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The traditions of Korean bladesmithing and swordsmanship have served a central place in the military history of Korea for thousands of years. Although typical Korean land battles have taken place in wide valleys and narrow mountain passes, which favor use of spears and bows,[1] the sword found use as a secondary, close-quarters weapon, in addition to far more prominent role 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][clarification needed]

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 (; ).

The history of the sword in Korea begins with bronze daggers of Bronze Age of which existing artifacts dates back to 10-9th century BCE. Iron use co-existed with Bronze use during the late Bronze Age. As Bronze Age and Iron Age started at the same time in the Japanese archipelago during the Yayoi period, use of Iron in the Korean Cultural sphere can be estimated to have started in the same time period.

The rarity of traditional Korean swords in the modern day has made them extremely valuable, with high demand from both museums and collectors.


Early swords

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
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.[4]

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 Northern and Southern 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").[5]

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.

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) 

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 6 ft (180 cm) long; however, certain swords of the jedok geom style could reach a length of 3–4 ft (91–122 cm) (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).

During the Imjin War (1592-1598), under the influence of Japanese swords, Hwando with blades with a length of 90 cm (35 in) or more appeared.


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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.[6]

Various examples of Korean sword design

Many different types of Do and Geom exist,[7] 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 swordsmanship

Main article: Korean swordsmanship

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The study of Korean sword as a weapons system is commonly called Geom Beop (literally "Sword Law")

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). [1]

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 South Korean 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

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.[15][16]

In 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. [17][18]

See also


  1. ^ "MY LOVE FROM SOUTH KOREA: The Great Battle of the Salsu River". MY LOVE FROM SOUTH KOREA. Retrieved 2019-12-05.
  2. ^ "Take responsibility for national security: President Moon". Retrieved 2019-12-05.
  3. ^ "Swordsmithing, Master restores ancient swordmaking skill". The Korea Times. 2018-12-16. Retrieved 2019-12-05.
  4. ^ "Korean National Museum Accession Number Bongwan 14050". Archived from the original on 2016-01-11. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  5. ^ Sword sparks debate, The Korean Times, 4 July 2013. Discovery of the Silla Geumgwanchong Tomb "King Isaji" Sword Inscription ( 3 July 2013.
  6. ^ 한국환상사전. 무기와 방어구 편 Archived 2006-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Swords Of Korea". Retrieved 2019-12-05.
  8. ^ "Korean Jikdo Sword". Retrieved 2020-09-14.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ a b Ancient Art of Korea. Swords in Chosun Kingdom Archived 2015-07-25 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ JoongAng Daily. Keeping an ancient craft alive Archived November 25, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "[브리핑] 삼정도, 삼정검으로 바뀐다" [Samjeongdo changed to samjeong-geom]. May 3, 2006.
  16. ^ "대통령 하사하는 칼, 삼정도서 삼정검으로" [A sword bestowed by the president, Samjeongdo to samjeong-geom]. The Chosun Ilbo. May 2, 2006. Archived from the original on 2017-01-07. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  17. ^ "국회, 고증 논란 이순신 장군 동상 새로 설치" [Parliament, historical research controversy installation of a new statue of Admiral Yi]. Korean Broadcasting System. November 2, 2015.
  18. ^ "광화문 이순신 장군 동상의 5대 문제점" [Five issues of the statue of Admiral Yi at Gwanghwamun]. The Hankyoreh. November 15, 2010.