The Samurai Were Not Invincible: Warrior Notes By John Steele

There is something of a cult in the West about the physical invincibility of the Asian martial artist. This cult, which developed from those who identified Bruce Lee with his screen persona,  took a beating with Mixed Martial Arts, where classical systems got whipped, but here is still some of the cult lingering on in the area of melee weapons, such as with the samurai and the mystical katana.

“Humans have been known to engage in fights since the earliest of times. History mentions thousands of battles in glorious historical writings. But there are some battles which were fought only once and were never repeated again. The 1582 Cagayan battles are examples of one such set of instances. It was a series of clashes between Spanish colonizers of the Philippines and Wokou (Japanese pirates). Also, it is the only recorded combat involving European regular soldiers and Samurai warriors. This unique battle pitted  musketeers, pikemen and Spanish rodeleros against mostly Japanese and Chinese merchants, fishermen, rōnin, and soldiers.

Around 1573, the Philippine island of Luzon developed into a business area where Japanese began to exchange gold for silver. This exchange was carried out in the provinces of Cagayan, Metro Manila, and Pangasinan, specifically the Lingayen area. However, in 1580, a Japanese corsair manned by a ragtop group of pirates forced the natives of Cagayan into submission. They also asked the natives to swear to them allegiance.

At that time, the Philippines was under Spanish rule. On June 16, 1582, the Governor-General of the Philippines, Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, wrote to the King of Spain, Philip II. A part of his letter mentioned: “The Japanese are the most bellicose people around here. They bring artillery and many arquebusiers and pikemen. They use defensive iron weapons for the body. All of which they have by industry of Portuguese, who have shown it to harm their souls… (sic.)”

Upon receiving the letter, the King of Spain sent Captian Juan Pablo de Carrión to bring the situation under control. Carrión used the technical superiority of Western ships and cannoned a Wokou ship in the South China Sea. In response to the attack the pirate leader, Tay Fusa, sailed for the Philippine archipelago with ten ships. To counteract that, Captain Carrión managed to gather forty Spanish soldiers, armed to the teeth, along with seven boats. Out of the seven boats, five were small support vessels, one was a light ship, the San Yusepe, and another one was a galley, the Capitana.

After gathering the Spanish soldiers and boats, Carrión started sailing. As they passed the Bogueador cape, they encountered a Japanese pirate ship, the Wokou Sampan, which had arrived recently at the coast. The pirate sailors had been abusing the native population of that region. The Japanese ships were much larger and their number was far superior, yet the Spanish captain engaged in a naval battle with the sampan. The Spanish troops even managed to board the ship. But on boarding the ship, they faced armored Japanese ronin (Samurai without a lord or master) weilding katanas.

The deck of sampan soon turned into a battlefield. The Spanish pikemen were at the front, and the arquebusiers as well as musketeers at the rear. On the deck of the ship, because the Japanese were superior in number, the Spaniards could not move forward. The Spanish soldiers were much more experienced with firearms than the pirates, and their armor and weaponry were of far superior quality. Due to this and the improvised parapet, the Spanish troops eventually defeated the Wokou. Many Japanese jumped into the water to save themselves, but most of them drowned due to the weight of the armor.”




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Sunday, 21 July 2024

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