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The samurai was a class of society in Japan that last up until it was abolished by the Meiji Restoration. The samurai were required to serve a lord daimyo and were expected to fight and if necessary die in his service. Samurai are often refered to as Samurai Knights due to their parallels with the Western knight.

The word samurai means 'to serve' and is a later term that was preceded by the term 'bushi'. Early words for samurai refer to their use of the bow as a primary weapon in combat.

Samurai were expected to be educated and artistic, and above all loyal to their lord. It was not forbidden, but frowned upon to take a wife. The adoption of another into the samurai's family was an accepted practise and samurai could often change their names if they saw fit.

A lower class of samurai existed called the ashigaru (light feet) and formed the bulk of fighting armies in the Warring States Period.


Combat was often conducted from horseback using naginata (glaive), yari (spear) and tachi (a longer version of the katana). The uchigatana or katana was developed and to some extent replaced the tachi. With the end of the Warring States Period the katana became the primary sword of the samurai. Despite popular mythology, the katana was not the primary melee weapon of the samurai during war. That role was taken by naginata and yari. However, the sword was the symbol of the samurai.

Generals daimyo often directed battle from the rear, often seated giving instructions to messengers to relay. At least one general was attacked whilst still seated by mounted samurai. At the end of battle generals would view the heads of slain enemies as they sat on spiked boards.

With the introduction of the tanegashima (matchlock musket) in the 16th century warfare changed removing most archers from the field.

After the Tokugawa Shogunate began wars became less common in Japan and the samurai fought reelatively few mass engagements. As a result the tachi became very rare and the katana became most recognisable symbol of the class. During this time, the swords arts underwent a change in focus from war to duelling. It is from this time most samurai drama and popularly mythology has developed.

Samurai wore armour constructed of leather or iron covered with a lacquer. This armour was primarily of lamellar construction but later forms existed with larger riveted plates. Popular myth also erroneously believes samurai wore armour made of wood or bamboo. Foreign forms of armour were prized.

Famous Samurai

  • Tokugawa Ieyasu - united Japan under his shogunate with his major victory at Sekigahara where 200,000 samurai took the field.
  • Mushashi Miyamoto - believed to be the greatest swordsman and developer of the nito (twin sword style) of Japanese swordsmanship, supposedly after viewing two Portugese sailors sparring with rapier and main gauche.

Japanese Knights and Masters of the SCA

  • Rakkurai of Kamakura
  • Fuyuzuru Tadashi
  • Komura Shimitsu
  • Sakura Tetsuo
  • Ishiyama Namban Tadashi (deceased)
  • Kobayashi Yutaka
  • Ogami Akira (Ino Ogami)
  • Sakura kita Maikaru
  • Atai Yoshina
  • Tsunetomi-no-Inazuma Tsuneo (Badouin MacKenzie of Balfour)
  • Yasugawa Shiotani noh Okami
  • Kikuchi no Tsurunaga (Kai de Ravenglas)
  • Takechi no Musashi
  • Akitsuki Yoshimitsu
  • Yumitori no Kiyoshi (Aylwin Graham the Flamehaired)
  • Kageyama Yasuo
  • Tanaka Raiko
  • Koga Yoshitsune
  • Takamatsu Sadamitsu no kami Tadayoshi
  • Sekimura no Minamoto Akiranaga (Alexandyr)
  • Sato Jiro of the House of Kuji
  • Oikawa Katsu
  • Kamizumi Monenori Jirou
  • Magariki Katsuichi no Koredono
  • Kitakaze Tatsu Raito