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Meaning of Tang Soo Do

by Greg Solomon

Tang Soo Do is the name of the martial art we practice, and Moo Duk Kwan refers to the specific variation, because there are several sub-styles of Tang Soo Do.
In Korea, Tang Soo Do is actually written - and it is pronounced "dang soo do".

Interestingly enough, the Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, is a phonetic alphabet like ours, in that each symbol has a sound. This aspect of these two alphabets means you can read what the word says without ever having seen that word before.

The Japanese alphabet (called Kanji) and the Chinese alphabet are very similar in many regards. However, they are not phonetic. Instead they are based on ideograms or pictograms. These symbols convey an idea, and have a name. However, if you are shown a symbol that you haven't seen before, you are unlikely to know how to pronounce it (since these are not phonetic alphabets) but you are likely to get a good idea of what the word means, by looking at its symbolic composition.

In order to understand what Tang Soo Do means, let's examine the characters.

This character is pronounced "Dang" in Korean, "Tang" in Chinese and "Too" in Japanese. It refers to the T'ang dynasty of China.

The root of the word (the "hat", with the line that goes to the left) comes very often with signs in relation with architecture. The part inside the root is simply to suggest a certain pronunciation for the word. (In a rare composition with another Japanese character, it can be understood as "abrupt", or "to do something in an abrupt way".)

We say "su" in Korean, "shou" in Chinese, and "te" in Japanese. This is the word for "hand". (Remember, for example, that karate means "empty hand", and this is indeed the same character as you see in the Kanji text for karaTE.)
Pronounced "do" in both Korean and Japanese, and "dao" in Chinese. The simplest appropriate translation for this character is "the way". It can also be taken to mean: road-way, street, journey, teachings, etc. Note that this is the same symbol as you would see in the expressions for karate DO, juDO, kenDO, TAOism, and others.

If we break this symbol down further, the L-shaped part is usually added to words to indicate walking or movement. The inner part of the symbol means main, and hence the translation we have used above.

Tang Soo Do can therefore be translated as :

"The way of the (Chinese) empty hand"

Gregory Hart - Senior Instructor