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Thread: Swords of Korea: 200 to 1600 AD

  1. #1
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    Swords of Korea: 200 to 1600 AD

    I recently returned from a short trip to Seoul, Korea. While there, I was able to spend some time in the basement level of the Korean War Memorial Museum, studying Korean swords from the Three Kingdoms, Koryo, and Choseon periods. Pictures I took at the time have been loaded into a slide show on Photobucket, with labels, descriptions, and notes.

    If you click the following link, you will be able to view the entire collection of early armaments, except for the first few stone and bronze swords (I did not take picures of those). You can click the 'stop' button at the bottom of the page to view a single picture; hovering over the text with your mouse will allow you to read all the accompanying notes.
    http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v3...view=slideshow

    Please feel free to forward comments, notes, and corrections to me, or simply add your comments into this thread.

    Enjoy!
    "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose"
    - Missionary Jim Elliot; martyred 1956

  2. #2
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    Thumbs up

    Thanks Ann!!!

    Great slide show and much appreciated. I would love to see these in person and close-up. It interests me how similar these swords are to some Nihonto. It would be great to compare them with my small knowledge of Nihonto from the various eras.

    Cheers

    Jason
    Last edited by Jason Anstey; 11-26-2008 at 08:49 PM. Reason: slightly clearer response

  3. #3

    Thumbs up Even better than Turkey and Stuffing!

    Good Morning Ann,

    May your Thanksgiving Day be filled with Spirit (as well as lots of good food). I am thankful that you are kind enough to share your personal photos of this world-famous collection. Some day, I hope to visit Korea and see these historic beauties, myself. Say, are you the infamous cyber-luminary Ninjamom?

    I find the transformation from what most of us know as Chinese sword forms, to those we know as Japanese, so very fascinating. I am most curious as to just when, native Korean swords metamorphosed from one influence to the other? So, was there an abrupt transition or was it gradual? Did early Joseon/Chosun Dynasty swords retain many predominant Chinese influences? Approximately, when did the Japanese influences, in terms of overall sword design, filter in?

    For those Forumites who are both intrigued and delighted by this thread, I have a cluster links worth checking out. I believe I got them from fellow ISForumite Bruce Sims, Ninjamom and/or one of the other fine folks at the old Kingdom Fighter website.

    http://museum.kma.ac.kr/kor/museum/main.htm

    http://www.arscives.com/historysteel....swordlist.htm

    http://www.koreanmartialartsresource...swordarts.html

    http://www.swordsofkorea.com/swords.htm




    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, Jon Palombi
    Last edited by jonpalombi; 11-27-2008 at 07:47 AM.
    "A wise person aspires the study of swordsmanship. A lucky person finds a worthy teacher, an unlucky person finds yet another student... in the guise of a genuine Master. Sadly, a fool cannot tell the difference either way." Anecdotes of The Unknown Swordsman

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonpalombi View Post
    Good Morning Ann,


    .... Say, are you the infamous cyber-luminary Ninjamom?
    Guilty as charged, and you are WAY too kind!

    Thanks so much for those links - I had lost two, and the first one I had never seen. Excellent resource!

    As far as when things transitioned from Chinese to Japanese influences, I have been trying to pull that out of the mix for years. Somehow, like most things, I don't think it's that simple.

    I know the Chinese had many points at which they had significant impact on Korean swordsmanship: early migration and trade in the Three Kingdoms Period, constant war between Koguryeo and the Sui dynasty, the Tang alliance with Shilla to help Shilla dominate the peninsula in the 7th century, Wars with Jerchen and Khitan empires in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Mongol Invasion in 1230, the alliance with the Ming to defeat the Japanese in the Imjin Waeran (1592-1597), the Manchu Invasion (1630's), and continued interaction and military training with the Qing made sure that there was a continual stream of influence (including sword designs, metallurgy, tactics, and techniques) from China. At the same time, Korea had significant interaction with Japan. The Korean kingdom of Paekche enjoyed a stable trade and military alliance with the Yayoi and proto-Yamato Japan. ChangPoGo established a 'trade empire' off the southern Korean coast in the 9th century that had extensive trade with both China and Japan. The 'Wako' ('foreign barbarians', as the Koreans called the Japanese pirates) invaded and attacked from that time until the Tokugara era (17th century). After being annexed into the Mongol Empire, the Koreans fought in the two invasions against Japan in the 13th century, and were in turn overrun by the Japanese for 7 years in the late 16th century. All of these interactions, whether through friendly trade or on the battlefield, assured a constant flow of military hardware and tactics between Korea and Japan as well. Overall, I would say that everything up to and including the Shilla period showed native and Chinese influences almost exclusively, while starting in the late Koryeo period, you can begin to see pictures and examples of Korean swords that you'd be hard-pressed to find the differences from a nihonto of the same period. The most interesting part, to me, is seeing these different influences exist in the same culture, side-by-side, for centuries.

    I look at Korea as the tea leaves in a sieve between China and Japan. The waters of Chinese culture and technology flowed through them, but those waters were changed and flavored as they passed through to fill the Japanese cup. In the same way, the language, writing, philosophy, metallurgy, and military science that flowed through Korea to Japan were all indebted to Chinese culture, but were no longer really 'Chinese'. Culture continued flowing into the Korean Peninsula from China for centuries, but as the 'cup' became full, the tea began to influence the leaves, as well, and at the same time.

    Not sure if that helps; but a happy Thanksgiving to you as well!
    Last edited by Ann Reagan; 11-27-2008 at 08:33 AM.
    "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose"
    - Missionary Jim Elliot; martyred 1956

  5. #5

    Cool Better than gravy or cranberry sauce!

    Thanks Ann,

    Now that is a very profound reply, both in the depth of your insight and the valuable historical content!

    Be well and practice often, Jon Palombi
    "A wise person aspires the study of swordsmanship. A lucky person finds a worthy teacher, an unlucky person finds yet another student... in the guise of a genuine Master. Sadly, a fool cannot tell the difference either way." Anecdotes of The Unknown Swordsman

  6. #6
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    Happy Thanksgiving to you guys! The 27th was yesterday for us here, and we don't celebrate Thanksgiving anyway, but I'm jealous that you have a whole other day to eat turkey. Turkey... Yum...

    That slideshow is awesome... I've always liked Korean swords, especially the older ones...

    Quote Originally Posted by Ann Reagan View Post
    The most interesting part, to me, is seeing these different influences exist in the same culture, side-by-side, for centuries.
    Well, you see the same thing in China with Jian and Dao. The Kanji in Japanese for Katana is the same as in China for Dao. It means knife, basically any single-edged bladed weapon.

    Korean language had a huge influence on Japanese language, except for the adoption of the alphabets not of Chinese origin (Hiragana/Katakana and Hangeul). I know they have nearly exactly the same grammar... I also would've thought that Korea had an effect on Japanese sword design much more than vice versa, as I know that a huge number of the earliest swords found in Japan are actually Korean.

    In terms of dress too, the Korean traditional dress is just like Chinese Han Dynasty fashion, and the Japanese traditional dress is seen in Tang period fashion as well. Han Dynasty put in place the Jian, or two-edged, pattern, which remained virtually unchanged until today, and some Han Dynasty Dao resemble both Korean and Japanese single-edged swords.

    A lot of the Korean single-edged straight bladed swords look just like Tang Dao. Both Japan and Korea paid tribute to the Chinese "Golden Ages",so that might be where the influence originated... We know that Koreans in particular were always keen to adopt helpful Chinese technology,,, Look at how they received silk and cotton, right?

  7. #7
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    Ann,
    could you provide a link without slideshow? It doesn't work on the computer I'm currently sitting on. Would be great.

    Thanks,
    Peter

  8. #8
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    Thank you, Peter, for viewing the swords.

    Please try http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v3...albumview=grid

    This view should allow you to see a grid of all the pictures. To see an individual picture, you will have to click on it. You will then be able to read the captions when you place your mouse over the first three lines of caption shown at the bottom of each picture.

    Please let me know if you still have problems with this link.
    "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose"
    - Missionary Jim Elliot; martyred 1956

  9. #9
    You show two swords from "the time of the Mongol invasion" and mention that the top one shows Chinese influence. To me it looks distinctly Mongol with a raised yelman. I have seen two Ming period Chinese swords with this characteristic, but they were both described as Mongol. I have also seen an excavated Mongol blade from Persia with the same characteristic. I don't think that similar designs were seen in China outside of Mongol blades until the 19th c. oxtail dao.

    Regarding language, it is fun to see sword related words in the various nearby cultures. I think the connections are best seen in the southern Chinese dialects. Thus dadao (Mandarin)= taito (Hokien) which is similar to both Korean and Japanese terms. Also jian=gim which is close to the gum/geum of Korea and kiem of Vietnam. The word dao in particular seems to be almost a universal word for single edged blades throughout the South East Asian and East Asian mainland.

    I didn’t see any two edged swords not labeled ceremonial. I know that some Chosen examples were very similar to Chinese examples and would have been practical weapons. Was it just that the handles were too large on the examples shown? Were the blades also constructed differently?

    Thanks for the pictures.
    Josh

  10. #10
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    Hello all, just mine understanding that country line are not as clear as now and trade are widely conducted and I assume sword making technique is passed though as well. just look at surrounding countries all used to use same characters in writing as example to show not so much who influence the making of their sword, but how to improve their sword for better advantage on battlefield or in a sword fight. my 2cents. J.

  11. #11
    Thanks for the pictures....haven't been involved on this forum for nearly three years and seeing this my first time back is great....

    Craig

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