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The History of Hapkido

As with most Martial Arts, The history of Hapkido is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Lack of original records, hearsay, anecdotes, politics, egos and the ravages of time all but ensure sketchy, inaccurate and biased accounts of the origin of the Martial Art.

Over the past 2000 years the Korean people have developed several fighting systems and martial disciplines which have evolved into modern TaeKwonDo, Tang Soo Do, Hapkido, Kook Sool, Hwa Rang Do, etc. Hundreds of years of trade, war occupation and exchange between Korea and its neighbors, China and Japan, resulted in "cross-pollination", mutual influence and blending of styles and techniques. It is now virtually impossible to state with certainty which techniques are truly Korean, Chinese or Japanese in origin.

Modern Hapkido is attributed to Choi Yong Sool (1904-1986). He developed the system by combining native Korean Fighting Arts with Daito Ryu Aiki-Ju Jutsu (Yawara). Choi allegedly learned that system from its Headmaster Sokaku Takeda while living in Japan from 1915 to 1945. After his return to Korea, Choi started teaching Self Defense in TaeGue City. He called his system Yu Kwon Sool. One of Choi's top students, Ji Han-Jae claims to have been the first one to introduce the name "Hapkido" in Seoul in 1957. However this is strongly disputed by Choi's first student, Master Suh Bok Sup, who claims that he and Choi were already using the word "Hapkido" for their style when they opened their first school in 1951.

Traditional Hapkido is said to contain over 3700 techniques including 120 different kicks. There are many styles of Hapkido as well as over a dozen associations / governing bodies in the U.S. alone. Some styles have produced forms (Hyung) and require them for advancement, others emphasize high kicking (including jumping and flying kicks), still others are heavily influenced by Judo or Aikido and practice a lot of throwing and grappling.

The literal translation of the word Hapkido (which is actually a compression of 3 distinct words) is presented here to provide instructors with better insight in the system as well as some cultural/historical background.

Hap - To combine, to unite, to coordinate, to harmonize.
Ki    - Internal strength, life force, power, dynamic energy.
Do   - The way, the system, the method.
The reason why each term has several English corresponding words is because Oriental and Western languages express thoughts, ideas and concepts in different ways resulting in verbal expressions that only "approximate" the original meaning.

The Korean characters for Hapkido translate in Japanese as Aikido (and vice versa). However, do not confuse the two Arts or consider them the same, they are not. Not only were they founded at different times, in different Countries, by different Masters, but they are also extremely different in philosophy as well as techniques.

Universal Theories of Hapkido

The three theories of Hapkido are:

  1. The Water Principle (Yu) teaches the student to penetrate the defenses of the attacker by "flowing" in, over, around, and under.
  2. The Circular Motion Principle (Won) teaches the student how to gain and impart momentum by moving in a circular manner. By redirecting the attack in a circular direction the student controls the balance and the kinetic energy of the attacker.
  3. The Nonresistance (or Harmony) Principle (Hwa) teaches the student to remain relaxed, flexible (not tense) and not to meet force with force.

These three theories are explained and demonstrated at length during training. The Instructor must truly understand them as they are the foundations on which not only the structure and essence of Hapkido rest, but also all its other concepts and technical attributes.

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