Traditional Swordsmithing in Korea
- A Brief History -
Stone age swords
Age swords in Korea date back to at least
600 to 1,000 B.C. In the Korean
National Museum can be found
stone, wood, bronze, iron and steel swords.
Iron into steel
use of iron in Korea appears to have been
sometime between the 8th and 4th century B.C. Korea has natural iron deposits which are relatively high in carbon. Unlike Chinese iron, Korean iron artifacts usually have greater than 0.5% carbon content. This makes steel production easier because traditional steel manufacturing uses a “carburization”
process where wrought iron is held in a charcoal fire for prolonged periods of time and carbon is added via beating and folding
red hot iron that has been dipped in ash. At about 1,200 degrees centigrade carbon
is absorbed by iron. In sum, very hot fires and severe beatings are necessary
to make the finest steel from iron. Korea was blessed by nature in having naturally high carbon iron to begin with. (For more on the history of iron in Korea
see link to "Early Iron in Korea" below.)
the third, fourth and fifth Centuries, technologies learned in China passed
to Korea and then Japan. It appears that the iron used to make the first Japanese weapons came from Korea until about the fifth century. (Ferris, 1996)
during Paekche Dynasty, Japan was a vassal state of Korea and there was a close relationship between the nations. (See link relating to “Seven Branched Sword.”)
key piece of evidence supporting the role of Korea
in early Japanese weapon development comes from the “Inariyama Tumulus Sword.” Discovered in Japan
in 1968, this iron sword contains a 115 character inscription of gold inlay including characters denoting the year 471. According to researchers Murayama and Miller (1979), the characters contain significant
linguistic and orthographic indicators of Korean origin or influence in the text of the inscriptions. They further suggest that author was probably a Korean due to overt linguistic evidence. Because Inariyama and other swords utilized the Korean “Idu” system of writing,
historical researcher Kim Soo-hyoong concluded that they originated in Paekche (Korean dynasty lasting from18 B.C. to 663
A.D.). (Hong, 1994)
swords in Korea are straight and double
edged. Korean curved swords came along in the late Koryo dynasty.
the Koryo dynasty Korean sword making was heavily influenced by Mongolian sword construction and design. Lasting from about
892 A.D. to 1259, the Koryo dynasty ended with Mongolian domination of the peninsula. Though
the Mongols failed to colonize Japan, various technologies from Genghis
Khan’s (1162-1227) empire including swordsmithing reached Japan and
dominated sword design in the Kamakura region. Kamakura was the political center of Japan for about a century after 1192.
curved swords can be distinguished from Japanese in that Japanese curved swords usually have a longitudinal channel or blood
groove along the blunt edge of the sword whereas Korean curved blades usually do not.
Also, Korean curved swords tend to be smooth from the blunt edge to sharp edge, with no straight lines running the
length of the blade.
the Choson Dynasty (1392-1905), Korean sword makers were among the best in the world.
Korean swordsmithing began its decline during the Choson dynasty when King Yi Song Gye began transitioning Korea from a Buddhist to a Confucian nation. Neo-Confucianism led to official disdain for the arts of war. Prior to the Choson dynasty swordsmiths in
Korea lived in the palace. During the Choson dynasty they were relegated to the lowest ranks of society. Consequently, the militaristic society of feudal Japan
encouraged weapons-making, while the scholastic society of Korea
despised it. Thus, Korean sword-making technology was left to stagnate.
100 years ago the ancient methodologies of Korean sword making were abandoned altogether. Numerous factors were involved,
including newer methods of steel production, the use of guns and the Japanese occupation of Korea.
William Wayne. (1996). Ancient Japan's
Korean Connection. Korean Studies, 20, 1-22.
Wontack. (1994). Paekche of Korea and the Origin of Yamato Japan. Seoul:
Shichiro and Miller, Roy Andrew. (1979). The Inariyama Tumulus Sword Inscription. The Journal of Japanese Studies,
a. Two photos of Silla dynasty swords on display at
b. Early Iron in Korea
c. Seven Branched
d. Inariyama Tumulus Sword
e. Wikipedia Entries on
f. Interesting discussion
of Korean swords and history can be
found at The Dojang:
g. Jimkum – Development of Korean Swords by
h. A fascinating and ancient history of Korean martial
be found in a book called: Muye Dobo Tongji
i. Here is an article on traditional crafts
(and the National
living treasure law) that includes a number
summarizing the archaeological
information on the history
of Korean swords (actually
metalworking) more or less up thru
the end of Silla Dynasty).
by Han Byung-sam at the University
story about Korean Swordsmanship by Jane
Hallander can be found at:
k. Information about Korean Sword Dance:
l. About Great King Sejong and the Sword: "The
sword is a weapon of
by Gregory C. Brundage email@example.com
references supplied by Kim Dammers