When the Cane faced the Katana

By George E. Georgas
Computer Engineering, Certified Fencing Coach of the Hellenic Fencing Federation, Instructor of the Hellenic Martial Education of Pammachon and Instructor of Historical European Martial Arts.

Translation from Greek to English language by Mr. Aggelos Pilidis

This article have been published at the Greek online magazine: Time Machine (Μηχανή του Χρόνου)

Accounts of fights between western and Japanese swordsmen are very few. In an older article is recorded the duel between the officer of the Imperial Russian army, Lt.Aleksandar Saičić (1873-1911) and a Japanese officer, with the first being the winner and honored by the Tsar for his bravery. But there are also records of another fight, that wasn’t a duel but instead self-defence. Protagonists in that fight were a Japanese police officer, Tsuda Sanzō, descendant and student of Samurai and Prince George of Greece.

Before we get to the engagement, though, let us analyze the profile and training of the two opponents.

Tsuda Sanzō

Tsuda Sanzō ( 津田 三蔵 )
Tsuda Sanzō ( 津田 三蔵 )

Tsuda Sanzō ( 津田 三蔵 ) was born in 1855 from a family of Samurai, with his ancestors also being the doctors of the princes of Iga. After training as a teenager in the martial arts of the Samurai he joined the army in 1872 and he took part in the Satsuma revolution against the new government of the emperor of Japan in 1877.

Saigō Takamori (Takanaga) (西郷 隆盛 (隆永)
Saigō Takamori (Takanaga) (西郷 隆盛 (隆永)

He served under the Last Samurai, Saigō Takamori (Takanaga) (西郷 隆盛 (隆永) and studied Bushido further. Young Tsuda was greatly influenced by the teachings of Saigō Takamori, a living legend of the old principles of Japan, a symbol of faith and dedication. After the devastating defeat of the Samurai and the imperials’ victory, Tsuda Sanzō turned himself in and then started a new life after joining the police force in 1882. He appeared to be a reformed Japanese, but in his heart the old ways and Bushido law lived on.

Saigō Takamori (with western army uniform ) with his Samurai. Le Monde Illustré, 1877.
Saigō Takamori (with western army uniform ) with his Samurai. Le Monde Illustré, 1877.


Prince George of Greece

Prince George of Greece
Prince George of Greece


Prince George of Greece was born in Korfu on June 24, 1869 and was also Prince of Denmark. He was the second son of King George I of Greece, of the house of Glücksburg and the Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia. Responsible for his upbrining was an English teacher and from his 6th year Greek ones. Thanks to his mother he grew up a devout Orthodox Christian. His discipline was later entrusted in the Prussian Otto Lynders. Among sports, George preferred swimming and rowing.

Naval Cadets at the fencing lesson (Class 1890). Photo: Museum of Naval Academy, Piraeus, Greece.
Naval Cadets at the fencing lesson (Class 1890). Photo: Museum of Naval Academy, Piraeus, Greece.

At the age of 13 he enrolled in the Hellenic Military Academy, then located in Piraeus. That was his first contact with fencing, at the time taught daily to the cadets. In May of 1885, after he learned Danish, he enrolled in the Royal Danish Naval Academy in Copenhagen, internationally renowned as one of the best naval academies. He studied there for 4 years, and when he returned to Greece it was obvious that the stern environment of the Academy with its unyielding nautical rules influenced him so much that he seemed a different person altogether. Despite that, George, at his core, still remained spontaneous, a bit unruly, a free spirit. After he graduated he returned to Greece and joined the Royal Navy as an officer, and also became an adjutant to King George I.


The Journey

Nicholas Romanov, later Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (Никола́й II)
Nicholas Romanov, later Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (Никола́й II)

Prince George was cousin to Nicholas Romanov, later Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (Никола́й II), who was recognised as a saint from the Russian Orthodox Church and given the title of passion bearer. Nicholas’s father had sent him to a trip throughout Europe and Asia so he would come in contact with the various leaders and so prepare for the throne. After visiting the House of Habsburg in Vienna, he came to Greece. George then joined his cousin for his trip.

Prince Nicholas with the officers of the ship.
Prince Nicholas with the officers of the ship.

On April 15th, 1891, the fleet arrives in Japan, in the port of Nagasaki. The Japanese emperor honoured the two princes with great celebrations and many gifts. Prince Nicholas and his escort decided to visit Kyoto. Outside the Oriental Hotel, where they were staying, a crowd with mixed feelings had gathered, intensifying the filled with tension atmosphere created by a recent letter written in blood threatening the Russian diplomatic mission. On April 29th, the Princes Nicholas and George, escorted by Prince Arisugawa-no-miya were transported with rickshaws from Kyoto to Ōtsu.


The Engagement


In total, there were 40 rickshaws that transported the Princes and their escort through the narrow streets of Ōtsu. Police forces were also present to protect them in case there was an attempt against them. Part of that police force was Tsuda Sanzō. Some days earlier, the group had visited a Japanese temple before visiting the city. But access to the temple was prohibited for non-believers, a fact that greatly angered some fanatics. Tsuda Sanzō, secret Bushido follower, was among them.

The assassination attempt from Tsuda Sanzō
The assassination attempt from Tsuda Sanzō


Without anyone being able to predict it, Tsuda threw back his coat and unsheathed a katana (a weapon banned at the time by the Emperor’s decree). With a strong cut he injured in the back of the head and started delivering a second strike to finish him off. George, who was next to Nicholas, parried Tsuda’s second cut with his cane, throwing himself in front of his injured cousin and even managed to disarm the attacker. Surprised, Tsuda tried to escape, but didn’t go far, as two Japanese drivers ran after him, caught him, and delivered him to Prince Arisugawa-no-miya.




Tsuda Sanzō, during his trial, claimed that he wanted to kill the Prince because he believed him to be a Russian spy. In the May of 1891, he was senteced for life in a Hokkaido prison called “Japanese Siberia”, but he died on September 30th of the same year from pneumonia or hunger since he wasn’t allowed the Samurai ritual suicide.

After his death, the Emperor himself forbade the name Tsuda be given to newborn children from Tsuda’s province, and his whole family was dishonored and exiled. There were even thoughts of renaming the city of Ōtsu.

The Japanese drivers who catch Tsuda Sanzō
The Japanese drivers who catch Tsuda Sanzō

The Japanese Emperor Meiji was greatly shocked when he learned of the attack, to the point where he took an overnight train to meet his guest as soon as possible and offer his apologies. He was worried that the incident could be the start of a war with Russia. The two henchmen were given medals for chasing and capturing the perpetrator. Prince George was very disappointed from the blame assigned to him for the attack, mainly from the Russian side, which held him responsible for encouraging Nicholas to visit dangerous places and desecrate a temple, and thus causing the people’s anger.


Even though he wasn’t allowed to return to Greece with Nicholas, Tsar Alexander III awarded George the rank of Admiral in the Russian Navy, and the cane with which he defended Nicholas’s life was engraved with the imperial symbols of Russia. The cane is located at the Benaki Museum in Athens.




Even though Tsuda Sanzō was trained in a supposedly greater martial art than Prince George, and despite his study of Bushido, he failed. Maybe the reasons were more spiritual and esoteric if one brings to mind that Bushido is a code that prohibits assassinations and encourages honourable duels. Maybe that was what stopped him from killing his unarmed victim, especially when considering that this martial art’s method is focused on one deciding blow.

On the other side we have a mediocre fencer, George, who acted immediately, overcame the fear caused by the attack, and parried Tsuda’s second cut with a parry on first of the head or a  parry on fifth (with modern terminology), disarming his opponent. Certainly his reaction was a result of training in the military academies and it wasn’t the first time he was calm in a life or death situation. The last was in 1941 in Crete, when the royal family was travelling south to escape the Nazis. While other members of his family were cowering from the shots and bombs, George while of old age, was seated in the back of the roofless car wearing a military helmet, unwilling to hide.



 -Τρύφωνος Ε. Ευαγγελίδου (1898). Τα μετά τον Όθωνα : ήτοι ιστορία της μεσοβασιλείας και της βασιλείας Γεωργίου του Α΄. (1862-1898) Εν Αθήναις: Εκδοτικόν Κατάστημα Γεωργίου Δ. Φέξη, σελ. 644.
-Keene, Donald (2005). Emperor Of Japan: Meiji And His World, 1852-1912. Columbia University Press
-R.K. Massie, Nickolas and Alexandra (1967)
-Ravina, Mark (2004). The Last Samurai : The Life and Battles of Saigō Takamori. Wiley
-Perrin, Noel (1979). Giving up the gun. Boston: David R. Godine.
-Gordon, Andrew (2003). A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford University Press.
-Yates, Charles (1995) “Saigo Takamori: The Man Behind The Myth” (New York, NY: Kegan Paul International )
-Βασιλεύς Κωνσταντίνος τόμος Α, εκδόσεις ‘το Βήμα’



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