I’s funny how words can inform and mislead. When I first came to Korea in the mid-1970s, I often was enchanted and confused by the similarity of Korean and Japanese. For example, I stumbled across the word “judo.” Was it the martial art? No, that was “yudo” in Korean. It turns out that in at least literary circles, judo refers to the “way of wine.”
at the Chinese characters that originally formed the word, it was easy
to recognize the first character, “ju,” from other uses of the same,
referring to alcoholic beverages - often simplistically translated as
“wine.” The second character, “do,” was the same as in Japanese, but as
“tao” in Chinese. That character can be translated concretely as “path,”
but it often connotes a more philosophical and spiritual meaning of
“way.” The term Taoism traces its roots to this character.
back on path, the reader may recall seeing in museums Joseon paintings
of Taoist immortals holding wine cups with inebriated smiles. And this
is very much at the core of a number of some of Korea’s more illustrious
- and many more not so illustrious - poets and writers, often seen
frequenting drinking establishments. So much so, as a Korea neophyte, I
once thought the country’s moniker, “Land of the Morning Calm,” referred
to so many of its inhabitants nursing their hangovers.
the name of the poet, Professor Jo Ji-hun of Korea University, is still
well known in drinking circles. He passed away a good 40 years ago. But
before he went on to that Happy Winehouse in the Sky, he penned a
brilliant essay. The gist of his treatise’s observations, I summarize
Essentially, there are 18 distinct levels or ranks of
Korea’s judo. Accomplished imbibers generally scoff at the first four,
but to get them out of the way, here they are: First is the “geum-ju” or
teetotaler. The second is the “wei-ju,” who is held in even greater
disrepute than the bul-ju, as he is the chicken drinker who sips a
little but worries too much about intoxication. Third is the “min-ju,”
or the “hangover-phobic” - someone whose paranoia of an impending
hangover inhibits his drinking. And the top of this bottom class is the
“eun-ju,” who secretly drinks alone rather than join a group and thereby
having to take a turn in paying for the group’s drinks.
next higher category also consists of four levels. While an obvious cut
above the lower grouping, this group of “utilitarian” drinkers leaves
their dedicated colleagues shaking their heads in pity. The lowest level
in this group is the “sang-ju,” a term reserved for those who may
actually like drinking, but primarily drink for business and whose goal
for the evening is something other than drinking.
“saek-ju” drinkers who, too, have alternative objectives to simply
enjoying alcohol. They drink to achieve their carnal objectives. Above
these cads are the “su-ju” or nightcap drinkers who may or may not be
insomniacs, but surely crave a shot before hitting the sack. And
finally, there are the “ban-ju,” who use drinks primarily for aperitifs
It is in levels nine and upward that imbibers
command respect as “serious drinkers,” some of who strive to advance in
rank with the same dedication as a martial artist.
The bottom of
this top half begins with the “hak-ju,” or novice drinkers, where
through experience and regular practice do the essentials of the art
become known. In the next rank up are the “ae-ju” or drinking
aficionados. Above whom are the connoisseurs of developed tastes and
opinions of alcohol, the “gi-ju.” Higher yet are the “tam-ju” who are
respectfully regarded as accomplished drinkers, capable of indulging
freely. But even they pale in comparison to the fanatic drinkers of the
“pok-ju” grade who need no explanation for their achievements. No. 6 in
the top 10 are the “jang-ju,” or who I call the “Taoist drinkers,” given
their perpetual drinking that brings the Taoist immortals to mind. In
fact, at this level there is a spiritual dimension where the Buddhist
term of “sam-mae” of self-forgetfulness seems appropriate - or as the
Taoists may put it, this group consists of the “ju-sun,” the immortal
For the very dedicated few comes the next rank of
“suk-ju” mellow drinking as they achieve a subconscious understanding of
the universe through alcohol. Floating above them are the subliminal
drinkers known as the “nak-ju.” It’s at this level one may reach the
highest level of actual imbibing; so high a state is this that one no
longer cares whether one drinks.
If one is capable of rising yet
higher, one realizes that all good things must come to an end,
including bodily participation in judo. Here one finds the “gwang-ju,”
or the retired drinkers, who are no longer physically capable of
drinking, but who can still find immense satisfaction by merely
observing others indulging. In fact, by simply meditating on the
beverages before them, these former drinkers can be swept to states of
blissful intoxication by their memories of climbing up the ranks. And
finally, for the most dedicated and faithful, comes the Way of Wine’s
loftiest level - “pae-ju” or nirvana, where the very precious few may
join Dr. Jo in that particularly peaceful corner of heaven, where all
good and accomplished drinkers eventually go.
Perhaps only the
Koreans could have taken this form of social interaction and elevate it
to a level of cultural sophistication. It is truly something worthy of
admiration and respect.
*The author is president of Soft
Landing Consulting, a sales-focused business development firm, and
senior advisor to the IPG Legal.
The article appeared in the Korean Joonang Daily at: Going with the Flow (of the wine)
by Tom Coyner
Sean Hayes may be contacted at: SeanHayes@ipglegal.com.
Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team and Entertainment, Media and New Tech Law Team at IPG Legal. He is the first non-Korean attorney to have worked for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty.
He assists clients in their contentious, non-contentious and business developments needs in Korea and China.