Blood on the Sand: Ninja vs. Spartan

April 21, 2009

This week on Deadliest Warrior, we're pushing stealth and strength to their theoretical limits when a Spartan squares off against a ninja.

This is a hell of a matchup, and surprisingly enough, it was the first show we ever did. Ninja vs. Spartan started life as our pilot way back in March of 2008. But we're not here to talk about making TV, we're here to talk about bringing the pain. Our Spartan hoplite was the tank of ancient Greece the most heavily armed and armored warrior of his place and time. However, the ninja's reputation is almost mythical at this point -- and he's playing with a higher level of technology. So let's break down our fighters:

For starters, you can throw out most of what you learned from 300 right out the window. We're dealing with real Spartan gear, not bare-chested dudes prancing around the battlefield in a leather diaper and a cape. We're looking at a much heavier armor situation. First, our Spartan will have his aspis, the hoplite's legendary shield to hunker down behind. But to back it up, he's bringing a helmet, a cuirass (that's a breast plate with a back piece), and his greaves. Properly aligned, the only vulnerable points on his body are his eyes, his fingers, and his toes -- which may be the only targets of opportunity our ninja will need.

If the ninja wants to win this fight, he'll have to play to his strong suit: he needs to distract, evade, flank, or otherwise outmaneuver the Spartan. Once he gets around the shield, perhaps behind the Spartan, then more vulnerabilities start to open up -- the entire back of the Spartan's legs, his neck, and his arms. However, he'll still have the back of that cuirass to contend with, and the Spartan's core, his vital organs and life functions, are well protected.

Let's get philosophical for a minute: There's an old Greek saying about the foxes and hedgehogs. Coined by the poet and mercenary Archilochus, it goes like this: "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." I don't need to tell you who's who, but if you stop and think about it, this saying is the key to everything you need to know about this fight. How to turn that key, however, I leave up to you.

Our ninja may have no armor, making him a soft target, but the variation in his weaponry leaves him a lot of options. If he takes his time and plans the fight out, he'll be able to whittle down the Spartan's defenses and find an opening. It's a classic case of death by inches, but it's what our Ninja must do to get past the Spartan's bronze and put a few leaks in his cardiovascular system.

The Spartan, on the other hand, must not lose any momentum in this fight. It's fine if he waits for the ninja to come to him, but he must close quickly and dominate the ninja within the reach of his weapons. As our hedgehog, the Spartan's practically bristling with pointed weaponry -- even his dagger, the xyphos, is a stabbing weapon. In hand-to-hand combat, all he needs to do is deliver the force of his weapons directly and succinctly. He can't afford to let the ninja redirect his attacks.

All that said, I think you guys are in for a treat with this one. On the science side, we have a toy unique to this episode, a Hybrid 3 dummy. The Hybrid 3 was awesome to work with because it came with a full range of internal sensors, providing us with practical anatomical data, and it gave us some surprising results.

We've been reading your comments, and they've really struck a chord with us. Because we think these matchups need more post-battle analysis, we're going to be doing exactly that in a series of webisodes called The Aftermath starting this week. You'll be able to find it right here on

As for the last word on tonight? Well, the Ninja knows many things, but the Spartan knows one big thing. See you next week.

Morituri te salutant,

P.S. Doctor Dorian and I are both on Twitter now. You can follow him as @armdor, and I'm @MaxGeiger. Bother us enough, and we'll get Geoff in on the act too.

Max Geiger is a game designer and graduate of USC's Interactive Media Division. Before you comment, he strongly recommends reflecting for a moment on the plot of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.