Elwood 5566

Fulfilling a Promise to my Mother – The Lessons of ‘Filial Loyalty’ (孝 – 효도)

Posted in Comparative, customs, Five Second Hanja (Theme) by 노강호 on March 22, 2012

filial loyalty 효도 – 효

Because the characters for ‘filial loyalty’ comprise of only a few strokes, well, seven, it is among the first hundred or so you learn when studying hanja. However, your introduction to it is probably via the two, simpler, three stroke characters for ‘son’ /’child’ (子), or girl’/’woman’/’daughter (女). When combined, the two characters, comprising either ‘filial son’ (孝子) or ‘filial daughter’ (孝女), appear fairly early in the hanja learning process partly because they are simple characters, and also because ‘filial loyalty (piety, duty) are central Confucian values. It will be seen that in the character for ‘filial loyalty’ (孝 – 효도-효), the character for ‘child’ appears in the bottom right and in this case is the ‘radical’ by which characters are grouped in dictionaries. The character can be interpreted as the child carrying their father or mother on their back.

Hanja is the name for the Chinese characters still used in South Korea and they are regularly seen in everything from newspapers to restaurant menus. They are especially popular in inscriptions and the use of hanja plays a role not too dissimilar from that of Latin, in the West. ‘Do your best,’ ‘to kill two birds with one stone,’ ‘like father’ like son,’ and ‘distinct as black and white,’ are just a few examples of the many available. In particular, 4 character hanja, such as  ‘one stone, two birds,’ often deriving from an ancient book, known as the ‘One Thousand Characters’ (천자문), are particularly common. Around 1800 characters appear in the school curriculum, 900 in middle school and 900 in high school. However, not all Koreans, even well-educated ones, have a good knowledge of them.

‘village of the filial loyal children and wives’

In a high school in which I taught for a year, I became well acquainted with the characters for ‘filial sons’ because it was engraved on a huge boulder just inside the school entrance. And, on my walk into town, it appeared on a set of murals painted on a wall. The character is also memorable because of its confusion with that for ‘old, venerable’ (老 – 늙은 -노).

‘filial loyalty – duty – piety’

Despite its frequent appearance, I really only had a vague understanding of the concept. Okay, I understand the idea of duty to your parents, in a loose, western way, being respectful, thoughtful, etc, but let’s face it, in the West we’ve become fairly adept at ignoring the needs of our parents, especially as they get older. ‘Caring’ for your parents, and respect towards older people, and this does not necessarily mean only those of advanced years, has a far greater significance in Korea and the Confucian informed East in general. The Confucian notion of ‘filial loyalty,’ among other things, includes taking care of one’s parents, bringing a good name to them, supporting them, not being rebellious, showing love and respect, courtesy, upholding fraternity between brothers etc, and performing sacrifices after their death. Though traditions are gradually changing, Koreans often live in extended families. I have one friend who lives in a large five-room apartment with his wife, three children, sister, sister’s husband and two children, and his mother and father. Recently, they moved house and prior to this were able to decide whether they wanted to continue living together; they chose to continue cohabitation. Another friend, who is in his late thirties, lives with his invalided father who to say the least is cantankerous and unfriendly. He continually berates his son for not being married despite the fact that he is probably the cause of this.

ancestral graves on the mountainside

Additionally, Korean ‘filial loyalty’ goes beyond the grave and honoring one’s ancestors, back to at least five generations, is an integral part of the Korean yearly cycle. Recently, my sister traced our family tree back 5 generations and I visited a number of cemeteries in rural Britain. Standing on the edge of my great-great-great grandfather’s grave didn’t really move me and I’d felt more emotion next to the graves of those I felt I knew better, such as Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Bruce Lee and Benjamin Britten, and with whom there was no genetic bond.  It was as a dreary, drizzly, winter afternoon that somehow suited the visit; all the graves, even those of not much more than fifty years old, were flaking, unkempt and covered in lichen. I seemed more aware of the gulf of time that separated us than any awe that we were related.  In the absence of any rituals of remembrance our ancestors and our family histories are forgotten once out of living memory and then have to be rescued and resuscitated by genealogical research. And it isn’t just distance that breaks the bonds between us; one of my relatives lives only a few miles from his great, great grandmother’s grave and not only does he not no where it is located in the cemetery, but has no interest in knowing so.

the cemetery where my great, great, great-grandfather is buried

We British mark the graves of our loved ones with a stone plinth the engraving of which will just about remain legible and decent during living memory and during that period the grave may be tended and flowers or tokens dedicated to it. Then, when there is no living person to remember the grave’s owner, the weeds spring up and the lichen takes its hold.  One rarely sees a name on a Korean grave yet on the mountain sides, on gentle slopes facing the east (to conform to the principles of Feng Shui, 風水地理 – 풍수지리), you will find countless ancestral graves but far from being abandoned, they are usually tended and cared for. The ancestors of most British people seem so deader than in Korea where ‘filial loyalty’ prescribes ‘remembrance’ of their having been and in doing so connects both individuals and families with history, location and community.

an example of ‘filial loyalty’

Recently, one of my friends explained to me how his father, suffering from terminal liver cancer, wanted to die. I was apologetic but he laughed and told me he wasn’t distraught or sad, indeed he was somewhat happy for his father. I didn’t quite understand and asked for clarification; how can you be a ‘little happy’ your dad is about to die? And so, he explained how he’d been waiting for his father to die for fifteen years, not because he wanted him to die or was angry at his father’s addiction to soju, but because his father was tired of life – especially life without alcohol. Indeed, his father had been ‘welcoming’ his own death for years. Content in the knowledge he’d been a good parent, husband, grandfather, as well as a good son; had brought three children into the world, made sure they’d been educated, guided them in their moral development, supported his family and honoured his ancestors, he had nothing else to live for. But what was also touching was the way my friend put the happiness of his father, before his own. Yes, his father had flaws, some might argue major ones, but he’d done all that was required of him in terms of ‘filial duty’ and if his father was ready to depart and eager for his own demise, then he shouldn’t let his own sadness over shadow his father’s potential happiness. I by no means think this a common way to view the death of a parent in Korea not do a I particularly agree with it but it is interesting because for some, ‘filial loyalty,’ filial duty’ is a clearly a moral yard stick by which to judge earthly performance.

honouring a father on New Year’s Day (lunar)

My mother died over fifteen years ago. Like all our mothers, she was a wonderful person and a fantastic parent and I often said to her that after her death, which at the time never seemed a reality and was always years in the future, my sister and I would open a bottle of wine beside her grave, have a couple of drinks and reminisce as a way of celebrating the life we’d shared together. I even said I’d pour some drink onto her grave – she loved a glass of wine!  How Korean! Yet this was before I’d even visited the country and before I knew anything about ‘filial loyalty.’  Somehow, it simply seems not just the logical thing to do but the most natural response to the death of a loved one.  However, sitting graveside in a British cemetery, with a bottle of alcohol, could be construed as almost sacrilegious, it’s not the done thing and I’ve generally been dissuaded by convention. So, I’ve promised myself that on my next visit to the UK, I’m going to spend sometime with my mum and dad, not with a heavy heart and  flowers that so quickly wilt and add even more poignancy to a grave, but with a bottle of  homemade makgeolli and a smile.

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Further References

One Thousand Characters (천자문 – Bathhouse Ballads, July 2010)

To Kill Two Birds with One Stone – Five Second Hanja (Bathhouse Ballads, June 2011)

What Character is That? (Book review – Bathhouse Ballads, May 2010)

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Five Second Hanja (16) – ‘To Kill Two Birds With One Stone’

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on June 1, 2011

일석이조

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Five Second Hanja (1F) – Death and its Associates (죽을 – 사 and 넉 – 사)

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme) by 노강호 on April 9, 2011

superstition and the number 'F'

During my first year in Korea, in 2000, I studied taekwondo the school of which was situated on the fourth floor of the building. Unlike today, where I can look every anomaly up on the internet, it took me a while before I learnt that the fourth floor was the one designated by an ‘F’. For Koreans and many Asian countries,  the number four, ‘sa’ (사) is as burdened down with bad luck as is the western number ’13.’  The reason for this is that the four and ‘death’ share the same sound, ‘sa’ (사).

'sa' four (넉-사)

Koreans usually avoid numbering floors or houses with the number ‘4’ and in some cases any other number containing ‘4’. While tetraphobia is not as extreme in Korea as some other countries, it is usually either omitted, replaced by an ‘F’ or the numbering reordered, in hospitals and public buildings. In some cases the use of the number can affect building or housing prices. KORAIL (Korean Rail) left out the number ‘4444’ when numbering trains above 4401.

die; death; dead; inanimate; inert (죽을 - 사)

According to Wikipedia, out of respect to Asian customers, the Finnish Company Nokia rarely releases any model phone designated by ‘4’. Their one exception was the Platform 40 series.

For more five second hanja characters:  key ‘five second hanja’ into ‘search’  or select it under the theme ‘Korean Language’ in ‘categories.’

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Five Second Hanja (13) Gate; Family (문-문)

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on March 25, 2011

 

gate, door: family, school, sect (문)

This was the first hanja character I learnt as being sat next to the emergency exit on my first flight to Korea, it stared down at me for some 12 hours.  As a pictogram it is self explanatory.

 

door to attaining peace and harmony

winter scene

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Patriotic Taekwon-do – Dan Gun Hyong (단군형)

Posted in History, patriotic Taekwon-do, taekwon-do by 노강호 on March 10, 2011

The Tomb of Dan Gun near Pyongyang, North Korea (authenticity disputed)

 

ITF TKD

Dan Gun (단군) is the second pattern (형) of the International Taekwon-do Federation (ITF) and is used to promote beginners to yellow belt. Dan-Gun Wang-geom (단군왕검) is the legendary founder of Korea who is associated with the founding of the first Korean kingdom, the Gojoseon in 2333 BC. The origins of Dan Gun (pronounced more like ‘Dan Goon’), are steeped in rich myths involving bears and tigers. Dan Gun’s lineage was heavenly and his father had descended to Earth via Baekdu-san (백두산, 白頭山), a volcanic mountain on the borders between North and South Korea. Baekdu is a common destination for school trips and family outings and is especially beautiful as the caldera is occupied by Heaven Lake. Dan Gun was himself born from a woman who had originally been a bear and ascended the throne to form the Gojoseon Kingdom,  near Pyongyang.

 

Heaven Lake, Baekdu Mountain, where Dan Gun's father ascended to Earth

 

the man himself

The ITF pattern Dan Gun builds on the foundations laid by the first pattern ch’eon-ji-hyeong (천지형 – Heaven and Earth – ie, the creation). Dan Gun is the only ITF pattern where all strikes are to head height representing Dan Gun climbing a mountain. The pattern operates on the diagram, 工, this being the hanja character (장인 – 공 – labour: workman) which is an important radical conveying the concept of  labour and work and is often present in characters associated with scholars, study,building, achievement, production and examination.

Dan Gun

DAN GUN HYONG (ITF) DEMONSTRATION

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Learn Hanja the Fun Way!

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on February 25, 2011

After my post (When Goggle was Gobble-Dee-Gook)  describing some of the developments that have taken place in the last ten years which now provide greater support for those interested in Korea and Korean culture, a post on a book on hanja designed specifically for the non-Korean student.

Fantastic! Learn Hanja the Fun Way

Learn Hanja the Fun Way, by Lee Yong Hee is extremely user-friendly and presented in a manner that introduces the student to the major radicals and links them to their pictographical roots. The remainder, and bulk of the book is focused on 50 theme based lessons covering topics such as numbers, days, people, the family through to the economy, university and globalization. At the end of each topic a passage is provided in Hangul which incorporates the hanja characters presented up to this point. The reading comprehension is of great benefit as it helps consolidate learning and provides an example of how hanja is used. The author has taken great care to ensure the Hangul isn’t too difficult to present yet another problem. Each topic is rounded of with a four character proverb from the famous Ch’on Cha Mwun, One Thousand Characters (천자문). At the end of the book is a useful section providing hanja for country names, Korean cities, surnames and antonyms.

a large soft back book slightly over A4 size.

This is the first book I have seen which is designed specifically with the non-Korean speaker in mind and along with Bruce K Grants, A Guide to Korean Characters, will allow you to master the 1800 characters used in South Korea.  All you need now is 20 years of study!

Learn Hanja the Fun Way (Chinese Characters for Foreign Learners), by Lee Young Hee (이영회), is available in most large book stores. I bought mine in Kyobo Books, Daegu. It costs 14000 Won and is published by Hangookmunhwa Sa (한국문화사).  ISBN 978-89-5726-232-0 13710.

Homepage: hankookmunhwasa.co.kr

Poor photo quality, sorry!

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In the Days When Google was Gobble-dee-gook

You naively expected this

Podcast 72

I often mention that ten only a few years ago there was little information available on most aspects of Korean culture. Looking back just a few years the changes that have taken place are truly incredible. For those of us who are older, it is easy to forget that access to a whole range of information, all at your fingertips, is a luxury that at one time did not exist and that ‘one time’ was only a couple of years ago; for those who are younger, it is worth pondering the Korean experience before the incredible growth in access to, and compilation of, information – a process still in development.

and found this

When I decided to come to Korea in 2000, it certainly wasn’t for a job and the only factor influencing my decision to step on the plane was to discover a country which at the time ranked with exotic and mysterious destinations such as Mongolia and Tibet.  Just ten years ago anyone coming to Korea, perhaps more so from Europe than the USA, which has had both a closer relationship with Korea and attracted a substantial number of Korean immigrants, did so blind. Other than the information supplied by your recruiter and the odd book in libraries, access to information or first hand accounts was scant. Those who decide to come to Korea today are able to furnish themselves from the abundance of information available in a range of formats and I suspect many are now lured here not because of  the mysterious, but in search of employment. I in no way mean to demean or underplay the reasons people currently come to Korea and it certainly provides a culture shock. But I envy  those who arrived here in the early 1990’s or 1980’s at a time when Korea was not the place it was in 2000.

when your PC looked like this (Macintosh PC circa 1999)

I kept a diary from my first day and reading through its pages it is clear how the internet has become a fundamental resource in both deliberating whether to undertake the experience and in influencing and developing your understanding of Korea. It may even influence the experiences you engage in while on the peninsula. Change has been so rapid, and the resources we now access  have become so integral, it is easy not just to take fore-granted its impact,  but to even doubt that it was really that difficult to access information in the first place.

and your mobile phone, if you had one, looked like this (2000)

Writing in hangul was a major obstacle and you simply couldn’t go into your PC, make a few tweaks and then be able to write in Korean or hanja and besides, in 2000, few teachers had air-conditioning let alone a personal computer with an internet connection. Before laptops and net-books, most of the waygukin you met were in PC bangs where you spent a substantial part of your week. And If you bought a PC  you were privileged but still required Microsoft Proofing Tools to enable you to write in Korean or hanja and which cost c£70 a package.

Korean dictionaries, certainly in the UK, were small and difficult to buy. On the eve of my first trip, I went to London’s largest bookshop, Foyles, and discovered the entire range of books on the Korean language amounted to two introductory books, a useless dictionary and the small copy of the NTC Compact Korean English Dictionary. I bought all four depleting them of their entire Korean language collection. The dictionaries used transliterated Korean rather than hangul script. Meanwhile, books devoted to Japanese occupied an entire book case.

and this was what you needed to write Hangul (and it was expensive)

I’ve known a number of westerners who arrived in Korea in the late 80’s  and whose Korean, many years later, is still rudimentary. It’s easy to criticise such apparent laziness until you remember there was no internet to support your learning or provide lessons, few decent language courses or dictionaries and unless you were in Seoul or one of the big cities, few language classes. After a few years enduring such conditions it becomes a case of, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ As for hanja, I’ve met westerners proficient in Korean who didn’t even know what hanja was. While access to information on the internet existed, certainly around 2000, there was very little compiled on Korea or Korean culture and the ability to write in hanja characters was difficult, costly and dependent on Korean based language packages. Today, though limited for the non Korean speaker, information on hanja is available and if you aren’t interested in trying to learning it, you can very easily research what it comprises.

a time when you really did have to 'teach yourself'

Once again, in the UK, other than on the Korean war, there were few books on Korean history and finding information on topics such as the Hwa-Rang-Do or one of the Korean dynasties, was difficult. And when you did find such books, usually in academic libraries rather than public ones, they were specialist and somewhat boring for the reader who wanted general information. It has only been in very recent years, by which I mean the last 6 or 7  that such information has appeared and I can remember trawling Google in 2002 or 2003 and finding very little other than specialist academic references to major, Korean historical periods. Exactly the same conditions applied to Korean culture, prominent figures, cooking or geography.  Back in the UK I have a small collection of books on Korean culture, history, cooking, hanja and language etc, but all of them were printed and bought in Korea, and ferried back to the UK. So, on returning to Britain in 2002 and 2004, I felt I had to take a part of Korea home with me because there was no way to access ‘Korea’ in the UK. In 1997, when TOPIK, the Korean language proficiency test was introduced for non-Korean speakers, it attracted 2274 people; in 2009, 180.000 people took the exam and test centers now exist globally.

TOPIK exam hall

Korean related information on the internet was in its infancy; Google, for example, became a registered domain name in 1997  and certainly before 2000 most lay-people researched information from software such as Encarta. In 2000, I was originally going to teach in Illsan, I can remember using the internet to find information on this location and found very little. I have just this moment keyed ‘Illsan’ into Google search and in 14 seconds have access to 1.800.000 written resources and 1200 images. Learning Korean and hanja meant you compiled your own dictionary because the words or characters your learnt weren’t in dictionaries and there were no translation tools such as Babblefish or Google to provide support. Even with hangul, I still keep my own dictionary because western ones, even on the internet, don’t explain words uniquely Korean. As for idioms? Try searching Korea idioms on the internet or the availability of electronic dictionaries which are designed for the English native speaker learning Korean. All resources still being developed.

Resources in their infancy 10 years ago, blogging, vlogging, podcast, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter etc, have since become a fundamental means of sharing experiences and providing first hand information not just about all aspects of Korean culture, but on more specific topics such as life for the foreigner and whether you are vegetarian, teacher or gay, information is readily available. Blogging now provides an immense wealth of information but it is worth remembering that the term ‘blog’ was only coined by Peter Merholz, in 1999. Major blogging software which has helped give rise to the blogging phenomena are recent developments: Blogger emerged in 1999 and WordPress in only in 2003.

Song So, Daegu, November 2000

Even today, unless you live in London, obtaining Korean foodstuff is still almost an impossibility and online order of Korean foodstuffs is undeveloped. None of this is very surprising given there were very few Korean living in the UK until recently. Between 1998-1992, at a university with one of the most diverse students populations in the UK, there was a total absence of Koreans and Russians. Indeed, I was to meet Mongolian students before I met any from Korea. And, I can recall the very first five Korean I met; the first, a taekwondo instructor in London, in 1979, the second, a taekwondo instructor in Paderborn, Germany, in 1986, the third, a student in a school near New Maldon,  London, in 1998, and finally, two Koreans in a hotel in the Philippines, in 1998. I had a fleeting ‘meeting’ with Rhee Ki-ha (now  9th Degree Black Belt, taekwon-do), in 1988 but as a grading taekwon-do student, I was forbidden to talk to him.

Daegu 2001. When westerners were still a little unique

Korean Culture – the Korean Wave, Korean football players playing for British football teams, LG, Nong Shim, I-River etc, all arrived on British shores in the years following my first visit and indeed, this Christmas, I was treated to the first Korean cookery program I have see on British television. However, I suspect its genuineness as the recipes included beetroot and English pear (you can easily buy Asian pear in the UK). And neither chopsticks or kimchi featured!

and before the advent of the Korean wave

Up until a few years ago, if you arrived in Korea from Britain, you probably knew nothing about Korean society and possibly expected ‘second world’ conditions. Much of what you learnt about Korea occurred through accidentally stumbling across something and you certainly couldn’t learn from a computer screen. Indeed, access to a computer was probably detrimental to your Korean experience, removing you from, rather than immersing you in, Korean culture. Today, a computer can certainly enhance your experience and if you need to know how to: use your Korean washing machine, plan a trip, find a doctor during a holiday or translate a sentence from Korean into Blackfoot, it’s at your fingertips. Day to day life in Korea has been ‘made simple’ by the tomes of information we can now access  and only last week I used the internet to help me adjust my ondol heating control. With hundreds of accounts on topics such as soju, the Boryeonng Mud Festival  and kimchi, done to death, a blogger is forced to use a range of media formats (vlogging, photographs, podcasts, even cartoons), and  driven to be more creative and original in their perspective  especially if posting on what are now common, if not mundane subjects.

Link to TOPIK Guide.

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Five Second Hanja (12) Winter – 겨울 – 동

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on February 7, 2011

winter

This character, meaning ‘winter,’ comprises two parts; the lower two strokes are what is known as the ‘radical’ and in this case signify ‘ice.’ These two strokes never appear independently as they are a compression of the original. ‘Ice’ in fact, contains 5 strokes in its full form.  Radicals convey an important part of a character’s meanings and characters can be grouped according to them.

'winter' - 겨울-동

The ‘character’ above the lower two strokes, is really a pictograph which means ‘walking with legs crossed’ or ‘walking slowly.’ Together the implied meaning is ‘winter.’

winter clothes 동복

winter season 동계

Simply highlighting some of the important and simpler characters. For information on stroke order, radicals and the two elements of a character (spoken – meaning), I suggest you obtain a dictionary such as; A Guide to Korean Characters.

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Hanja – Bruce K Grant

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on January 10, 2011

Bruce Grant

For those interested in learning or expanding their knowledge of hanja, the several thousand Chinese characters incorporated into written Korean, one of my favourite books is available outside Korea, via Amazon. A Guide to Korean Characters, by Bruce. K. Grant is an excellent book which I have previously reviewed. The first copy I bought in 2000 at a cost of 15000 Won and ten years later a second copy cost me 15500 Won (£7.50p). Kyobo books in both Seoul and Daegu often have copies readily available.

An excellent and easy to use resource 

The book has excellent reviews and has probably been the most extensive source on Hanja characters since it was first published in 1979.

You don’t have to be an advanced student of Korean to use this book, even if you are a beginner who have just learned Hangul script you should get this inexpensive treasure.
This is pretty much the only book of its kind that is somewhat readily available, so if you see it – buy it.
There is unlikely to be any new books like this one.
For some reason people only seem to bother learning basic Korean, and the publishers know this so they wont bother publishing any new books like this.
But judging by all the positive reviews and remarks for this little book there is a need for material like this.
So, support the learning of Korean outside of South & North Korea and learn more than just the basics – develop and challenge yourself by learning traditional characters and expand your cultural knowledge (one of the 12 reviews currently hosted on Amazon USA).

The book is hardback and durable and even after 10 years of fingering in a sometimes humid climate, my original copy is still in good condition.  Grant has also published books on Korean Proverbs: Dragons Head, Snake Tail and Frog in a Well, (1982),  and White Field Korean (1982).

Also by Bruce Grant

Be careful where you buy Korean Characters as prices vary; in the USA the cost is approx $29 in the UK it is a staggering £35.

Link to Amazon USA

Link to Amazon UK

Previous review on Bathhouse Ballads

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Five Second Hanja (11) Unify – Tong-il (통일)

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language, taekwon-do by 노강호 on December 11, 2010

Okay, it’s more complicated, but one of my favourite character combinations, and of significant importance in South Korea is, ”Tong-il.’ ‘Tong’ is the character for ‘govern,’ rule’; ‘unite’, ‘all’ while the single stroke on the right, is the character for, ‘one.’  Combined, they mean ”unification which naturally, is an emotive subject on the peninsula.

tong-il

‘Tong-il’ is also the 24th,  and final pattern (tul, hyong) of the ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) system.

Simply highlighting some of the important and simpler characters. For information on stroke order, radicals and the two elements of a character (spoken – meaning), I suggest you obtain a dictionary such as; A Guide to Korean Characters.

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