Swords have existed on the Korean peninsula for centuries, with some of the first examples dating back to the early 15th century. Korean swords share similar designs to its Chinese and Japanese neighbors, though they also possessed some unique traits. Today, we're going to explore Korean swords, revealing some fun facts that may surprise you.
#1) Korean Swords had Ranks
Historians believe that Korean swords were given ranks to signify their purpose and person who wielded them. During Korea's Joseon period (1392-1897), the highest ranking swords were the Byeol-ungeom. Only two Byeol-ungeom swords are known to have been made, both of which were wielded by the King's two bodyguards.
#2) Up to 6 Feet Long
While most traditional Korean swords measured just 3 to 4 feet long, some were quite longer. The jedok geom, for instance, was a massive sword featuring the highest quality steel and craftsmanship that measured up to 6 feet long. It was a single-edge sword used exclusively by soldiers during Korea's Joseon period.
#3) Korean Swordmaking Influenced Japanese Swordmaking
Did Japanese swordmaking influence Korean swordmaking or visa-versa? The most likely scenario is that both regions influenced each others' swordmaking. However, records show that elements of Korean swordmaking were transferred over to the Japanese Archipelago during the Three Kingdoms period. Additionally, metallurgy practices like iron smelting was also transferred during this period.
#4) Ceremonial Swords were Rare
Some Korean swords were designed for militaristic purposes, though others were designed for use during ceremonials. These ceremonial swords were given one of four grades. The highest grade, sa-ingeom, were reserved for members of the Korean royal family and could only be made during a 2-hour window every 12 years. As such, sa-ingeom swords were (and still are) incredibly rare.
#5) Traditional Korean Swords Were Almost Eradicated
There aren't many traditional Korean swords left today due to the destruction caused during the colonial period. During this time, Korean swords, armor and martial arts equipment was confiscated and destroyed, resulting in only a few surviving specimens.
#6) A Korean Martial Artist Protected the King from Assassination
Baek Dong Soo was a highly skilled martial artist who became famous in Korea after successfully defending King Jeongjo from assassination attempts. His experience was later translated into a modern-day comic book, known as the Warrior Baek Dong-soo. Baek Dong Soo was also one of the only two people to have ever wielded Korea's highest ranking sword: the Byeol-ungeom.
Photo credit: Traveling Otter