Part of The Tao Tattoo Series

  1. The Meaning
  2. The Experience
  3. The Background
  4. Tattwo

The tao tattoo


Some peo­ple ask me whether I feel more Chinese or Canadian. While some first-gen­er­a­tion Canadians say that they’re nei­ther, I feel like I’m both, because I appre­ci­ate and under­stand things from both cul­tures. I have the best of both worlds.

I already have a the hanzi char­ac­ter for “tao” on my right wrist, so I got the word “tao” on my left in English. This tat­too serves two pur­pos­es: as an expres­sion of this dual her­itage, and as anoth­er reminder for me to fol­low the tao.

The Operation

I went back to Jay at New Moon, who did an awe­some job on my first tat­too. When I walked in, he had the lat­est Mars Volta album on, which I did­n’t even know was out until that day. Most of the time was passed com­par­ing them to Tool, two of our favourite bands1.

Can you tell when he’s going over my artery? (Hint: I start to swear)


tao typography

The three-let­ter word is writ­ten in Avenir. As the Humanist, sans-serif type­face designed by Adrian Fruitiger (also used for the title and menu of this site), it’s my favourite font. Clean, sharp, min­i­mal­ist, and leg­i­ble. The most dis­tin­guish­ing part, as with most good fonts, is the dou­ble-sto­ry “a”, which increas­es leg­i­bil­i­ty.

I had over a dozen vari­a­tions, at dif­fer­ent point sizes, kern­ing val­ues, and weights. I want­ed the weight, size, and posi­tion to bal­ance with the one on my right wrist. In the end, I went with one that was 63.78 points, and the 35 “light” weight.


I chose the Wade-Giles Romanization of “tao”. “dao” (the Pinyin Romanization), while com­mon­ly accept­ed nowa­days, is too new for me to rec­og­nize it as the offi­cial spelling. “Dō”, the Cantonese/Japanese pro­nun­ci­a­tion, was also an idea, but it does­n’t car­ry the same con­no­ta­tion when relat­ing it to “Taoism” because it’s not “Dōism” (in my mind, at least).

Another con­sid­er­a­tion was the cap­i­tal­iza­tion. Most Taoist books cap­i­tal­ize tao as the “Great Way”, but I felt “tao” was less pre­ten­tious, espe­cial­ly since there’s no sense of cap­i­tal­iza­tion in Chinese. It also bal­ances the rest of the word out nice­ly, as the large “T” makes it look as if the word is about to top­ple over.


In the last few months, the most pop­u­lar search­es to this site by far are for terms such as “tao tat­too”, “tao­ism tat­too”, “chi­nese wrist tat­too”, so it looks like peo­ple are seek­ing sim­i­lar ideas. The most pop­u­lar Taoist tat­too is the yin-yang by far, but it’s over­done now, even on peo­ple who don’t under­stand the con­cept.

I’ll have to accept the fact that more and more peo­ple are get­ting tat­toos, and that as peo­ple try to unique, some­one out there will even­tu­al­ly have the same one as me.

  1. Tool was a favourite until Lateralus came out, and I dis­cov­ered Dream Theater. Ænima remains one of my top albums though. []


  1. You’re a braver man than I… I have two tat­toos but I don’t dare put them out where they can’t be cov­ered in a pro­fes­sion­al set­ting.

    Looks cool though! Congrats.

  2. Yeouch, I thought about get­ting a tat­too but I watched Pat get his and it just looked like it hurt too much :p

  3. @James — I’m glad to have a career in an indus­try where tat­toos don’t real­ly mat­ter. They’re cov­ered up with a long-sleeved shirt most of the time any­way; most peo­ple don’t notice them. I would think that in most pro­fes­sion­al set­tings tat­toos would­n’t be a big deal, as long as they’re not on the hands, neck, or face, but I’ve nev­er been employed in a real­ly pres­ti­gious place.

    @Sophia — It does hurt at lot at some points, but it’s such a local­ized pain that it’s tol­er­a­ble. The fun­ny thing is that Pat said it just felt like a bit of scratch­ing on his back. I’m sure you thought the pain was a lot more than he was feel­ing.

  4. how much do i love that you broke down the typog­ra­phy in such detail?
    very much.

  5. The choice of the text came as a sur­prise, but it’s not bad. You do have the best of both worlds, as opposed to the worst of both.

  6. @fathima — And it match­es my web­site! :D

    @Uncle Joe — In the end, there was­n’t any oth­er style of Chinese cal­lig­ra­phy I was sat­is­fied with, even though it may fall more in line with Taoist beliefs. I’m very thank­ful to feel like I’m part of both cul­tures, which is unlike most Chinese born Canadians I know.

  7. Nice font choice. love­ly sym­me­try to it. I don’t see myself watch­ing the vid tho. ( nee­dle-squea­my)

  8. nice!! con­grats

  9. @Pearl — Sometimes I’m nee­dle squee­my as well, but only with those big, long ones. It’s not too bad with a tat­too machine, although the sound can be quite intim­i­dat­ing.

    @Liz — Thanks!

  10. I like your tat­too a lot. I did­n’t even find it or know about it until I had already got­ten mine. http://forums.randi.org/imagehosting/44214a6f4986b2b06.jpg

    it still needs touch­ing up, and that’s the day after I got it. my tat­too artist was­n’t real­ly good with chi­nese calig­ra­phy, and got some of the strokes a bit wrong, and so I’m final­ly healed and going in tomor­row to have it touched up to my orig­i­nal: http://forums.randi.org/imagehosting/4421497eadb28e952.jpg

    I like the fact that you got the word “tao” on your oth­er wrist. I plan on the sym­bol for water, as it, to me, is the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the tao, and that will remind me that I can flow or creep or drip or I can crash.

    It nour­ish­es and yet it dwells in the places men fear to tread. that is why it is so close to the Tao.

    • That style of the Tao char­ac­ter in your tat­too looks famil­iar. Where did you find it? How is it that the tat­too artist got some of the strokes wrong? Didn’t he just trace the car­bon trans­fer of the art­work you gave him?

      Water makes a lot of sense too. I would con­sid­er that as well, if it did­n’t have so many oth­er con­no­ta­tions for me.

  11. Jeff,

    I have no idea how I stum­bled across equiv­o­cal­i­ty.. but since com­ing across it, I haven’t been able to stop read­ing. I was exposed to Hoff’s, The Tao of Pooh in uni­ver­si­ty and that was what orig­i­nal­ly sparked my inter­est into Taoism. Since read­ing I have had the chance to learn an intro­duc­tion into the arts of Tai Chi and Qigong.

    Anyhow, for a while now I have want­ed to get a tat­too relat­ed to Taoism — the way of which I try to live by. I real­ly strug­gled on what I want­ed to get done; I am not one to get a tat­too with lit­tle mean­ing to me and real­ize it was a mis­take a few months lat­er. I orig­i­nal­ly want­ed to get done the sym­bol of The Uncarved Block.. but still did­n’t feel it suit­ed me enough to mark it on my body.

    Going into teach­ing, I feel a prin­ci­ple of Taoism relat­ed to edu­ca­tion would spark mean­ing for me. I can tell you know your Taoism much more than myself; do you have any rec­om­men­da­tions of what I’m search­ing for? I real­ize a tat­too of this nature is very per­son­al and subjective…but if you could per­haps sug­gest any­thing along this top­ic I would be so appre­cia­tive.

    Many Thanks,


    P.S. your tat­toos turned out incred­i­ble!

    • What’s the sym­bol of the “uncar­ved block”? It is the same as wu wei?

      It’s safe to say that you’ve already con­sid­ered the yin-yang, so we’ll skip that one. You could con­sid­er the image of a Taoist deity, but it seems to me like you’re more of a philo­soph­i­cal Taoist than a reli­gious one. How about one of the tri­grams from the I Ching that you would most relate to (like the flag of South Korea or Empire of Vietnam)?

      I’ve also seen some peo­ple with entire vers­es from the Tao Te Ching tat­tooed on their bod­ies. You could con­sid­er your favourite line or verse in the orig­i­nal Chinese (or in a translation/interpretation you trust).

      Otherwise, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Part of the con­cept of Taoism is that sym­bols are very sim­ple because they’re all-encom­pass­ing; there’s no need to seg­re­gate things, so there are very few sym­bols. Of course, I’m sure there are still oth­ers who have a vast­ly supe­ri­or knowl­edge of Taoism to me, so they may know bet­ter.

      Let me know what you decide on even­tu­al­ly. I’d love to see it!

  12. Hey Jeff,

    Thanks for the quick reply! and Yeah the same as Wu Wei, but at the time I was even con­sid­er­ing get­ting some­one to design a an actu­al small block uncar­vled with chis­el on its side.

    Getting some vers­es would actu­al­ly be a pret­ty awe­some idea, too. I’m con­sid­er­ing
    “The wise are not learned; the learned are not wise.” — Lao Tze <– it kind of fol­lows the phi­los­o­phy of edu­ca­tion I’m being taught as well, so it has some con­crete mean­ing to me.


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