The game "Scissors, Rock and Cloth," with the words in the order used by the Koreans, has a history that is not very clear. China would seem to be the originator of the game that is now played in various versions throughout the world. It came to Korea from China and then to Japan, and from there spread to the West.
Though most are in some way acquainted with the game, a simple explanation follows:
At a determined count, the players extend their hands in a certain gesture. For scissors, one extends the index and middle fingers separated. Rock is an extended fist, and cloth is the hand with all fingers showing.
The surface meaning of the gestures goes something like this:
Scissors cut cloth, therefore scissors defeats cloth.
Rock breaks scissors, therefore rock defeats scissors.
Cloth covers rock, therefore cloth defeats rock.
If both players choose the same gesture, the game is tied and the players throw again.
An article from Andong mission station leaflet had a meditation on the game. The writer feels that the Koreans learned their basic philosophy of life from this game, which they've played from early childhood and known by all. The simplest of all their games, there is no need of anything but the one hand. He expressed his feelings about the game in free verse (below); hopefully, my translation is not far from the writer's intention.
Different objects in opposition to each other:
Scissors, something to cut cloth.
Rock, something hard and heavy.
Cloth, something soft and enclosing.
Sharp (scissors), heavy (rock), soft (cloth), can symbolize personalities.
We played the game from childhood.
If we think a little we can see that the philosphy of restraint and harmony are contained,
And we have learned this from childhood.
A sharp personality can temporarily overcome a soft person,
But is threatened by the heavier, serious person.
A serious (heavy) person can control a sharp person,
But can be enclosed by the soft person.
The soft person can cover the serious person,
But the sharp person can threaten the soft person.
This is the understanding we had from childhood,
And continue to keep in mind as our philosophy of life
On how to relate to others, and all learned in a game.
In life, there are times when we can be truly defeated
But in certain circumstances, we allow ourselves to be defeated.
One knows that to lose is also learning the way to win.
Living is often having to wait.
And while waiting can often see and take advantage of opportunities.
When a person puts on airs and feigns knowing it all,
To play the fool is not all that bad;
Isn't he, after all, the one that knows?