Hapkido contains both long and close range fighting techniques, utilizing dynamic kicking and percussive hand strikes at longer ranges and pressure point strikes, jointlocks, or throws at closer fighting distances. Hapkido emphasizes circular motion, non-resisting movements, and control of the opponent. Practitioners seek to gain advantage through footwork and body positioning to employ leverage, avoiding the use of strength against strength.
The art evolved from Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu or a closely related jujutsu system taught by Choi Yong Sul who returned to Korea after WWII, having lived in Japan for 30 years. This system was later combined with kicking and striking techniques of indigenous and contemporary arts such as taek kyun and tang soo do. Its history is obscured by the historical animosity between the Korean and Japanese peoples following the Second World War.
The character hap means "harmony", "coordinated", or "joining"; 氣 ki describes internal energy, spirit, strength, or power; and 道 do means "way" or "art", yielding a literal translation of "joining-energy-way." It is most often translated as "the way of coordinating energy," "the way of coordinated power" or "the way of harmony."
Although the arts are believed by many to share a common history they remain separate and distinct from one another. They differ significantly in philosophy, range of responses and manner of executing techniques. The fact that they share the same original Chinese characters, despite 合 being pronounced "ai" in Japanese and "hap" in Korean, has proved problematic in promoting the art internationally as a discipline with its own set of unique characteristics differing from those of the Japanese art.
Choi Yong Sul's training in martial arts is a subject of contention. It is known that Choi was sent to Japan as a young boy and returned to Korea with techniques characteristic of Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, a forerunner of aikido. The next portion of the story is quite controversial in Daitō-ryū circles but is claimed by many contemporary hapkido-ists and is attributed to Choi in an interview (released posthumously) reputed to have taken place during a visit Choi made to the United States in 1980.
In the interview, Choi claims to have been adopted by Takeda Sokaku when he was 11 years old and was given the Japanese name, Yoshida Asao. He claims to have been taken to Takeda's home and dojo in Akita on Shin Shu mountain where he lived and trained with the master for 30 years. The interview also asserts that he travelled with him as a teaching assistant, that he was employed to catch war deserters and that he was the only student to have a complete understanding of the system taught by Takeda.
This is contradicted by other claims asserting that Choi was simply a worker in the home of Takeda. In fact, the meticulous enrollment and fee records of Tokimune Takeda, Takeda Sokaku's eldest son and Daitō-ryū's successor, do not seem to include Choi's name among them. Therefore, except for claims made by Choi himself, there is little evidence that Choi was the adopted son of Takeda Sokaku, or that he ever formally studied Daitō-ryū under the founder of the art.
Stanley Pranin, then of Aiki News and now editor of the Aikidojournal.com, asked Kisshomaru Ueshiba about Choi Yong Sool and hapkido:
On another subject, it is true that a Korean named "Choi" who founded hapkido studied aikido or Daito-ryu?
I don't know what art it was but I understand that there was a young Korean of about 17 or 18 who participated in a seminar of Sokaku Takeda Sensei held in Asahikawa City in Hokkaidō. It seems that he studied the art together with my father and would refer to him as his "senior".
If that's the case the art must have been Daito-ryu.
I've heard that this man who studied Daito-ryu had some contact with my father after that. Then he returned to Korea and began teaching Daito-ryu on a modest scale. The art gradually became popular and many Koreans trained with him. Since aikido became popular in Japan he called his art hapkido [written in Korean with the same characters as aikido], Then the art split into many schools before anyone realized it. This is what my father told me. I once received a letter from this teacher after my father's death.
Some argue that Choi Yong Sul's potential omission from the records, and the ensuing debate over hapkido's origins, may be due to tensions between Koreans and Japanese, partly as a result of Japanese involvement in the occupation of Korea. At the height of dispute, it is claimed by hapkido practitioners that Koreans were excluded from listing, though this is contradicted by Takeda's records which contain other Korean names. While some commentators claim hapkido has a Japanese lineage, others state that its origins lay with indigenous Korean martial arts.
Choi Yong Sul's first student, and the man whom some claim helped him develop the art of hapkido was Suh Bok Sup (also spelled Bok-Sub), a Korean judo black belt when they met. Some of Choi's other respected senior students are: Ji Han Jae, Kim Moo-Hong, Won Kwang-Hwa, Kim Jung-Yoon, and arguably Suh In-Hyuk and Lee Joo Bang who went on to form the arts of Kuk Sool Won and modern Hwarang-do respectively (though some argue that their training stems from time spent training under Kim Moo-Hong).
Choi's first student and the first person known to have opened up a dojang under Choi was Suh Bok-Sub.
In 1948, when Suh Bok-sub was still in his early 20s, he had already earned his black belt in judo and was a graduate of the prestigious Korea University. After watching Choi Yong Sul successfully defend himself against a group of men when an argument erupted in the yard of the Suh Brewery Company, Suh, who was the chairman of the company, invited Choi to begin teaching martial arts to Suh and some of the workers at the distillery where Suh had prepared a dojang.
In 1951, Suh opened up the first proper dojang called the Korean Yu Kwan Sool Hapki Dojang. The first symbol, designed by Suh, which was used to denote the art was the inverted arrowhead design featured in both the modern incarnation of the KiDo Association and by Myung Kwang-Sik's World Hapkido Federation. Choi Yong Sul was also employed during this time as a bodyguard to Suh's father who was a congressman. Suh claims that he and Choi agreed to shorten the name of the art from 'hapki yu kwon sool' to 'hapkido' in 1959.
A student from the Choi and Suh's Yu Sool Kwan dojang was Kim Moo Hong who later taught at Suh's Joong Ang dojang in Daegu. Suh, who promoted Kim to 4th degree, credits Kim with the development of many kicks which are still used in hapkido today. Kim apparentally took the concepts from very basic kicks he had learned from Choi and went to a temple to work on developing them to a much greater degree. Later, in 1961, Kim travelled to Seoul and while staying at Ji Han Jae's Sung Moo Kwan dojang they finalized the kicking curriculum.
Kim went on to found his Shin Moo Kwan dojang in the Jong Myo section of Seoul, also in 1961. Won Kwang-Wha also served as an instructor at this dojang. Kim's notable students were Lee Han-Chul, Kim Woo-Tak (who founded the Kuk Sool Kwan Hapkido dojang), Huh Il-Wooong, Lee Joo Bang (who founded modern Hwarang-do), Na Han-Dong, Shin Dong-Ki and Suh In-Hyuk (who founded Kuk Sool Won.
Originally a member of the Korea Kido Association, the organization sent Kim to teach hapkido in the United States in 1969. Upon returning to Korea in 1970, Kim looked to Ji Han Jae's move to set up his own organization and with the encouragement of his students followed suit and founded the Korean Hapkido Association (Hangook Hapkido Association) in 1971. Later he combined this organization with the groups led by Ji Han Jae and Myung Jae Nam to form the Republic of Korea Hapkido Association.
Whereas the martial art education of Choi Yong Sul is unconfirmed, the martial art history of Ji Han Jae's core training is somewhat easier to trace. Ji was an early student (Dan #14) of Choi. He details that prior to opening his martial art school in Seoul, the Sung Moo Kwan, he also studied from a man known as Taoist Lee and an old woman he knew as 'Grandma'.
As a teacher of hapkido, Ji incorporated traditional Korean kicking techniques (from Taoist Lee and the art Sam Rang Do Tek Gi) and punching techniques into the system and gave the resulting synthesis the name hapkido in 1957. Hapkido is the Korean pronunciation of (Japanese) aikido and is sometimes erroneously referred to as its Korean cousin.
Although a founding member of the Dae Han Ki Do Hwe (Korea Kido Association) in 1963 with Choi Yong Sool as titular Chairman and Kim Jung-Yoon as Secretary General and Head Instructor for the association Ji found himself not able to exert as much control over the organization as he might have wished. To this end and with the support of the Head of the Security Forces, Park Jong-Kyu, Ji founded the very successful Korea Hapkido Association (Dae Han Hapkido Hyub Hwe) in 1965.
Later when this organization combined with the organizations founded by Myung Jae-Nam (Korea Hapki Association/Hangook Hapki Hwe) and Kim Moo-Hong (Korean Hapkido Association/Hangook Hapkido Hyub Hwe) in 1973 they became the very extensive and influential organization known as the Republic of Korea Hapkido Association (Dae Han Min Gook Hapkido Hyub Hwe).
In 1984, Ji moved first to Germany and then to the United States and founded sin moo hapkido, which incorporates philosophical tenets, a specific series of techniques (including kicks) and healing techniques into the art. Three of Ji Han Jae's notable students in Korea were Tae Man Kwon, Myung Jae Nam, and Han Bong Soo. Ji can be seen in the films Lady Kung-fu and Game of Death in which he takes part in a long fight scene against Bruce Lee.
Prior to the death of Choi Yong Sul in 1986, Ji came forward with the assertion that it was he who founded the Korean art of hapkido, asserting that Choi Yong Sul taught only yawara based skills and that it was he who added much of the kicking, and weapon techniques we now associate with modern hapkido. He also asserts that it was he that first used the term 'hapkido' to refer to the art. While both claims are contested by some of the other senior teachers of the art, what is not contested is the undeniably huge contributions made by Ji to the art, its systematization and its promotion world wide.
Later Myung Jae Nam broke away from all the other organizations and started to focus on promoting a new style, hankido. Until his death in 1999 he was the leader of the International HKD Federation (Kuk Jae Yeon Maeng Hapki Hwe), at that time one of Korea's three main hapkido organizations.
Hwa, or non-resistance, is simply the act of remaining relaxed and not directly opposing an opponent's strength. For example, if an opponent were to push against a hapkido student's chest, rather than resist and push back, the hapkido student would avoid a direct confrontation by moving in the same direction as the push and utilizing the opponent's forward momentum to throw him.
Won, the circular principle, is a way to gain momentum for executing the techniques in a natural and free-flowing manner. If an opponent attacks in linear motion, as in a punch or knife thrust, the hapkido student would redirect the opponent's force by leading the attack in a circular pattern, thereby adding the attacker's power to his own. Once he has redirected the power, the hapkido student can execute any of a variety of techniques to incapacitate his attacker. The hapkido practitioner learns to view an attacker as an "energy entity" rather than as a physical entity. The bigger the person is, the more energy a person has, the better it is for the hapkido student.
Yu, the water principle, can be thought of as the soft, adaptable strength of water. Hapkido is "soft" in that it does not rely on physical force alone, much like water is soft to touch. It is adaptable in that a hapkido master will attempt to deflect an opponent's strike, in a way that is similar to free-flowing water being divided around a stone only to return and envelop it.
"As the flowing stream penetrates and surrounds its obstructions and as dripping water eventually penetrates the stone, so does the hapkido strength flow in and through its opponents."
Hapkido seeks to be a fully comprehensive fighting style and as such tries to avoid narrow specialization in any particular type of technique or range of fighting. It maintains a wide range of tactics for striking, standing jointlocks, throwing techniques (both pure and joint manipulating throws) and pinning techniques. Some styles also incorporate tactics for ground fighting although these tactics generally tend to be focused upon escaping, controlling, striking and gouging tactics over submissions and emphasizing the ability to gain one's feet and situational awareness over pins.
The Korean term for 'technique' is 'sool' or 'sul.' As terminology varies between schools, some refer to defensive maneuvers as 'soolgi' or 'sulgi' (loosely translated as "technique-ing"), while 'hoshinsool' or 'hosinsul' (meaning 'self-defense') is preferred by others.
Proper hapkido tactics include using footwork and a series of kicks and hand strikes to bridge the distance with an opponent. Then to immediately control the balance of the opponent (typically by manipulating the head and neck), for a take down or to isolate a wrist or arm and apply a joint twisting throw, depending upon the situation; Hapkido is a comprehensive system and once the opponent's balance has been taken, there are a myriad of techniques to disable and subdue the opponent.
Hapkido makes use of pressure points known in Korean as 'hyul' which are also used in traditional Asian medical practices such as acupuncture. These pressure points are either struck to produce unconsciousness or manipulated to create pain allowing one to more easily upset the balance of one's opponent prior to a throw or joint manipulation.
Hapkido emphasizes self defense over sport fighting and as such employs the use of weapons, including environmental weapons of opportunity, in addition to empty hand techniques. Some schools also teach 'hyung', the Korean equivalent of what is commonly known as 'kata' (as in Karate).
Two of the earliest innovators in this regard were Ji Han Jae and Kim Moo Hong, both of whom were exposed to what were thought to be indigenous Korean kicking arts. They combined these forms together with the yu sool concepts for striking taught to them by Choi and during a period of 8 months training together in 1961 finalized the kicking curriculum which would be used by the Korea Hapkido Association (Daehan Hapkido Hyub Hwe) for many years to come.
Other influences also were exerted on the kicking techniques of important hapkido teachers. Bong Soo Han studied under kwon bup and Shudokan karate from Yoon Byung-In, whose students were influential in the later forming of kong soo do and taekwondo styles, specifically the chang moo kwan and jido kwan. He, like Kim Moo Hong, also trained briefly in the Korean art of taek kyun under Lee Bok-Yong.
Many other teachers like Myung Kwang-sik, Chung Kee-Tae, Lim Hyun-Soo, and many others trained in tang soo do and kong soo do, Shotokan and Shudokan karate based systems which predated and influenced the forming of first tae soo do and later modern taekwondo styles.
Kim Sang Cook states that while many of the original yu kwon sool students were exposed to many different contemporary Korean arts the chung do kwan was of particular importance in the transition from the original jujutsu based form to what we know today as modern hapkido.
Most forms of hapkido include a series of double kicks used to promote balance, coordination and muscular control.
An example of a double kick set
After these kicks are mastered using one foot kick the student moves on to jumping versions using alternate kicking legs.
Kim Chong Sung, one of the oldest living active hapkido instructors, maintains that the source of these kicking methods is from the indigenous Korean kicking art of taek kyon. Others feel that these kicks are more representative of the kong soo do and tang soo do styles which emerged from an adaptation of Japanese karate forms.
Much of hapkido's joint control techniques are said to be derived largely from aikijujutsu. They are taught similarly to aikido techniques, but in general the circles are smaller and the techniques are applied in a more linear fashion. Hapkido's joint manipulation techniques attack both large joints (such as the elbow, shoulder, neck, back, knee, and hip) and small joints (such as wrists, fingers, ankles, toes, jaw).
Most techniques involve applying force in the direction that a joint moves naturally and then forcing it to overextend or by forcing a joint to move in a direction that goes against its natural range of motion. These techniques can be used to cause pain and force a submission, to gain control of an opponent for a 'come along' techniques (as is often employed in law enforcement), to assist in a hard or gentle throw or to cause the dislocation or breaking of the joint. Hapkido differs from some post war styles of aikido in its preservation of a great many techniques which are applied against the joint that were deemed by some to be inconsistent with aikido's more pacificistic philosophy.
Wristlocks Hapkido is well known for its use of a wide variety of wristlocks. These techniques are believed to have been derived from Daito-ryu aikijujutsu although their manner of performance is not always identical to that of the parent art. Still many of the tactics found in hapkido are quite similar to those of Daito-ryu and of aikido which was derived from that art. These involve such tactics as the supinating wristlock, pronating wristlock, internal rotational wristlock and the utilizing of pressure points on the wrist and are common to many forms of Japanese jujutsu, Chinese qin na and even 'catch as catch can' wrestling.
Elbowlocks Although well known for its wristlocking techniques hapkido has an equally wide array of tactics which centre upon the manipulation of the elbow joint (see armlocks). The first self defense technique typically taught in many hapkido schools is the knifehand elbow press. This technique is thought to be derived from Daito-ryu's ippondori, a method of disarming and destroying the elbow joint of a sword wielding opponent. Hapkido typically introduces this technique off a wrist grabbing attack where the defender makes a circular movement with his hands to free themselves from their opponent's grasp and applies a pronating wristlock while cutting down upon the elbow joint with their forearm, taking their opponent down to the ground where an elbow lock is applied with one's hand or knee to immobolize the attacker in a pin. Interestingly both Daito-ryu and aikido prefer to use handpressure on the elbow throughout the technique rather than using the forearm as a 'hand blade', cutting into the elbow joint, in the hapkido manner.
Judo techniques were introduced in the early years of 20th century in Korea during the Japanese colonial period. Judo/Yudo tactics employ extensive use of throws, various chokes, hold downs, joint locks, and other grappling techniques used to control the opponent on the ground. It is believed that these techniques were absorbed into the hapkido curriculum from judo as there were a great many judo practitioners in Korea at that time and its tactics were commonly employed in the fighting of the period. Indeed, there also exists a portion of the hapkido curriculum which consists of techniques specifically designed to thwart judo style attacks.
The judo/yudo techniques were however adopted with adjustments made to make them blend more completely with the self defense orientation which hapkido stresses. For example many of the judo style throwing techniques employed in hapkido do not rely upon the use of traditional judo grips on the uniform, which can play a large role in the Japanese sport. Instead in many cases they rely upon gripping the limbs, head or neck in order to be successful.
Even today Korea remains one of the strongest countries in the world for the sport of judo and this cross influence on the art of Korean hapkido continues to be felt in Korean schools such as the Gong Kwan.
Although hapkido is in some respects a "soft" art, training is very vigorous and demanding. The practitioner could benefit in training by being lean and muscular. However, strength is not a prerequisite of hapkido; what strength and fitness is necessary to perform the techniques develops naturally as a result of training.
The following is an example of the Korea Hapkido Association technical requirements from 1st degree to 5th degree Black Belt as recorded by He-Young Kimm, created in association with Ji Han Jae. As one of the largest and most influential organizations the content is fairly consistent with what is taught in a great many of today's hapkido dojangs and the current Korea Hapkido Federation. The order in which the techniques are introduced may vary with individual schools.
1st Degree Black Belt
2nd Degree Black Belt
3rd Degree Black Belt
4th Degree Black Belt
5th Degree Black Belt