Monday, February 22, 2010

Deadliest Warrior: Samurai!

So, why are Samurai so awesome? Because they’re Samurai, duh! But in all seriousness, everybody’s familiar with these guys, the elite warrior class of feudal Japan, who followed the warrior code of Bushido, and practiced the kicking of asses and the taking of names.

But apart from being awesome in battle, Bushido placed an emphasis on loyalty, and self-sacrifice. The seven virtues of Bushido are Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, and Loyalty. To be called Samurai, a warrior had to practice these in his daily life. Honor was so important to a Samurai that they had a tradition of ritual suicide, practiced by defeated warriors to regain any honor they may have lost.

The act of suicide, called seppuku, involved the Samurai cutting open his own abdomen in a very dramatic (not to mention painful) fashion. Death was dealt to opponents by cutting off their head, or some other blow that would be quick and efficient. They weren’t big into making people suffer, excepting themselves, apparently.

So, on Deadliest Warrior, Tetsuro Shigematsu, a descendant of Samurai, and Brett Chan, a master of Samurai weapons showed us what Samurai weapons could do. The weapons tested were the Katana, the Naginata, the Yumi bow, and the Kanabo.

The Katana is perhaps to most idolized and idealized of swords. And for good reason: It’s awesome! Over two feet long and made of glittering steel, it’s basically a giant razor blade. It’s made with a technique of folding the steel over and over again so it becomes extra strong. Some blades don’t even need to be sharpened, so I’ve heard. But you definitely want to keep them clean, since human blood corrodes steel. One way swords were tested was on human bodies. They were graded by how many people, usually criminals, they could slash through with one stroke. On the show, they tested a blade against some dead pigs. It cut clean through two of them, and partway through a third.

Other swords the Samurai used were the wakizashi, the tanto, and the odachi. The wakizashi was about half the length of the katana, and the Samurai would draw it in situations when the Katana’s length was a hindrance. It was also the sword he would use to commit seppuku. Miyamoto Musashi was famous for using both swords at once. In battle, not to kill himself.

The tanto was basically a knife, but it had the same basic shape as other Samurai swords. At the other end was the odachi, which literally meant “great big sword.” Appropriate as it actually was a great big sword. An odachi was typically five feet or longer. It was often used for ceremonial purposes, and rare was the warrior who could handle such a long blade. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to start something with the guy who could.

The Naginata combined the slashing power of a Katana with the safety of a lance’s distance. It was a spear with a short curved blade, and it was the second most popular weapon of a Samurai. Similar weapons were also used by Buddhist monks in Japan. A guy by the name of Saito Musashibo Benkei used a Naginata to hold off a bunch of guys bent on killing him and his master Minomoto no Yoshitsune. The master had gone to commit seppuku and requested that Saito hold the door while he killed himself, and hold it he did. The guys trying to kill him finally just shot him with a bunch of arrows, but even that didn’t seem to bother him as he just stood there. Somebody finally got the courage to go up to him, and they realized that he’d freaking died while still standing!

Another weapon tested was the Yumi, although at one point in their history, the Samurai abandoned the bow entirely, considering it an ashigeru, or "common" weapon. But it was probably featured on the show to give the Samurai some kind of projectile weapon. A Yumi has the same basic shape as any other bow, but the handgrip is further down on the stave. Shigematsu demonstrated it’s accuracy by shooting out the eyes of a dummy at twenty-five feet. He also shot targets at forty-five feet, calling his shots and making his mark each time.

The final weapon featured on the show was the Kanabo, a weapon that has near-mythical status in Japan. Very few warriors wielded it due to its cumbersome weight, but it was often featured in pictures of Oni demons. In case you didn’t know, Oni in Japan were kind of like ogres are to Westerners; really, really big. The Kanabo was a wooden club with metal studs covering most of the shaft. In the tests, it busted a Viking shield, and shattered the femur of a cow. Imagine what that kind of power would do to your head.

Samurai were also famous for their distinctive armor. Made of leather and metal, it was designed to deflect blows, rather than block them. A very effective design, since if a blow was strong enough to break your armor, it would be better to have it slide off of you instead of standing there and taking it.

So, all told, I’m not upset that the Samurai won, even though I was rooting for the Viking. I mean, if being a Samurai can make Tom Cruise look awesome, who am I to argue with their awesomeness?

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