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Chivalry and Bushido: The Medieval Knight vs. the Japanese Samurai



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    Two great warrior classes from the past would soon collide within this paper. These two are the European Medieval Knights and the Japanese Samurai.

    Both of these warrior classes were highly regarded during the middle ages, which was a time period they shared on separate continents. Both were formidable elements on the battlefield, as they would inflict fear on a regular foot soldier upon laying sight on them. Both were honored and each served their respective lords and lieges. It may seem that they are equally matched.

    However, one could only prevail over this fantasy-filled battle between the European Medieval knight and the Japanese SamuraiChivalry and Bushido: The Medieval Knight vs. the Japanese Samurai Two historical figures during the Feudal Ages arose, as their respective side’s best warriors. Both would fight for honor, for the protection of their respective lords, and for their kingdom. These two figures also achieved fame in the contemporary period, as many adopted these two warriors into the current pop culture—animation, literature, photography, movies, and the like.

    These two warriors are the Medieval Knights of Europe and The Japanese Samurai. Such an encounter was deemed inevitable.Both were considered as formidable warriors in the past. However, only one should stand out as the most formidable warrior during their time period.

    In order to achieve such a result, it would be best to look into the lives of these two warriors during the Feudal ages, during which they proliferated and received utmost respect. They will be compared and contrasted in terms of the following categories: Their history, weapons and armors, and code of ethics (Chivalry and Bushido) that they practiced. They would be compared in a way, as if they were in battle against each other.So, let the battle between the two classes begin.

    The Medieval Knights of Europe Medieval Knights were a major force in European kingdoms during the middle ages. They served their respective lords (lieges in their case) accordingly, as they have sworn loyalty and protection for these noblemen. Knights would vary from foot soldiers to horsemen, although it has been deemed that knights were more of the latter since they practice the code of chivalry (which will be discussed later on) which was derived from the French’s Chevalerie which meant “skill to handle a horse” (KnightsAndArmor. om 2009).

    So, it could be concluded that knights were part of the cavalry division within medieval armies; probably the highest warrior class in battle. Knighthood has been deemed to be the pinnacle of a man’s life during the Middle Ages (Kalif Publishing, knight-medieval. com). With this being said, the Knight class was highly regarded within the European Kingdoms, as well as on the battlefield.

    It has been mentioned that they may have originated from the cavalry forces and officers of the Ancient world (knight-medieval. om, 2009). They have been branded as highly-skilled warriors, making them a very important asset on the battlefield, running down enemy positions and chasing stragglers—the role of the cavalry class for years to follow. The enemy soldiers would tremble at the sight of them.

    They seemed to inflict fear into the hearts of the enemy, unless they would be able to counter the charging knights. One historical knight during the middle ages was the Black Knight. It was not really much the evil dark Knight that people heard from legends.Rather Black Knights were simply those who did not wish to serve under any lords or lieges, and did whatever he wanted to.

    It can be compared to a Ronin Samurai, a case wherein the samurai has no master (Roninreunited. com 2008). Whichever the case, the Knight has been a major force during the middle ages, especially during the battles. The Japanese Samurai Japan had their own share of formidable warriors which are quite similar to the European Knights.

    These warriors belonged to the Samurai class, which was the highly revered warrior class in Japan—much like the Knight class in Europe.The rise of the Japanese samurai was said to have occurred after the Taika reforms of 646 A. D. , wherein it included land redistribution and heavy new taxes meant to support the elaborate Chinese-style Empire (Szczepanski, About.

    com). In the process of these reforms, many grew wealthy and later required a special class of warriors to protect their wealth—much like that of the medieval lords of Europe. Hence, the Samurai class was created which was initially for the purpose of protecting their master’s wealth.It would later develop as a warrior class who would participate on the battlefield, rather than become security guards for their respective lord or Shogun’s wealth.

    The samurai class, in the years that followed, started to gain respect. Samurai warriors followed their Shoguns unconditionally. They were loyal and honorable which was a perfect combination for warriors and personal bodyguards of the Shogun. In the early Japanese Feudal era, some of these samurais are relatives of the landowners, which would show how much these people valued the concept of family (Szczepanski, About.

    com).It was pretty much different when compared with the system in Europe, as knights were mostly made up of hired hands since relatives usually equate to a higher class, nobles which were higher than knights. As mentioned, these samurai warriors value community more rather than individuality, which their counterparts much practiced during festivals and tournaments. In this case, it could be assumed that the Samurai was slightly more solid as a unit: “Samurai warriors existed in a hierarchical and conformist culture that rewarded obedience and loyalty over individuality” (Clements, thearma.

    rg, 2009). Well, one could not disregard the solidity of medieval knights when acting as a unit, as opposed to the Samurai which apparently acts as a singular force to be reckoned with. Medieval knights were trained to practice in both fields of individual and team play while Samurai grew up on a solid community. Neither of the two could be determined to be better, in terms of their history and their achievements over team play and individuality.

    It can be assumed that similarities and differences were already brewed by tackling their respective histories.However, it may be best to look at the weaponry and armaments available for each warrior classes, after discussing the codes of ethics—namely Chivalry and Bushido—that each practiced. Codes of Ethics: Concepts of Chivalry and Bushido As mentioned earlier, Chivalry was derived from the French word “Chevalerie” which meant skilled in handling horses; although, one cannot mistakenly assume that the knight also practices the duties of a stable keeper. Chivalry is the European Knight’s code of ethics or discipline upon which they would follow.

    Chivalry was simply the art of cavalry warfare which the knight was required to learn.However, it changed through the course of time especially when Christianity proliferated over Europe (KnightsAndArmor. com 2009). It adopted a new meaning upon which entailed attitudes that medieval knights were required to follow unconditionally.

    They were to serve their lord, defend their religion, and provide protection for their country. They were ideal warriors during that time in Europe, as they displayed loyalty, courtly love, and honor for their respective colors. The origin of this code of ethics has been extensively debated upon.One side would claim that the French started chivalry during the 12th century, which may have actually been true, while others believed that Arabians brought the concept to Europe through Muslim Spain (Shelton 2003).

    Whichever the originality originated from, Chivalry help people visualize how the knight acted during that time period; a lot of these were adopted into the big screens. However, it has been said that the code rarely affected most knights as members of this warrior class practice plunder, torture, looting, and slaughter even when they swore loyalty to the code (KnightsAndArmor. om 2009). These two different angles have created confusion.

    However, it still stands to this date that knights are in-fact the finest warriors during their time in the European Chapter of the middle ages; although, there have been modern films which adopted the negative conception of knights which can be considered accurate. Knights may have been separated under the two categories depending on how they would act during periods of war and peace. The Bushido is the Samurai’s version of Chivalry, or at least most of it entailed similar practices that the warriors needed to follow.Basically, the Bushido is the way of the warrior, wherein its philosophy required loyalty to the master, behaving ethically, and practicing rigid self-discipline (Ghare 2007).

    These requirements make up the samurai’s way of life during his time of peace, and when called upon to battle, he then adopts one more attitude: the acceptance of death. The samurai was ready to die for his master, and at the same time he expects to die in the line of duty (Friday 2007). This attitude seemed to circulate upon the concept of honor, for it is mentioned that it was honorable to die in battle than to surrender in order to live for another day.Ronin samurais were a different case as they are without a master.

    Hence, they are unwilling to sacrifice their lives, unless they would believe that it would uphold their honor (or lost honor). These samurai do not practice looting, pillaging, and torture for these violates the Bushido or their code of ethics; unless their master would order them to, which rarely or never really happens. If compared to the medieval knights of Europe, the well-disciplined Japanese Samurais outclass the knights of Europe, with respect to maintaining their honor in both times of peace and war.In terms of loyalty, the Samurais slightly outscore the European knights, as some European knights would tend to dishonor the code of chivalry upon which restricts them from committing things like looting.

    So, it is one-zero in favor of the Samurais. However, it might all change when the category of weaponry is tackled. European vs. Japanese Weaponry When medieval weaponry becomes the topic, an array of images involving swords, shields, and armors would be generated by the mind.

    The size difference between Europeans and Japanese could make much of a difference, in terms of imagining the size of their weaponry.The Europeans would mainly rely on strength, since they are bigger, while the Japanese would rely on speed when on the battlefield. First, the size between the two races must be compared so it would be easier to understand as to why they have such weapons. Size was definitely on the European knight’s side as he is well above that of the Japanese samurai: “16th century samurai armor examples are sized for men around 5’3″-5’5″, while European armor from the same period and earlier would fit men ranging from just under 6′ to about 6’5” (Clements, thearma.

    org, 2009).It is pretty obvious that the size of the person matches the size of his weapon and armor. Hence, it can be concluded that the European knights had bigger and heavier armors, as well as huge weapons to purposely slice, crush, maim, or destroy the armor and flesh of their enemies. In the case of the Samurai, their armors and swords were much lighter, and they did not wish to carry a shield when they charge into battle.

    They needed to be light to improve their speed and agility. As Clements mentioned, the armor is a deciding factor in swordplay (thearma. rg 2009). This means that if a knight or a samurai was not trained to wear such armor, then he would not be as agile and strong as the others would be.

    Clements also mentioned that the European armor was forged in order to protect knights from swords, blades, and other weapons, the Japanese sword was crafted for slicing through armor (thearma. org 2009). However, the Japanese armor should not be underestimated for it can protect its user from the sharp edges of a katana (the Japanese sword), as well as arrows and spearheads.The European armor was designed to purposely deflect blunt attacks, as Clements mentioned, and to reduce the slice damage produce by sharp-edged weapons in the form of Chain mail(e)s (thearma.

    org 2009). The general conclusion between their armors is the fact that European armors protect its users better from swords, axes, and blunt objects, while the Japanese armors would be better protected from slashes, arrowheads, and spearheads. In terms of weaponry, the Knight would definitely be mounted, with a lance as the initial weapon and a sword as his secondary.The Samurai would have one or two katana as his primary weapon(s).

    Conclusion: Who would win the epic battle? As far as the comparisons between the two went, both had their advantages and disadvantages in the battlefield. They also had different practices, since they belonged to two very different cultures. Their lifestyles were different, as it reflected their culture as well. However, both served their lords with loyalty and honor, as they would both fight for their lord, beliefs, and their kingdom.

    In the process, they would be greatly revered by people.

    Chivalry and Bushido: The Medieval Knight vs. the Japanese Samurai. (2017, May 04). Retrieved from

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