A hero whose name shall always be remembered. Montenegrin Aleksandar Lekso Saicic defeated a samurai in the duel during the war between Russia and Japan.

(source)

A few other websites mention the duel, but none of them cite any (reputable) sources:

The articles also mention Lekso's sword is kept in a museum in Moscow:

The sword with which he defeated the samurai is kept in the Military museum in Moscow.

As there were almost certainly no samurai in 1905, it's highly unlikely the story is true, but I'm guessing it's based on a real battle, so I was wondering if there's any reputable source mentioning anything of the sort.

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I offer what is claimed to be the most official record of this incident, from an internet forum:

I will now gave a list of his medal-awards from public obituary in "Glas Crnogoraca No.16 April 16. 1911."

Russian awards:Knightly order of St.Anna,I and II class,for wining in duel against Japanese officer.For gallantry and bravery.

Three Russian Wound medals for being wounded:First medal for being wounded in duel against Japanese officer at Jun-ju-an.

Jun-ju-an (Sōngshùshān, 松樹山) was the name of a battery at Port Arthur.

The linked thread additionally contains heavy documentation that there were indeed one-on-one duels between Russians and Japanese. It has a newspaper account of a Japanese defeating a Russian. The forum posters are inconclusive on whether or not Saičić really dueled a Japanese, due to lack of documentation other than his obituary.

However, somewhere down the line the alleged duel has morphed into a tall tale:

Armies of two great empires with the greatest interest watched heroes, who will share the duel in front of them . The surreal setting, the heroes are approaching each other. with breakneck speed they are clashing their swords dozens of times It was a clash of two traditions and two methods of warfare. One swing of the samurai katana grazed Saičić's forehead.

Japanese warrior,who saw the blood on Montenegrin was determined to end the duel. In that moment Lekso Saičić with his lightning speed waved the sword and behead a Japanese hero. As soon as he fell to the ground, samurai horse ran off back Japanese army. By this victory Saičić applied a heavy moral defeat the Japanese army, which has caused disappointment, but joy and happiness to the Russian army . moving back from the duel ground, Lekso as a true knight, paid tribute to deceased Japanese soldier.

As he approached the Russian army, lined up in his honor, he gave a command: QUIET! Military music was playing military march. The commander of the Russian army generals, met the winner of the duel. Lekso greeted the commander and reported to him that he had performed his task. The commander greeted him back and congratulated him the victory, as well as the other generals. Then they treated him with highest military honors. Admiral of the Russian Fleet Rodzenstvenko and the Japanese Fleet Admiral Togo also congratulated him.

First of all, there is no record of this event in Japanese, so I have to write this post from the frustrating perspective of proving a negative. But basically, this retelling is completely silly.

The samurai part is historically impossible, because samurai were abolished with the declaration of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Russo-Japanese war was not a place where people would put on old costumes and go dueling.

There was no incident in the Russo-Japanese War where the armies simply stood and watched two of their warriors fight. At Port Arthur, the batteries were constantly firing down on the Japanese. There was no time to pause and wait.

The katana part is not possible either. Officers in the pre-fascist era Imperial Japanese Army were issued cheap ceremonial swords of European style, not samurai swords. Some also had sabres, but these would have been more clearly identifiable.

The Togo part is ridiculous. Tōgō Heihachirō became well known throughout the West because he led the small Japanese Navy to a shocking victory against Russia's Czarist Fleet. But he had nothing to do with Port Arthur, and it would have been highly improper for him to congratulate someone who defeated a Japanese officer in another wing of the armed forces. Such an event would have created a scandal in Japan.

Basically, I cannot answer whether or not there was a sword duel or a scuffle, but the "samurai duel" version is definitely false.

  • Thank you - that's very comprehensive. Now the only thing I'm curious about is the sword in "a museum in Moscow". One of the articles provides a photo: slavorum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/… but I couldn't find any more info. More importantly, the file name implies it's from the Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade, not in Moscow, making me believe that part of the story is just made up. – fstanis Oct 23 '17 at 12:39

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