Black­smith forges new path in mod­ern world

JoongAng Daily - - Culture - Moon­park@joongang.co.kr

“At the age of 12, when I grad­u­ated from el­e­men­tary school, I started to play with steel,” Ryu Sang-jun, a 61year-old black­smith, rem­i­nisced while stand­ing in front of a bra­zier.

“Dur­ing that time my fa­ther was mak­ing horse­shoes and my neigh­bor was a black­smith at Mo­rae­nae. The ham­mer­ing at the smithy grabbed my at­ten­tion, so I begged the work­ers there to give me a chance to learn the job. My first task was blow­ing the bel­lows, but I was beaten for not be­ing good enough.”

Ryu has spent 50 years as a black­smith. He has his own small shop near Susaek Sta­tion in north­west­ern Seoul called Brother Smithy, a ref­er­ence to the fact that he opened it with his younger sib­ling, who he still works with. He has a solid rep­u­ta­tion in the trade and has many reg­u­lar cus­tomers.

A hard worker, Ryu grabs his ham­mer ev­ery sin­gle morn­ing and con­sis­tently aims at per­fec­tion.

When he forges metal, he feels that he must do it well, no mat­ter how long it takes. And be­cause he puts so much ef­fort into his work, ev­ery per­son who comes to his shop be­comes a faith­ful client.

In the past, Ryu used to make farm­ing tools, so his store is still filled with dif­fer­ent agri­cul­tural con­trap­tions: hoes, pitch­forks, pick­axes, scythes, knives, axes and claw ham­mers.

The num­ber of peo­ple look­ing to buy farm­ing equip­ment is less­en­ing, though.

But even though the de­mand for agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery has de­clined, Ryu and his team now keep busy by mak­ing equip­ment for con­struc­tion sites in­stead.

Most no­tably, the shop and its staff once made more than 2,000 items that were used to build the Kae­seong In­dus­trial Com­plex, the fac­tory jointly run by North and South Korea.

As well as this business, many peo­ple who live in ur­ban ar­eas still visit the smithy for tools to cul­ti­vate the plots of land they man­age on week­ends.

There is also a high de­mand from broad­cast­ing sta­tions that need props for his­tor­i­cal dra­mas. The Ryu brothers have made props for “Jewel in Palace,” “Seodongyo,” “Yeon Gae­so­mun” and “Tae­wang Sasingi.”

Nev­er­the­less, not all black­smiths are as popular as Brother Smithy. The num­ber of or­ders in the in­dus­try has re­duced be­cause of the cheap price of farm­ing tools from China.

Smithies who pur­sue tra­di­tional meth­ods of forg­ing equip­ment lost their foothold in the mar­ket quite some time ago.

As a re­sult of this, Ryu stresses the needs for com­pet­i­tive­ness and skill de­vel­op­ment in or­der to sur­vive in the mar­ket. Even Ryu, who has half a cen­tury of ex­pe­ri­ence, still says there is room for him to im­prove. This is why he is al­ways ham­mer­ing away, night and day.

The brothers said be­ing a black­smith is not a spe­cial vo­ca­tion, but they ap­pre­ci­ate that they have been able to support their fam­ily through their work. Although toil­ing away makes them weary, the two stress that they will con­tinue to work as black­smiths un­til the day they die.

Brother Smithy has re­ceived a fresh lease of life re­cently be­cause it took on Lee Kyung-ji, an ap­pren­tice. Lee was in­tro­duced to the black­smith’s store while watch­ing a TV show pro­fil­ing it dur­ing his mid­dle-school years.

He ap­plied to work at the smithy right after he grad­u­ated high school in or­der to ful­fill a dream. The brothers are teach­ing Lee the tools of the trade.

The Ryu brothers’ pride in keep­ing the tra­di­tional black­smith’s cul­ture alive heats up the shop’s at­mos­phere as much as the fire in the bra­zier they reg­u­larly set alight.

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