|The knowledge and skills of yundo (feng shui compass) making had been bequeathed for 350
years down to Kim’s grandfather and his eldest son, Kim’s uncle, through the families of Jeon,
Seo and Han. However, it was through his uncle, Kim Jeong-ui, that the village gained
nationwide reputation as a producer of quality feng shui compass. The works of yundo
produced by his uncle were so famous for their elaborate and precise inscriptions
that customers gathered from all across the country to wait in his guest room for their
turn to acquire one. In 1963 after graduating from high school, Kim Jong-dae, who had
been interested in the yundo making of his grandfather since he was a child, began
to learn the superior yundo making skills of his uncle. At the time he was working
for the agricultural cooperative association, a job regarded by villagers as the finest one
they could get. He bravely left the job to succeed the family tradition of yundo making and
to keep his uncle’s will: “If I happened to lose my sight, you open your eyes and inscribe for me.”
He then received all the tools that his uncle had cherished his entire life.
His achievement in, and his contribution to, the art of yundo making that has been in Korea
for over 1000 years was officially acknowledged when he was awarded the honorary title of Master
Craftsman of Feng Shui Compass Making by the Korean government. Despite that, he humbly insists
that he is still far behind the level attained by his uncle, a man whom he deeply respects as a yundo artisan and tutor.
For him, his uncle was both a compass for his life and a great master who taught him how to make the best yundo works.
The main material of traditional feng shui compass is solid wood with no knots taken from a Jujube tree more than 200
years old. Jujube wood is normally harder than many other types of wood, doesn’t crack even after drying, and has
a glossy surface whose red tone becomes more attractive as the years go by. Because Jujube wood takes time
to dry and becomes so hard after drying that it makes sawing difficult, it needs to be cut into the appropriate sizes
when still wet. Thoroughly drying the wood naturally usually takes approximately three years, but the time can
be reduced to one year if the wood is boiled before drying.
To begin working on a yundo work, the center of
each wood piece is cut into the proper size
and is fully dried; then it is marked with
concentric circles, whose number is decided
by the number of ‘tiers,’ and carving lines.
What follows is the most difficult part of the
whole process: inscribing characters onto
the front surface. Kim describes the process
of engraving characters in a space between
tiers as a work that makes his eyes sore and
tired. Because precision is the key in yundo making, he
needs to be extremely careful to put all the characters in their right position. A simple wrong stroke in a character can
ruin the entire piece, on which the artisan spent hours of arduous labor. That is why a yundo maker needs a peaceful
mind as well as masterful skills during the inscription procedure. After the engraving, the surface of the piece is
painted black to check if all the circles are properly carved, and then jade powder is applied to the facade so that the
inscribed circles and characters appear pearly white against the black background. After that, the artist coats the
characters representing the four cardinal directions with a red pigment called cinnabar. The final stage involves
setting a magnetic needle onto a hole carved at the central point, and protecting it with a glass cover.
Each of the characters carefully inscribed onto the front surface of a yundo piece by Master of Feng Shui Compass
Making Kim Jong-dae carries, in addition to profound meaning, unique personality interwoven with mysterious
energy, as well as the arrangement of characters laid out in perfect order displaying wonderful geometrical beauty.
Whenever his carving knife makes the smallest movement, the amazing world of feng shui unfold onto a tiny disk.
* Photo of Kim Jong-dae by Seo Heun-kang
View the master's works