Korean Sword History

Although Korean Martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do are well known to the world, very little is known about Korean swords and weapons.  To get an understanding of Korean weapons, one must first understand the history of Korea and its people.

Ancient people of Korea preferred nature and art to warfare.  Pottery and paintings flourished throughout Korean history and are still highly sought after in current times.  This tendency arose as Buddhism was embraced by the Korean people during the Koguryo period (372 AD) and then Confucianism in the 1300s.  However, being surrounded by larger, more aggressive and more powerful neighboring kingdoms, Koreans were forced to develop weapons and art of warfare as they were constantly invaded by the Chinese, Manchurians, Mongols and Japanese.

Korean swords have a long history dating back to prehistoric times.  Stone swords were used 3000 years ago throughout Korea and iron swords were developed during the Three Kingdom era (57 BC - 668 AD).  Forged and folded iron sword-making methods originated in China during the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) then spread to Korea and Japan.

Korean warfare during the Three Kingdom era primarily consisted of foot soldiers with spears and bows and archers on horsebacks.  Straight iron swords, mace and flail were used for close contact fighting.  

The sword, which Koreans call a gum (also spelled geom or kum), was a highly respected martial arts skill and swordsmen were honored during the Three Kingdom era.  Korean sword makers developed advanced manufacturing techniques which helped spread the reputation of Korean blades throughout the region.

Korea's first metal swords are described in writings from the Paekche dynasty (18 BC - 668 AD).  During this period there were substantial trade with Japan and iron swords and sword-making technology was brought to Japan during 6th century AD.  The first type of such sword was the ring pommel sword.

Sword-making in Korea severely declined as the nation embraced Confucianism in the 1300s which led to disdain for the art of war.  While sword making flourished in the militaristic society of feudal Japan where the sword was viewed as the soul of the Samurai the Koreans rejected the weapons of war and the Korean sword-making technology stagnated and declined.  Some of the master sword makers migrated to Japan to continue their craftsmanship such as those that formed the Rai school.  Swords were continued to be made in Korea but primarily as a tool to defend the nation rather than an art form to be advanced.

Furthermore, during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japanese forces occupied Korea until 1945 and destroyed many of the remaining ancient weapons or taken them back to Japan.

Due to these events, ancient Korean weapons are virtually unknown to the world.  The fact that Korea remains an independent nation today, after countless invasions over the centuries, is a testament to the will of its people.

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