21 March 2011

A Letter on the "-Do" Suffix in Korean Martial Arts

I recently received a letter from a reader of Totally Tae Kwon Do who wrote to me about my article “Martial Technique, Martial Art and Martial Way” – Issue #24, based on an earlier post from this blog called, Moosool, Mooye and Moodo. I asked the author permission to republish his letter with my reply in an upcoming issue of Totally Tae Kwon Do, so I am sure he won't mind me posting it here as well.

Dear Mr Lewis

I read with interest your article on Musul, Muye and Mudo.

One thing I thought that may have been of benefit to the reader was to inform them that the term “Do” used in conjunction with “Mu” in naming martial arts in Korea is a modern construct which only applies to those martial arts formed after the Japanese occupation. It is a simple way of determining if the martial art is a modern construct or not (although many are now using the more historically correct “Sul” and “Ye” terms in an attempt to recreate a link with the past). If we look at the pre-occupation arts of Subak, Sibpalki, Taekkyun and Ssireum (the latter two being more folk arts), there is no implementation of “Do” in the naming. It only appears later on with arts such as Kong Soo Do, Tang Soo Do, Tae Soo Do, Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, Hwarang Do, Gumdo, Haedong Gumdo, etc., which were all formed after the occupation.

Thank you for writing the article. It is nice to read some more philosophical articles.

Kind regards,

Damian Adams

Dear Damian,

Thank you for your letter. I am glad that you liked the essay; it is always nice to get some feed back.

Your observation regarding the “-Do” suffix as a modern phenomenon and label to identify the recency of the Korean martial art is indeed correct and I agree with you. I did not mention it because I thought it may deter from my main argument, which is that there is progression in the martial art journey starting with the learning of techniques (“moosool”), to an assimilation of those techniques to a level where one can apply them creatively (“mooye”), to a level where your martial art journey becomes part of your life; your Way (“moodo”).

To return to your point, I find it interesting how General Choi described Taekwon-Do as the “Korean art of self-defence.” The actual Korean is hoshin-mooye / 호신무예; literally, self-defence martial art. While he proposed the name Taekwon-Do, which is in line with your observation that Korean martial arts that developed after the Japanese tend to have the “-Do” suffix, he defined Taekwon-Do as “mooye,” which is in line, as you pointed out, with the historic custom of using “-Sul” or “-Ye” as the suffix.

Best wishes,



Gray Mouser said...

Very interesting comment about the Korean version of the title of Gen. Choi's textbook. Is that a translation you did yourself or is it from the Korean version of the book?

SooShimKwan said...


Actually, I was not referring to the title of the Condensed Encyclopaedia that is apparently called "Taekwon-Do (The Korean Art of Self-Defense)", according to Amazon. Since I do not own a Condensed Encyclopaedia I do not generally use it as my reference resource. I see now that my use of quotation marks does indeed (wrongly) give that impression.

Instead I was referring to the "Definition of Taekwon-Do" section in Volume 1 of the ITF Encyclopaedia, specifically the line that says: "This is one of the reasons that Taekwon-Do is called an art of self-defence" (p. 21).

I did not read this line in Korean, but have been told that it says "hoshin-mooye" for "art of self-defence" by a Korean speaker. I have access to a Korean version of the textbook at my dojang and could go ascertain how that sentence is rendered in Korean.

Thank you for your interest and dropping by at Soo Shim Kwan.

SooShimKwan said...

So got the line I was referring to. It is the one that says "This is one of the reasons that Taekwon-Do is called an art of self-defense." In the Condensed Encyclopaedia it is on p 15. In Korean it readss: "이런 점이 태권도를 호신예술이라 부르는 리유의 하나이라 하겠다."

호신예술, literally translates as "self-defense art". This is quite interesting. He actually called Taekwon-Do the "art of self-defence" not the "martial art [무예] of self-defence." A subtle, but important, distinction.


Ymar Sakar said...

It's like the Eastern preference for ambiguity. TKD is both a Do in the Japanese sense and also another thing in a Korean sense... yeah, Westerners probably don't do things in that way.