The History of Hapkido
Korea's Martial Past
Evidence of martial training in Korea far pre-date the earliest form of written evidence found in the Samkuk Saki (3 Kingdom History) written in the 12th Century. In 1935, excavations of the Muyong-Chong tomb found the earliest known evidence of martial arts on ceiling murals. Other tombs, notably the Anak Tomb (Koguryo) and Sambo-Chong Tomb dating from the early to late 4th Centuries, depict other caricatures of sparring, blocking stances and what appear to be older versions of dobok with black waist sashes. (3) Further, other paintings in another well-known Koguryo Tomb, the Samsil Tomb, show evidence of a Taekyun match (formerly known as Subak) (5) and another picture clearly showing a Korean wrestling/grappling match, likely the ancestor of Ssireum. (1)(2)(13) This depiction is corroborated by references to Korean wrestling in the Book of later Han written in the 5th Century.
From the 3 Kingdom's Period through the United Shilla and Koryo Dynasty's, a time spanning roughly 1,400 years, Korean fighting styles continued to develop. Through both internal and external conflicts, these fighting styles evolved and became more organized and structured. The same could likely be said for Korea's closer neighbors (Japan, China) as well, as both war and commerce led to continued exchanges between them for well over a millennia.
Although the practicing and perception of martial-arts saw a sharp decline beginning in the Yi Dynasty (1392-1919) due to the influence of Confucianism, (4) from the 12th Century until approximately the 18th Century, multiple manuals and books of martial arts were written to further document and codify Korea's martial traditions. These various texts provide us with further evidence and insight into the history of their development. The earliest known work, the Samkuk Saki (3 Kingdom History) was written in 1145 and is widely accepted to contain early and factual data by Korean scholars. Although this book is a general history book, multiple references to Korean martial arts are found within its pages, one of the most well known was the documenting of a 10-day long empty-hand fight between General Jung Ryang and Queen Jin-duk's troops which took place in 647AD. Approximately a century later, the Samkuk Yusa (3 Kingdom's Memorabilia) was written and within its pages, contained a history of the establishment of civil service testing during the Koryo Dynasty, of which part consisted of graded martial arts contests. At this time, the art of Subak is already found in governmental records of the time, indicating that it had already existed in its current form for at least a generation or two, arguably longer. It is also believed by some researchers that it was at this time that the art of Subak began to split into separate and distinctive arts, one being Yusool (locks/grappling) and the other being Taekyun (kicks/striking) (5) (5a)
The Ji Xiao Xin Shu (New Book Recording Effective Techniques) was written by the Chinese strategist, Qi Jiguang in approximately 1560. This book contained a variety of weapon arts with a cursory mention of Chuan Fa (Kung-Fu). The compilers of this record saw unarmed combat effective for the basic training of soldiers but saw little use of it on the battlefield. (6) This is important because this manual became the blueprint for the Korean Mu Ye Je Bo, written only a decade later in 1598 during the Imjin War (1592 - 1598). This Korean text was the precursor to the Muye Dobo Tongji which went on to be the best the most complete source of Korean martial arts until the present time. A passage in the introduction to Kwon Bup (Subak) mirrors this belief…
"Kwon Bup is not adequate for large scale combat, however, it is an excellent way for beginners to start martial arts training to learn the way of the hands and feet and discipline." (11)
The Mu Ye Je Bo went through a revision in 1610 and added 4 volumes (from the prior 7) from a Japanese martial arts manual and 12 more battlefield methods were added in the last revision in 1759 called the Muyesinbo. These 23 arts formed the basis for the 24 art compilation found in the Muye Dobo Tongji, commissioned by King Jung-jo in 1790 and exists to this day. In honor of Korea's martial traditions, the art of Muye 24 Ban is still practiced today in Korea and is believed to be a reflection of the skills and tactics contained within the pages of the Muye Dobo Tongji.
1910 – 1945
The Japanese Army invaded Korea in 1910 and ruled the country until they were expelled by Allied Forces in 1945 at the end of World War II. During that period it was not uncommon for Korean families and treasures to be relocated to Japan. One such person was Hapkido's founder, Yong Sool Choi.
Choi was interviewed by Jong Bae-Rim and Joseph Sheya in 1982 which was later translated and published in 1999, it was his only known interview. Choi asserts that he was born in Yong Dong in Choong Chung Province, Korea in 1904. At about the age of 8, he was taken to Japan by a Japanese business owner and later abandoned. Choi states that he was taken to Kyoto and came under the care of a temple monk named Kintaro Wadanabi. Choi stated that he was fascinated by the murals of martial arts and battles within the temple and when asked what direction he wanted his life to go, Choi pointed to the murals. Unknown to Choi at this time, Wadanabi was close friends with Sokaku Takeda. In addition to a proficiency in Ona-Ha Itto-Ryu swordsmanship, Takeda was also the 37th generation Grandmaster of Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu, an art which emphasized the use of joint locks, strikes and nerve attacks to neutralize an opponent.
Many great warriors, in accordance with ancient traditions, undertook annual pilgrimages throughout Japan to improve their martial arts skills. During their travels they visited local temples to offer prayer and donations. It was during one of Master Takeda's visits that Wadanabi and the resident monks, seeing an opportunity, asked Master Takeda to take the young Choi as a disciple.
It’s important to note that Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu was originated by Shilla Sahm Lang (third son of Shilla in translation), who was believed to be a Korean bureaucratic official from the united Shilla Dynasty of Korea, who taught this art to Japan's Minamoto Shogunate, the ruling family of Japan during the Kamakura feudal era. (See insert) This art was passed to members of the Takeda Clan where it remained for over 35 generations. (22)
Please See Bibliography #23 for Detailed Translation
Choi went to live with Takeda at his home in the Shin Su Mountains as his personal servant and lived with him, traveling and training for 30 years until Takeda's death in 1943. (9)
The Japanese occupation of Korea ended with their defeat in 1945. This event coincided with Takeda's death and Choi decided to return to his homeland of Korea. Choi brought back with him the art Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu which was the “Yusool” of the Shilla kingdom and long forgotten in his own land. It should also be noted that the “Yusool” of Hapkido that has been developed in Korea after Choi's return should not be considered as Daito-Ryu anymore. In fact, it is believed that Choi wanted to develop a system that is comparable to modern society as a practical martial art, instead of teaching the original Daito-Ryu which is an ancient battle field system with special consideration of fighting an armored opponent.
Approximately three years after his return to Korea, on February 21, 1948 while waiting in line for free grain at the Suh Brewery, he caught the attention of the chairman of the brewery at the time, Bok Sub Suh after a physical altercation Choi had with several individuals. Suh noticed something special about the man and after a brief discussion regarding Choi's art and background, and a brief demonstration, asked to be his student. (8) He was accepted and three short years later, on February 12, 1951 Suh and Choi opened up their first dojang together. At this time, the school was called "Yu Kwon Sool Hapki Dojang."
Suh indicated in his August, 1994 interview with Michael Wollmershauser that Moo-Hyun Kim developed many of Hapkido's kicks that were later added to the art. However, by his own admission, Suh himself used kicking techniques in a 1954 altercation with a local criminal that gained him some notoriety. Suh had been a Yudo black-belt at the time he met Choi so likely had little exposure to kicking prior to meeting Choi. This is anecdotal evidence to support the fact that kicking had begun to be added into Hapkido's curriculum even before this time. It's largely accepted that one of Choi's most senior students, Ji Han Jae, along with Moo-Hyun Kim, was also responsible for developing many of Hapkido's kicks when Kim stayed with Ji at the Sung Moo Kwan dojang which Ji established in Seoul in 1957. (16)
Michael Wollmershauser, himself a Hapkido master, traveled to Korea multiple times over a 20 year period and he was able to train and speak to Choi himself during many of these trips. Interestingly, at this time, Wollmershauser indicated that sword lessons were commonplace during their Hapkido training. (19) Another one of Choi’s first students, Jong-Bae Rim, echoed the fact during an interview when he said, "he liked the sword." Further, Master Rim also indicated that during his training with Choi, weapons were regularly practiced and Choi would often practice with Dan Bong (short stick), Jang Bong (staff), sword, rope, cane, belt and throwing weapons. (15)
There have been attempts to discredit various parts of Choi and Suh's story regarding the evolution of Hapkido and its true history. Indeed, there has been controversy around the development, its symbols and even the name itself. It should be noted however, that these discrepancies did not originate until after the founder's death.
Further, there is evidence of note that is important for any student of Hapkido history to understand in the light of much of the debate around these issues. During an interview with current Doshu of Aikido, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Kisshomaru admits to a few interesting facts. He acknowledged that his father, Morehei Ueshiba (Aikido's founder, also a student of Takeda) had told him that Choi had attended seminars by Takeda held in Hokkaido. He also indicated that "this Korean" had returned to Korea after Takeda's death and spread Daito-ryu. He went on to say that this art was later called Hapkido and many Koreans studied it (20). He alluded to the fact that this was after many factions broke off into different directions; a "politicizing" of Hapkido which has been well documented and discussed among multiple first-generation Hapkido masters as Choi struggled to maintain a centralized continuity of this new art. Additionally, in 1989 during an interview, Takeda’s son, Tokimune, said the following, “…he [Takeda] traveled from the Karafuto and Chishima Islands in Hokkaido, all the way to Okinawa and even to Hawaii.” (21) Choi had indicated in his interview that he traveled with Takeda to Hawaii, a fact many have sought to discredit. Takeda’s presence in Okinawa is a well documented fact in both Daito-ryu and Aikido circles.
There is no doubt that many of this era's great masters; Ji Han Jae, Bong Soo Han and Kwang Sik Myung to name a few, have significantly added to the development and proliferation of Hapkido around the world. Chung Do Kwan's founder, Won Kuk Lee once said, "The evolution of any martial art has been influenced by many masters over time as they taught their own special variations." (7) There is no doubt that Hapkido, like all arts, have followed the same path and continue to do so as they evolve based on the skills, philosophy and predilections of each Master. Today, it is not uncommon to be able to determine a particular student's lineage based on the way they do certain throws or kicks.
Despite its variations, the major core of Hapkido’s techniques has remained consistent since 1948 and no matter how you seek to examine or debate the questions posed above, one thing is certain, all roads lead back to Doju Yong Sool Choi as the “Founder of Hapkido.”
What Is Hap Ki Do?
Hap Ki Do is a self-defense-based martial arts system, incorporating numerous methods of attack and defense including strikes, joint manipulation, throws, take downs and weapons defense. Though rooted in traditional techniques and philosophy, Hap Ki Do has continually modernized as culture has changed over the years. The tendency of this martial art to change with the times ensures that it remains an effective means of self-defense to this day.
To fully understand the true meaning of Hap Ki Do, we must understand what each word means. “Hap” means harmony, unity, coordination, together, or concentrated. “Ki” means energy, inner power or cosmic force. “Do” means art, way of, achieve, or execute. Literally translated, Hap Ki Do means "The Art of Coordinated Power".
There are three theories behind Hap Ki Do:
Yu [유] (flowing water)
Theory of Yu
The flowing water Theory
Look at water flowing easily down the mountain. When it comes upon a stone or solid rock, it flows around it. From this we see water does not waste time and energy by pushing the rock, but simply flows around it.
A single drop of water has no power or strength. However, many drops of water can cause great pain. So in this case use your whole body to attack, like fists, kicks, knees, elbows, head butts etc.
Water can shape into any form of vessel no matter what the shape. If you put water in a rounded or square vessel, water will shape into the vessel. The Hap Ki Do student should be like water and fit any situation. Whether standing, sitting or laying, Hap Ki Do defense should fit the situation. Whether you are tall, short, fat, or thin you should adapt your Hap Ki Do to fit.
When it comes to water and power, water can be the most powerful thing in the world, turning huge waves into weight and momentum. Like a dam springing a small leak, the dripping water will eventually penetrate the small hole so hard that the hole will become larger and larger. In the same manner, the Hap Ki Do student's strength will flow through the opponent with stronger and more effective techniques.
The strategy of the Hap Ki Do student comes from the water theory. So all together the Hap Ki Do student will adapt and stick to the fighter, by using momentum and applying water. The flowing techniques create other openings, which, in turn, invite other techniques. From this concept comes the idea of combat Flow.
The Theory of Won
The circular theory
The circular principles of Hap Ki Do are concepts that store momentum and leverage for executing the techniques in a natural flowing manner, allowing one to redirect the techniques constantly by merely changing the axis of the circle and with no loss of efficiency or balance. The natural, flowing, circular patterns allow the Hap Ki Do student to move from one technique to another almost instantaneously making the Hap Ki Do student a very elusive target and very dangerous.
The Hap Ki Do student will use a winding circular soft block to disrupt the opponent's force but also as a lack of resistance throws the opponent off balance. This circular motion will set up the aggressor into a position for a counter attack. The Hap Ki Do student should be like a twister or tornado. If anything stands in its way. It will feel the wrath of its centrifugal force. If the attackers punch does not enter into one's circle, and if the Hap Ki Do student chooses to block, it is considered a waste of time and energy. This is true with the same idea of the twister, if there is not an object in its way no harm will come to it.
The theory of circle is also applied for throws and for those Hap Ki Do kicks and strikes which are based upon circular or centrifugal force.
Theory of Wha
Harmony is the most important element one should achieve in Hap Ki Do training. The Hap Ki Do students' harmony must manifest itself by uniting the mind, body, spirit,techniques, and environment. Harmony is the most important element one should strive to achieve through their training. We practice what we are shown countless times so that our body and mind will eventually act as one unit in response to a confrontation.
But when faced with an attack, the true Hap Ki Do practitioner reacts by instinct, not through conscious thought. If one has to think about how to react, it is too late. This is why we practice our techniques over and over again. Merely knowing how to use a particular technique is not good enough. The Hap Ki Do student should not only memorize the techniques, but the student's harmony should be Reflexive, Second Nature, or Action without Thought.
After one achieves harmony within oneself, the next requirement is to harmonize with one's opponent. Having accomplished this, the Hap Ki Do student will find it quite easy to control the movements and energy of an opponent. The words"non-resistance" are often substituted for harmony in defining the theory. Before an attack can be directed in a circular manner, it must first be received or intercepted with a non-direct block or maneuver, thus allowing a harmony to be created using the opponent's oncoming force to fuel the defending motion.
Following this, is learning to harmonize with one's environment, this is the next stage. The final task is blending the harmony that one has developed.Accomplishing this, one will find it quite easy to read the min