• The roots of Hapkido

  • It starts with a Korean in Japan...
    Choi-Yong-Sul (1899-1986)

    Much of Hapkido history is anecdotal.  The author can make no claims to the authenticity of this information.  It is up to you the reader to use your own judgment regarding the facts.

    To learn the history of Hapkido we have to look at the setting in which it began.  Throughout history the Korean peninsula has been place of war and contention.  The land is beautiful and it’s people clever and hardworking.  It has always been a tempting target for invasion. The Koreans have fought for centuries to repel invaders from mainland China and neighboring Japan.

    We take you now to Korea of the early 1900’s.  A Korean child named Choi-Yong-Sul (1899-1986) is about to embark on a historic martial arts journey, perhaps against his will.  In 1910 the Japanese would occupy Korea and rule the Korean people with an iron fist.  Korean culture and history would be subjugated in a failed attempt to Japanify the populace. Many Korean’s at this time would be taken to Japan as

    According to Choi-Yong-Sul as a youth he was grabbed on the street by a travelling Japanese merchant who wanted a child to take home to his wife.  The Korean boy was abducted from his natural family to Japan against his will. He was understandably distraught and after weeks was still uncooperative and disheartened to his ‘new’ Japanese family. Rather than returning the poor child to Korea his captor simply left the boy at a local temple (some versions of this story have said local police department).

    The monks cared for the boy in as much as they could.  The only thing that seemed to brighten the boy’s sadness were paintings and sculptures of warriors.  They decided to bring the Korean child to Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943) a martial arts master of legendary stature.

    Takeda would take young Choi as a houseboy (a kind of servant).  He gave Choi the Japanese name Tutujutu Yoshida.  Over the years Choi would learn Aiki-jujutsu from Takeda most likely as an uke.  In later years this Korean boy would become senior-most of Takeda’s students having trained with Takeda the
    longest.  Some have claimed that Takeda adopted the boy but that cannot be confirmed.  Cultural ideas of the time and place make the notion highly dubious.  It is believed that Choi Yong Sul considered Takeda to be a father figure and remembered him fondly.

    Authors Note: Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu historians find little or no credible evidence of Choi Yong Sul.  However photographic evidence exists placing Choi with early Daito Ryu Students which seems to substantiate Choi Yong Sul’s story. If anybody out there would be willing to share the photo with me I would love to present it here.

     What is very much a fact though is that Choi would become a very powerful fighter.
    According to Hapkido legend Takeda would send Choi to conquer all challengers.  The Japanese mindset
    of the time was one of a divine race and all foreigners were considered to be beneath them, to be defeated by a Korean manservant must have been a powerful deterrent to challenges.

    Choi would travel far and wide with Takeda teaching and demonstrating their amazing fighting arts and acting as assistant to the Master.  He would be Takeda’s faithful servant for the bulk of his early life.
    It is believed that both men were close in spite of the Korea/Japan cultural divide and animosity. Prior to his death in 1943 Takeda released Choi from his service. Choi like many Koreans during and especially after the war decided to return home, back to Korea.

    Authors note:  The period Choi Yong Sul’s life between 1943 and 1945 is a mystery.  If anybody has credible information about this time I would love to see it.  Choi was rumored to be teaching Daito Ryu in Japan at this time.  Another variant of the story has Choi assigned to hunting down Japanese deserters in the mountains till the end of the war.

    WWII would hand Japan a crushing defeat at the hands of the allied forces.  Many Japanese cities were completely leveled by incendiary bombs and atom bombs.  Japan officially surrendered on August 15, 1945.  1945 was a year that rattled Japan to its foundation.  It was a crazy time, some among the warrior class in the populace committed seppuku (ritual suicide).  One of the terms of surrender would be for Japan to withdraw from Korea.

    Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu is a seminal art that has its roots in the fighting styles of samurai.  It is still practiced today.  Perhaps Daito Ryu’s greatest achievement is spawning two new child arts in Aikido and our beloved Hapkido.

  • Choi Yong Sul teaching a student
    When Choi Yong Sul arrived in Korea in 1945 he found a Korea liberated from Japanese oppression and struggling to restore its identity.  He opened a Dojang and began teaching his art.  It’s
    likely that in the beginning he taught exactly what he learned which is Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu.  Understandably anything Japanese was considered undesirable in Korea at that time.
    Choi rebranded Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu the Korean name Deadong ryu yu kwon sul and pressed on.

    Above, possibly the only video of Choi Yong Sul.

    Many of Choi’s early students were already black belts in Judo or Karate.  Unfortunately the Japanese occupation essentially wiped out the ealier Korean fighting arts.  The Korean fighting arts we have today are  built from Japanese arts and/or attempts to reconstruct lost Korean arts.  In the modern martial arts world Korea is known for its fantastic kicking arts and Hapkido would adopt much of these kicks in its first twenty years of growth.  Choi Yong Sul himself taught only ten individual kicks as a part of his style but most of his first generation students/teachers added many more.

    It is unclear who first coined the name Hapkido.  A few different people have said they were the first to call our art Hapkido.  Literally translated:  HAP=harmony, KI=body and mind coordination (energy), DO=the way.  I prefer the translation “The way of coordinated power.”

    It is incorrect to say that Hapkido borrows many kicks from Tae Kwon Do because both arts evolved at the same time.  They grew up alongside one another in the 1950’s.  It is likely both arts gleaned kicking techniques from reconstructed Korean styles such as Subak and Taekyon.  Many of the kicks are the same but generally Tae Kwon Do kicking favors targets above the waist (sportlike) and Hapkido favors targets below the waist (practical combat).

    Authors Note:  Many modern Hapkidoin have also trained extensivily in other Korean arts and are very capable kickers of high and low targets.

    It is also incorrect to say that Hapkido borrows many techniques from Aikido, that art evolved independently in another country.  The arts of Aikido and Hapkido bear only a superficial resemblance because they sprang from the root art of Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu.  In practice Aikido and Hapkido are almost diametrically opposed in basic philosophy and physical power delivery.  It’s as if Aikido drew upon the peaceful aspects of Aikijujutsu and Hapkido drew all of the warlike combative aspects of Aikijujutsu.

    Hapkido could be called a modern art in that it has moved past it’s historic Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu roots.  For example we have techniques for disarming a gunman and  have drifted away from Samurai methods that utilize a sword, spear, or bow.  It could also be called modern because it’s a living, changing art that continues to evolve to match the march of human progress.  Hapkido does have weapons training but it is slanted towards modern weaponry such as guns, knives, and even such mundane things as walking canes and umbrella’s.

  • Influences

  • Takeda Sokaku (1859-1943)  Disseminated Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu to the general public.  It is widely believed that he taught Choi Yong Sul.

  • Founder Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

  • Founder Choi Yong Sul (1899-1986)

    "In Hapkido, one can acquire the basic senses at the age of 40. Who can claim to be a learner of Hapkido without experiencing the time and tide, and the sweet and bitter? To my fellow black belt holders, as a master who practiced Hapkido for 20 years and who is just about to know what Hapkido is, I will step into your shoes and can only be as humble as a two-year-old learning how to walk. As you just acquired the requirement of learning the techniques of Hapkido, I hope that you become true followers of Martial Arts of diligence and perseverance, and modesty.” ~ Dojunim Choi Yong Sul
  • In addition to to Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, Hapkido has absorbed influences from other arts over the years and in many ways it has influenced other arts.  In many respects Modern Hapkido is a melting pot of martial arts.

    In spite of all these influences Hapkido maintains an identity as its own unique system of combat.  Purity of style is a rarity in martial arts despite claims of many practitioners that their art is the “one true or authentic” this or that.  The fundamental truth is that martial artists like other kinds of artists are not above begging, borrowing, or outright stealing techniques to improve or refine their individual styles.

    Modern Hapkido has no political or titular head.  Instead it is made up of mostly unrelated schools spread throughout the world.  Often times for practical reasons schools affiliate under an organization much as Hapkido Online has affiliated with the Tactical Hapkido Alliance.  Ideally this helps with a unified curriculum.

    Some schools claim to be the true inheritors of Hapkido and claim lineage all the way back to Choi Yong Sul.  I cannot prove or disprove the validity of such claims.  At the end of the day, it isn’t important.  That kind of thinking is Old Testament (so and so begat so and so, etc.).  The real strength of Hapkido is more of a New Testament approach, it’s about effectiveness.

    Happily the straitforward hardiness of the Hapkido style has helped it weather the political failings of mankind and it thrives today as reliable fighting system and means of self defense.

  • Hee Kwan Lee

    President and founder of the GHA
  • Grand Master Lee has left an indelible mark on the world of Hap Ki Do, and his work is far from over.

    He has his sights set on the future of Hap Ki Do around the world, with the ultimate goal of making it as well known as any other system.

    In 2010, Lee hosted the 8th Triennial World Hap Ki Do Championship, marking the first time that the tri-yearly event has been held outside of Korea.

    Lee’s dedication to promoting hap ki do has led him to the Korean-language Kyung Hyang Media Group, which is headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Grand Master Lee has been appointed to the position of President of the U.S. Branch of Kyung Hyang Media Group, a partnership which is mutually beneficial to both KHMG and hap ki do. The Kyung Hyang Media Group operates cable and satellite television networks, news services and other media to the Korean-language audience around the world.

    Grand Master Lee’s philosophy is rooted in traditional, proven techniques that have been in use for decades, but his teaching methods suggest a modern twist on that traditional focus. Lee no longer forces each of his students to train to the breaking point every day. He trains his students in technique and application, but requires his students to be responsible for their own conditioning.

    Because KMA is home to students from all walks of life and all age groups, it is not practical to force every student to condition themselves to the same level. Belt testing focuses on knowledge and application, rather than intense physical endurance.1961 – Master Lee began his training at the age of six in Seoul, South Korea under the direction of Master Instructor Young Chang Kim in Moo Moo Kwan Hap Ki Do.

  • 1974Head instructor of Moo Moo Kwan Hap Ki Do under Grand Master Young Chang Kim, Seoul, South Korea
    1979Emigrated to US from South Korea to teach Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do at the International Academy of Martial Arts, Kalamazoo, Michigan
    07/14/1980Established Korean Martial Arts as Founder and President
    1988Delegate to Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and awarded citation in recognition of his contributions to the development and promotion of Tae Kwon Do
    11/30/2003Awarded rank of 8th Degree Grand Master by the International Hap Ki Do Federation
    07/2004Opened state-of-the-art Korean Martial Arts facility at 1600 West Goguac Street, Battle Creek, Michigan
    05/17/2006Named Executive Director of the USA Kum Do Federation by the World Sport Kum Do Federation
    10/06/2006Established KMA Advisory Board
    07/19/2007Plaque of Appreciation presented by the Korea Tourism Organization for his work to enhance Korean/American relations
    11/08/2007Named Executive Director of the 8th Triennial World Hap Ki Do Championships in Battle Creek, MI, USA 2010 by the International Hap Ki Do Federation
    11/09/2007Distinguished Service Award presented by the General Association of Korean Moo Moo Kwan
    03/03/2008Awarded rank of 7th Degree Grand Master by the Ee Sheep Sah Bahn Moo Yea K’young Dahng Association
    07/19/2008Named Vice Chairman of International Hap Ki Do Federation
    07/19/2008Named Chairman of USA Moo Moo Kwan Association
    07/19/2008Awarded rank of 9th Degree Grand Master by the Korean Moo Moo Kwan Hap Ki Do Association
    09/25/2009Awarded key to the city of Battle Creek by Mayor Mark Behnke
    11/06/2009Inducted into the Martial Arts World Hall of Fame - Grand Master of the Year
    12/05/2009Appointed Chairman of the United States International Hap Ki Do Federation.
    01/16/2010Received International Referee class “A” certification.
    03/20/2010Awarded certificate of Outstanding Leadership by the World United Martial Arts Alliance.
    08/05/2010Awarded rank of 9th Degree Grand Master by the I.H.F.
    12/02/2010Appointed U. S. Chairman of the Korean Traditional Equestrian Martial Arts & Gyeokgu Association
    9/30/2011Appointed to the position of President of the Kyung Hyang Media Group, U.S.A.
    12/03/2011Named Executive Director of the 9th Triennial World Hap Ki Do Championships in Seoul, South Korea 2013 by the International Hap Ki Do Federation - Letter of appointment
    8/3/12Executive Director World Martial Arts Championships
    6/21/12Appointed Senior Grand Master by the International Hap Ki Do Federation - Letter of appointment