Native Sword – Bon Guk Geom (본국검)

Korean sword, gojeon gumdo, Keom mu Kwan

‘Sleepy Head’ midway through Bon Geuk Geom (Golden rooster stands on one leg)

Bon Guk Geom (본국검 – 本國劍) is probably the most famous of the sword ‘forms’ from the Muyedobotongji (무예도보통지). Bon Guk Geom means ‘Native Sword‘ and it refers not to sword architecture, but method. Bon Guk Geom is quite different to Jae Dok Geom (제독검 – Commander’s Sword). Though the form appeared in the 3rd volume of the  MYDBTJ in 1791 (published in 1795), it originally appeared in the Muyeshinbo (무예신보) of 1759 where it was one of 12 weapon systems. However, controversy surrounds just how old the form is because it is absent from the earlier,  Muyejebo (무예재보) of 1610.

The fame of Bon Guk Geom is enhanced by the story from the Three Kingdom Period (37 BC-660 AD) about a ‘flower boy’ named Hwang Chang: Flower boys’ were aristocratic youths who formed the Hwa-Rang in the Shilla Kingdom. Hwang Chang  travelled throughout the Baekje Kingdom performing the sword dance, perhaps Bon Geuk Geom or perhaps some other dance (geommu – 검무). Summoned to perform before the Baekje King, he takes the opportunty to thrust his sword into him with the final technique of the dance, killing the king. He is then cut down by the King’s Guard.

One of BGG's awkward positions

One of BGG’s awkward positions

Bon Guk Geom is both longer and more complex than Jae Dok Geom. At first the form is puzzling as it contains a number of abrupt changes of direction. Further, the hanja instructions which accompany it are from the Ming period (1368-1644). Typically, these consist of four characters which attempt to convey the essence of the technique. They are hence somewhat poetical – ‘Golden rooster stands on one leg,’ for example.

Unlike the more basic forms, I havent supplied much technical information partly because the form is too complex and this is not the purpose of the post or this blog. As with other MYDBTJ forms, there is a chant. This is included in the video below but in hangeul.  If anyone needs a transliteration leave a comment. BGG is a great form and much less knackering to perform than Pal Sang 1 or 2.

Bon Guk Geom – Native Sword – 본국검 -  本國劍

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Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


Korean Traditional Sword Architecture and Terminology

For numerous reasons, I’ve been compiling a glossary of English, Korean sword terminology. Firstly, there are very few sources that provide extensive terminology in both English and Korean. While many comprehensive sources exist to describe and label Japanese sword architecture, Korean sources are both rare and at best sketchy. Quite often, sites intermingle Japanese, English and Korean with only the main architecture in Korean. As for the use of Japanese, well imagine describing a shotokan form by way of Korean terminology! However well intended, the use of Japanese in a dojang is as inappropriate as Korean in a dojo.  I would guess there are only a few genuine sources of researched information on the internet and these are informative and useful, however, in many cases these have been plagiarised in bulk and passed of as the work of other individuals or schools. Quite often, transliterated Korean mixes numerous transliteration systems which makes the task of accurate pronunciation impossible. Finally, for over two years, I’ve found myself constantly flitting between three main sources while smaller features I’ve had to research myself.

Where possible, I use: 1. Hangeul (Korean), 2. hanja (Chinese characters commonly used in Korean), 3. Japanese transliteration and usually the Japanese transliterated into Korean, 4. English, 5. Korean transliterated into English using the Revised Romanisation of 2000 (RR). An ‘O’ means I do not know the term or it does not exist.

I have checked the accuracy of my Hangeul and hanja with native speakers but the Japanese transliterations I have taken from the many excellent and extensive glossaries available in English. My focus has been with Korean-English and Japanese is given only because many Japanese terms are more widely understood than Korean. Any inconsistencies in RR will gradually be eradicated.

korean sword parts

The main parts of the Korean sword and kaljip


korean sword architecture

The sword point

The hilt which includes, guard and pommel

The hilt which includes, guard and pommel


More features from the hilt

More features from the hilt


The guard

The guard

The blade and its features

The blade and its features

Traditionally, Korean swords have less curviature than Japanese katana

Traditionally, Korean jingeom have less curvature than Japanese katana

The kaljip - Korean kaljip are often painted

The kaljip – Korean kaljip are often painted

This kaljip uses a Japanese style saya, with kurigata and sageo and embelishes it with a jul

This kaljip uses a Japanese style saya, with kurigata and sageo and embellishes it with a jul


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Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Korean Sword and the Jul (줄)

Korean sword, Korean traditional martial arts, gumdo

The Jul, a simple cord for securing the housed sword to the kaljip

All the Masters from my Kwan, and there are four whom I see regularly, have a simple cord attached to their jingeoms (진검) which secure the kaljip (칼집 – scabbard) to the kodeungi (코등이) when the sword is not in use. In this case, not in use means the sword is not about to be drawn. This cord, known as a jul (줄), which means line, cord or belt, isn’t released until immediately prior to drawing. The jul is permanently attached to the kaljip. There is nothing grand about them and indeed even on jingeom costing over a thousand pounds, it is usually nothing more than an old boot lace. There is nothing inappropriate about an expensive sword and an old cord because these jingeom are working swords and are used to cut on a regular basis. The grips on the sonjabi (손잡이) are grimy from sweat, the blades marked from use, the kaljip battered and worn but the edge of each sword is as keen as the day it was first worn. And of course, because Korean jingeom are usually bought to cut with rather than to display, they usually come with two kaljip: one is used while cutting bamboo or sodden straw bales, and the other to house the sword after it has been cleaned and between cutting sessions.

Korean sword, jingeom

One of my Master’s Jingeom. The jul (black) is in place

Above, the jul (줄)  can be seen. It is black and keeps the actual sword and kaljip together. A make shift attachment has been added to the kaljip, the blue cord, so it is possible to sling the sword from a traditional Korean belt and cross belt.

Usually, gageom (가검 – blunted practice swords), do not have a jul but last year I attached one to my dojang sword and have since recommended this to fellow students. I have several reasons for this. First, I remember one of the first practice sessions I did on my roof top with my new gageom. When I was walking down the stairs I dropped my wallet and leant forward to pick it up. At that moment, my sword slid out of the kaljip and rolled noisily down three of four stairs. Had it been a jingeom (진검), not only could the fall have damaged the blade, but it could possibly have been very dangerous. And in the months that followed, there were more than one occasion, sometimes while holding the kaljip and others when it was in my belt, when something happened to cause it to slide out. Usually, when this happens you grab the blade with your hand which with a jingeom puts your fingers at risk.

Korean sword, korean traditional martial arts, gumdo

If the jingeom accidentally falls out the kaljip, it can easily slice through the hand or finger

Personally, there is no better way to train yourself to handle a jingeom with due care, than to do so with a practice sword – after all, this is exactly what  a practice sword is meant for. I have since attached jul not just to my other gageom, but also to my mokgeom (목검 – wooden swords).

However, the decision to do this was born out of necessity. Last summer I began taking part in the Korean traditional weapons demonstrations with my kwan both here in Daegu and sometimes in other towns. Not quite in full costume, I still wore a jingeom, in the traditional manner with a cross belt, bow holster and a quiver. Our demonstrations usually open with a display of traditional Korean archery which leads immediately into some cutting displays with straw and bamboo targets. The bow holster and sword are held on the left hip and the holster is either over the kaljip (if the bow is in use) or under it, if not. You cannot draw the sword if the bow holster is not in the right position. I had three days to get used to this equipment before a demonstration. And that little jul, that insignificant cord compounded the problem because it could only be pulled free once the bow holster was in the right position and a draw imminent. From releasing my last arrow to drawing the jingeom, I had fifteen seconds! You wouldn’t believe it could cause so many problems but the main one was that the jul wouldn’t fall away when tugged. Subsequently, this has never happened.

The flat edge of the bow holster is forward, ready for the bow to be used

The flat edge of the bow holster is forward, ready for the bow to be used. The jul, secured, is clearly visible.

Gumdo, Korean sword, Korean traditional martial arts

Here, the flat edged has been swiveled to the rear to enable the sword to drawn. In fact, the bow can be pushed back and dipped under the kaljip, wedging it between the left buttock and kaljip. Grandmaster Seok is in the background.

Only the Masters wear the full costume, including hair-pieces to give them the traditional top-knots. And if  the Grandmaster is present, he usually has a type of chain mail costume which is quite heavy and cumbersome. Lower black-belts wear a smock over their dobok and usually have silk headbands, belts and toshi (토시). Toshi are bindings around the wrists which prevent loose clothing interfering with the sword. Even in such minimal costume, I feel trussed up and awkward and the belt, more like a girdle, isn’t worn around the waist but just under the rib-cage. Then there’s the heat! So the jul creates and added problem that can quickly be eradicated by using one at all times and on all swords. Over the last year, I’ve eradicated any fears of the knot not releasing and can actually make a new knot with one hand. This in itself isn’t difficult but it took a little perseverance.

James' new gageom with its handpainted kaljip. The jul is yellow.

James’ new gageom with its hand painted kaljip. The jul is yellow.

Master Kwon demoloshing a bale - jul flying

Master Kwon demolishing a bale – jul flying


 Addendum - When tightening the jul pull it not just towards handgrip, but anti-clockwise so it pulls tight against the kodeungi (guard).
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Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


Korean Pyeon Gon Specifications (편곤)

Pyeon Gon (left) and Bong (right)

Pyeon Gon (left) and Bong (right)

The Pyeon Gon (편곤-鞭棍) is one of the Muyedobotongji (무예도보통지, pub. 1795) weapons which originally appeared in the Muyeshinbo (무예신보) of 1759. The weapon is a flail or two section staff, originally used for rice threshing, which comprises two unequal staves of wood linked by a chain or rope. One stave is 187cm long, the other 47cm. The shorter stave was often studied with metal nodes or spikes. Originally a foot soldier’s weapon, the MYDBTJ also introduced it as a mounted weapon (masang pyeon-gon, 마상편곤, 馬上鞭棍).

gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts, pyeon gon,

The Two Section Staff – Pyeon Gon (편곤)

The version in my dojang are marginally shorted than the original version and measure 180cm x 38 cm. I am unsure of the wood of the sections but they are certainly slightly flexible. I have only seen this weapon used on a few occasions and it was used to strike the floor which ideally requires a wood with some bend.

gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts, pyeon won

The head of a section

The head of each section measure approx 6cm in length and is approx 3.2cm wide on the outside. Two screws, staggered, hold the fixture to the staff. There are only two sections of link connecting the staves.

gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts, pyeon gon

The heads and chain link

The butt-end of each stave contains a cap which is again held in place by staggered screws. The diameter of the caps are the same as the head.


The pyeon gon standing

The pyeon gon standing

The pyeon gon being used as a mounted weapon (masang pyeon gon - 마상편곤)

The pyeon gon being used as a mounted weapon (masang pyeon gon – 마상편곤)

In full swing

In full swing

The power of the pyeon won is formidable

The power of the pyeon gon is formidable

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Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Korean Sword Cutting Demonstration by Muye24ki

I was searching for some footage of the pyeon-gon (편곤) and came across this excellent snippet of the closing performance of classical martial arts demonstration (고전무예 / 전통무예). I think the performing group is Muye24ki (무예24기), one of the most respected organisations for the interpretation of the Muyedobotongji (무예도보통지).

Note the appearance of some of the more exotic MYDBTJ arsenal, such as the Nang Seon (낭선 – 狼先), a long multi-pronged ‘spear’ which originally had poisons thorns, the Jukjangchang (죽장창 – 竹長槍) with its 20 foot long bamboo shaft, and the giburim (기부림), the long spear with large flag (not a standard MYDBTJ weapon).

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Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Korean Gi-Chang Specifications (기창)

When I train in the UK I have to use a Chinese style spear which is very different to the traditional Korean gi-chang (flag-spear, 기창). Most notably, the Chinese spear usually has a ‘beard’ while the Korean spear has an attached pendant or flag.

chinese traditional weapons

My UK Chinese spear and guan dao (similar to the Korean wol-do)

The Chinese spear was designed for piercing and thrusting more than slashing and hence the blade is short, unsharpened but with a defined point. While it would cause damage if used to slash, it does not have the ability to cut the likes of straw bales. In addition, the flexible, wax shaft would considerably reduce cutting potential. Weight is the next difference: this type of Chinese spear is very light which predisposes it to fast techniques. The gi-chang is much heavier. As with all the Muyedobotongji (무예도보통지) weapons, the gi chang evolved to be used in cohorts or small ‘cells’ of various weapons each with a specific tactical purpose. If your are interested to see how such cohorts operated, or may have looked, check the videos here.

A Gojeon Muye practitioner wielding the gi-chang

A Gojeon Muye practitioner wielding the gi-chang

At around 2 kilograms, the gi-chang is considerably heavier than the traditional Chinese spear and the thick, heavy shaft lacks spring and flexibility. Such characteristics make it excellent for powerful thrusting and slashing techniques.


gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts

The entire spear head showing various parts

In the MYDBTJ, the overall length is cited as 2.7 meters. Our dojang gi chang measure just over 2 meters but the blades are the same size as longer versions. The actual spear head, complete measures 49cm and contains the sleeve, a ‘guard’, blade stem and the blade itself. Two prongs, on straight and one angled emerge from the stem.

The 'sleeve' into which the shaft is secured by 4 screws

The ‘sleeve’ into which the shaft is secured by 4 screws

The sleeve measures approx 12cm and inserted into it is the shaft. It is held in place by four screws. The sleeve is  3.2cm wide on the outside, probably around 3 cm if measured on the inside. Between the sleeve and the blade stem is a small guard approx 0.5cm  in thickness and 5cm in diameter.

gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts

The blade stem, straight and angled prongs

The blade stem is 0.5cm thick and 2.5 cm wide. Its total length, until it flares into the blade, is 15cm. The prongs emerge 10cm from the guard and are 0.5 cm in diameter. One is straight and the other angled and these would have been used for hooking.

gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts, gi chang

The blade of the gi-chang with a short ‘home’

The sides of the blade were sharpened. The gi chang is capable of cutting a straw bale though I don’t think anymore than one would be practical and this would be with a horizontal cut. Upward horizontals are impractical because of the length of the shaft. Cutting bamboo would put stress on the shaft and with bamboo,  a horizontal cut, because of the nature of the wood, splits it rather than cuts it. A gi-chang thrust easily pierces right through the fattest bamboo poles.

gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts

A blade-edge view of the stem and blade

gojeon muye. Korean classical martial arts

The entire gi-chang resplendent with flag

gojeon muye, Korean classical martial arts

The spear shaft is capped on the butt-end by a metal cap

gojeon muye, Korean traditional martial arts

The gi-chang flag

The gi-chang flag. This one carries the hanja character 令 – ‘ryeong’ (명령할-령) which signified a commander, or command post. ‘Ryeong’ means ‘order’ or ‘command.’

I’m not sure about the type of wood used for the shaft but with the Jang-chang (장창),  a slightly shorter spear, yew was used. It is important the shaft wood contains no significant knots as these are weak points. Yew is a heavy wood and probably very suitable but as yet I am guessing. The gi-chang shafts I have seen are heavy, sturdy and unflexible. Unlike my Chinese spear, they do not quiver when thrust. Because of the flattened blade, the gi-chang has both thrusting and slashing positions.

The gi-chang being used to cut a straw bale (source unknown)

The gi-chang being used to cut a straw bale (source unknown)

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Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Lesson Formalities and Etiquette

Most martial arts classes, whether Korean, Chinese or Japanese in origin have formalities which govern certain procedures, the most common being those at the start and end of the class.  The nature of these formalities, the seriousness with which they are carried out varies between styles as well as schools. The formalities and etiquette below are from my dojang, Keom Mu Kwan (검무관), in Daegu, South Korea.

Korean sword

Paying respects is an integral part of Korean culture and the dojang


Students should bow on entering the dojang and then greet the Master.


In Korea, one approaches the Master with little or no formality except upon initial meeting and departure. Maybe the relaxed atmosphere in Korea is the product of martial arts being a business where it is taught mostly to children. Certainly, I’ve experienced more formality in even the most relaxed Western schools. Further, high-ranking belts do not have to same prestige in Korea where dojangs appear on every street corner all run by 5th, 6th or 7th dans. Indeed, you will not find any Korean dojangs in which the instructor is anything less than a 4th dan. Indeed,  little or no deference is given to 1st, 2nd or 3rd dans, usually because they are children or teenagers though older dan grades will be deferred to. Despite the relaxed appearance of a Korean dojang, students will address Masters and teachers in a respectful manner and afford them all the formalities in terms of age and status – these may go unnoticed to Western observers who may not speak the  language or understand social mores.


As is customary in the East, shoes are rarely worn indoors and certainly not in a dojang. Once again, Korean dojangs, certainly ones that cater for young students, tend to be relaxed in terms of dress. First, there tends to be winter and summer-style doboks and secondly, students sometimes train in casual or even street clothes. However, those not in doboks will train at the back of the class regardless of belt. In winter, some schools have knee-length, parker-type coats which are worn over the dobok during training and also used as an outdoor coat between the dojang and home. In summer, dobok bottoms are often shortened to shorts, for school children. In the 1990′s and early 2000′s, white polo-neck vests were common under the dobok, especially for taekwondo students, but I rarely see this now. Because of the large number of dojang and the fact students are mostly young, doboks are often quite distinct. On this point, my dojang’s dobuk is probably more conservative than most other styles in our area.


Students should face the rear of the dojang when tying their belt or adjusting their dress.


This follows the usual procedure of the senior student on the far, right-hand corner of the class facing the front of the dojang. Belts descend in rank from the senior-students position.


All dojang have rules but I will deal with these separately.


We have no formal start to lesson which usually commence with meditation. However, on special occasions such as gradings or open days, the class formally greets the Master.


At the end of classes there is a formal procedure similar to that which I experienced in my first dojang, the Song Do Kwan, in Osnabruck, Germany. Classes end with saluting the Korean flag and then the paying of respects to the Master or teacher. The senior student, positioned at the front, right corner (if facing the front of the dojang), directs the class for the bowing.

Procedure in Korean and Translated

Master – 차렷! 준비! 경례 (Attention! Ready! Salute! – left palm over right breast facing flag)

Master. 바로! (At ease!)

Senior Student. 차렷! (Student, looks to see if everyone is ready – in some schools students adjust their doboks accordingly which it is polite to do while turned to face the rear of dojang).

Senior Student. 사범님께 경례! (This command is given when everyone is ready. Salute/bow to our Teacher/Master/Sir!)

Students. If no weapon is carried, students place hands together they say ‘검무’ (dojang name) and while in bow: ‘수고셨습니다’ the respectful form of ‘thank-you.’  Note: Males place hands left over right, females right over left. The reverse positions are used only when deceased.

Master. 수고했습니다! (I thank you!)

Master. ‘해산!” (Dismissed!)

Note: 수고하다 actually means to work and the literal translation is ‘work hard!’ However, it implies gratitude.


Master – 차렷! 준비! 경례 Charyeot! Junbi! Gyeong-nae!

Master. Baro! (At ease!)

Senior Student. Charyeot! (Attention!)

Senior Student. Sabeom-nim-kkae, gyeong-nae! (This command is given when everyone is ready. Salute/bow to our Teacher/Master/Sir!)

Students. Keom-mu, sugo-shyeoss-seum-nida!

Master. Sugo-hess-seum-nida!

Master. ‘Hae-san! (Dismissed!)

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Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.