A jangdo (an encased ornamental knife) is a short knife to carry easily, and was used as a weapon for protection or a dressing accessory or a daily necessity. The craftsman who has the skill to make it is called a jangdojang. The present term jangdo seems to have come into use in the Goryeo period and it’s assumed that the wearing of decorative knives as pendants on the chest was introduced by the Mongols near the end of the Goryeo Dynasty.
Since that time men and women had carried these daggers to protect themselves, especially the noble ladies had carried the knife to safeguard their purity after the Japanese Invasion in 1592 (either hidden on their body, often on their bosom close to woman’s heart or in one sleeve, or worn as part of macrame pendants from their vest strings), in a way serving as the counter-part of self-protection devices of today like the gas gun for warding off an attacker on a dark street corner.
Before a wedding ceremony, the bride’s mother gave her daughter an ornamental knife, carved with the characters “一心刀 ” (faithful to one’s husband) . The knife was used by the woman to fight back and defend herself when attacked and if failing then to commit suicide rather than submit to the dishonor of being raped. It’s based on the ideas of Confucianism that emphasize female chastity. This philosophy of filial piety is known as yulnya where woman follows one’s man.
Gradually, by the middle of the Joseon period, jangdo became luxurious trinkets and in the later half of the Joseon Dynasty a kind of luxury pendent trinkets for dressing.
There are many various kinds of jangdo depending and their purpose, the place on which they are being carried, the material used or the decorations of the knife case.
For instance, the one carried on a body is called as a pedo, the one kept in a pocket is called as a nangdo. However, before all this names were introduced all ornamental knives in the early Joseon Dynasty were called unjangdo (the prefix “un” meaning silver, the metal often used in the construction of the dagger).
It noted that popular materials for the hafts and sheaths of jangdo included gold, silver, bronze, ivory, coral, agate, amber, malachite, jade, tortoiseshell, shark skin, and rhinoceros, ox, and goat horn. Persimmon, jujube, ebony, and other woods were more prevalent among the common people. Members of the royal family could afford to have an ornamental knife decorated not only with silver but also gold and jade.
Another way to distinguish them is according to their style and shape. The shapes of the haft and sheath might be cylindrical, rectangular, hexagonal, or octagonal – The basic style can be divided into the plain basic style with cylinder-shaped knife case and Z-shaped basic style with such shaped knife case. Besides these there are samojangdo with square knife case, mojebijangdo with octagonal knife case.
Jangdo blades were usually made of smelted iron. The process began with reforging hot iron, which was formed into a sleek shape and filed to make it smooth and sharp. The artisan engraved patterns or letters on the blade. Then the hardening process was repeated. The traditional hardening methods were to thrust the hot blade into thick mud, or cover it with clay and charcoal ash, or dip it into cold water, or cover it with soybean paste. It was then heated and again dipped into cold water or covered with clay.
The largest jangdo are about 16cm in length with a 10cm blade, and the smaller kind about 10cm in length with a 5cm blade. Knives worn by females are usually smaller.
The jangdo also represents the status of its owner. Different classes wore different styles of ornamental knife.
For example, literati scholars favored cheomjangdo, an ornamental knife which shared its case with chopsticks or ear picks. And just like ceremonial swords and daggers jangdo also had intricate decorations on haft and sheath – for example, scholars’ knives were often adorned
with Chinese characters, landscapes and cranes, which displayed their literary and cultural tastes. Whereas, women’s knives were usually decorated with flowers such as chrysanthemum or plum blossoms.