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Author Topic: a Knight vs a Samurai?  (Read 48205 times)
contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #30 on: January 12, 2004, 01:06:44 AM »

Quote from: sirogit
I'd like to say Bravo to Jake for clearing up misconceptions and half-truths which spring up so quickly out of this discussion. It bothers me deeply when people dedicated to genuine knowledge are mocked because their veiws don't coincide with pretty-boy-starring hollywood action movies.


Hmm, the problem is how to determine which is which, though.  I mean, for example, the entire alleged phenomenon of "nipophilia" remains undemonstrated.  Then you get into all the denunciations of academia and (more speculative psychology) claims that some sort of inferiority complex has caused the "west" to undermine its own history.

Who then is really working to a political agenda?  Who is really a seeker after truth?  The ARMA has too much One True Wayism for my tastes, and I had exactly the same reaction to the Sam v Kni article as many others: after reading it, I wondered why I'd bothered.
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Muggins
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« Reply #31 on: January 12, 2004, 05:43:10 AM »

Dear All,

Coming late to the discussion, I would like to congratulate Jake on a generally agreeable summary of issues. One of the things anybody involved in the WMA (western martial arts) community realises soon after they get involved, is that people who push the envelope tend to have egos. Some, like John Clemens, manage to offend more people than is good for the art, but he still knows what he is talking about. Oh, and Jak and I have met on other forums to discuss the finer points of German longsword, and he has done a great job of repairing some of the damage my first contacts with ARMA did.

On the points discussed:

1) Knight vs. Samurai- yup, fairly pointless article, made worse by illogical structure. There is actually some progress towards a scientific (in a martial sense) answer to the question. It is possible to use kenjutsu or kendo techniques against western techniques, and one person I know does. Provided the Eastern practioner is prepared to discuss safety, armour, and acceptable techniques (is grappling allowed)- yes, that is a ig- there is no reason why such contests of skill should not take place. Here's hoping!

A few things to think about:
- Range: the western longsword has a much longer reach than the katana
- Sturdiness: not that I have ever seen a tempered carbon steel break, the katana is by dint of its construction a thicker, stronger blade
- Relative skill: the knight was normally a highly trained swordsman, even though the lance or warhammer would have been a primary weapon. The samurai was a highly trained horse archer, for whom the katana was secondary. Not that there were not supremely skilled swordsmen, but first job in life was ride and shoot.
- Armour: The relative flexibility of the two armours is moot- you can turn back flips in full plate. Weight, and the ensuing fatigue over long periods is far more important. Oh, and the western halfsword approach is a valid tool against any form of armour.

2) Edge versus flat: I think the historical stuff generally supports trying to avoid edge-on-edge clashes. One earlier post did get to me: preferring to take the impact on the edge because it is backed by 4 cm of steel. Actually, the reverse idea occurred to me- surely one would like to spread the impact over as large a surface as possible, rather than focus it on that tiny edge?

That's my two cents' worth

James Roberts
(who has run one TROS game using the quickstart rules, and is impatiently awaiting his copy, and so has been keeping quiet)
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Valamir
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« Reply #32 on: January 12, 2004, 05:58:57 AM »

Its not an inferiority complex at all.  In fact, its quite the reverse.  

Its the "superiority complex" of the Victorian Age that had leading scholars of the period dismissing the achievements of the past and holding up their present as the pinnacle of evolution.  This is the period from which stems the idea of the evolution of the sword from primitive knightly weapons to the superior perfection of the small sword.  In order to make this evolution work, earlier swords had to become inferior to what they were.

The Victorians were great at creating hierarchies.  Hierachies which invariably put:  Modern, Western, British elements at the top.  Pretty much every area of science was centered on identifying an evolution from inferior to superior.  A great amount of modern scholarship (whether museum curators, reinactors, or stage performers) accepts alot of those conclusions as truth.

This has led to a general widely held belief that knights were slow and clumsy, their weapons heavy and awkward, and their fighting style primative.

On the other hand the exotic is often held to have an innate superiority to it.  This is no harder to understand then basic "grass is greener" psychology.  When the west encountered Samurai, they were by and large inscrutable and alien.

At the time when Japan was opened to the west, the western sword making art had largely gone by the way side.  Cavalry sabres were mass produced in factories, the cheaper versions often simply being stamped out of a sheet of cold steel and shaped with a grinder, or even cast in a mold.  The katana by contrast was a work of art and an amazing achievement of artisanry.  It was rightly regarded as being a superior weapon to anything being used in the west in the 1800s.

The built in assumption that anything from the 1800s was automatically superior to anything from previous centuries fed into the idea that the katana was some sort of super sword better then anything the west ever produced.

This is a widespread belief, and only really in the last few decades has medieval scholarship begun to peel back some of the Victorian era assumptions.  Most of these concentrate on social and economic issues.

Weapons and armor are artifacts, and artifacts of a sort typically left to museum curators.  Bones and pottery sherds have entire branches of science dedicated to painstakingly understand them.  With weapons and armor, they're generally satisfied with putting them in a category, sticking a label on them, and hanging them on the wall.

Its largely left to amateur scholars like Eric Schmid to try and piece together the reality of chain mail or ARMA to piece together the reality of swords and fighting techniques.

As such they have all of the advantages and disadvantageous inherent in amateur scholarship.  But that status alone does not invalidate their work.  And if they are a bit zealous about it...of course.  Its to be expected.  Amateurs do because they're passionate about the topic.  And passion breeds zealotry.  

But truthfully I saw nothing over the top in either article, other then a slight embedded tone of weariness and frustration to have to be stating things again that have been said already numerous times.
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contracycle
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« Reply #33 on: January 13, 2004, 12:36:27 AM »

Quote from: Valamir

This has led to a general widely held belief that knights were slow and clumsy, their weapons heavy and awkward, and their fighting style primative.


I'm not sure I accept this; at the same time the Victorians were engaged in the "manufacture of national history", the elevation of national heroes and the definition of a sort of historical providence, raised statues to Celtic heroes and engaged in a search for the origins of the particular virtues of their states.  I see the scorn heaped on knights being rather detached and unrealistic as being a bourgeois/peasant criticism (look at Robin Hood cunningly defeating the slow and cumbersome lords).  I suggest the anti-Japanese patch we went through in the 80's, when they appeared to present a serious threat to US economic dominance, is the source of this contemporary view; tied into this is the rise of a sort of supra-nationalistion and the "clash of civilisations" doctrine.

I was talking to a French guy the other day and he said "oh, we have Charlemaigne hammered into us from day 1 in school".  Its hardly as if the Victorians wiped medieval studies off the map, frequently they put it on the map.  It seems to me the attacks on the alleged European view of its own history are badly misplaced.
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Muggins
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« Reply #34 on: January 13, 2004, 03:47:14 AM »

I would have to agree with Contracycle. Most of the damage to the prestige of the knight was done in the first half of the 20th century. People often looked at collections of weapons and armour from the Victorian period, and failed to distinguish between the many pieces of replica weaponry and armour. The idea of slow and unwieldy is generally a Hollywood notion- though modern fencing does spread some fiction around. In the 1880s, people like Burton, Hutton and others were actually publishing good accurate books on swords and sword fighting techniques. Similarly, the mystique of the Medieval period was being rekindled by Bulfinch and his mythologies, the romatic poets and others.

On the other hand, the Americans were the people who generally interacted with the Japanese. The Americans definitely had no history or knowledge of swords or their users, and much of the mystique of the samurai is brought to us by American writers.

James
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Drifter Bob
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« Reply #35 on: January 13, 2004, 12:21:27 PM »

Quote from: Ingenious
Did mathematicians/scientists think along these lines? If they did, Einstein would not have been himself...
-Ingenious

I might have to dodge some hate mail and such for my criticism.. but hey.. I felt like I should at least voice my opinion of the article.


No hatemail, but to answer your question regarding scientists, have you ever heard of Heisenburgs Uncertainty principle?  Fundamental to the idea of Quantum Mechanics is the apparent fact that certain datum are not ascertainable or observable...

JR
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John Dillinger
Jake Norwood
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« Reply #36 on: January 13, 2004, 12:28:53 PM »

The Victorians did a weird number on the Knight, actually. On one hand you had Egerton and Castle, who wrote "Schools and Masters of Defence," considered to be the definitive work before the Anglo's "Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe" on the subject. They were practicioners very much in the way that the ARMA or similar groups were, actually, but they came to pretty conflicted results. They insisted that there was a system of fighting early on, and were familiar with many of the old manuals (Talhoffer, Meyer, Fiore, etc.). Often they would even train and practice with antique weapons, which were quite available for reasonable prices at that time.

In the same book, however, you find the often-quoted sentiment that Knights knew no science, and that they relied entirely on strength and armor, not skill...huh? That's what they did. Richard Burton in his earlier "Book of the Sword," does the same thing, and the general consensus is that the foil and epee fencing of the 1800s is the pinnacle of the art (too bad since it is now out of use, these authors all lament). It is at this same time that victorians, in their fascination with the romanticized middle ages, begin producing replica swords and armor of varying quality, which were always much heavier than the real things. This led to further generations handling the replicas and thinking that the armor and weapons of the knight were very heavy--because the experience of those immediately following Egerton, Castle, and Burton was with Victorian replicas, not the antiques that were previously available.

It was also the Victorian age that introduced the arthurian cycle as we know it popularly now, inserting mention of armor and swords that were horribly heavy (perhaps to show how manly the bearers were?).

So although the Victorians did try to ressurect "WMA," a movement that blossomed up until WWI, when all the practioners were probably wasted away in that "Great War," in the long run Victorian culture re-wrote medieval history (just as they re-wrote male/female relationships and so much more).

Jake
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"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Caz
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Posts: 272


« Reply #37 on: January 13, 2004, 01:01:52 PM »

Actually victorian manufacturers often crafted weapons and armours of excellent fraudulent quality.  There are armours and weapons in museums today that no one has been able to reach conclusion on if they were victorian fakes or originals.  I've personally inspected some victorian repro plate armours.  From what I've seen, about half of them are decorative junk, but the other half were quite well crafted, usable armours, often a mix of the two.
    Perhaps their views on swords were simply writers hype, as is so prevalent now?  Perhaps if you've hanled duelling epees and smallswords all your life, when you picked up a medieval cutting sword, you'd say "this must weigh 10 pounds!" ?
    I'm sure they did produce a lot of heavy junk replicas though, just as they do now, but luckily for them it was still the age before the gaudy ebay fantasy garbage there is now ;)
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Drifter Bob
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« Reply #38 on: January 13, 2004, 01:04:30 PM »

Quote from: Wolfen
Personally, given the supposition that the knight and the samurai (both, theoretically, the best of their kinds) would also be using the finest quality gear put forth by their respective cultures.. I think the balance would tilt in the favor of the knight.

As much of samurai armor was lacquered wood, leather and such (due to their overall shortage of metals) and the knight's fitted steel, that would make a great difference. .


I think the wealthier Japanese Samurai did use Iron in their armor, especially later in the Feudal period.  In some cases they even incorporated bullet-proof curiasses they bought or acquired from Spanish and Puertuguese sailors into their Do.  

However, their armor was laced together in a way which IMHO made it more vulnerable to being damaged, (especially by the draw cutting weapons they themselves used) much more so than the rivited mail and plate used in Europe.  (You should also remember that for most of the knightly period Armor meant mail armor, not plate.)

Overall, I think this issue is both something which a lot of idiotic fanboys speculate endlessly about, but which also does hold some interest for those of us who consider ourselves serious students of the lost Western Martial Arts.

I think the purpose of John's editorial was to try to shed a little genuine light on the subject matter (for the benefit of folks who, like me or John himself, are serious but did occasionally wonder about such things) while also putting into some perspective just how difficult it would be to actually make the comparison (for the fanboys).

I made a couple of comments about the editorial on the ARMA website which John responded to in a manner which I think demonstrates that while as Jake admits he can rant and be undiplomatic sometimes, his primary goal is to seek knowlege of this field especially.

http://www.thearma.org/forum/showflat.php?Cat=&Board=openresearch&Number=4234&page=10&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=&fpart=1

Regarding ARMA's credentials as serious historians of the lost Western Martial Arts, as Jake pointed out Sydney Anglo and Ewart Oakeshotte seemed to feel pretty confident about them, and a look at the bottom of the ARMA web page is a pretty impressive list of who's who in the academic side of the field.

For that matter, try a few discussions on their forum.  In a recent thread about the effectiveness of mail armor one of the worlds premier experts on ancient armor chimed in with some fascinating new insights.

JR

P.S.
As for Johns spelling, he spells better than I do so I can't complain!
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John Dillinger
Drifter Bob
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« Reply #39 on: January 13, 2004, 02:12:11 PM »

Quote from: Muggins
I would have to agree with Contracycle. Most of the damage to the prestige of the knight was done in the first half of the 20th century. People often looked at collections of weapons and armour from the Victorian period, and failed to distinguish between the many pieces of replica weaponry and armour. The idea of slow and unwieldy is generally a Hollywood notion- though modern fencing does spread some fiction around.
On the other hand, the Americans were the people who generally interacted with the Japanese. The Americans definitely had no history or knowledge of swords or their users, and much of the mystique of the samurai is brought to us by American writers.

James



I think the Victorians did a lot of damage, especially in the categorization, analysis and remaking of weapons, as well as the whole idea of the knight as a dark age idiot.  It wasn't until Ewart Oakeshott came up with the revolutionary idea of categorizing weapons by their functional (cutting, thrusting, handling) aspects than the ornamental / "artistic" (pommel shape, gold leaf, and other deocrations) that some of these misconceptions began to be undone (and incidentally, a lot more of those Victorian forgeries began to be discovered.)

You can see the aftermath of this continuing to this day.  Actual functional historial weapons which are examined in such places as Swiss auction houses continue to appear to be lighter and much more finely wrought than the best replicas.  For example, many arming swords, cut and thrust swords, messers, schiavonas, and even fairly long bastard swords appear to weigh as little as somewhere in the 2- 2 1/2 pound range, while the equivalent replicas often weigh as much as a pound more, and are far inferior in harmonics, balance, temper and handling.

I would also agree that Hollywood has played a huge role in the consolidation of cliche's into a permament part of the sofwtare structure of the human mind.  

But I also think a bigger overall aspect of this was the immense psychological impact of the gun on Western culture, which led the west in general to abandon not only knights and swords as "serious things" but also the scores of indiginous martial arts traditions of Europe, of which each country seemed to have had four or five (these ranging from such things as Irish alpeen sitck fighting to such anarmed arts as the French Dances De la Rue kickfighting arts) which were all abandoned and nearly forgotten usually by the mid 19th Century or so.

Finally the Eastern Martial Arts fetishization which occurred in the 70's replaced this gap in our cultural heritage, and has stubbornly resisted any encroachment on it's cultural niche.

So I blame the English, as I do with so much Historical evil, first of all, and then American media, going back as far and to such probably well intended folks as Mark Twain with his Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court and Monty Python's staggering knights in Holy Grail and Jaberwocky.  (Though Terry Gilliams more historically inspired films and especially Terry Jone's recent spate of mostly excellent period documentaries have done much to atone for this) All these emphasized the cliche of the lumbering knight, the primtive caveman like Scotts  and Irish, the benign Romans (who the British historians considered their spiritual ancestors), and the travesty of letting Richard Gere play a knight with little bits of foil on his shirt.

Enough said, I'm foaming at the mouth..

JR
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John Dillinger
Bastoche
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Posts: 64


« Reply #40 on: January 14, 2004, 05:41:12 AM »

Quote from: Drifter Bob

No hatemail, but to answer your question regarding scientists, have you ever heard of Heisenburgs Uncertainty principle?  Fundamental to the idea of Quantum Mechanics is the apparent fact that certain datum are not ascertainable or observable...

JR


This goes slightly off topic so sorry. But As a physicist, I have a hard on letting such a statement go un commented ;-).

The uncertainty principle is a very uncommon feature of nature. Comparing one of the most fundamental principle of physics to a more or less medical science (the art of killing with a sword) misplaced at best.

All what the uncertainty principle says is that you can't have a perfect precision on both of two "coupled" measurements. Like speed and position for example. And we're talking rocket science precision! They are observable, unlike what you claim. I think you may be confusing the Schrodinger's cat with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle...

To slip back on topic: Great thread! I really enjoy your testimony Jake. I stumbled upon the haca site a while ago and read some articles with great interest.

My take on it is that the most skilled will win. Assuming equal skill, I'd go with the coin toss. I personnally think that the best way to recreate medieval or renaissance fighting is by creating an entire new style optimized for killing with the knight's tools. That is proper recreation armor and weapon. Then comparing this well controled style with old books, this could give new insight on how these guys fought. I assume that's exactly what ARMA training camp are about. Right?
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Sebastien
Caz
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Posts: 272


« Reply #41 on: January 14, 2004, 01:17:04 PM »

That would be tough as training data could not be compared to data of its actual effectiveness in real life, likely resulting in an inneffective and artificial style.  That's basically what sport, play, and reenactment type groups do, and it comes out nothing like the old texts.
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Drifter Bob
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« Reply #42 on: January 14, 2004, 01:26:38 PM »

Quote from: Bastoche


This goes slightly off topic so sorry. But As a physicist, I have a hard on letting such a statement go un commented ;-).

The uncertainty principle is a very uncommon feature of nature. Comparing one of the most fundamental principle of physics to a more or less medical science (the art of killing with a sword) misplaced at best.


Well, first of all the post I was replying to specifically referred to Einstein, so I wasn't the one who drew the initial comparison between fencing and high physics.

Second, as a scientist, you surely recognize that coming to the conclusion that available data is insufficient to answer a given hypothesis is valid.

Third, as a phsysicist, you should realise that the physics of something as complex as a sword fight between armored opponents would actually be extremely complex, notwithstanding the other aspects such as the socio-psychological aspects.


Quote

My take on it is that the most skilled will win. Assuming equal skill, I'd go with the coin toss. I personnally think that the best way to recreate medieval or renaissance fighting is by creating an entire new style optimized for killing with the knight's tools. That is proper recreation armor and weapon. Then comparing this well controled style with old books, this could give new insight on how these guys fought. I assume that's exactly what ARMA training camp are about. Right?


No this is not the approach that ARMA takes, it's actually much closer to the way I sort of accidentally got into it originally.  

Jake could answer better, but from what I understand, ARMA primarily focuses on interpretation of the Fencing manuals, as informed by test cutting with real swords, learning the guards, counters, and strikes in accordance with the material in the books (and informed by contextual analysis of period history) and finally testing the theoretical work by sparring with several types of equipment (both offensive and defensive) which are as realistic as possible.  Basically I think you just have the emphasis backward.

DB
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John Dillinger
Muggins
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« Reply #43 on: January 15, 2004, 04:49:51 AM »

Urrgh. (repeats to self, "I am not a scientist with an interest in philosophy on this forum").

On the completely off-track physics bit: it is not possible EVER to validate or prove a hypothesis- it is only possible to invalidate it. Preponderance of evidence is not proof that a theory is right- merely that it is not proved wrong. Empirically, gravity works. Theoretically, it is but a theory and can be proved wrong. One of the issues I often work is whether someone is presenting a logical argument or theory- if the the argument is circular or vague, if there are no criteria for disproving that theory, then it is considered poor science and dismissed.

But I actually like swinging swords and dodging spells, so I shall let the professional part of my brain relax (unless someone asks for elaboration...)

James
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Bastoche
Member

Posts: 64


« Reply #44 on: January 15, 2004, 06:35:09 AM »

Quote from: Drifter Bob

Well, first of all the post I was replying to specifically referred to Einstein, so I wasn't the one who drew the initial comparison between fencing and high physics.


The Einstein argument was implying that Einstein was not put down by the amount of work he ahd to do to develop all what he did. The point was "If Einstein could find the answer to E=mc^2, why couldn't we find the answer of a knight vs a samurai". I couldn't understand or missunderstood why you introduced the uncertainty principle...

Quote from: Drifter Bob

Second, as a scientist, you surely recognize that coming to the conclusion that available data is insufficient to answer a given hypothesis is valid.


More or less. I would rather say "to invalidate a given hypothesis" rather than "answer" but that nitpicking on my part ;)

Quote

Third, as a phsysicist, you should realise that the physics of something as complex as a sword fight between armored opponents would actually be extremely complex, notwithstanding the other aspects such as the socio-psychological aspects.


I'm not sure.  It's actually more an engineer's work than a physicist's

Quote from: Drifter Bob

No this is not the approach that ARMA takes, it's actually much closer to the way I sort of accidentally got into it originally.  

Jake could answer better, but from what I understand, ARMA primarily focuses on interpretation of the Fencing manuals, as informed by test cutting with real swords, learning the guards, counters, and strikes in accordance with the material in the books (and informed by contextual analysis of period history) and finally testing the theoretical work by sparring with several types of equipment (both offensive and defensive) which are as realistic as possible.  Basically I think you just have the emphasis backward.

DB


My point is that sword fighting at the time was a science. That science is so old that it was probably not that far off perfection. If they could do it then, we should be able to do it now. No? Assuming their techniques were as efficient as could be, "new" techniques should converge toward their techniques. Besides, I think studying old books is a good way to go too. Assuming these books contained the best techniques known at the time...
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Sebastien
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