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Thread: Historical curiosity

  1. #1
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    Default Historical curiosity

    Hi. A bunch of us Sword Forumites got into a discussion wondering if a certain oral tale of Toby Threadgill's could be true or, at any rate, had ever been documented. Mr. Threadgill made these observations at the Bugei forum, and noted they had been passed on by his teacher, not by books or other corroborated sources. We amateurs scoured our (admittedly general) history books and couldn't find anything; can anyone verify or disporve this story or recommend some sources to try and corroborate it?

    Regrettably, none of us speak/read Japanese or Portuguese (at least, not well enough to dig through stacks of these nations' archives...)

    The posts of Mr. Threadgill's excrepted (apparently there was some tension about it as well, from someone who called him out on it or something. I'm not sure - Mr. Threadgill seemed vary gracious and offered disclaimers...):

    "'First off there has never been a recorded duel between a Western swordsman and a Eastern and my personal thought is that there never was'

    "Well....wrong'o, sort of. Maybe no recorded personal duel per se but the story about the Portugese being banned from bringing swords (rapiers) ashore during the extensive trading exchanges in Kyushu is documented. The reason for the ban was linked to the fact that the Portugese originally cut down so many samurai. The local samurai responded by having new swords made which were much lighter than the battle blades they normally carried. Later, another encounter occurred and a virtual small scale war ensued with many Portugese dying in the skirmish. I know about this because a distant relative of my teacher actually took part in this bit of historical trivia. My teacher (Takamura Yukiyoshi) still owned his relatives sword which was made specifically in response to the Portugese sword tactics the samurai encountered in Kyushu. Like the famous Kogarasu Maru this sword was double edged from about 5 inches to the kissaki but much lighter and faster. This design was adopted to allow a swift backcut like the ones the Portugese employed so effectively against the samurai with rapiers. Once armed with swords of this style the samurai turned the tables even on the Portugese in the second enounter . This is when the ban was finally instituted. The whole trading relationship was threatened. The Japanese needed the guns from the Portugese and the Portugese needed the gold from the Japanese. Duels were doing neither side any good at this point so the Portugese were banned from bringing weapons ashore. Really the only possible option as the Portugese were on Japanese territory.

    "...From what little I understand, the original confrontation resulted due to a serious breach of protocol by a Portugese officer towards a Japanese official. He was summarily cut down by group of samurai. A party of sailors experienced at swordplay hearing of the incident went ashore armed with rapiers intent on a confrontation. Another incident of this type occurred (or was instigated) but the Portugese were prepared and avenged their shipmate by quickly cutting down several samurai. Evidently several other similar incidents occurred in a short period of time which shook the proud samurai . Things calmed as the Portugese were temporarily confined to their ship. Never to forget such a breach of honor the samurai set about a crafting a suitable response. Some time later small contingents of Portugese were allowed ashore and always came armed. The samurai insulted by the previous incident and angered by the defiance of the armed Portugese instigated another incident. During this confrontation many of the Portugese died or were seriously wounded.

    "Both Japanese and Portugese officals clamped down to prevent any further misadventures so the Portugese were banned from coming ashore armed in any way. The local samurai were likewise ordered under penalty of death not to draw upon an unarmed Portugese sailor.

    "I think I've got this story right. It was related to me by Takamura Yukiyoshi Sensei several years ago in relation to a double edged sword I previously mentioned. How much of this story is fact or conjecture I cannot be sure of, but the premise does seem plausable given other accounts of this or similar incidents.

    "...I've always wondered about Takamura's reference to rapiers in this story because it didn't make sense to me either. I'm not sure he understood the different western weapons very well. I once tried to explain to him that a rapier was not curved or as hefty as a sabre. ( I personally thought they might have been officer's wearing sabres) I don't think he got it. All western swords were rapiers to him.

    "I also believe his reference to sailors was generic in nature. To him you would be a 'sailor' whether you rowed a dingy or captained 'ship of the line.'

    "The net out of this story is regardless of what these guys were using as weapons, they worked fairly well against the samurai ... so much so that the samurai quickly adjusted their tactics and weaponry ....with satisfactory results."

  2. #2
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    I seem to recall a to-the-death duel between a Japanese and German officer near Tientsin in late 1914 or early 1915.

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