The Japanese Samurai Sword vs the European Longsword

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This video is a hugely popular mini-documentary on the relative merits of the Japanese samurai sword, the katana, vs. the European longsword. Among the interesting scenes depicted are the comparative cutting and thrusting abilities of the two swords on a variety of targets.

This video is a hugely popular mini-documentary on the relative merits of the Japanese samurai sword, the katana, vs. the European longsword. Among the interesting scenes depicted are the comparative cutting and thrusting abilities of the two swords on a variety of targets. This includes ice, leather armor, and steel armor. Can you guess the outcome of this comparison of the two weapons?

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2 Comments
  1. Charles Warren says:
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    There is a movie “Reclaiming the Blade” (http://www.amazon.com/Reclaiming-The-Blade-DVD/dp/B0037B2WLE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1362242287&sr=8-2&keywords=Reclaiming+the+Blade ). The movie itself isn’t all that interesting. The second disc IS. Among the features are the secret art of European sword smithing. Apparently the really good European sword was laminated (“Damascus”) steel, over a forged iron wire core. I doubt any of these which remain in good condition would be available for testing. None are made today which makes testing against samurai swords a bit unrealistic. Good samurai swords are made today (and bad ones were made in the old days whenever quantity counted for more than quality). Also consider the method of employment. Many European swords were (and are) specifically one-handed. Using two hands behind a thrust will be stronger.

    Metallurgy is also a question with armor and always has been. Modern steel is generally better and certainly of more uniform quality than that used even in the 18th century (yes – armor was still used in Europe even in the 19th century). The big advances in steel were in the 19th century, though they continue today.

    Another film of interest is “The Blow By Blow Guide To Sword Fighting…*” which is rare. It traces the co-evolution of arms and armor. The development of firearms technology in the fairly continuous European warfare of the 16th to 20th century was critical to that process.

    Despite all the time we spend on cutting (shomenuchi), Rick Rowell Sensei recounts that after-action reports in Japan gave more and more serious casualties to thrusts (irimi?). This follows the Roman experience which would trade a foot of superficial cut for three inches of penetration, and also Richard Burton (the 19th century officer, explorer and swordsman) who shows** by simple geometry that the shortest distance between two points is a thrust.

    By the way, I did some informal testing with a bad reproduction samurai sword and a sack of potting soil. Shomen-uchi penetrated a couple inches. A thrust easily passed through. A horizontal cut easily sliced right across the bag. Conclusion – shomen uchi damages most by impact, hence the utility of the bokken in real fights (Musashi). Yes, steel might well cut through the cranium, absent a helmet, but even with a helmet the impact would have… well, impact. Even with many types of armor the clavicle is vulnerable to a vertical blow. Notice the decorations on Japanese helmets to prevent the deflection of shomen to the clavicle. The Japanese even “invented” the German style “coal scuttle” helmet. The outward flare of the back, sides and short visor did the same thing less decoratively.

    There’s much more in Reclaiming the Blade (disc 2), including some excellent examples of aiki, as employed in ninjutsu. The only exception we might take to that is the large amount of energy employed by “nage”. Aikido is, imo, more efficient. There is also a demonstration of “half-swording” (one hand on the grip, the other on the blade) which we rarely use in aiki-ken…

    - chuck

    * “The Blow By Blow Guide to Sword Fighting in The Renaissance Style”
    Mike Loades: An informative and interesting video by a renown(ed) fight master that reveals the motivations and concerns of fight directors and actor combatants. It is an instructional guide to theatrical fighting… (But check it out! Loades is, I suspect, ex-SAS. He knows the real deal and how to safely reproduce it for the stage.)

    ** “The Book of the Sword” – Burton

  2. Some Guy. says:
    Posted June 28, 2014 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    Too bad that video is horrendously biased and completely wrong. They’re using a modern katana against a dull longsword. The katana has loaded dice in this video. Even the cutting and penetration tests are bad.

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