Korean sword

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Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin holding a Geom. Yi Sun-sin 5.jpg
Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin holding a Geom.

Korean swords have served a central place in the defense of the nation for thousands of years. Although typical Korean land battles have taken place in wide valleys and narrow mountain passes, which favor use of the spear and bow, [1] the sword found use as a secondary, close-quarters weapon, especially useful during sieges and ship-to-ship boarding actions. Higher quality, ceremonial swords were typically reserved for the officer corps as a symbol of authority with which to command the troops. Ceremonial swords are still granted to military officials by the civilian authority to this day. [2]


Korean swords typically fall into two broad categories, the Geom, and the Do. [3] The Geom is a double-edged weapon, while the Do is a single-edged weapon; although exceptions exist. In common parlance, all swords may be referred to as Geom (Korean:검; 劍).

The history of the sword in Korea begins with imports during the Bronze Age in the mid 1st millennium BCE. Native production of bronze and iron swords appeared in the mid 1st millennium CE. [4] Korea eventually developed a unique sword industry and a native tradition of Korean swordsmanship (Geom-do or Kum-do "Way of the Sword"), which reached its peak during the Joseon Dynasty (15th to 19th centuries).

The rarity of traditional Korean swords makes them extremely valuable, and in high demand for museums and collectors.


Early swords

Three Kingdoms era swords generally have a ring pommel. More elaborate swords hold images of dragons or phoenixes in the ring. Three kingdom swords.jpg
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 SillaSwordHilt.jpg
Silla era sword pommel
Ornamented Sword made during the Silla period Ornamented Sword from Gyerim-ro, Gyeongju.jpg
Ornamented Sword made during the Silla period

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. [5]

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 swords 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).[ citation needed ] In 2013, a Chinese Character inscription was discovered on a 5th-century sword from the Geumgwanchong tomb in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province. The scabbard of the sword has the inscription 尒斯智王 Yisaji-wang ("King Isaji"). [6]

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 heavily armored.

Records indicate that rudimentary methods of sword manufacturing (along with iron smelting and manufacture and later that of steel work) may have been transmitted to the Japanese Archipelago from the Korean Peninsula some time in the Three Kingdoms period. These methods and techniques, as well as their updates, continued to be transmitted to the Japanese Archipelago during the North South States Period until connections with the Asian mainland were largely closed off by Japan in the early part of the Heian period (approximately 794 AD to 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 Mongol and Chinese weapon manufacture after Goryeo's submission as a Mongol vassal after 6 Mongol invasions ending in 1259.

Joseon period

Painting of a kisaeng performing a sword dance (Hyewon, 1805) Hyewon-Ssanggeum.daemu-detail-01.jpg
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. Accompanying the neo-Confucian philosophies was an increased emphasis on the artistic, literary, and academic pursuits, while martial pursuits and training (still understood to be necessary) declined in cultural stature.

Korean swords were in production mostly for military and ceremonial use; private ownership outside of these purposes was largely restricted to members of the wealthy and/or politically influential classes, and possession by commoners often drew the suspicion of the authorities. 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.

As only high-quality steel was considered for use in forging military swords, the quantity produced by Korean blacksmiths, even for Korea's own military, was limited (most Korean infantry used spears, tridents, and ranged weaponry such as the crossbow and composite bow, while swords were usually wielded by officers, local magistrates/deputies, and mounted soldiers). In addition, because Korean weapons manufacture was typically dedicated to the production of weapons for military/government use and under close scrutiny by government authorities, it was not uncommon for Koreans (both military personnel and civilians) to import swords, usually from Japan's renowned swordsmiths, in the event that Korean sources could not be secured.

Among the swords that were produced in Korea for use by its military and law enforcement officials include the jedok geom and bonguk geom (these refer to both a style of sword as well as a style of bladed combat). Blades were single-edged and usually between 3–4 feet long; however, certain swords of the jedok geom style could reach a length of 6 feet (while it is unclear as to the style of the swords of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, he is believed to have wielded swords that were almost that size).

The saingeom is a type of Joseon-era sword from Western Korea. It has a 90 centimeter (35-inch) blade, produced primarily by molding rather than hammering.[ citation needed ]

Modern history

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 armor, and all Korean martial arts equipment.[ citation needed ] The entire history of Korean swords and armor was almost lost forever, along with much of Korea's culture and traditions, because of Japanese colonial policies. [7] [ verification needed ] [8] [ 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 were lost and either completely unrecoverable or have yet to be recovered.[ citation needed ]



Geom (검; 劍) 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.

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. [9]

Various examples of Korean sword design

Many different types of Do and Geom exist, [10] ranging from very simple forms found in many nations, to very unique and artistic designs found solely in Korea.

Korean Wol-Do (L) displayed with its Chinese equivalent (R). Korean Wol-do.jpg
Korean Wol-Do (L) displayed with its Chinese equivalent (R).

Korean swordsmanship

The study of Korean sword as a weapons system is commonly called Geom Beop (literally "Sword Law") while the use of sword study as a form of personal development or sport is commonly called Geom Do (검도, 劍道) "Way of the Sword"). [17]

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).

Master swordsmen

Contemporary swords

Only by the mid-1990s did Korean swordmaking come back to expert levels comparable to the Joseon era.[ citation needed ]Haedong jingeom (해동진검; 海東陣劍) 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

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.

Authentic reproductions

In 2006, swords bestowed on newly promoted brigadier generals were changed from the single-edged curved ‘’samjeongdo’’, which was considered to be a traditional Korean sword, to the double-edged straight ‘’samjeong-geom‘’ claiming that the ‘’samjeongdo’’ is similar to the “Western sword” and not reflecting the traditional Korean sword. ‘’Samjeongdo’’ had been given to brigadier generals since 1983. [19] [20]

On November 2015, the Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin erected in Parliament was replaced with a newly created authentic statue. The sword of the statue was longer than the traditional Korean sword and more resembled the Japanese sword. [21] [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

Japanese sword Type of traditionally made sword from Japan

A Japanese sword is one of several types of traditionally made swords from Japan. Bronze swords were made as early as the Yayoi period, though most people generally refer to the curved blades made after the Heian period when speaking of "Japanese swords". There are many types of Japanese swords that differ by size, shape, field of application and method of manufacture. Some of the more commonly known types of Japanese swords are the katana, tachi, odachi, wakizashi, and tsurugi.

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

A tachi (太刀) was a type of traditionally made Japanese sword (nihonto) worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan. Tachi and katana generally differ in length, degree of curvature, and how they were worn when sheathed, the latter depending on the location of the mei, or signature, on the tang. The tachi style of swords preceded the development of the katana, which was not mentioned by name until near the end of the twelfth century. Tachi were the mainstream Japanese swords of the Kotō period between 900 and 1596. Even after the Muromachi period (1336–1573), when katana became the mainstream, tachi were often worn by high-ranking samurai.

This is a list of types of swords.

<i>Jian</i> Chinese double-edged sword

The jian is a double-edged straight sword used during the last 2,500 years in China. The first Chinese sources that mention the jian date to the 7th century BCE, during the Spring and Autumn period; one of the earliest specimens being the Sword of Goujian. Historical one-handed versions have blades varying from 45 to 80 centimeters in length. The weight of an average sword of 70-centimetre (28-inch) blade-length would be in a range of approximately 700 to 900 grams. There are also larger two-handed versions used for training by many styles of Chinese martial arts.

<i>Dao</i> (sword) Single-edged Chinese sword primarily used for slashing and chopping

Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre, although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords. In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun, qiang (spear), and the jian, called in this group “The General of Weapons".

Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

Kumdo is a modern Korean martial art derived from Japanese Kendo. Though romanized in a number of ways when written, Kǒmdo or Geomdo, the meaning remains "the way of the sword" and is cognate with the Japanese term. As a martial art, Kumdo has become accepted in Korean culture and society since its introduction from Japan to the degree that the term "kumdo" has, in recent history, become a generic label for other Korean martial arts based upon Korean Swordsmanship. Therefore, kumdo can apply to the sporting and competitive form of swordsmanship, similar to Kendo, or it can be applied to other martial forms of Korean swordsmanship such as Haidong Gumdo or Hankumdo. Although related to Japanese Kendo, minor differences exist in Korean Kumdo due to appropriation and acculturation. Such differences include, but are not limited to, the use of native terminology, the use of blue flags rather than red flags for the referees and minor modifications to the uniform.

The wodao is a Chinese sword from the Ming Dynasty. It is typically long and slender, but heavy, with a curved back and sharp blade. It bears a strong resemblance to the Tang sword, zhanmadao, Tachi or Odachi in form. Extant examples show a handle approximately 25.5 cm long, with a gently curved blade 80 cm long.


The chokutō is a straight, single-edged Japanese sword that was produced prior to the 9th century. Its basic style is likely derived from similar swords of ancient China. Chokutō were used on foot for stabbing or slashing and were worn hung from the waist. Until the Heian period such swords were called tachi (大刀), which should not be confused with tachi written as 太刀 referring to curved swords.

Since the 1970s, there has been a revival of traditional or reconstructed methods of swordsmanship based on the Korean sword in the Republic of Korea, supplementing the practice of Kumdo. There are historical sources on which such reconstructions are based, dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, notably the Muyejebo of 1610, its 1759 revision Muyeshinbo, supplemented with 12 additional fighting methods by Prince Sado who originated the term Sip Pal Ki, and the renewed revision of 1790, Muyedobotongji.

Japanese sword mountings Housings and associated fittings that hold the blade of a Japanese sword

Japanese sword mountings are the various housings and associated fittings (tosogu) that hold the blade of a Japanese sword when it is being worn or stored. Koshirae (拵え) refers to the ornate mountings of a Japanese sword used when the sword blade is being worn by its owner, whereas the shirasaya is a plain undecorated wooden mounting composed of a saya and tsuka that the sword blade is stored in when not being used.

The Sword of Goujian was found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Cast in tin bronze, it is renowned for its unusual sharpness and resistance to tarnish rarely seen in artifacts so old. This historical artifact of ancient China is currently in the possession of the Hubei Provincial Museum.


Commissioned by King Jeongjo in 1790, the Muyedobotongji expanded on the eighteen weapons systems identified in the Muyeshinbo of 1758.

Swords made of iron appear from the Early Iron Age, but do not become widespread before the 8th century BC.

<i>Katana</i> Samurai sword

A katana is a Japanese sword characterized by a curved, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard and long grip to accommodate two hands. Following tachi, it was used by samurai in feudal Japan and worn with the blade facing upward. Also, since the Muromachi period, many old tachi were cut from the root and shortened, and the blade at the root was crushed and converted into katana. The official term for katana in Japan is uchigatana (打刀) and the term katana (刀) often refers to single-edged swords from around the world.

<i>Guntō</i> Japanese military sword, 1872-1945

The guntō was a ceremonial sword produced for the Imperial Japanese army and navy after the introduction of conscription in 1872.

The Muyesinbo is a Korean martial arts manual published in 1759. The book is a revision of the older Muyejebo, made during the reign of King Youngjo (1724–1776). It adds twelve disciplines or "skills" of both armed and unarmed fighting by Prince Sado to the original six which were descbribed in the Muyejebo. No copies of the Muyesinbo have survived, but its contents can easily be determined by tracing back and comparing the Muyejebo with the later Muyedobotongji.

Jedok geom or Admiral sword or Commander sword is a sword-skill introduced by the Chinese commander Li Rusong who fought during the Japanese invasions of Korea during the 16th century. Li Rusong was from Hebei province, China.


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