Scott Shaw: Hapkido American Style
By Jae Hae Yoon
Hapkido Master Scott Shaw has become one of the most prolific voices of the modern American Martial Arts. Articles he has written over the years for journals such as BLACK BELT, MARTIAL ARTS SPORTS & COMBAT, INSIDE KARATE, INSIDE TAEKWONDO and TAEKWONDO TIMES have explored many of the subtle elements of self-defense previously only revealed to advanced students in the arts. In addition to being a journalist, Shaw has authored a number of books that have instigated new realms of understanding in the modern Martial Arts. These texts include: HAPKIDO: THE KOREAN ART OF SELF DEFENSE, THE KI PROCESS: KOREAN SECRETS FOR CULTIVATING DYNAMIC ENERGY, THE WARRIOR IS SILENT: MARTIAL ARTS AND THE SPIRITUAL PATH, SAMURAI ZEN, and most recently, THE TAO OF SELF DEFENSE. With his extensive list of published works, in addition to a HAPKIDO VIDEO TAPE SERIES produced by Unique Publications, it is very interesting to peer into the foundational experiences which led to Scott Shaw becoming such a sought after proponents of the modern Martial Arts.
The Early Years
It was an ironic set of occurrence that first exposed Shaw to formal training in the Martial arts. During the 1960’s, by the age of six, Shaw had already developed a deep fascination with the Martial Arts. He had learned some basic movements from his father, who as a World War II veteran had been trained in jujitsu and hand-to-hand combat. One day, while Shaw was practicing his youthful techniques in his backyard, the new gardener took notice of his actions. The gentleman explained to Shaw’s parents that he was newly relocated from Tae Gu, Korea and was a Black Belt in a Martial Art System then known as Yul Sool -- the style which later became Hapkido. With this, Shaw had his first instructor and he began his path of formalized training.
Shaw spent the first decade of his life in South Central Los Angeles and his adolescence in East Hollywood. From these gritty street environments he came to readily understand the level of unnecessary violence that is prevalent in many urban centers around the world. Whereas these unforgiving surroundings have sent many a youth down a road to destruction, Shaw saw it as a pathway to the development of inner strength and self-reliance. With Martial Arts as a central focus, Shaw rose above the limitations of his youthful atmosphere and now possesses over thirty-year experience in the Martial Arts.
Traveling to the Source
In the 1970’s, with graduation from Hollywood High School behind him, Shaw begin to journey to Asia. He did this not only to refine his Martial Art skills but to delve into the meditative sciences which he had become deeply involved in as a teenager. His first destination was India where he lived in the small Himalayas town of Rishikesh. There he studied and taught the physical and the meditative aspects of yoga. His second destination was Kyoto, Japan where he not only further refined his meditative understanding but became deeply involved with the science of Ki, as well. Shaw would later make these understandings essential elements to his Martial Art teachings.
When asked why more Western Martial Art Instructors do not teach meditation and Ki in association with their Martial Art classes, as is the case in Asia, Shaw states, “I believe it’s because in the Western world we are so dominated by immediacy. No one is willing to sit down and really learn how to focus their mind to the degree which is required in meditation and Ki Gong. In American everybody wants recognition for their accomplishments: a high belt, a new title, or whatever. In meditation there’s no external reward for your advancement. So, most Martial Artists blow it off, believing that it’s just not important to their overall development. They’re wrong.”
Shaw eventually returned to United States to attend college. By this point he already held advanced Black Belts in Hapkido and Taekwondo and began teaching the Martial Arts on a full time basis. Upon the completion of his Bachelors Degree he began to frequently return to South Korea to further refine his understanding of the Korean Martial Arts. In Korea, Shaw studied under some of the first generation Masters of these modern Korean Martial Arts. The knowledge passed onto him during this period has allowed him a unique perspective to not only teach the Martial Arts with authority but to look deeply into the ideologies and fundamentals which actually formed the foundations for the modern Korean Martial.
The question is often asked of Shaw, “What is the difference between Martial Art training in the West and the training which takes place in South Korea?” He answers, “Mostly, it's the overall level of intensity which both the students and the instructors possess in Korea. The American Martial Art mindset is very lackadaisical in comparison to the Korean. Instructors here are not allowed to truly motivate their students when they are slacking off by yelling at them or striking them with a bamboo shaft which is commonly done in Korea. Though certainly some great Martial Artists have risen out of America -- most, however, do not posses the ‘Never-say-die’ attitude which is present in virtually all Korean trained practitioners.”
Hapkido Verses Taekwondo
Possessing Master Instructor Certifications from Korea in both Hapkido and Taekwondo, Shaw holds unique insight into the differing factors inherent in these two arts. “Hapkido and Taekwondo are two completely different systems of self defense,” Shaw exclaims. “Taekwondo is a very linear, get in your face style of Martial Arts, where Hapkido is just the opposite — it’s based in meeting forceful energy with deflection.” He goes on to detail, “As is the case with all modern Korean Martial Arts, they were created by individuals who were trained, to varying degrees, in the Japanese arts which were prevalent during Japan's annexation over Korea. The origin of Hapkido is based in Diato Ryu Aikijutsu and Taekwondo was largely influenced by Karate — though most Taekwondo stylists wish to deny this fact. These are two very different art forms. From these points of inception, Hapkido and Taekwondo have evolved very differently.”
History Leads to the Future
Throughout the 1980’s, while Shaw was securing his Graduate Degrees, he continually retuned to various geographic locations in Asia to not only refine his physical and mental understanding of the Martial Arts and meditation but to personally researched extensive studies on Asian culture and history, as well. Due to this fact, he often times find himself at odds with those who detail inaccurate accounts of the Martial Arts. He states, “The history of Martial Arts is continually inaccurately portrayed and this truly hurts the arts. So much of both the ancient and modern history I hear spoken of and see written about is completely wrong. People hear information from a second hand source and believe it to be true without researching it themselves. Then, they become very angry when someone like myself attempts to present a true representation of the past. For the most part, history is researchable and it does not denigrate an art in anyway to have its historic facts presented in their entirety. The modern Korean Martial arts were elementally influenced by the Japanese arts and the ancient Japanese systems developed in no small part due to the influence of the Korean and later the Chinese system of self-defense. So, it is an ongoing circle of constant interaction. This is nothing to hide or be ashamed of.”
During his teenage years Shaw branched off from Hapkido to include Taekwondo and the source art of Hapkido, Aikijutsu into his studies. Though he possesses extensive experience in all three of these arts, rivaled by few Americans, his primary discipline is on the further evolution of Hapkido. When questioned as to what maintains his focus on this art, he answers, “Hapkido is an expansive system of self defense where you truly come to understand the subtle elements of movement associated with the human body. Once the dynamics of human motion is understood, Hapkido then teaches you how to gain mastery over every action that an adversary unleashes. The art has thousands of movements and techniques, so there is always a new element to study, refine, and master.”
Due to Shaw’s basis in Hapkido, he is a firm believer in the fact that forcefully blocks should never be used as a first line of defense to intercept a punch or a kick. He details, “When you intercept a forceful attack with a powerful block, the energy of force meeting force will often times injure the blocking element of your own body. In Hapkido, the primary form of defense is deflection. In Hapkido’s science of deflection you are not simply guiding your attacker’s punch or kick away from you, as is the case with Aikido. Instead, you deflect his offensive attack by using the force of his own expended energy. You then guide him into the most appropriate positioning where a powerful counter strike or a throw can be initiated utilizing his own forward driven power. With this style of defense, you not only save your own energy but allow your opponent’s actions to dominate what type of counter attack you launch.”
Scott Shaw’s Brand of Hapkido
Hapkido is commonly defined by its advanced throwing techniques. Shaw has refined these applications to a new level of effectiveness, focusing his teachings upon the truly effective self-defense applications of the art. He states, “For anyone who has viewed the techniques of the arts born out of Aikijutsu, such as Hapkido and Aikido, the throws are the most impressive part. And, on a demonstration level they are beautiful to watch. In a street confrontation, however, you are not going to be able to toss your opponent artistically through the air with such precision. There is a saying among Aikijutsu practitioners in Japan, which loosely translates, ‘I would like to thank my training partner for allowing me to throw them.’ That’s very true. So, I focus my style of Hapkido on techniques which are based in viable self defense applications which teaches the student to defend themselves and disable an attacking opponent in the most efficient way possible — even if it isn’t all that pretty."
Though Shaw’s primary focus is on Hapkido he understands that on the world-wide level Taekwondo is a much more practiced art. He defines the reasoning for this, “You have to understand that in Korea Taekwondo is the National Sport. Every boy, and many girls, from junior high level onwards, and often times earlier than that, are taught Taekwondo as part of their school curriculum. After high school each Korean male must serve in the military. There, they are again indoctrinated into further Taekwondo training so arts like Hapkido and Tang Soo Do are generally only practiced by those Koreans who seek them out or by those individuals who are the children of the forefathers of these arts. As there are so many more Taekwondo students produced in Korea, the numbers just multiply as the numerous instructors move to other countries and take on their own students.”
Shaw doesn’t believe that one art is superior to the other. “As is the case with all Martial Arts, it’s solely the individual practitioner who defines the effectiveness of their system of self defense. I think we have all experienced those Martial Artists who are so insecure that they criticize other people and other forms of Martial Arts -- claiming that their teacher is better, their style is superior, and that they could kick the butt of this person or that person if they had they chance. I mean, what a waste of time! There’s no need for that kind of mentality any more. Martial Arts should be a method to defend yourself only when it’s absolutely necessary — other that that, it should be seen as a method to focus your body, mind, and spirit.”
The Science of Ki
The ancient science of Ki is also an integral part of the Scott Shaw system of Hapkido. Though it has been overlooked by many modern practitioners of the Martial Arts, Shaw believes that this essential knowledge should be integrated into a systems of self-defense. “Using Ki does not mean that you possess the ability to touch a pressure point on a person’s body and they instantly fall over dead. That’s all in the movies and propagated by charlatans. What the conscious usage of Ki does teach the practitioner is how to instantly tap into superior mental and physical strength and to unleash that power to locations on an individual’s body which will hamper their ongoing assault in a confrontational situation.”
Many people doubt the existence of Ki. To reply to them Shaw says, “From modern science we learn that every element of the universe, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest planet is pulsates with an energy. That energy is Ki. We, as human being, have the ability to consciously tap into it through precise control of our breath. Though it takes time and a lot of mental refinement, once one develops the ability to tap into Ki, they can then use it to not only heal and replenish their own body but to heal others, as well. Or, defend themselves, if the situation arises.”
Shaw always integrates the spiritual essence of the Martial Arts into his teaching, believing that, “Those who see the Martial Arts as solely a method to kick somebody’s butt are really basing their life on the most animalistic level of existence. Martial Arts trains your body to become acutely in tune with your mind. From this, you can raise your consciousness to a much more refined level of intuitive understanding than is possessed by the average individual. Fighting, though it is the bases of the Martial Arts, does not have to be its end result.”
Scott Shaw Today
Today, we find Shaw possesses his typically non-stop personality, tempered with a jovial edge. He divides his time between writing, instructing a small group of advanced Martial Art students, leading meditation and Ki seminars, participating in film projects as a Producer, Director, and Actor, teaching filmmaking courses at universities including U.C.L.A, and frequently traveling to Asia to document obscure aspects of Asian culture.
With his long list of accolades and publications Shaw is always quick with a smile and never willing to take himself too seriously. He says, “Anyone who believes they have mastered the Martial Arts is fooling themselves. Mastery means there is nothing left to learn. Life is a continual education. The Martial Arts are a lifelong journey. If you close yourself off to new ideas you can never grow as a practitioner or a human being. Always remain open to new knowledge and new realizations.”
Copyright © 1998 — All Rights Reserved.
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.