We will now address the issues that we brought up in part 1, namely getting past all of that armour. Before we even begin there, however, we must acknowledge something: confronting a fully armed and armoured samurai is really, really, really silly! With that in mind, the best ways to kill a samurai were anything which didn’t involve actually fighting him, in full armour, at close quarters such as…
paying someone else to do your dirty work for you is really a very good idea, especially when taking on a man of the ruling warrior class of feudal Japan. Assassinations are well documented and the most successful are those that don’t take on the Samurai in their armoured form. The prime example of this is the attempted assassination of Oda Nobunaga whilst on campaign during the sengoku jidai. A lone sharpshooter took two shots at him but failed to successfully kill the ascendant warlord, who was perhaps saved both by his armour, and by the presence of other bodyguards who, giving chase to the would-be assassin, ensured he could not make subsequent attempts on their lord’s life.
2. Catch him while he’s not wearing armour!
As we discussed in the last article, and in for the love of the Japanese sword, the swordsmanship of several ryuha is based upon unarmoured sword combat. With this in mind, hitting a soft fleshy thing with a three foot razor is unilaterally more likely to bring about death than hitting a load of metal plates with the same weapon. All of a sudden strikes to the head, chest, and arms; as well as thrusts to the throat and body, all become options which can be taken advantage of. Of course we would still rather…
3. Shoot him!
a) With a Gun. Ok, so Nobunaga’s assassination was a failure, however, after the advent of gunpowder and European expertise in its employment on the battlefield became commonplace on the battlefields of the sengoku jidai, gunshot wounds became a leading cause of death amongst soldiers of all classes. Matchlock weapons of the time, had many disadvantages, the long reload times, the open pan firing system and the open match that had to be wound around the wrist in order for the weapon to be operated correctly. On the other hand, the shot from these guns could well penetrate armour, and if they hit exposed flesh, caused gaping wounds owing to the massive caliber of the rounds used at the time. Massed matchlock fire was precisely what defeated Takeda Katsuyori at Nagashino in 1575.
b) With a Yumi. So you can’t get your hands on a gun, and before the sengoku period when tanegashima were mass produced in staggering quantities to arm, not only samurai, but mainly ashigaru on the battlefield, they were a comparative rarity. What had been around since even before the advent of the samurai class and the institutions of Jito and Shugo which had preceded them was the bow and arrow. Even the arrow heads were specifically designed in a horseshoe shape to penetrate armour or even to eviscerate the lacing holding the plates together.
4. Use a long weapon!
Now that we are in the realms of close quarters fighting with an armoured samurai (a situation in which you really do not want to find yourself!) you need to maximise your advantages. Long weapons like the yari and the naginata allow you to keep your distance whilst attacking. Some yari are specifically designed for getting in between the lamellar plates of Japanese armour, and therefore may be of particular use in these situations.
5. Go for the gaps!
Ok so you’ve managed to put yourself in a situation where armoured combat is inevitable, you’ve run out of arrows and shot, and you decided that your yari was too heavy and you probably wouldn’t need it today anyway so you left it at home. You are now reduced to the first of your sidearms, the longsword. This, as we discussed in the first article, will have little effect against the armoured plates of Japanese armour. Because of this, you must aim for the gaps in the armour. This is also a highly advisable tactic for the use of long weapons, but is absolutely imperative when considering using a sword in such a situation. That said, the weak points can, of course, be exploited.
Of course, Japanese armour would serve very little purpose if it did nothing at all to protect its wearer. With that in mind, one often needs to create an opening, goading an opponent to attack in order to expose the weaknesses in the armour using kamae such as those demonstrated below.
That done, as your opponent move in to attack, you may finally have the opportunity to attack the weaknesses in the armour, going for targets like:
The inside of the wrist or forearm,
Under the Armpit (although there are examples of suits of armour with specific extra plates that attempt to counter this issue),
The gap between the Kusa-zuri and the do,
Sliding up underneath the throat guard (difficult but doable…),
The inside of the thigh, demonstrated here with a naginata,
On the subject of long weapons, shots to the groin are still effective (call it a minor design flaw) against many types of armour,
Of course, sometimes, long isn’t the way to go, or isn’t an option, in which case shortening things down can be useful, the same points can all be attacked by a skilled individual with a tanto, often from a grappling situation,
The armour also has lots of useful hand-holds that you can use to manipulate your opponent, and this is where the grappling techniques found in jujutsu schools come into play, to take an interesting example, the classic kote-gaeshi, found in aikido as well as many styles of jujutsu actually works better because of the design of the kote, the plates on the back of the hand essentially applying pressure to the whole wrist simultaneously as it cannot bend in the normal, supple fashion,
And of course, once your man is on the floor the rule is once again to go for the gaps with your tanto…
So the fully armed and armoured Samurai was a dangerous opponent, and of course, the suggestions that we give here are subject to the classic fallacy of martial arts practice; uke being very nice and doing what we ask him to so that we can get a pretty picture (credit to Alex on that one, I don’t think we’ve ever seen you sweat so much in your life!). Our point still stands, however, that pretty much any way of dispatching a samurai is preferable to facing one, in full armour on the battlefield, but even in that situation, victory is not impossible if you know your opponent’s weaknesses. If anything, this experiment has highlighted to me the nature of the deficiencies in Japanese armour that were never worked out because of the ultra-conservative nature of both Japanese political and artistic society at the time. Having evolved from armour made for mounted warriors, some of its deficiencies are understandable, the lack of protection around the inner thigh and the openness of the feet (except for very high quality suits which did occasionally have proper “shoes”) and similarly the level of flexibility in the torso necessary for horseback archery which accounts for the gap between the do and kusa-zuri. That these deficiencies were never dealt with, however, meant that Japanese armour never reached the pinnacle of protective capabilities that suits designed for combat on foot in the west had already done by the 15th Century, and is therefore the greatest source of opportunity for one to exploit if faced with the prospect of hand to hand combat with an armoured samurai.