Korean sword

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The history of the sword (Korean geom 검; 劍) in the Korean Peninsula begins with imports via Bronze Age China in the mid 1st millennium BCE. Native production of Bronze and Iron swords appears to pick up beginning in the mid 1st millennium CE. Sword designs continue to be influenced by Chinese and Mongol contacts.[1]

Korea had its separate sword industry and a native tradition of Korean swordsmanship during the Joseon Dynasty (15th to 19th centuries). This tradition was eclipsed by the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945). Since the later 20th century, there have been efforts towards reviving the lost arts of Korean sword-making and swordsmanhip.

Elements of the Korean sword include: geomjip or scabbard, most often of lacquer; hyuljo or fuller (most genuine Korean swords didn't have a fuller); hwando magi or collar; ho in or collar; kodeungi or hand guard; a ring-design pommel; tassels; a round and wide designed sword guard, or a straight lotus design.[2][dead link]

History[edit]

Early swords[edit]

Further information: Hwandudaedo
Three Kingdoms era swords generally have a ring pommel. More elaborate swords hold images of dragons or phoenixes in the ring.
Silla era sword pommel

There is evidence of early imports of Chinese Bronze Age swords to the Korean peninsula. Evidence of sword production dates to the transitional Late Bronze to Early Iron Age (c. 1st century BC), with an earthenware mold for a Bronze Sword found in South Gyeongsang Province.[3]

The earliest Korean sword type is the so-called Hwandudaedo or "ring-pommel sword", prevalent during the 1st to 6th centuries. Until the 3rd century, these sword were very rare and presumably reserved for royalty. They became more attainable in the later 4th and during the 5th century, and are found in many higher class tombs of this period. Their production declined in the 6th century.

By the last third of the Three Kingdoms period (i.e. 450 AD and beyond), steel making techniques had come from China (possibly during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period in China) and were also employed in Korean swordmaking by all three Korean kingdoms (Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla). In 2013, a 5th-century sword was discovered at Geumgwanchong tomb in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province. The covering of the sword has an inscription read as read as Yisaji-wang ("king Isaji").[4]

Long swords during the Korean Three Kingdoms period were used primarily by cavalry and commanders (who were also usually mounted), not infantry. At this time land warfare consisted mostly of spearmen and bowmen on foot, mounted archers on horseback using two-handed bows, and mounted swordsmen with twin blades. Swords were not a primary weapon for all combat but were instead used mostly for shock attacks, defensive strokes, and for close-in fighting. Blades were heavy as they were made mostly of bronze and later iron, and pommels were often knobbed and used as balances or for very close-in work. Short swords may have been used in follow-up attacks, as short sword carriers were armoured completely.

Records indicate that the art of sword manufacturing, still in a rudimentary state, may have been transmitted to the Japanese Archipelago from the Korean Peninsula some time in the Three Kingdoms period, along with iron smelting and manufacture and later that of steel work; these methods and techniques, as well as their updates, continued to be transmitted during the North South States Period to the Japanese Archipelago until connections with the Asian mainland were largely closed off by Japan in the early part of the Heian period (794 AD to 1195 AD; the early part is considered to have ended in 967 AD).

During the Goryeo dynasty, a limited number of Korean swords were exported for trade missions in Asia. It is likely that Korean swordmaking was influenced by the various influences present in Mongol and Chinese weapon manufacture after Goryeo's submission as a Mongol vassal after 6 Mongol invasions ending in 1259.

Joseon period[edit]

Painting of a kisaeng performing a sword dance (Hyewon, 1805)

The Joseon period (15th to 19th centuries) is the "classical" era of Korean culture, including the creation of a national script and the suppression of Korean Buddhism in favour of Neo-Confucianism. Korean swords were in production both for military and ceremonial use. Several types of ceremonial swords were made; among these sword types are the jingeom (dragon sword) and ingeom (tiger sword), which by tradition could be forged only at certain times. The highest grade of these, sa-ingeom (four tigers sword) and possibly the sa-jingeom (four dragons sword - none are extant) were reserved for the monarch and could only be made during a window of 2 hours every 12 years. The lower-grade swords - i-jingeom, sam-jingeom, i-ingeom, sam-ingeom (two dragons, three dragons, two tigers, three tigers) - could be made more frequently.

The swords that Joseon soldiers used were crafted with the greatest care, using only high quality steel considered for the use of military swords. Some of the swords that were used uniformly by these soldiers include the jedok geom and bonguk geom. The three types of blades listed here are single edged and usually between 3-4 feet long, although the jedok geom could reach a length of 6 feet.

It was not uncommon for non-military sword carriers to import swords, frequently from Japan's renowned swordsmiths, in the event that Korean sources could not be secured (as they were frequently dedicated to the production of weapons for military use).

The saingeom is a type of Joseon-era sword from Western Korea fairly common in the Ai-Ching province. It has a 90 centimeter (35 inch) blade, produced primarily by molding rather than hammering.

Modern history[edit]

Korean swords are very scarce today, since most surviving examples were confiscated and destroyed during the colonial period.[citation needed] A systematic attempt was made to collect and destroy all Korean swords, coats of armour, and all Korean martial arts equipment.[citation needed] The entire history of Korean swords and armour was almost lost forever, along with much of Korea's culture and traditions, because of Japanese colonial policies.[5][verification needed][6][verification needed]

After the liberation of Korea in 1945, ceremonial swords were once again manufactured both in southern and northern Korea, and by the 1960s, sword-making was a vibrant and increasingly secure industry; however, due to the depredations and systematic destruction by the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Korea, many traditions and techniques lost and were either completely unrecoverable or had yet to be recovered.[citation needed]

Types[edit]

Elements of the Korean sword include: geomjip or scabbard, most often of lacquer; hyuljo or fuller (most genuine Korean swords didn't have a fuller); hwando magi or collar; ho in or collar; kodeungi or hand guard; a ring-design pommel; tassels; a round and wide designed sword guard, or a straight lotus design.[7][dead link]

Geom (검 from Chinese 劍 jian) is the Korean word for "sword"; it is typically used of double edged swords, but is also applied to single edged swords. Yedo (예도; 銳刀) is the specific term for a single-edged sword. The Muyesinbo describes as bonguk geom or "national sword" a double-edged sword closely resembling the Eastern Han period jian. This contrasted with the jedok geom or "admiral sword", the term for the type introduced in the 16th century by Li Rusong, usually about 5–6 feet tall and single edged. The sword was also straight and wielded with one or two hands.

The Hwandudaedo (환두대도; 環頭大刀) or "ring-pommel sword) is a type of single edged sword used during the three kingdoms area. It is known for having a ring pommel and being single or double edged. Most swords during this time was semi-uniform in nature and many martial arts practitioners tend to recognize this weapon as a "Genuine Korean Sword". The Hwandudaedo may have some connection to the Japanese straight swords (tsurugi) and the Chinese Jian.

Korean Nomenclature of Japanese Sword[citation needed]

In deference to the Neo-Confucian state philosophy during the Joseon period, Korean swords tended to be somewhat shorter than their Japanese or Chinese templates, with a blunted tip and infrequently having a groove the length of the blade. In this way the sword was made to be represented as being as singularly "unaggressive" as possible.

Korean TO (single-handed saber; approximately 32" in length) displayed between a "Korean" Japanese Sword (R) and a Japanese Sword(L)[citation needed]
Classic Ssangsoodo (2-handed Sabre; approximately 60" in length) displayed between the "Korean" Japanese Sword (R) and a Japanese Sword (L)[citation needed]
Korean Wol-Do (L) displayed with its Chinese equivalent (R).

The Seven-Branched Sword is a peculiar specimen forged in Baekjae in the order of the king. There is a theory that this is a sword that was to be a gift presented to the emperor of Japan. There was no handle found for the blade nor was there a swordsheath found for it while it was being excavated.

Korean swordsmanship[edit]

Main article: Korean swordsmanship

During the Joseon period, swords also had ranks depending on who wielded them and what their purpose was. The highest ranking of these swords was known as the Byeol-ungeom (별운검: 別雲劍), literally meaning "cloud-splitting sword." Only two such swords existed and were wielded by the King's two bodyguards, who always stood on either side of him and held the nobility title of Un'geom (운검: 雲劍). [2]

Master swordsmen

Contemporary swords[edit]

Only by the mid-1990s did Korean swordmaking come back to expert levels comparable to the Joseon era.[citation needed] Haedong jingeom (해동진검; 海東劍) This literally means 'East Asian Practical Sword' is the neologistic term for current-day swords for "revivals" of Korean swordsmanship.

Sword ownership in Korea is currently restricted (private weapons ownership was culturally frowned upon and largely restricted during other times in Korean history, particularly during the Joseon era and the Japanese occupation period - albeit for different reasons in either period), and there are very few traditional sword collectors in Korea today.[citation needed] General/flag-grade officers are given dress swords upon assuming command in the Republic of Korea (ROK) army. Despite restrictions on sword ownership and a lingering social preference against armed martial arts (dating at least to the Joseon era), practical sword fighting is enjoying a small revival amongst elite military regiments, and fencing is once again attracting interest in Korean universities.

Sword producers[edit]

In Korean popular culture[edit]

Korean historical action films have elements of swordsmanship within them. Important recent films readily available (and subtitle in Chinese/English) include:

Chung Doo-Hong martial arts director. Set in the Goryeo dynasty, during 1375 chronicles General Choi Jung's mission to the Ming to make peace during their wars against the Yuan.

A Korean production that is a variant of Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War. This is set in the Three Kingdoms of Korea period where there were various uprisings in the military and many assassination attempts on the King.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Boots, John L. (1934). "Korean Weapons & Armor". Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch). 23 Part 2: 1–37.  (Full text of Microsoft Word format is available here)
  2. ^ 한국환상사전. 무기와 방어구 편
  3. ^ Korean National Museum Accession Number Bongwan 14050 [1]
  4. ^ Sword sparks debate, The Korean Times, 4 July 2013. Discovery of the Silla Geumgwanchong Tomb "King Isaji" Sword Inscription (museum.go.kr) 3 July 2013.
  5. ^ Hong Wontack 1994 Paekchae of Korea and the origin of Yamato Japan, Seoul Kadura International
  6. ^ Coval, Dr John Carter and Alan, 1984, "Korean impact on Japanese culture: Japan's hidden History" Hollym International Corp., Elizabeth, New Jersey
  7. ^ 한국환상사전. 무기와 방어구 편
  8. ^ a b Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts; YI Duk-moo1 & PARK Je-ga (1795); Trans: KIM Sang H; Turtle Press, 2000; Book 2, Chap 2 pg 141
  9. ^ Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts; YI Duk-moo1 & PARK Je-ga (1795); Trans: KIM Sang H; Turtle Press, 2000; Book 2, Chap 1, pg 129
  10. ^ Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts; YI Duk-moo1 & PARK Je-ga (1795); Trans: KIM Sang H; Turtle Press, 2000; Book 3, Chap 7, pg 283
  11. ^ Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts; YI Duk-moo1 & PARK Je-ga (1795); Trans: KIM Sang H; Turtle Press, 2000; Book 3, Chap 5, pg260
  12. ^ a b Ancient Art of Korea. Swords in Chosun Kingdom
  13. ^ JoongAng Daily. Keeping an ancient craft alive

External links[edit]