Monday, August 3, 2009

Viking vs. Samurai

Most of you have already heard my spiel about Viking vs. Samurai as an alternative to the old Pirate vs. Ninja debate. In my argument, vikings are analogous to pirates and samurai are analogous to ninjas, with the advantage that vikings and samurai were both more likely to engage in straight-up battles, whereas the ninjas and pirates preferred assassination and ship-to-ship combat respectively. I think this makes it more of an even match, so rather than debating whether the ninja would slip poison into the pirate's mead before the pirate ship's cannons destroyed the ninja village, we can debate how two warriors going head-to-head would fare. That way, it's actually a discussion of combat techniques rather than a question of which one is cooler.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I recently learned that not only is there a show on Spike TV called Deadliest Warrior, where they match up two historical warriors in a hypothetical, computer-simulated fight, but that one of the matchups they chose was Viking vs. Samurai.

You can see the whole episode for free on Spike's website.

I won't give away the ending, except to say that it was very close. I'm going to take that as an indication of how good a matchup this is! Unlike every other nerd on the internet, I am not a combat expert, and my knowledge of vikings and samurai comes entirely from video games and movies. That said, there were a couple of things that I found interesting...

  • The katana shows why everyone loves it so much. Check out 8:00 in the video to see what it can do. But, that said...

  • The katana barely scratched the viking's chain mail. Even with a beefy swordmaster swinging it, the world's favorite sword had no real impact on simple iron chain mail. It's at about 9:20.

  • The part with the samurai bow (yumi) is insanely cool. Watch that part if you don't watch anything else. It starts at about 27:00.

  • Throughout the video, there were a lot of "bro pats" between the vikings. They really didn't try to fight the stereotype of the Viking as history's frat boy.

  • They probably shouldn't have bothered with the kanabo. I highly doubt this weapon was used very often in historical battles.

  • For all their talk of viking brawn versus samurai skill, the slow motion seemed to back up that generalization. Watch the slow motion longsword at 22:40 to see how the viking longsword was simultaneously less precise and more effective than the katana. (That said, a lot of the difference in technique was probably due to people they found to demonstrate the weapons.)

  • At 24:50 they start throwing viking spears. It's badass. I don't know why they bothered with the two-spears-at-a-time nonsense. One thrown spear was probably much more common and much more effective. Maybe a viking would chuck two spears at a time against a peasant rabble, but if a viking saw a skilled, armored warrior approaching, I'm sure he'd choose to throw one spear at a time.

  • That is, if he threw the spear at all. Both vikings and samurai used spears in combat, so why wasn't regular (non-thrown) spear combat considered? I found this to be the main oversight.

  • I also suspect that the viking shield (32:00) was entered into the computer simulation as a weapon, not a defense measure. Based on the episode, I don't think the computer simulation software can account for shields properly. (That said, based on some other things I've read about the show, the Spartan vs. Ninja episode apparently showed that the Spartan shield made a very effective weapon.)

  • Yes, they pad the show with a lot of talk and they seem to happily embrace every cliche in the way American audience see these two groups. Still, I think they did a fairly good job, and I'm inclined to agree with their results.

  • Nobody ever mentions that samurai were warrior elite, while vikings were the rank-and-file. Samurai armies were mostly made up of non-samurai foot soldiers, while viking armies consisted of, well, vikings.

It's a long show, but worth watching if you have some time to spare. Either way, I am curious about what you think: viking or samurai?


bluefish said...

The Spartan's shield, according to Spike, was his most effective weapon. I can kind of see it: it doesn't have an edge, but it does have a rim that all of that weight is transferred through--right into your face. I saw that episode. It was a good episode.

So then I guess the katana CAN'T cut through a tank? I'm shocked and disappointed.

I also saw the pirate vs. knight episode. I was disappointed. The comparison of broadsword vs cutlass was laughable: they swing a single pig down at both guys. This is the ideal condition for a cut: something coming straight toward you. The pirate cuts halfway through, and the knight completely chops it in half. Their judgment? The swords are even. They don't even consider the reach of it, the relative sword styles, etc. They also give the knight a halberd, which knights really didn't use, instead of the much more logical choice of a lance from horseback. (Of course, it's only logical that the knight ultimately loses, but I think he would have had a real chance with that lance, considering the effectiveness of cavalry well into the modern era.)

But that's another episode. The main weakness of this whole show is that their 'tests' are more about what looks good on camera than about what is actually a stringent, accurate measurement of combat effectiveness. Like, say, doing things more than two or three times.

And they also assume every warrior on the battlefield is carrying around a small arsenal of weapons. Well, I guess since this is basically a video game...

bluefish said...

Plus they don't give similar weapons the same test. How can they accurately compare them if they don't stack them up using the same technique? That's basic scientific method.