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Longsword versus Katana?

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On an episode of Lock 'N' Load, a Eruopean longsword was compared to a Japanese Katana, and the host, R. Lee Emery declared that a katana was more effective than it's European counterpart.

Seeing as this is a large collective of swordsmiths, both replicating Oriental and Western blades, I pose these questions:

Is there really a "superior" style of sword? If so, why?

Obviously the technique for swordplay differs from East to West, which also complicates things.

Were blades made to suit technique, or techniques made to suit blade styles?

Is there a superior technique?

Or is the methodology of swordfighting so different from Europe to the Orient that they are essentially incomparable?

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Which weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?

Without specifying everything the question is meaningless: I could design a test that 90% of the katanas would fail and 90% of european swords would pass---or vice versa.

However there are enormous amounts of hype out there about Japanese swords---like that they were fast light and sharp compared to European blades that were more like crowbars---yet the average weight of a European battle sword for nearly 1000 years is just about the same as the average weight of a Katana and European blades tend to be much thinner in cross section that Katanas---which is the crowbar?

For general battle field use against armoured opponents spring tempered European swords tend to do better than the differentially hardened katanas, (look up the role of Ashi for an example of why) Or if you read up on training for the katana they cover how to straighten it as a traditionally made blade can take a set if your form is not perfect. On the battlefield *nothing* tends toward perfection! You will also note that it started out as Kyuba no michi, meaning “Way of the horse and bow” not the sword.

Katanas make great dueling weapons---1 on 1 with no armour The European Sword makes great battle swords.

There is a lot of mysticism to the Katana too. Did you know that we have more renaissance treatises on how knights fought with european swords than they have in Japan about how Katana were used? Or in another "it's not from around here it must be *special": many smiths have made a big thing about the japanese cutler's hammers not realizing that the same pattern was used in Sheffield England less than 100 years ago and in saw tuning to modern times.

One last warning many people have compared TERRIBLY made "reproductions" of European blades to Japanese blade never realizing that the reproduction was several times heavier that the originals and the cross sections, distal tapers, etc were so far off they should be considered more like anime weapons...(A European battle sword should average around 2.5 pounds with 3# being the upper common range and even great swords generally weigh under 10 pounds. However grossly overweight and over sized "bearing swords" were made in Europe to be displayed as symbols of power and might and these should NOT be lumped in with battle swords just like some of the enormous temple ken of Japan should not be considered battle swords.)

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As to "Superior Style" to do what? Katana don't make good cavalry swords. Cavalry sabres are not much good against plate armour, Rapiers don't work well on horseback either. As before I can come up with scenarios where *any* style is terrible compared to a different one.

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I think R.Lee's remark was just inaccurate TV license to elicit some "drama". There were truly great swordsmen in both Europe and Asia; the Germans, French, Brits, Russians, etc. all produced very skilled martial artists who could handle edged weapons with great skill. Some years ago, I read an excerpt from a Jesuit priest who was a chaperone to several samural who were invited to a French fencing school - IIRC, this was during the Napoleonic era. The account stated that although the Japanese had a different style than the French; holding their swords high and striking only when they saw an opening, they were not markedly superior in results and the French swordsmen won about half of the duels (these were not fought to the death) - so not everyone could be Miyamoto Musashi. Before guns were capable of quick repeat shots, personal ability with edged weapons and fighting attitude was more important than the type of blade used. A good example is Jim Bowie's Sandbar fight, where he demonstrated success using only a knife against both sword and gun.

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Hmmm. I have had this conversation quite a few times over the years, with highschool freinds, materias engineering students, mechanical engineering students, ren fair workers, midevel reenactors, LARPers etc. Eventually I cam up with this stance.

The right tool for the right job and the right weapon for the right person.

All eras and areas have a mistique and propaganda about why they are the best. The viking with their bearded axes and their pattern welded lgandary blades, the Arabs with Dascus scemitars, dancing swords and falshons/chamseirs that are light but powerful enough to cut a mans head off, the claymores and great swords that can cut a horse and rider in to (the japanise had hteir equvelents if I remember), of corse the stories of warhammers and the samarui with the Kitanas that are strengthend and empowered through the ritualistic folding, prayer and meditation of the smith. All of these are in my eyes hype that mean only interesting facts since the actual tool is useless in the hands of a untrained person. Though some might be a little more user freindly then others.

I look at the kitana and I see the American cowboy single action revolver. I belive that Japan went through a time period where they romantisized their past and the idea of the samuri just like America did with the cowboy. They always did what was right, they could triumph against any number of evil men, they fought man to man and didn't use underhanded or unfair tactics like ambushes or longer ranged weapons (rifles or bows) becus that would be unfair and even if it cost them their lives they would stay true to their ideals (never selling their skills like a common mercenary) and never let evil win. When I was learning to be a gunsmith I have seen this happen with guns. A Rugger is always better thenan S&W but colt beats all others. A longsword is good and a kitan might be better but a Scemitar now that is elegance and power personified. All becuse of where they put their belifes based on what hype they have herd.

In my perosnal oppinin I want a sword at my hip, while I like the austetics and feel of a curved blade my dream weapon might be a sutton who replica that I made myself. If I am actually fighting for my life, a infamtry mans hammer as a secondary, a sheild and a hinged mace as my main weapon. They don't get any air time and people sually don't even think of them as a main wepon becuse people think they are hard to use and dangerous to the user. Some of this may be true, people have made the chain long enough and they use it wrong so they hit their own hand holding the weaon but when done right it is just unfair to fight people with and if my life is on the line thats what I want.

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Before guns were capable of quick repeat shots, personal ability with edged weapons and fighting attitude was more important than the type of blade used. A good example is Jim Bowie's Sandbar fight, where he demonstrated success using only a knife against both sword and gun.


I'd say what Bowie demonstrated at the Sandbar Fight, more than anything else, was a preternatural ability to absorb punishment and keep functioning. :)

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I'd say what Bowie demonstrated at the Sandbar Fight, more than anything else, was a preternatural ability to absorb punishment and keep functioning. :)


Yes, he was both shot and run through with a sword - and survived without antibiotics.

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One's a Sabre, the Other is a broadsword, their applications in combat are slightly different. One is a slasher, the other is a cutter, neither are really meant for stabbing. generally speaking Katanas are sharper...., but the blunt force of the long sword makes up for that fact (you can find youtube vids of both swords cutting through tatami mats with relatively the same end result). To each his own I'd say. I prefer the Katana, i feel like it takes less physical energy to wield and cause the same degree of bodily harm as the long sword.

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Neither is superior. The Person who has studied the skill more is superior. With a katana a broad sword or a simple box cutter. That just me though.
Dustin

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Clearly, a more skilled warrior will always win, whether using a longsword, katana, naginata, halberd, mace, etc. (excluding long range weapons, obviously.) But I think the real question is, that if 2 specialists dueled, unarmored, with equal skill in their respective weapons, which would be better.

While the katana may be better for dueling, the double longsword would be better if the warrior found himself in a prolonged battle.

Also, I think the longsword has a bit more versatility. While its primary design may be for cutting, some do have a rather keen point that could be used for stabbing; something that the katana lacks. I'm not saying I'd like to get stabbed by a katana, but as far as penetration capabilities go, the longswordis a bit better.

Now, I'm no expert swordsman, but I do know that you get at least a small amount more range out of a lunge or thrust than you do a slice. (Well, assuming that the 2 swords are of the same length.) I also know that, throughout history, the point of a weapon has been to keep the enemy as far away from you as possible while still being able to deliver a fatal blow/shot/etc.

This said, even though I love the design and beauty and all the "hype" behind katanas, that I would cast my vote to the longsword. It's a battle of inches, and I think the katana comes up a bit short.

But, as stated many times in this thread, it would come down to the skill of each individual warrior. Who has the most (and best) training? Who has the most physical strength? Who's faster? Who has the best insight to predicting an opponent's moves?

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I am far from any sort of expert on this topic, but it seems to me that this question is incomplete: "But I think the real question is, that if 2 specialists dueled, unarmored, with equal skill in their respective weapons, which would be better." I think there must be at least one more variable, and that's what rules are in play. The rules of combat -- to my understanding, individual combat with swords was often pretty highly formalized, and not just in Japanese culture -- have a lot to do with the form of the weapon. Of course if you pick one set of rules and impose it on a man from a different culture, employing a weapon not developed for those rules, he's liable to be at a disadvantage. So I really wonder if this isn't such an apples-to-orange comparison that there's no meaningful answer. European and Japanese weapons evolved within the contexts of the societies that created them, and the styles of combat that those societies practiced (including factors such as use and construction of armor), and I imagine they were all very well adapted for those particular conditions. I doubt any of them would necessarily fare well if picked up and dropped into another society with a different set of rules and other external variables -- even in the hands of a highly skilled master of that particular weapon. (To the extent that we want to ignore variables like armor, we're ignoring one of the factors that dictated the design of the weapon in the first place. So I'm not sure that gives us a fair comparison of the two weapons, or of the styles of combat that helped dictate their forms.)

So whose dad can beat up whose dad? I think it may depend whether it's a street fight, modern boxing, Marquis of Queensbury rules, Greco-Roman wrestling, or something else entirely.

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Musashi used wooden sword against steel...and won. Like part of the old saw goes, "It's the size of the fight in the dog..."

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This thread reminds me of the scene in The Seven Samurai when the master swordsman has to prove his move was superior to his opponents... to the death.

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Musashi used wooden sword against steel...and won."


While this is true, if I remember correctly, he was purposefully late to the duel so that the setting sun would be in his opponent's eyes. Also so that the tide would be with him when he made swift escape, as there was an angry mob chasing after him, as they were mad that he beat his opponent with a wooden sword. Although who knows, a story so grand is quite prone to being altered through the ages.

Still impressive, but not as much once one knows the rest of the story.

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Actually that just ties in with "Training rather than Equipment" and Musashi's reputation as a strategist.

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Actually that just ties in with "Training rather than Equipment" and Musashi's reputation as a strategist.


Touché, sir!

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The biography written in Musashi's "Book of Five Rings" states that he initially moved to a two sword technique (when everyone else used one sword to duel) then he switched to a wooden sword and used that on more than one occasion...but who knows how much embellishment occurred over the years. He was reputed to have fought and won over sixty duels.

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The problem with the comparison of the katana and the the long sword, is the weapons are taken out of context. The katana developed with a fighting style, and a style of armor. The curved blade, is indeed for cutting, the style of fighting maximizes this (but there are techniches that use trusts, and lunges), wile the armor provides the maximum amount of protection, with the minimum restriction of movement.
The longsword developed with armor, and shield. The strate tapored blade, is designed to part mail links, and exploit chinks in plate armors, wile the armor is intended to provide maximum protection. Let us not forget the shield, again providing a primary defense for the warior.
Each weapon is ideally suited for it's time, place and style of warfare (not to mention status).
Any one care to compare the sword to the spear? ;-)

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Yes: the sword is the weapon of a Gentleman whereas the spear is the weapon of a Peasant!

The spear being a very cheap weapon to make was the basic weapon of peasant levies whereas the complexities of sword forging made it a much more expensive weapon that tended to be used by upperclass warriors.

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fight is decided at one moment (less then 3 seconds) at the range of the spear. The sword blocks the thrust steps in and has the advantage, killing the spear man, or the spear man kills the sword man. If ether is wounded and or lacks mobility then the fight is over already.

The sword (unless used with shield) is at best a single line deep formation weapon and even then it loses out to spear which can fight in multiple ranks and if combined with cover (even a shield man without weapon) becomes a lot more dangerous.

A spear much like a crossbow can be given to a present with little or no training, (stay as far back from them as possible, stand behind this wall and attack, back up if they charge at you and hit them as they come) so it is easily a deadly tool in the hands of the untrained, at least more so then a sword. Even though it is a very effective weapon the cheapness of production and the lack of majesty (it looks easy when you stab the guy in the leg from 8 feet away and then poke at him till he stops moving instead of meeting him eye to eye and blade to blade) makes it note as impressive as sword for the purposes of status.

These are just my opinions, and I should note that a spear duel is a fun thing to watch, with just as much skill displayed as a sword duel.

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Having trained with both for a very long time, under different teachers who came from different schools of thought, In the end they remain remarkably similar in principle, however they differ greatly in application.
I can tell you that I personally prefer the utility offered by the western pattern swords. The elongated quilions offer several advantages over the Japanese tsuba, as does the back edge and straight taper. Also, with small exception to some disarming techniques, Japanese schools do not teach techniques like half-swording or "wind and bind," which in historical context makes the longsword superior in its more dynamic application on the battlefield against armored troops. The Katana was a back-up weapon used in duels and indoor scenarios, but never as a primary. As Thom Noblitt has pointed out above: In war, that was a roll filled by the pike and spear.

Katanas do one thing well and with style: cut. But one should never say that the western longsword can't match it's cutting power, because it certainly can and often will if done with a well designed and well maintained blade.
In my circle (and I know many of you might disagree, but this opinion was formed by many individuals with years of experience) the Katana is considered sub par for practical use against anyone other than an opponent who is unarmored and equipped with a lesser weapon, because they lack good defensive options. Katana duels are often "fleshy," or in other words both opponents, Regardless of their mastery or skill, get mortally wounded (and Japanese schools often acknowledge that fact), as were a duel between two men with western swords are often less costly for the "winner" because of a more sound defensive/return capability offered by the long swords design and application.
I do respect the Katana, as I was first introduced to schools that practiced some form of Bushido, but It would not be my first choice for a personal weapon for the reasons I've stated above. However, In truth I would be hesitant to have a long sword fill that roll as well, regardless; though that is a whole new issue in its self.

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