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Subject: Personal combat challenges in Samurai army warfare? rss

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Kent Reuber
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Most Samurai battle games and miniatures rules that I've seen have some sort of provision for leaders to challenge one another to personal combat. I was curious how often that happened historically. Can anyone cite battles in which a personal combat challenge was issued?
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AKA Halston Thrombeaux
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I think it was pretty common, but the only one I can actually cite is the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima, where I'm fairly certain that the Uesugi retainer Kakizaki killed Takeda's Tenkyu in a personal duel.

It really went to the heart of samurai notions of powerful individuals making or breaking a large battle, as capturing the head of an important figure in a duel had a profound effect on the morale of both sides

(edit: switched names)
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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I recommend reading the Tale of the Heike in its entirety, it's full of stuff like this. "I am so-and-so, who will fight me? yadda yadda" and then he took seven heads until he caught an arrow in the eye.
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Kent Reuber
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sdiberar wrote:
I recommend reading the Tale of the Heike in its entirety, it's full of stuff like this. "I am so-and-so, who will fight me? yadda yadda" and then he took seven heads until he caught an arrow in the eye.


Is this just a challenge in the midst of a melee? I was originally thinking of the situation where two opposing units get in the vicinity of another, a challenge is issued, then two champions fight it out while the rest of the units stand apart and watch.

The miniatures rules Chrysanthemum Throne actually includes two different mechanisms:

CT wrote:
Characters vs. characters. When one unit with an attached character contacts another, a character in the charging
(friendly) unit may at their discretion attempt to engage any character attached to the enemy unit being charged. Locating the enemy
character will entail wading through the fight and may thus succeed or fail based on the abilities of the friendly character and the
number of men between him and the other character.


CT wrote:
Challenges. In their own phase, daimyos and champions may challenge in an attempt to buy their own clan time to retreat
and reform, or to retire in good order (an optional rule). To do this, they announce that they are challenging for their clan.
Immediately move any friendly same-clan unit with any edge of its base within 6 inches of any corner of the challenger’s unit’s base
up to their full movement rate backwards. This can for example be used to get a clan on line that has overpursued and now finds itself
split up in an unfavorable way. The challenger’s figure is then placed in contact with any enemy unit that was withdrawn from and a
character results roll is made. If the character is killed, remove them from play. All enemy units may then move normally in their next
phase. If the result is an “heroic death” the character is removed from play, but all enemy units that were withdrawn from may not
move in their next phase - they have essentially stopped to watch the action and admire the skill of the combatants. If the result is an
“escape”, the character remains in place and repeats the process the next phase. The challenge continues until the character is killed or
until his newly reformed clan charges back into battle (at which point he becomes attached the unit that relieves him).
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Joseph
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kentreuber wrote:
Most Samurai battle games and miniatures rules that I've seen have some sort of provision for leaders to challenge one another to personal combat. I was curious how often that happened historically. Can anyone cite battles in which a personal combat challenge was issued?


Here's my favorite, from the wiki regarding Uesugi Kenshin. It's not a personal challenge, but rather a personal duel. I've seen this account in a few different places, giving some credence to it's credibility. I would suggest that personal battles were certainly possible, and did occur from time to time, but don't recall specific challenges being issued. I do get the feeling however, that one's army was considered an extension of oneself on the battlefield. Defeating the army was the first thought, and the opposing generals and daimyo were dealt with afterwards if they did not fall in battle.

******

Uesugi and Takeda
What followed was the beginning of a rivalry which became legendary. In the first conflict between the two, both Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen were very cautious, only committing themselves to indecisive skirmishes. Over the years, there would eventually be a total number of five such engagements at the famous site of Kawanakajima, though only the fourth would prove to be a serious, all-out battle between the two.

In 1561, Kenshin and Shingen fought the biggest battle they would fight, the fourth battle of Kawanakajima. Kenshin used an ingenious tactic: a special formation where the soldiers in the front would switch with their comrades in the rear, as those in the frontline became tired or wounded. This allowed the tired soldiers to take a break, while the soldiers who had not seen action would fight on the frontlines. This was extremely effective and because of this Kenshin nearly defeated Shingen. In this battle is the tale of Kenshin riding up to Shingen and slashing at him with his sword. Shingen fended off the blows with his iron war fan or tessen. However, Kenshin failed to finish Shingen off. A Takeda retainer drove him away, and Shingen made a counter-attack. The Uesugi army retreated and many drowned in a nearby river while others were cut down by Takeda's generals.


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Joseph
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Perhaps a more balanced view of what I posted earlier.

Site:
http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Arakawa_Nag...

Arakawa was Uesugi Kenshin's Kagemusha (double) during the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima. During the battle, Takeda Shingen and Kenshin purportedly fought in one-on-one combat, however, there is a evidence that the man who attacked Takeda Shingen was not, in fact, Uesugi Kenshin at all, but his Kagemusha, Arakawa Izu no Kami. According to the Kenshin Nenpu (Kenshin Chronological Record), Arakawa, who was dressed as Kenshin, rode at Shingen and attacked. Shingen was unable to draw his sword, and so blocked with his war fan. Hara Ôsumi no Kami ran to Shingen's aid, and drove off the mounted warrior.

To further confuse the issue, according to the Hokuetsu Gunki, at a later date after the battle, Shingen recieved a visit from a monk by the name of Tenkai who would later become an advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tenkai would tell Ieyasu that Shingen told him during thier meeting that "the man who crossed swords with Kenshin that day was not me, but someone who looked like me". Meaning that apparently it wasn't Shingen but his Kagemusha that fought off the attack.

Although the Koyo Gunkan states that it was combat between Shingen and Kenshin, there is little evidence to support this. The issue is further complicated by the fact that Shingen and Kenshin had never met face to face, and therefore did not know what the other looked like. So it is possible that the "famous" clash between Shingen and Kenshin during the 4th battle of Kawanakajima was in fact a clash between thier respective Kagemusha instead.

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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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kentreuber wrote:
Is this just a challenge in the midst of a melee? I was originally thinking of the situation where two opposing units get in the vicinity of another, a challenge is issued, then two champions fight it out while the rest of the units stand apart and watch.


"stand apart and watch" sounds like literary license, but yeah, it's more or less the same thing. For most of the samurai period, calling any collection of fighting mean "units" is an exagerration. Personal combat was the beginning, middle, and end of most samurai exploits. Various catcalls and challenges were de rigeur before the actual clash of arms, including things like impromptu speeches on prowess and archery contests. If the literature is anything to go by, that is...

By the end of the Sengoku period, this had changed, but then we are no longer really talking about samurai.
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Colin Hunter
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By the sengoku jidai (16th C), challenges were a lot rarer, japanese armies were more modern and less tradition bound. Even the supposed fight between Shingen and Kenshin (as fallout fan points out likely another samurai), wasn't a challenge, but merely a sort of chance encounter. To further show this, the Uesugi double was forced back, by Shingen's bosy guard, hardly a ritualistic challenge then. According to the story shingen never even got his sword out and was protected with his fan and armour.

I think western romanticism of actual challenges is massively over stated, especially in the 16th Century. However previous to that it was much more common as warefare was far more individualistic. So before the Sengoku Jidai, I suspect it was more common.

Having said this challenges did happen, the main example I can think ouf is that they were often used to cover an army's retreat. At Anegawa several samurai held up the Oda pursuit with their lives, but challenging various samurai. They slew several low level Oda samurai before dying. It is hard to tell here whether they really were challenges or if a small group of samurai simply covered the Army's retreat.

If you do read samurai history though, they are not as common as one might think. Individual acts of extreme and often suicidal bravery, very common. Ritualistic one on one combat, not so common.

edit: One last point, is that I find challenge rules incredibly frustrating in games like Ran and Samurai an era where they weren't common.
 
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Mark Luta
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Champions fighting to decide an issue certainly occurred in both East and West. Among other reasons, trained armies were horrendously expensive to field, so losses to these would naturally want to be minimized by their leaders. Negotiation would be preferable to fighting, and single combat would be preferable to a pitched battle.

The concept of Right over Might is pretty universal, the gods will support their own and so on. The same attitude implies trial by combat produces a valid result, for example. On the other hand, one has to believe that if two armies are standing their facing each other, the side losing the challenge might not be so willing to quit the field simply because their (former) champion had an off day.

There also surely seems to have been for some time a class distinction even on the battlefield, nobles would fight nobles, knights would attack knights, and so on. This would have made that sort of personal combat fairly common, and of course where the duellists involved were famous, the troops nearby would tend to stop and watch. Even if these 'ritualistic rules' were more obeyed in the breach than in general, there are still enough stories of them that they surely happened (David and Goliath being a particularly famous one).
 
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