The classical European Knight would generally defeat the Classical Samurai of feudal Japan in single combat
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This seems to be a popular topic within wargaming groups. In those conversations, European knights are apparently somewhat favored but I note that analysis seems to assume that one knight and one samurai are poised for battle within striking distance. In hand-to-hand melee, military historians seem to favor the knight's heavier armor over the Samurai's superior mobility. I contend that starting off the experiment with contestants already engaged in hand-to-hand effectively removes the major advantage of mobility to begin with. That is, given a Samurai's superior speed on both foot & horseback, why would a Samurai ever close with a heavily armored knight?
Few European Knights went into battle trained or armed with a ranged weapon: that was the function of another class of warrior. Samurai, however, were regularly trained and equipped with a composite bow. Although such a bow was unlikely to penetrate armor it would nevertheless afford the Samurai a major range advantage.
Our Samurai had all the options in combat with a slow-moving EuroManTank. With superior speed on foot or horse, the Samurai could seek high ground or other advantages in the landscape (a castle perhaps). The Knight would be forced to pursue at greater expenditure of energy. If the Knight tried to rest or seek high ground, the Samurai could employ his bow to keep the Knight moving. In an open landscape, a mounted archer can escape any heavy cavalry attack and test and draw any non-ranged defense. Military history is replete with the destruction of superior heavy forces in fruitless pursuit of mounted archers. Darius vs. the Scythians is one famous example. Crassus vs. the Persians is another.
Consider this: Feudal Japan only engaged with foreign armies in three short wars. Of these, only one enemy also engaged with European Knights: the dread Mongols.
Although the Japanese were significantly outnumbered by the Mongols in almost every engagement, samurai beat back two major invasions (1274 CE & 1281 CE) by the Khans. At the Battle of Iki Island, 10,000 Samurai attacked 100,000 Mongols drove them off the island over the course of 4 days. Another 5 days later, the Samurai took 20-30,000 Mongol prisoners at the Battle of Taka Island, after which the great Horde never returned to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Contrast this with Subatai's invasion of Hungary 40 years before. Some 50,000 Europeans led by the Knights Templar surprised Mongol Commander Batu crossing the bridge at the Battle of the Sajo River. In spite of a punishing ambush, the Mongol's superior maneuverability allowed the Mongols to regroup, reinforce, and surround the Templars the next afternoon. The Europeans lost half their army before fleeing, followed by a sack that wiped out most of the inhabitants of the Hungarian plains.
When it was Mongols vs. Knights Templar, the Mongols wiped the Knights out but fast. 40 years later, when it was Mongols vs. Samurai, the Samurai slapped the Mongols down hard. This is all speculation, of course, and vagaries of the battlefield defy any dead certainties but by the transitive property of ass-kicking using the one real world comparison we have available, the Samurai proved superior.
Samurai beats Knight. Please vote Con.