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Thread: Korean Swords/Knives

  1. #1

    Korean Swords/Knives


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    I'm taking a trip to Korea in a couple of weeks or so and I would like to purchase a knife or short sword. Does anyone have experience with Korean blades? What should I be looking for? Are there any specific Korean knives that are more preferrable? Bear in mind I wouldn't like to spend an arm and a leg, and I have to get it back to the states (probably checked in baggage). Thanks for the help.

  2. #2
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    This isn't something I would necessarily recommend without extensive research.

    There's a vast gulf of quality between Korean blades (like anywhere, of course, but particularly so with the Korean blades). Even if you cram to do a lot of research before your trip, you'll quickly realize that no one seems to have good advice on the subject.

    The Koreans really never developed a strong sword tradition of their own (despite claims to the contrary), and either utilized Chinese gim-style blades, or borrowed (some say inspired) Japanese styles and methods. There are no bladed weapons particularly unique to Korea, unfortunately...again despite many claims to the contrary.

    You can certainly find many Korean swordsmiths whose quality readily matches the best swordsmiths in the world--but I suspect you won't find anything that's genuinely Korean in design.

    Use whatever discriminating eye you use when purchasing blades here in the States, and I think you'll be able to spot a bad deal early on.

    That said, have a great trip--that sounds exciting!

  3. #3
    Thanks a lot. I was wondering if you had any similar advice for some other Southeast Asian countries I may be in looking for knives. Indonesia and Singapore are probably to two most likely places I'll have a chance to search. Any ideas would be great. I'd hate to go and come back without anything because I didn't want to pay for a knife that isn't worth anything.

  4. #4
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    Sorry, missed your followup. I can't help you too much, other than to second your suspicion that you can likely get some very good blades in SE Asia for very little money, compared to NE Asia! Do I have evidence? Heck no--but it seems to be a pervasive myth based on no counter-evidence!

  5. #5
    Thanks, you have been very helpful. If I find anything good I'll post it when I get back.

  6. #6
    My local TKD teacher talked about a sword he has that was made by a Korean sword smith that is listed as a some type of Korean living national treasure.

    This seems to suggest that there a re some bladesmiths that are very good.

  7. #7
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    Korean blades are the weakest of almost all Asian blades. They kick really well and make damn good dramas however.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by clintblastwood View Post
    Korean blades are the weakest of almost all Asian blades. They kick really well and make damn good dramas however.
    That's a rather odd statement to make. Which Korean blades in particular? Made by who? Is there some sort of inherent design flaw? Do they use bad steel? What are you comparing them too? High end Japanese Nihonto? Pakistani wall hangers? <scratching head in puzzlement>

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Molstad View Post
    My local TKD teacher talked about a sword he has that was made by a Korean sword smith that is listed as a some type of Korean living national treasure.

    This seems to suggest that there a re some bladesmiths that are very good.
    Indeed there are--and many of them are manufacturing a variety of blades. But they're not inexpensively priced at all.

    Of course, while not suggesting anything regarding your instructor--this is a general comment--I get extremely skeptical of such claims until they can be independently verified...particularly out of Korea: for many years, the government was virtually handing out "official government recognition" status in exchange for money. And not just with swords, but with almost everything! Again, not saying your instructor was taken... but in future, I'd recommend substantial research before taking any Korean swordsmith's claims for it. (That said, I do believe there are some "treasured" swordsmiths, so the claim is by no means incredible!)

    Nevertheless, many of the top Korean swordsmiths are primarily making Japanese-based blades, even some with Korean trim and personality. But the Koreans have very little in the way of unique sword designs and traditions outside of Chinese and later Japanese influences. So you might see an obvious katana, but with Korean-style ribbons or a dragon on it for example.

  10. #10
    My wife is Korean and I've been to Korea many, many times. The only knives I've ever seen there were old rusted up antiques in the outdoor market, letter openers in tourist junk shops, or SAKs in the department stores. And believe me, I've looked! If you do manage to find knives there, let me know where so I can check it out next time I'm there!

    As far as I can tell, there is next to no knife culture in Korea. I've gotten way more panicked/ alarmed/ awkward looks for carrying a little SAK there than I have here for anything else, much bigger and "scary" looking. It seems to me that Korea is about where the UK is on the "knife-o-meter", if not worse. The difference being that Korea is actually safe enough where you don't need to worry about SD.

    If you want to buy knives, I think it's better to go somewhere with a deep and rich culture and history of violence. (Like the US! Or Japan!) Korea's one of the more "civilized" places in the world- seems to me that they've never had a real compelling reason to develop indigenous weaponry.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by moonwilson View Post
    My wife is Korean and I've been to Korea many, many times. The only knives I've ever seen there were old rusted up antiques in the outdoor market, letter openers in tourist junk shops, or SAKs in the department stores. And believe me, I've looked! If you do manage to find knives there, let me know where so I can check it out next time I'm there!

    As far as I can tell, there is next to no knife culture in Korea. I've gotten way more panicked/ alarmed/ awkward looks for carrying a little SAK there than I have here for anything else, much bigger and "scary" looking. It seems to me that Korea is about where the UK is on the "knife-o-meter", if not worse. The difference being that Korea is actually safe enough where you don't need to worry about SD.

    If you want to buy knives, I think it's better to go somewhere with a deep and rich culture and history of violence. (Like the US! Or Japan!) Korea's one of the more "civilized" places in the world- seems to me that they've never had a real compelling reason to develop indigenous weaponry.

    If one reads a history of Korea one might come to the conclusion that they had a definite need of weaponry...

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Triton View Post
    If one reads a history of Korea one might come to the conclusion that they had a definite need of weaponry...
    Heh heh... but it depends on whose history you read!

    Much of the independently documented history of Korea has been one of defiant isolation. Much of the remainder approaches fiction. Their early military triumphs against China, for example, were significantly exaggerated (although historical evidence either way is lacking: itself potentially a sign, given how careful the Chinese tried to be about writing stuff down--they barely regarded Korea). Most of Korea's warfare was ultimately inter-tribal warfare that was, um, amped up especially in the 1950s to rival the battles of other countries.

    What is for certain is that there was a distinct Confucian disdain for weapons and military training--which cost them significantly when Japan marched in during 1903 completely unopposed. As such, the Koreans haven't ever had much of a weapon culture whatsoever. Two exceptions: the Korean archers were and are awesome. And the trident was highly regarded as a shamanistic weapon (not intended for combat).

  13. #13
    Sounds like the Korean view towards swords is like that of the Chinese. That it is just a dangerous weapon. Though, in all fairness, all swords were developed for only one purpose. Warfare. A killing weapon (In Japan, however [today], it is considered an art piece and an integral part of their cultural identity).

    In both cultures any one with a sword collection is looked upon as a freak. Unless they can show they are a "connisseur" of swords. A highly educated collector. Unfortunately I'm sure most sword "collectors" are buying cheap reproductions made using US steel. Bought for their cutting ability rather than the art (e.g. authentic Japanese swords from Japan made only using Tamahagne). To play with in their backyards. Usually with no martial arts training.

    So, as much as I too would love to buy an authentic Korean sword (Chinese influenced or not), I'd be extremely skeptical since there is no regulation by the Korean government as there is in Japan.

    In Korea a swordsmith is free to produce 200 blades (or more...I read that this one Korean smith produces 200 /yr) per year. In japan...they (each swordsmith) are only "allowed" to produce 2 blades per month.

    And as some one on this thread alleged. Tittles can be bought. So do the particular Korean swordsmith truly hold said title?

    It is sort of sad that in China and Korea swords/knives are so frowned upon. Leaving each culture with virtually no sword/knife culture (unlike in Japan where the sword is very much a part of their culture...swords are made as a symbol of protection for temples...displayed in shrines out in the open at certain times...).

    This is also why there are virtually no books written on Korean or Chinese swords. In their native languages or English (again, unlike for Japanese swords). If you know where to go in Japan it's highly unlikely you would end up with a worthless fake. Even if your sword knowledge is weak or non-existent. If you have the funds...and have some one who is fluent in Japanese...you could blindly make a purchase and end up with an authentic Japanese sword.
    Last edited by BDD888; 06-13-2012 at 06:12 PM.

  14. #14
    I believe I also recently read that foreigners can only buy very, very small knives in Korea due to a change in the law. If you're headed to Indonesia, there are some incredible blades around, but you'll need transport, an Indonesian speaking friend, lots of time and to do a fair bit of research. If you just want a good, usable carbon steel short short sword as a souvenir, try Sarinah or Pasaraya in Jakarta.

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