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Self Defense/Would European swords easily shatter Samurai Armor?


Hi I'm new to the martial arts. In fact I only recently discovered the HEMA trend and at the same time I'm looking for oriental sword school.

But online forums keep posting this specific topic up. One thread I found sums up the typical statements in these internet debates.

Were Samurai armor that fragile? I mean I know katanas were weaker but I wore leather armor before and I cannot tell you how many times accidents while riding my motorcycle prevented sure death because of leather jackets. Indeed if leather jackets can easily stop knife stabs, so at the very least if Japanese armor was well made leather (and I seen online information stating it mixed metallic parts with leather cloth), I doubt a mere knife thrust would easily pierce it like internet debates argue.

Axes, maces, warhammers, polearms and of course, great swords.

We think of European battles (and Japanese too) as exclusively swords. They weren't. Battlefield technology was a complex blend of combined weaponry, tactics and defensive action/capabilities. The most common samurai weapon on the battlefield was the spear. Swords only showed up when the lines collapsed -- and then, most of it was targeting exposed areas.

The problem with any question of comparing East and West is it's often apples and oranges. But done by people who don't understand fruit.

The best summation I EVER heard about armour (BTW armor is what you ride around in (tanks, Bradlies, etc), armour is what you wear) comes from a conversation at the armoury booth at RenFaire.
"If all these things can get through armour, what good is it?"
"It covers your mistakes."

See overwhelmingly armour was not designed to take direct hits -- especially you standing there. Movement, deflection, blocking/shielding and slowing methods are what kept you safe from incoming attacks. When those 'failed,' the now reduced (in power and danger) attacks -- hopefully -- bounced off your final line of defense. Your armour. This is why the "covers your mistakes" comment is so important. You had to be moving, shielding, deflecting and blocking for armour to work. (The only exception is specially designed jousting armour.)

European armour eventually got to the point where swords were pretty ineffective against it (Renaissance and beyond). Hence all the other weapons on the battlefield. But even then prior to that, when you dig up skeleton's from  Middle Age and earlier battlefields you find most of the fatal wounds were working around the armour. (Legs were particularly common targets among Vikings, striking below the maille.)

The other difference is a stab vs. a slash vs. a hack  While a rapier was personal weapon designed to puncture multiple layers clothing, it sucked for punching through western armour. (Odds are it won't get through Japanese either). So a light stabbing weapon couldn't stab through armour. Whereas  a heavier bastard or even a broad sword can punch through the armour itself (but it's not an optimal attack). Far better was to stab through the chinks in the armour.

I've dealt with old sword styles of Japanese swordsmanship. Interestingly enough, many of their attacks are 'underhanded.' That is to say attacks to the inside of the thighs (that can't be well armoured for movement and horse riding.  The others go after neck, shoulders and and elbow areas. Again hard to armour areas. Now that's important because the katana is a cutting weapon, NOT a hacking weapon.  Whereas while not exclusively a hacking weapon, western swords were commonly used as such. With earlier armour, there was a good chance of it chopping it's way through if the guy wasn't moving away from the blow (or had slowed it somehow).

So your question isn't as simple as it might seem.

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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