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  • Writer's picturePSBN David

Pointy End Forward: Korean Spears

As mentioned in last month’s post about swords, the spear was actually more commonly used by the average soldier. Similar to swords, there were several designs of spear over the years, although they all adhere to the basic “pointy bit on a long stick” principle. As the main idea behind the spear is to keep your opponent at length, most of the designs vary based off the length. Spears could be anywhere be between 7 to 30 feet long and be designed to be wielded by 1 to 3 people (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_spears).


 

History


“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

- Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Addressing the Press Club in Washington, D.C. (1969)


Canadians are quite familiar with the sentiment towards our neighbours to the south. As, I imagine, most countries directly beside a gigantic country would feel. Right now, South Korea has about 51 million people. About 80 million if you include North Korea. In comparison, China has about 1.4 billion and Japan has about 126 million.


After 5000 years of surviving sandwiched between two much-larger nations, it’s not a surprise to learn that the Korean army never really adopted an “overwhelming force to annihilate our enemies” approach. Major Kwonwoo Kim (https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=830303) attributes the historical success of the country’s military to more defensive strategies, based on outlasting their opponents through attrition.


In 1790, spears were included in the Muyedobotongji, a book compiling many Korean martial arts together. This was part of a long tradition of similar books from the past, such as the 1598 Muyejebo. Spears were so useful that they were still being included in formations alongside firearms (https://bop.unibe.ch/apd/article/view/7149). This wasn’t just in Korea or China, either. In World War 2, the Polish used cavalry (essentially mounted infantry also equipped with sabers and lances) to famously catch the Germans off-guard in 1939 (http://www.polamjournal.com/Library/APHistory/Cavalry_Myth/cavalry_myth.html). Normally, they would have used their rifles, but they used their sabers and lances due to having the surprise advantage. May have not been the norm, but they were still being actively used!


 

Usage


A few caveats here!


  • Much of Korean history, and specifically military history, was lost during the Japanese invasion

  • Spears aren’t as “cool” as swords, so there isn’t nearly as much research available on the subject


With that said, there was a video done on YouTube by LindyBeige (who is quite knowledgeable on medieval England weaponry and armour) which takes a look at European Swords vs. Spears in an interesting way https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afqhBODc_8U


To summarize the video: he went to a Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) school where they teach many styles of swordplay, but no spear. He then takes these martial artists, gives one a spear (many for the first time), and pits them against a sword (or sword and shield). Even without any training, and specific instruction not to use any quarterstaff-style fighting, the spears came out on top quite handily. Of course, the results are a little skewed due to both the inexperience of the spear fighters, and the sword fighters not having faced a spear before.


The style of fighting is as you’d expect: use the spear to stay out of the range of your opponent. By its nature, the spear is a defensive weapon. You also see this with the Greek Phalanx, wherein you’d have a line of spears poking out from behind a wall of shields.


All would agree: you don’t want to run into a Greek Phalanx in a dark alley at night.


 

Types


As mentioned in the intro, there’s a number of different types of Korean spear. You can read further on the Wikipedia pages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_spears) as well as see illustrations of what these look like. To highlight a few of these:


Jangchang – This spear it 10 feet long and the design is very plain. This would be what many would picture a spear like, although quite a bit longer. This would obviously make it quite unwieldly to throw.


Gichang – This spear is 7 feet long, so more in-line with the size people would be expecting. This spear also has a flag on the end, just under the blade. These were mainly used for ceremonial purposes, though the flag could also act as a distraction for the opponent on the receiving end.


Dangpa – This is essentially a trident. The 3 prongs were designed to lessen the chance of the weapon being stuck in their opponent, though they can also sometimes be used to lock up an opponent’s weapon and disarm them. The opposite end of the spear was also sharpened. This could have made for a great addition to LindyBeige’s video!


Nangseon – Also known as a Langxian in China. This was a 25 foot spear that had many “branches” to mimic a tree. The branches also had blades on them, and the whole thing could be poisoned, making for a very intimidating weapon to face down against.


 


Spears don’t get their proper due! At first glance, spears are just primitive, long, pointy sticks. But you look at history and most (if not all) peoples all used some variation of them for thousands of years. Then we invented firearms and figured “Hey… This gun could use a pointy bit on the end!” and thus the bayonet was born.


When you need to poke someone way over there, only a spear will do!





Further Reading



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