Korea's Traditional Weapons
Muye Eship Saban (Moo-yeah Ee-ship Sah-bahn), literally translated as 24 Technique
Martial Art, is made up of the 24 arts of the
Muye Dobo Tongji. In 1789, King Jungjo, ruler of the Yi dynasty, ordered
General Yi Duk-moo to compile an official textbook on all martial art forms then
present in Korea to preserve them for future generations. The result, the Muye Dobo
Tongji, is the only surviving classical text on the Korean arts of war. Based on
the earliest known Korean martial arts treatise, the Muye Chebo written in 1599,
the Muye Dobo Tongji clearly shows the influence of the neighboring Japanese and
Through hundreds of wars and invasions, Korean soldiers adapted battlefield skills
and tactics from their enemies, creating a unique system of their own. Organized
into 24 distinct disciplines comprised of empty hand fighting, weaponry and horsemanship,
this book is an accurate historical snapshot of the warrior arts of the hermit kingdom
in the late 18th century. The 24 arts of Muye Eship Saban are:
The jang chang is a five foot long spear made from the wood of the yew tree. It
can also be made from a similarly soft wood, including bamboo in the right climate.
It was considered the most effective conventional weapon on the battlefield due
to its flexibility and length. The jang chang was widely used in the battle to retake
Pyong-yang Fortress during the 1592 war between Chosun (Korea) and Japan.
Juk Jang Chang
The juk jang chang is a twenty foot long spear made of bamboo and tipped with a
four inch long blade. The primary advantage of the juk jang chang on the battlefield
was its length and sharp blade, making it suitable for fighting many enemies simultaneously.
The kee chang is a flag spear, a nine foot long staff with a nine inch long blade
at the end. The colored flag, attached at the end of the spear just below the blade,
was used to create confusion in battle. Troops surrounded the enemy and waved the
flags vigorously during an attack. It was also used to encourage the troops, like
a rallying cry, in battle. The strength of the kee chang was its ability to make
deceptive attacks and sudden directional changes to attack the center of the enemy's
The dang pa is a triple bladed spear, sometimes called a trident. It is between
seven feet, six inches and eighteen feet long and has either an iron or wooden tip.
The dang pa was a fundamental defensive weapon that was sometimes used to launch
fire at enemy troops.
The nang sun is a fifteen foot long spear made of either bamboo or iron. It has
nine to eleven branches extending out from the main shaft, each studded with small
metal hooks. This deadly weapon was invented by Chuk Kye-kwang during the 1592 war
Ssang Soo Do
The ssang so do is a six foot five inch long sword from Japan. It is so powerful,
that it can cut or break another sword upon striking it. Japanese gunmen also used
this sword as a sidearm for close range combat. The ssang so do is also known as
the jang do, yong gum or pyung gum.
The ye do is a short sword, four feet four inches in length, that is also known
as a dan do. It was used for training soldiers in swordsmanship.
Japanese swordsmanship was clearly recognized as superior to that of the sword techniques
of China or Chosun in the 16th century, so King Sukjong ordered Kim Che-gun to acquire
the techniques and text books of the Japanese. Four styles of 16th century Japan
are recorded in the wae gum section of the Muye Dobo Tongji: Toyu Ryu, Woonkwang
Ryu,Chunryu Ryu, and Ryupee Ryu.
Kyo jun is a Japanese method of practicing swordsmanship with a training partner.
In the original Japanese text book, techniques were documented with a double bladed
sword, but Chosun soldiers practiced with the single bladed sword to prevent injury.
Je Dok Gum
Je dok gum, literally translated as the Admiral's sword, is a method of sword combat
developed by Chinese Admiral Yi Yu-song. Admiral Yi was a descendant of Korean lineage
and was stationed in Korea during King Sinjong's reign. The je dok gum was characterized
by spinning movements, which were used to break free when a soldier was encircled
on the battlefield.
Bon Kuk Gum
The bon kuk gum is a native Chosun sword style as proven by its mention in the legend
of Hwang-chang, a Shilla Hwarang warrior. There is evidence that both Japan and
China adapted some of the techniques of the bon kuk gum.
The ssang gum are single-bladed twin swords of any length (most commonly short swords,
like the yo do). The original swords were two feet, ten inches long, but in later
years, there was not a specific type of sword prescribed for practice. The ssang
gum were used in such a way, that one sword could be used to block an opponent's
attack while the other was used to attack with a counter-strike.
The wol do is a nine foot long crescent sword. Its blade is moon shaped, with a
small blade projecting below the main blade. The smaller blade has a feather tied
to it. Although a fearsome looking weapon, it was used primarily for practice among
infantry soldiers, having been considered too weak for use in battle.
The hyup do is a spear sword with a three foot long handle. It resembles the wol
do but with a single, thinner blade. It was rarely used in battle, because it was
considered, like the wol do, to be too weak.
The deung pae is the sword and shield art. The sword, used for attacking, was primarily
a short sword, such as the yo do. The shield was three feet seven inches in diameter
and was most commonly made of woven wisteria branches (in the south) or willow branches
wrapped in leather (in the north). It was used by the infantry to defend against
a variety of weapons including the dart spear and bird gun.
Kwon bup is the only empty handed fighting method of the twenty-four. It was practiced
as both an empty handed self-defense skill and as preparation for learning the more
complicated sword arts. There were both external and internal styles of practice.
The kon bang is a seven foot long stick with a two inch wide duck bill shaped blade
at the end. It was used to stab (like a spear) or strike (like a stick) enemies
and was especially effective against the deung pae.
The pyun gon is a flail, an eight foot long staff with a two foot long club attached
to the end of it by a chain or metal ring. The pyun gon looks similar to a nunchaku
except that one segment is much longer than the other whereas the nuchaku's sticks
are equal in length. It was often used to club enemies attempting to scale the walls
of a castle or fortress.
Ki chang is the art of using the jang chang (long spear) on horseback. The spear
is fifteen feet long and the cavalry troops often practiced for combat by thrusting
the spear into rice straw dummies or participating in duels.
Masang Ssang Gum
Masang ssang gum is the use of the twin swords on horseback. Dan dos, short swords
carried as side arms, were used. The famous warrior, Jin An, used seven foot long
swords in combat on horseback but he was an exception.
Masang Wol Do
Masang wol do is the use of the crescent sword on horseback. In the 16th century
war with the Japanese, the masang wol do was instrumental in repelling the Japanese
invaders. After the war King Shinjong built a monument in Seoul in memory of General
Kwan Woo who was credited with the first use of the wol do.
Masang Pyun Gon
The pyun gon used on horseback has a longer chain than that used by the infantry,
allowing the mounted combatant to strike enemies on the ground. The stick at the
end of the chain is studded with iron nails or other sharp protrusions to inflict
fatal wounds on impact.
Kyuk koo is a game similar to polo. Contestants on horseback use long handled mallets
to strike a small leather ball. It was used to train soldiers and horses for mounted
combat and to test the skills of the riders. Kyuk koo games were often surrounded
by a great deal of ceremony and attended by royalty.
Masang jae is a system of acrobatic techniques on horseback. The skills were primarily
used to deceive the enemy in combat by hiding the body under the horse or playing
dead. Other skills were used to allow the rider to attack the enemy, such as standing
on the saddle to shoot the enemy with the three muzzle gun. The techniques were
originated by Suk Ho-ui who was said to be as agile as a monkey riding a horse.
The arts of Muye Eship Saban are kept alive today by the masters of the Kyungdang
demonstration team and the Baekje Cultural Martial Arts Institute. Both groups frequently
perform at cultural events in Korea.
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