and spend years in practice with the actual weapons. Perhaps this ignorance is due to watching too many movies or the influence of fantasy-historical societies with their costumed role-playing.

    Medieval and Renaissance sword fighting is often viewed by the uninformed as a wholly subjective matter either consisting of merely brute force and ferocity, or else incapable of reasoned analysis and discernable principles. Both are equally inaccurate. It is sad when leading modern fencing masters (experienced only with the dueling style of light foils, epees, and sabers) will issue naïve, unschooled statements about how Medieval swords "weighed 20 pounds” or could only be used for “clumsy" bashing and chopping. There is a definite prejudice that the modern refined fencing sport is “superior” to earlier, more brutal methods. Without going into the history of warfare, it’s important to state it is a myth that personal combat in Europe was entirely crude, cumbersome, and never an art. It may perhaps be true that, only in a modern cultural context, it cannot compare to the surviving systematized traditions of feudal Japanese sword arts. However there is sufficient evidence surviving that when paired with contemporary research has given us a much better under-standing of the function and use of Medieval and Renaissance European arms and armors to confirm that they consisted of a highly effective and dynamic "Science of Defence."

    Keeping our hypothesis broad

    To be fair, while there is an extraordinary amount of nonsense and fantasy surrounding historical European swords and sword arts, there is a good deal of myth and ignorance on the true teachings of historical Japanese fencing. While there is today an active subculture promoting and preserving historical Japanese bujutsu or practicing modern budo and a great deal is also known about their practice, the equivalent can not yet be said for “lost” Medieval or Renaissance fighting arts. But, at least for the latter, there are dozens of surviving technical guides from the period describing the actual methods and techniques of knights and men-at-arms in great detail.

    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 just imagine an unarmored duel, sword against sword, without shields. Let’s assume that our gladiatorial fantasy would be fought by two respective 15th century warriors with single swords alone. In this way we essentially have two fighting men both experienced in using a long sword as well as fighting unarmored.

    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 standard generic model for either weapon, after all. So, assuming that we choose two weapons of comparative dimensions, we could make the knightly longsword of the cruciform-hilted, double-edged, slightly tapering variety.

    Under this scenario, the katana would have a slight advantage, we could imagine. It’s adept in unarmored cut and thrust fighting where the slightest wound from its keen edge could perhaps sever a hand or disabled 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, though its hilt design might prove very useful. While the longsword would be menacing in its quick and long-reaching thrust, its stabbing attacks would perhaps not be that unfamiliar to a samurai use to facing spears. On the other hand, the knight would himself not be that unused at all to facing a curved single-edged blade, likely being skilled in or familiar with such ones as 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. As to the issue of the deadliness of thrusting wounds versus cutting ones, well, the historical and forensic evidence does favor the lethality of stabs--but only in contrast to lacerating flesh wounds not deep cleaving blows.

    Considering the many issues brought out in describing the modern reconstruction of historical European martial arts, contrasting them with the practice of Asian fighting arts is a legitimate area of speculation. If we had a time machine and for depraved research wanted to go back, grab a hundred random Medieval knights and an equal number of samurai, match them one on one and throw them at each other, we might be able to come up some statistical averages (and some serious ethical problems, as well). In one sense we are talking about very different approaches to armed personal defense in this comparison. But, then again it's all the same when reduced to two armed combatants facing one another in antagonistic combat. 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 their arms and armors would not have been so distinct.

    So what can we really know?

    As can be seen, there are just far too many variables and unknowns to make a judgment either way for such a theoretical question as who could defeat whom between knights and samurai. The fight cannot be reduced to any generalized statements about who had the overall historical advantage in skill or who had the superior array of arms and armor. In matters like this we certainly cannot not invoke mystical principles or endless “what ifs” and still engage in intelligent conjecture. All we can do is give an opinion of questionable value. Still, it is an intriguing comparison to ponder objectively.

    There is so much unnecessary emotion encountered when fervent proponents of one or the other schools of swordsmanship speculates wildly on this topic. Amusingly, before reflexively reacting with a strong opinion one way or another when thinking about this subject, we might want to stop and ask ourselves to ponder the same imaginary contest between two samurai, for example, a Muromachi era versus say, a Kamakura one. Or 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 exercise we can see the inherent problems of arguing one way or another over such imaginary fights.

    Keeping in mind that live demonstrations speak louder than any words, hopefully this writing has cleared away some of the prejudice on behalf of both kenjutsu students and Medievalists. I personally give only limited credit to occasions of cross-sparring by modern practitioners of each respective art, as they seldom can meet under mutually agreeable or equally advantageous conditions for very long. Personally, while I admire the techniques and principles of kenjutsu as generally being highly effective (but not specifically its modern methods of instruction), I cannot disregard the proven efficacy of the sword and shield method. Nor can I ignore the formidable utility and versatility of an excellent European longsword or great sword when combined with superior European armor –and the difficulty it offers when posed against the single sword. But a fine katana can be a truly awesome sword. I have long been an admirer of its form and function. However, not all of them were superb weapons and typically the quality of European blades is erroneously denigrated and dismissed. Also, my own understanding of the German and Italian longsword and great-sword methods of fence from the late 14th to early 17th centuries gives be considerable doubt that a skilled knight of any era would encounter anything too unfamiliar in facing a samurai swordsman of any era.

    There are many other factors that still could be raised when speculating on a hypothetical combat between a knight and a samurai. 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. 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 a fight, and whoever does win is therefore considered the better fighter –or at least the luckier one.

    See also Katana vs. Rapier - Fantasy Worth Considering

    Note to the Reader: Though I run an organization and website dedicated to historical European swordplay and fighting arts, I appreciate all swords of the world and consider each separately as a tool within their own cultural and martial context. So, I'm often perturbed at the prejudice and ignorance that results from the influential popular media in regard to many of them, particularly the hype that surrounds Japanese swords. For what's its worth, I offer my opinion here in the most even-handed and objective manner possible for me given my considerable experience and familiarity with historical European arms and armor and authentic Medieval & Renaissance combatives. As well, being a former member of the Houston Token Kai, (Japanese sword appreciation society) and having had the privilege of knowing several collectors, museum curators, and a blade polisher, I've had the opportunity over the last decade to handle more than a hundred genuine Japanese swords, ranging from mid-13th to early-20th century pieces. I've even had the rare pleasure to briefly wield several in floryshing and practice. I've also handled and personally examined in museums and private collections more than 200 antique European swords of all types from bronze-age to 19th century specimens as well as numerous ones from the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific Rim, and Central Asia. In addition to the hundred or so different sword forms--both European and Asian, antique and modern--that I've test-cut with against a wide assortment of materials, I've also cut with numerous Japanese swords (in this case, early-20th century specimens and modern reproductions) as well as attended several test-cutting demonstrations. Combined with my two and a half decades of fencing study with Medieval and Renaissance swords, and years of teaching them, I therefore feel uniquely qualified as a full-time practitioner to write this piece. Sadly, it's all too common to encounter individuals who feel appreciation of one culture's fighting arts must to come at denigration of another. Such adolescent reactions are a reflection of the reader's insecurity and immaturity. While we welcome intelligent discussion, before sending us any rebuttal email on this piece (or its companion article) we request you consider this as well as read through the entire article first. Additionally, please, do not waste our time and yours by emailing embarrassingly juvenile claims about how samurai "would have just used their Ki" or "everyone knows katanas could cut through any other swords" or that "Medieval armor was super heavy and clumsy." It should be abundantly clear that we deal here in physical reality and verifiable historical facts not fantasy derived from some video game or anime. Thank you.

    About the Author:
    Having pursued the craft since 1980, John Clements is one of the world's foremost authorities on Medieval and Renaissance fighting skills. Clements has authored two books and more than a dozen magazine articles on historical swordplay. A leader in historical fencing studies, he has researched swords and sword combat in ten countries and taught seminars on the subject in eight. He has lectured and demonstrated at numerous museums and universities and is a frequent consultant on Medieval and Renaissance combative systems. He works full-time teaching and writing on historical European fighting arts.
    Samurai were no better trained than knights.
    Fighting for Truth , Justice and the American way

  26. #26
    Tovenaar Senior Member The Wizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Hooray Gawain, for dragging that up from the depths.

    Unless you have it on your favorites.



    ~Wiz
    "It ain't where you're from / it's where you're at."

    Eric B. & Rakim, I Know You Got Soul

  27. #27
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    You know Gaw, I think it would have been overall better to just link the thing. Plus it discusses single combat, an activity quite irrelevant to unit-level battlefield performance. But while we're at it, lemme link the articles I like to bring up whenever I encounter the "katanas R UBAR" line:
    No Best Sword
    Hype...
    Methinks mr. Reinhardt has a bit of a peeve about the topic. Can't say I blame him.
    Oh yeah, and Katana vs. rapier might also be an interesting read, although not very relevant to the discussion at hand as rapiers were purely civilian weapons; you never saw the buggers on battlefields.

    IMHO "Elite infantry in Medieval times" is a somewhat self-defeating query owing to the fact that the closest thing in general circulation was knights and other men-at-arms fighting on foot, ie. dismounted elite cavalry. The only real exceptions are the Varangians and Janissaries, plus conditionally (as the "elite" status needs to be clarified first) the likes of Swiss, Brabantines, some Italian city-state militias and other above-average heavy infantries who although effective were by no means "elite" in either equipement or level of training. Indeed, most of them were more or less part-time soldiers...
    "Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. --- Proof of the existence of the FSM, if needed, can be found in the recent uptick of global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Apparently His Pastaness is to be worshipped in full pirate regalia. The decline in worldwide pirate population over the past 200 years directly corresponds with the increase in global temperature. Here is a graph to illustrate the point."

    -Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  28. #28
    Senior Member Senior Member econ21's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Going a little off-topic, one thing in the "Hype..." article that caught my eye was:

    The sword was never the principal battle weapon. It has always been the weapon of last resort. The Roman relied on his pilum,...
    While I knew swords were seldom primary battle weapons, I always thought the legionnaires were the exception to this. They threw the pila and then fought with the gladius. In which case, I would imagine the sword did more of the killing for them. As such, is not the sword better described as the primary battle weapon of the legionnaire?

    Maybe this is just a point of semantics. But it does raise a more general substantive point which puzzles me - namely the relative effectiveness of swords compared to spears etc. The fact that throughout history, swords were seldom principal battle weapons implies to me that they were inferior as infantry weapons etc[1]. Yet the fact that sword-armed legionnaires seemed to outfight most of their non-sword armed foes makes them a rather puzzling exception. People in these forums may relate to this point, as the Total War engine gives swords a bonus against spears that seems a little questionable from a historical point of view.

    [1] I know there are cost and anti-cavalry effectiveness issues in favour of the spear, but I do not think these invalidate the inference. Usually even soldiers who were equipped with swords did not use them as their main weapon against infantry. Similarly, spears lived on long into the post-gunpowder battlefield as bayonet and there was no tendency to rely on swords for infantry melees instead.

  29. #29
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Yeah, I think he made a mistake in that. The Roman heavy infantry have the distinction of being one of the very few armies in history that had a swords as their most important weapon - the pilum was there *originally* to distrupt the frenzied charge of the Celts, but the combination proved to be very effective for most other purposes too.

    Although that likely amounts more to the thorough training and draconian discipline of the Legions plus all the other things they did professionally.

    Historically, though, the spear in one form or another seems to have been the main killing weapon of close-combat infantry. And why not ? It's cheap to make, kills well, pierces armour better than most swords, and has a good reach. Plus it works well - indeed even better in some instances (like against cavalry) - in *very* tight, close formations where anything that needs to be swung becomes next to useless. 'Course, as the shaft is just wood, the things tend to break eventually and have a tendency to get stuck in people or their shields every now and then, so some sort of backup weapon was carried.

    Specifically sword-armed infantry seems to have usually been more of a kind of aggressive, looser-order auxiliary light infantry arm, particularly useful in conditions where close order cannot be maintained but very vulnerable to cavalry. I would hazard a guess that one of their primary values was agility - even bigger swords are quite agile compared to long spears wielded with one hand, and the looser order allows for more maneuver and "elbow room" - and the fundamentally aggressive go-get-em approach they had to take out of necessity.
    "Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. --- Proof of the existence of the FSM, if needed, can be found in the recent uptick of global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Apparently His Pastaness is to be worshipped in full pirate regalia. The decline in worldwide pirate population over the past 200 years directly corresponds with the increase in global temperature. Here is a graph to illustrate the point."

    -Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  30. #30
    Tovenaar Senior Member The Wizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elite infantry in Medieval times

    Yep, medieval sword-armed infantry is pretty much non-existant. Unless you count those Catalonian fellows with bucklers and longswords (?) who were quite effective as a flanking auxiliary infantry force for Spanish armies... but those are more Renaissance than medieval.

    That, or the Landsknechts... but their weapons were either staff-based, spear-based or swords so large that they were more a staff weapon than a sword.



    ~Wiz
    Last edited by The Wizard; 06-06-2005 at 15:32.
    "It ain't where you're from / it's where you're at."

    Eric B. & Rakim, I Know You Got Soul

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