Knight vs Samurai

The whole concept is so stoopid, but also somehow intrieguing and also rather popular, it seems. There is no historical source so far as I can tell of such an appointment by the two rather similar military elite. The mongol warriors between the two had encounters with both, but this is really not about mongols.

Both knight and samurai existed as paragons of soldiery for several hundred years and developed both unique and similar fighting methods. Also the armour developed during those centuries. So first to determine who wins, we have to choose wich century is it, that our knight and samurai represent. In my knowledge both were at their peak of social and military prowes during the 13th century of the western calendar. The Japanese where still fighting their internal strife and samurai were a warrior elite in war not demented into a cultural duellist society of latter centuries. The knight was still the military might not yet rivalled by the large infantry formations of pike and halberd.

We need not discuss all the possible weaponry of the two combatants if we choose for both the most distinctive weapons and armour of the day and respective military classes and fashions. They will both be on horseback. They both come from proud mounted military traditions that made their mark on the saddle. Primary weapon of the knight is lance wich he will use to charge at the enemy. The samurai fights with a bow and will try to keep his distance to the enenmy.  The knight has heavier armour and horse. At this date however it is not yet the all-enclosing suit of plate armour, but a padded maille, a harnes strenghened by some plates, splints and scales of steel plate. It is in many ways wery similar to the classical samurai armour, if not in appearance, in function at least. The knights horse is not a tall Shire workhorse, rather a sturdy destrier or even smaller version of it. Slow in comparison to the samurais mount, but resilient and spirited steed. Both would have a sword as a secondary weapon. The knight would have a long sword, weapon that could be weilded with either two or one hand and equalling also in reach with the samurai tachi. The samurai would not carry a katana, for that was a primarly a duelling weapon of later and less warlike times.

Both knight and samurai would be educated in their respective cultural weapons and tactics. Both cultures had produced a set of sophisticated fighting techniques and profound warrior ethos, with great shame for cowardice account.

If we are to set these two fighting men in an enviorement, in wich they both would give fight, it would propably be a rather even plain of grasslands (or to be honest some poor peasants grainfield), and if we would give them the distance of recognising the other as an enemy – say some 500 metres – what would happen? Well, the knight emphasising on his personal impetiosity would no doubt charge. The samurai would propably have enough of presence of mind to try and avoid the obvious threat of the couched lance, and shoot at the knight as many times as possible.

Historically knights of this period were not imprevious to arrows, and especially large formations of bowmen could really reap knightly units, and even a singular trained bowman like the samurai, could have his chances. It is however not so easy to kill a knight with a bow. The horse is the largest part of the “target” but not a good choise as such. It is such a big animal that it does not stop from random hits to its body. For a single arrow to stop a horse it would have to hit it in the heart or brain. Also the horses legs are woulnerable, but as they are moving rapidly, to hit them would be such a remote possibility the trained samurai would not attempt it. The chainmail parts of the knight are woulnerable to narrrow-headed bodkin arrows, but the linen padding inside and over it, is a fair protection. The scale armour on torso would be a good protection agains most arrow types the samurai would be carrying. Further more the knight is protected by a rawhide cowered wooden shield that covers most of him. As there is only one man shooting the arrows it is actually easier for the knight to protect himself whith the shield. The arrows (especially from close range)  might penetrate the shield to some extent, but would propably not hurt the man behind.

So now we may assume that the samurai has shot all his arrows. He has propably wounded the knights destrier, but not been able to kill it (unless by a particularly lucky shot), and with some luck he has been able not only to make the knight look like a pincushion, but also to wound him. The wounded destrier can still go on for hours and the knight is not going to give up. To conclude our contest the samurai decides that his bushido attitude demands him to face the knight. He charges at the knight who makes short story of the samurai by lance. By accident however, the slightly wounded knight, exhausted as he is by the long chase, only manages to kill the horse of the samurai (if he would miss the samurai all together he would only need to make a nother pass with the lance). As a honour bound warrior the knight dismounts his tired and wounded horse and meets his opponent on foot (also his lance has been broken by the impact anyway). Both draw swords and the knight disperses his now cumbersome shield pierced by many arrows.

The samurai and the knight fight by swords and both seek to hit the enemy where armour is weak or there seems to be no armour at all, like groin or eyes. The samurai sword is slightly weaker because of the poor quality of steel in Japan, but this makes no real difference and the more skilled and luckier man wins.

So, if the competition is a “tie”, what was the whole point of it? Well that is actually my point all along. There is no actual point in the question all together. There is no simple answer, it all depends on circunmstances, luck and the skill of the respective warriors. You could say if there is a thunderstorm the knight is more likelier to loose because of persentage margin to be more obvious to be hit by a lightning. Or if we were to choose samurai and a knight of latter days, say 16th century the samurai is more likelier to be killed, because the knight protected by his allenclosing suit of plate armour will simply shoot the samurai with one of his pistols. The whole question is absurd, and contemplating does not and will never lead to any actual conclusion.

It is a futile effort to compete two totally different cultures, that have been seen somewhat similar by those who see them in a rather superficial way. It is just as stoopid as to as would an eskimo win a fight against an aboriginal. Go figure.