Hanja Time – The path to enlightenment

What do Taekwondo, Taoism, freeways, enlightenment, and the 8 provinces of Korea all have in common?


They all contain a character this character (which we say as 도 in Korean):

way path


It means ‘way’ or ‘path’, both in the literal sense, and in the metaphysical sense. You may have heard of Taoism- Tao (or Dao) is how this character is said in Chinese.  It is the ‘way’ to enlightenment.


Let’s take a look at the use of this character in the literal sense of ‘path’.


The Korean word 도로 (doro) means ‘street’ or ‘road’ and is a combination of道and another character with a similar meaning:

道 –   (do) “way”

路 –  (ro) “Street, Road”


If you add the characters for ‘high’ and ‘speed’ you get the word for ‘freeway’ 고속도로 (Gosok doro):

高 – (go) “High”

速 – (sok) “Speed”

道 –   (do) “Way”

路 –  (ro) “Street, Road”


Here are some other common words that use this character in the literal sense of ‘path’:

複道         – 복도     (bokdo)  “Hallway”

地下道     – 지하도 (Jihado) “Underpass, Underground passage”

鐵道         – 철도     (Cheoldo) “Train track”

橫斷步道 – 횡단보도 (Hoingdanbodo) “Crosswalk”


Now let’s take a look at道 when it is used the more metaphysical sense of “way”.


The famous Korean martial art 태권도 (Taekwondo) literally means the ‘way of punching and kicking’.  Its name comes from these three characters:

跆 – (tae) “to kick or destroy with the foot”

拳 –   (kwon) “to punch with the fist”

道 –   (do) “way”


The uniform of the Taekwondo student is called 도복 (Dobok):

道 –   (do) “way”

服 – (bok) “Clothing” (The same as Hanbok, the Korean traditional dress)


A Taekwondo studio is called a 도장 (dojang):

道 –   (do) “way”

場 – (jang) “place”


합기도 (Hapkido), another Korean martial art also uses this character in the same way:

(Hap) “Join or combine”

(ki) “Energy, spirit, or strength”

(do) “The way”


Hapkido shares the exact same characters as the Japanese martial art ‘Aikido’, which is why they sound so similar.  (In case you were wondering, the “do” in the Japanese ‘Judo’ also uses this character (柔道  meaning “gentle way”).


In Korea filial piety, or devotion to one’s parents, is very important.  The Korean word for filial piety, 효도a (Hyodo), literally means “The way of filial piety”:

(hyo) – Filial piety

(do) – The way


In Korean, 道 (도) can also mean ‘province’.  South Korea is divided into 8 provinces, which are similar to states in the US.  The names of the provinces are:

강원도 (Gangwon-do)

경기도 (Gyeonggi-do)

경상남도  (Gyeongsangnam-do)

경상북도  (Gyeongsangbuk-do)

전라남도  (Jeollanam-do)

전라북도  (Jeollabuk-do)

충청남도  (Chungcheongnam-do)

충청북도  (Chungcheongbuk-do)



I mentioned in the beginning of this article that Tao means ‘enlightenment’.  도 can mean the same thing in Korean too.  To say you’ve achieved enlightenment you say:

도를 깨닫다 –    find enlightenment, achieve enlightenment


And with that in mind, I hope you have found this month’s edition of Hanja Time enlightening!


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