Asian Relics of Interest: Sword of Four Tigers in Korea

This entry is a shortened and translated version of the corresponding article in a Korean Wiki.

Sword of Four Tigers is a type of Joseon Dynasty sword imbued with a ritualistic significance.  Kings gifted this sword to only the closest royal relatives and  the most devoted subjects. In “(寅)” is a letter that represents  the character of tiger of the zodiac.  This is a holy sword that was crafted under the strongest spirit of tiger. It has been said that a master sword smith  always purified  his mind and body at least six months before starting to forge it.

A year of tiger comes every twelve years  and  a month of tiger is always fixed to the first month of the lunar calendar. Furthermore, a zodiac animal is assigned to correspond to each day of a month so a day of  tiger comes every twelve days. Lastly, the hours of tiger is always 3 AM to 5 AM. Swordsmiths who were tasked to make these swords had to meet the above conditions, so  each person usually made only one throughout his life.

Because the forging of the four tigers sword is initially limited to two hours, it’s been speculated by historians that a swordsmith  poured melted iron and shaped it into a blade during that time and spent countless hours thereafter for additional details. It should be noted that the sword was more for the honor and status of its owner than an active combat. Most noticeably, the blade is engraved with the twenty-eight stars that represent East, West, South, and North. Koreans in the past believed that the power of the sword was because it received four-fold energy of the tiger during its creation. It was a charm that could dispel evil energy and drive away bad luck as well as malicious spirits.

Today, remaining four tigers swords are highly appreciated  for their cultural and artistic values. To Korea’s dismay, many of these swords were taken out  of their homeland by foreigners during and after the fall of Joseon Dynasty. Only  a limited number remain in the nation and  they are usually under the care of the National Museum of Korea. The Knife gallery in Seoul also has one.

According to speculation, the rest have been destroyed or are in private collections in foreign nations popular and expansive due to their scarcity and beauty. In the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea, a colonel promoted to brigadier general has been awarded  Samjeonggeom (modeled after Saingeom by President since 2007. Since this one is for a military ceremony, it has no sharpened blade.

In Korean fiction, Heroes use this holy sword  often to slay demons.

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