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A History of Hapkido

Hapkido is a high energy Korean martial art that was developed during the past few centuries before emerging into limelight in the twentieth century through some dedicated artists. Hapkido literally means ‘joining energy way’ or ‘the way of coordinating energy’ or ‘the way of harmony.’ Even though many believe Japan’s Aikido and Hapkido have have common roots, the differences in the styles of fighting suggest the opposite.

Hapkido emphasizes the traditional techniques of grappling, throwing, and joint locks followed by other martial arts, besides giving importance to various kicks, punches, and other striking methods. Apart from these, it also employs traditional weapons such as cane, rope, knife, sword, and short stick.

The traces of actual birth of Hapkido are more of theories and guesses more than facts. However, the emergence of modern-day Hapkido may be ascribed to the efforts of some Korean martial arts enthusiasts in the post Japanese colonial era – Choi Yong-Sool being the most prominent one.

Choi Yong-Sool

Once, while taking a stroll down the yard, a Korean man called Suh Bok-Sub happened to witness one man being attacked by a dozen people. Being a Judo black belt, he considered helping the man, but before he could interfere, he was stunned to see the lone man fight back. And he was defending with such ease and energy that the attackers had to finally flee. Suh accompanied this man – Choi Yong-Sool – and practiced with him the style Choi used, known as Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu, a parent of Hapkido.

The life of Choi Yong-Sool is unclear and debated. He claims to have learned Daitô-ryû Aiki- jûjutsu from Japanese martial art expert Takeda Sokaku over the course of 30 years. He says he is the only one to have completely learned Takeda’s training and that Takeda had adopted him when he was 11. However, these claims remain controversial as many believe Choi was only Takeda’s servant.

Suh Bok-Sub

From the story above, inspired by Choi’s fighting techniques, Suh became his student. As the two enthusiasts worked together, the art evolved. Suh once defeated his brother-in-law, who was much larger, in a public hand-to-hand combat. In 1959, they decided to shorten their martial art’s name to ‘Hapkido’ from ‘hapki yu kwon sool’.

Ji Han-Jae

It was Ji Han-Jae who popularized the art of Hapkido in Korea and also on the international level. His connections while serving as the head instructor of Hapkido to the presidential bodyguard under president Park Jung Hee helped him form the Korea Hapkido Association in 1965. He later added techniques and methods of his own as the art proliferated outside Korea. In 1986, after the death of Choi, Ji announced that he is to be credited as the founder of modern
Hapkido as what Choi developed was only a primitive version of the current one. But then, these claims are also supported and opposed by many.

In spite of having a vague history embellished with controversial claims, the Korean martial art form remains a favorite among many across the globe.