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Korean Swords

Other Korean Swordsmiths and Manufacturers

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Below are just some of Korea's swordsmiths and manufactueres.  I will update this section as the research unfolds.

Lee Eun Cheol - Rediscovering a lost art
2leeeuncheolhammeringtechnique2.jpg
Traditional hammering technique

 

An Interview with Korean

Swordsmith Lee Eun-cheul

 

Rediscovering the lost arts of ancient Korean swordsmithing

 

The soul of a nation can be found in its ancient culture.  Preserving the spirit of that culture is a quintessential characteristic of a mature nation.

 

About 20 years ago, a young artist named Lee Eun-cheul read an article* about a man named Park Yong-ki who was making “Unchangdo” knives.  Though a ladies weapon, historically this silver knife was lethal.  Lee Eun-cheul was inspired by this article.  But, he wanted to go further, he wanted to make swords using the ancient methods.

 

Thus began a quest for Lee Eun-cheul which was to occupy the next twenty years of his life. 

 

Specifically Master Lee set himself upon the task of rediscovering the ancient art and science of Korea swordsmithing.  Even more specifically he wanted to reconstruct the old ways of making Paekche and Koryo dynasty swords.  Lasting from about 892 A.D. to 1259, the Koryo dynasty ended with Mongolian domination of the peninsula. According to Master Lee, sword technology in East Asia went from Korean Paekje dynasty to Shilla dynasty to Japan and then more recently, came back to Korea again. .

 

Lee Eun-cheul usually mines his own iron.  He digs it nearby his house.  It is heavy, black and shiny.  He said he needs about 6 kilos to make two swords.

 

When finished, his swords are high carbon steel.  It usually takes Lee Eun-cheul somewhere between three to six months to make one sword.  The swords that he makes are not for sale at any price.  Some of his blades have been cut for scientific microscopic examination.  This is useful to scientists who want to know about the metallic qualities of Korean traditional swords, because he uses the same methodologies in making his swords.  Cutting ancient swords for examination would be criminal.  Lee Eun-cheul, however is aware of the needs of scientific curiosity and graciously allows some of his swords to be dissected for scientific purposes. This is the only place in ROK where this old-style smelting is done. He uses the same smelting methods as the ancient (Paekje) process 1500 years ago.

 

Though what appears to be bloom (ash and slag mix) can be found in his workshop, his blast furnaces are sufficiently hot such that molten iron pours out. The melting point of pure iron is 1540C.  Repeatedly re-forging the iron in a carbon rich environment makes a higher quality steel. Lee Eun-cheul then shapes the iron into four sided rods.  The rods are cut into short sections about 8 cm. long and layered four or five deep in a criss-cross fashion.  This is done to equalize the carbon distribution throughout the sword.  This roughly cubical shaped structure is heated together in a wooden push-pull bellows fed charcoal fire and shaped into another rod which when heated cherry red is beaten into rough sword shape, dipped in ash, heated, folded and beaten again and again.  He usually does one or two quenchings in water. Usually there are three men helping him during the beating process.   The strikers say “Hanna, Dul, Set” (1, 2, 3) as they strike, i.e., one striker says “one” and strikes, then next one says “two,” etc.  It is almost like a dance.  The master holds and turns the sword to be.  (Modern swordsmiths usually use a “drop hammer” – a compressed air driven forging hammer that drops vertically onto the work piece.)

 

When the rough shape is finished he grinds and then polishes the sword.  He generally uses Australian magnetite powder for the final silver finish. All of his swords are polished, but only a few have hilts and scabbards added.

 

Though Lee Eun-cheul was very specific about many of the techniques he uses in making his swords, he did not elaborate on other details.  He did mention that his methodology is sometimes similar to Damascus steel production.

 

After many years of research and experimentation with ancient iron and steel manufacturing techniques Lee Eun-cheul went to Japan in 2002 to expand his study of traditional methods of sword making.  In Japan’s Okayama Province, Lee, Eun-cheul studied the sword making practices of Sword Master Aoki Yutakasan, a famous Japanese swordsmith and member of the All-Japan Swordsmith Association.

 

The irony of this situation was not lost on Lee Eun-cheul, who realized that he had to go to Japan to rediscover Korea’s forgotten swordsmithing skills, which were lost near the beginning of the Japanese colonization of Korea.

 

Located near Godalsaji temple, his current workshop and home for the past 11 years is located near Yeoju town in Kyonggi Province, about an hours drive from Seoul.  Before that he lived in Seoul, and before that, the port city of Busan.  He was born in August 1957.

 

His work has been showcased in three documentaries, including MBC program “2580” in 2005:  “History Special Episode.” 

 

Lee Eun-cheul’s title is Dokumjang (도검장) or traditional sword master.  He is Korea’s only traditional sword master at this time.  To those who know him, and those who know of him Lee, Eun-Cheul is known as a “Muhyong Moonhwache” (무형문화재) or “intangible cultural asset.”

 

Lee Eun-cheul Mobile Tel: 011-342-3361

 

 

*게간미슨 magazine. Vol. 13, 1980 quarterly.   Park Yong-ki and now his son are still making beautiful Unchangdo knives in South Cholla Province, Kwangyang city.

 

Story by Gregory C. Brundage & Kim Dammers

 _________________________

 

Lee Sang Seon at work
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Korean Swordsmith Lee Sang Seon

And the Koryo King’s Sword Institute

 

Born in Chungnamdo, in 1953, Lee Sang Seon became interested in swords when he was 18 years old.  He said some of his family members scolded him when he was young for his interest in swords.  “Sword making is superficial and a waste of time,” they said.  But, Lee Sang Seon continued when he realized that he had the skill to make steel, good steel.  Thus, undeterred by criticism, Lee Sang Seon went on to become one of Korea’s finest swordsmiths. 

 

Lee Sang Seon makes an amazing variety of swords and other weapons from various epochs in Korean history, mostly the Joseon dynasty.

 

Kings Sword (Sa-im-kum)

Probably the most famous of his swords is the Kings Sword called “Sa-in Kum.” “Sa” is a Korean word meaning “four” and refers to the four essential criteria used in its production.   The Kings sword can only be fashioned in 1) the year of the tiger, 2) the month of the tiger, 3) on the day of the tiger, 4) at the hour of tiger.  Korean shamanistic beliefs are a big part of the aura, mystery and power of this magnificent weapon.  The last year of the tiger was 1998, the next will be 2010.  A special ancestral rite must be performed when the sword is about 80% finished. 

 

In Korean history the king did not hand his sword down to his son.  Rather, it was buried with him, thus each king had to have a sword made especially for him.  The length of the sword varied according to the taste of the king, however the length was not supposed to exceed the length of the distance between the sword held at the hilt while the arm is fully extended down, and the ear.  Historically a large sized Kings sword was about one meter in length.  Lee Sang Seon’s King’s sword blades are 82.84 cm. in length.  The total length is 121.22 cm.  The weight is 3.7 kg.

 

Subjects Sword (Sam-im-Kum)

These straight swords are from early Joseon dynasty design.  “Sam” means three and refers to the fact that they can only be made during 1) tiger month, 2) 2) tiger day and 3) tiger hour, unlike the Kings Sword which also has to be started in the Tiger year.  Seventy cm. in length they are double edged and weigh 2.2 kilos.

 

Kung Jung Yu Mul – Palace treasures

These treasures included an amazing variety of weapons, from swords, to halberds, maces, axes, throwing stars and knives, spears, trident like weapons and so on.  Included in this group is a training sword (“su-ryong-do”) used in Kumdo (Korean sword fighting) practice.  It is this sword that is the bread and butter of Lee Sang Seon.  Many Kumdo Quanjan-nim (Masters) come to him for these swords.  They are replicas of Joseon dynasty swords that are made from more flexible steel necessary to endure the constant action to which they are subjected.  They are of Joseon design and are curved similar to Japanese samurai swords.

 

Admiral Lee Sun Shin’s Sword

One of the more exotic swords that Lee Sang Seon has made includes replicas of Admiral Lee Sun Shin’s ceremonial sword.  It is approximately 1.97 meters in length.  He said it takes about six months to make one and sells for about US$8,000.  The buyers have been wealthy sword collectors.

 

Lee Sang Seon gets his raw materials from Pohang Iron Company though surprisingly he gets his coal from Germany.  It is a special coal that he says burns very hot and produces very little ash.  He said he uses five materials in making a sword.  He quenches in motor oil.

 

Because he works alone, he can only work on a maximum of three swords at a time and it takes about 15 days.  Lee Sang Seon sells swords only upon request.  He makes swords for specific customers and no swords are exactly the same. 

 

He received his license from the Korean government to make swords in 1989.  Lee Sang Seon said that the background investigation required to get a license is exhaustive, they question him regarding his family history going back three generations, and also his wife and her family history.  Then after passing this rigorous investigation, and paying a rather hefty license fee, the Provincial Chief of Police must approve the application.  On a positive note, Lee Sang Seon said that the standards have relaxed a little over the years.

 

Asked about the differences between Japanese swords and Korean swords, Sword Master Lee said that Japanese swords were made for killing people, whereas Korean swords were made for saving people.  He also mentioned that Japanese swords typically have a blood groove running along the top side of the blade. He added that Korean swords often had special lines, pictures or writings painted or etched on the blade usually for shamanistic reasons.

 

Lee Sang Seon also mentioned that the Japanese government supports their sword manufacturers, whereas the Korean government has thus far not supported the indigenous sword industry. 

 

In the year 2000 Lee Sang Seon moved from Incheon city to his current location, in Kyongsangbukdo province, Munkyong city, Uncheokmyon village.  He lives and labors in an old school house complex which he has transformed into a workshop and museum of Korean weaponry.  As can be seen in the photos, Lee Sang Seon has created an awesome collection of very authentic looking replica weapons.  Kyonki University in Kyonki province (near Seoul) has bought a collection of about 40 of his swords which are on display there.

 

He is a kind and gracious host to those who visit him and his vast and breath-taking collection of ancient weapons.

 

Lee Sang Seon’s phone number are:

 

054-572-3026

054-572-3025

017-337-1931

 

Address: Kyong Sang Bukdo, Munkyong City, Nong-am-myon, Seon kok li

 

____________

 

Ra Yeun-hee and Kim Hyuk-Ik
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Click on picture to go to "Corea Dokum" site

An Interview with Ra Yeun-hee

Co-owner of Corea Dokum

Sword Manufacturers

 

Ra Yeun-hee is a rather unusual lady.  At university she was trained to be a lawyer, a profession she excelled at.  Then, six years ago in a rather unusual move, she went into the sword manufacturing business.  Her husband, working at the Army Collage (Yukkun Sakuan Hakio) in Daejon city, encouraged and supported her all the way.

 

Today she works there with her brother-in-law, Kim Hyun-Ik and a small staff producing beautiful Korean swords.  Their shop is located in the small, scenic neighborhood of Shinseongdong, in the suburb of Yusong, on the outskirts of the very large metropolitan city of Daejon.

 

The surprises don’t stop there.  For example, she gets her iron from Germany and uses a German sword making machine to produce swords with Korean design.  Her logic is undeniable.  German steel and machine technology is certainly respected worldwide.  Even Hyundai hires German engineers to work for them.  The results can’t be denied either.  Their swords are strong, sharp and beautiful.

 

 Their mass machine production of swords of ancient design allows them to make swords cheaper than the competition, and consequently, they do a high volume of sales. 

 

If all this isn’t amazing enough, Ra Yeun-hee and Kim Hyuk-Ik were very modest about their business.  They said they plan to move and upgrade all their systems within the next year or two.  (So you better check the address on their internet site before visiting if you’re going there after 2007!) 

 

For foreigners who would like to buy swords this is a pretty good place, because Kim Hyuk-Ik speaks English rather well, though again, he was very modest about it and kept denying it!

 

Like most people interested in swords, Kim Hyun-Ik had a history story to tell.  He said it’s true that Japanese historically have made great swords, but that Koreans in ancient times usually preferred bows and arrows to swords, partly because of Korea’s mountainous terrain. 

 

SOME SWORDS THEY MAKE

One of their more unusual swords is called Tsam Po.  It actually has a triangular shaped blade with three cutting edges.  This is modeled after an original Korean design, they said.  They also showed us a Hwando Dedo, or Big sword, modeled after a 6th Century design.  Then there is the Chil Song Kum, or seven star sword, originally made between 1561 and 1597.  On the blade are etched, indeed, seven stars.  What makes this sword really unique is that two swords fit into one scabbard.  They are a perfectly matched pair.

 

These fore mentioned swords are collectors’ items. 

 

Asked about their most popular swords they said two swords in particular have the highest sales volume. 

 

First is the “Sam-kakdo” a really sharp sword with a rather thin blade.  It’s mainly used by Hedong Kumdo people who practice Poomses (pre-arranged sequences of attack and defense movements) with it.  It is also good for the practice of slicing through bundles of tightly bound straw. 

 

Second is the Yuk-kakdo, a sword with a thicker back used by both Hedong and Taehan Kumdo people for practice for Poomses and slicing through bamboo trees.  It isn’t as sharp as the Sam-kakdo, but holds its edge well through vigorous use.

 

Both of these swords look vaguely like Japanese Samurai swords, but really are Korean designs.  However, when asked by a customer, they do sometimes put a blood groove on the Yuk-kakdo sword because it makes a whistling sound during Poomse practice. 

 

These swords can be bought for between 600,000 Won – 800,000 Won, about half the market price of similar swords.

 

One interesting difference they mentioned between Korean and Japanese swords is that in the Korean design they use two pins to attach the pommel to the steel sword handle, whereas they said Japanese swords usually use only one pin.

 

One of their more expensive swords looks a bit like the Yuk-kakdo, however is made with special Tanjo (pounded) steel and has gold inlay on the sword and sheath.

 

Corea Dokum retail store is located at 162-10 Shinseongdon, Yusongkoo, Daejon, South Korea.  Their phone number is 042-863-0076, 0078.  The fax is 042-867-7789.  email: layounhee@hanmail.net and moon5906@hanmail.net.

 

Their internet address is www.coreasword.com

 

Story by Greg Brundage

Interview date: May 20, 2006

Kang Cheul Kyu in his office
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Click on picture to go to his site

An Interview with Korean Swordsmith

Kang Cheul Kyu

 

Born in July 1956, Yeosu city, South Jolla province, and the son of a Christian minister, sword master Kang Cheul Kyu is a modern master Swordsmith.  Like the swords he makes sword master Kang Cheul Kyu is strong, direct and honest.

 

He started to learn about swordsmithing about 25 years ago.  At the time the economy in Korea was not so good and he was a young man in search of a mission and profession. Enter Mr. Yeon.  Mr. Yeon is something of a legend in Korea.  Several of today’s Korean Master Swordsmiths learned their art from Mr. Yeon in Seoul many years ago.  Now retired he remains something a mystery and is held in awe by his former students.   Swords master Kang Cheul Kyu studied under Mr. Yeon for a little more than five years.  At the end of this apprenticeship, he felt he had some creative ideas of his own he needed to develop and consequently moved on to further his own art.  These ideas panned out into the creation of new and superior swordsmithing methodologies and designs and now are closely guarded secrets.

 

One difference, for example between Kang Cheul Kyu and most other swordsmiths is that he uses an electric furnace that he designed himself rather than the traditional charcoal or coal furnaces.  He also uses three different baths for quenching, using different oils. 

 

Kang Cheul Kyu also reported that he benefited greatly from advice he received from history Professor Shim Sun Kyu of Korean Physical Education University, who he said is an exceptionally well informed authority on Korean swords.

 

Asked about the materials he uses to make his swords, Kang Cheul Kyu reported that he uses three different kinds of steel: SK 3, SK 11 and something called Tanjo steel.  SK 3, SK 11 are stainless steels used for making normal quality swords.  Tanjo steel, however is very special.  “Tanjo” means pounding.  It is special very high quality steel that has been pounded vastly more than the ordinary quality steel.  Tanjo steel swords, according to sword master Kang Cheul Kyu are virtually immortal.  He said that foreigners looking for swords always ask for “stainless steel,” so they buy SK 3.  Tanjo steel, however, is unique to Korea and Japan.  Another unique quality of Tanjo is that it “sweats” for several years.  Consequently, this very special hand crafted weapon needs to be wiped down occasionally for a few years after its creation.  The SK 3 steel is bought from Japan.  The steel that he uses to make Tanjo weapons is from a Korean company.

 

The following are only some the swords that Kang Cheul Kyu makes: 

 

Hankuk Do: “Korean sword”

 

Chan Kun Do: “Generals sword”

 

Sa-in-Kum: “Kings sword”  This is the only double edged blade that he makes.  Rather pricy is costs about US$30,000.

 

Sam-in-Kum: Subjects sword

 

Yeong Kum: Chinese sword – this short straight sword has a very light and flexible blade.  Historically the blade was sometimes concealed in a belt.

 

Paekje Do: This sword is rather similar to Japanese style, though typical of Korean swords, there is no blood groove ().

 

Jipangi: Stick – sword that is concealed in a walking stick made of rosewood.

 

Hwarangdo Kum: “Hwarang” was a warrior/scholar class of  Korea started in the mid-sixth century.  This exceptionally beautiful straight sword has a rosewood handle and scabbard.

 

Lee Sun Shin Kum: Lee Sun Shin was Korea’s most famous admiral  renowned for saving Korea from both Japanese and Mongol invasions. This magnificent and very long sword takes two to three months to make.  Historically it was used for ceremonial purposes.  Swordsmith Kang Cheul Kyu's version of this sword has gold inlay.

 

Sam Kak Do: Special Cut Sword – curved sword

 

Su Ryon Do: Training Sword – curved sword commonly used by Kumdo practitioners.

 

Wu-Shu Kum: Chinese martial art sword – straight blade

 

Unchangdo: “Silver handcraft knife” 

 

Most of these names were created by Kang Cheul Kyu, though basic designs were from historical sources.

 

Asked about Park Yong-ki’s Unchangdo (see Interview with Lee Eun Cheol), Kang Cheul Kyu reported that he believed Park Yong-Ki’s weapon was a “good knife.”

 

Asked about getting a license to sell swords, Kang Cheul Kyu reported that the government had liberalized a little and police investigations into family histories were not a rigorous as in the past, though he said that the license still costs between US$20,000 to $30,000.

 

Queried about government support of Korean swordsmiths, he said that he believed the government doesn’t like swords and only thinks of them as “dangerous.”  Asked if there was an association of swordsmiths in Korea, he said that there wasn’t. “Korean swordsmiths are very individualistic,” he added.

 

Kang Cheul Kyu has two technicians that assist him in his work.  He currently produces about 200 swords a year.

 

On the subject of his family sword master Kang Cheul Kyu said that he has one daughter who has had great success working as a model. 

 

Kang Cheul Kyu has an internet site: dogum.co.kr

 

His phone numbers are:

Home:             031-543-5900

Fax:                 031-543-0918

Seoul Store:   02-999-8703

Mobile:           011-777-4106

 

Address: Kyongki Province, Pocheon City, So-heul-eup Town, Lee Dong Kyo 331-2  It’s about 30 minutes drive north of Seoul.

 

Story by Greg Brundage & Kim Dammers 

Korean swords - An ancient and proud tradition!