The Japanese Katana and the European Longsword. Was one superior to the other or is it apples and oranges? Let’s take a look at the development and characteristics of each one.
The Japanese katana is designed to slice and cut. To accomplish this, the edge must be left very hard from the heat-treating process to retain a very sharp edge. This very hard edge is thus brittle. The katana was not designed to encounter hard materials such as metal armor and other metal weapons on a regular basis. Japanese armor traditionally consists of cloth, wicker, horn, bamboo, and a minimal amount of metal. Japanese sword techniques have traditionally emphasized attack rather than defense with the sword. Position, timing and movement are the defenses of a samauri. The curvature of the blade allows for efficient and deadly draw cuts and slices.
The European longsword by comparison is designed to cut, chop, and stab. It would encounter very hard materials such as swords and other medieval weapons and armor mostly made of metal. To be able to withstand this abuse and not break, the European longsword had to have a great degree of toughness. This was done by tempering the blade to a greater degree of flexibility while reducing the edge-holding ability slightly. The longsword is a weapon with as much emphasis on offense as defense both in its design and technique of use. Position, timing and movement are every bit as important to a European warrior as they are to a Japanese warrior, however the European sword was designed to serve in a far greater capacity of defense.
One design is not inherently superior to the other. Neither is the level of craftsmanship or precision superior one to the other. The European sword and the Japanese katana are simply crafted to different sets of design parameters. Would an English knight in Japan be slaughtered? It was every bit as likely that a Japanese samurai would be in England. In the duels that my brother and I have enacted, using occidental and oriental techniques and equipment, we have not seen a clear demonstrable superiority of one over the other. I happen to love both western and eastern martial arts and their equipment.