The Ki in Hapkido
By Scott Shaw
This article originally appeared in the Winter 1996 issue of Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness.
The Korean martial art of Hapkido is most frequently associated with its extensive arsenal of deflections, joint locks, throws, and powerful kicking techniques. There is, however, an element of this martial art system which not only helps to form its name, but is essential to this arts overall process of self defense. That element is Ki.
The Basis of Ki in Hapkido
The science of Ki is generally only taught to the advanced practitioners of Hapkido. This is because of the fact that for the martial arts student to truly comprehend the workings of the advanced science of Ki, they must first possess a mastery of the physical aspects of the human body. As such, discussion of Ki's existence within this art is limited to those practitioners who have been involved with this martial art system for many years.
The Foundation of Hapkido
Hapkido was created in post World War II Korea by Yong Shul Choi. Choi's mastery of the martial arts was not founded in the indigenous Korean martial arts but, instead, in the Japanese understanding of self defense.
In 1909 Japanese troops took Choi from his homeland, at the age of seven, to be assigned work in Japan. The relocation of male Korean children was a very common practice by the Japanese occupying forces between 1909 and 1945. As fate would have it, Choi was assigned to Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943), the 32nd patriarch of Daito Ryu Aikijitsu. Choi was given the Japanese name Yoshida Asao.
Choi remained with Takeda until his death, working for him and mastering his advanced system of martial arts. Ueshiba Morihei, also a student of Takeda, used Daito Ryu Aikijitsu as a basis for Aikido. This is where the similarities between the two arts arise.
As Korean Hapkido can be directly linked to Japanese Daito Ryu Aikijitsu, to understand Hapkido's use of Ki as a self defense method more precisely, one must study the path Ki science took in its development. From this, one will come to understand how Ki developed into an effective martial arts tool.
The Science of Ki
Ki or Internal Energy was first written about in the Chinese document, Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen, or The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. This text is commonly referred to as the Nei Ching.
The Nei Ching is written in the form of a dialogue, on the subject of healing, between the Huang-ti, The Yellow Emperor, and his minister Chi-po. Huang-ti, was a mythological ruler of China, legend to have lived from 2697 to 2599 B.C.E. He is said to have invented most aspects of Chinese culture. Though Chinese folklore claims the Nei Ching was written during the life of Huang-ti, the text is historically dated at approximately 300 B.C.E. — during the Warring States Period of Chinese history.
In the Nei Ching, Ki is described as the Universal Energy which nourishes and sustains all life. It flows through the universe and thus, through each individual. An abundant, non restricted, flow of Ki in the body allows one to remain healthy; while a diminished or impeded flow of Ki in the body lead one to illness.
The Nei Ching describes how Ki circulation in the human body is directed by invisible circulation channels, similar to veins, known as Meridians. In the Korean language these Meridians are known as: Pu-dan-ui Kyung.
Chinese Contact with Korea
Formalized Chinese contact with the Korean Peninsula began in approximately 200 B.C.E. during the Chinese Qui Dynasty (221-206 B.C.E.). This contact was intensified by the placement of Chinese military colonies on the Northern Korean Peninsula during the Han Dynasty (202-220 B.C.E.). From these contacts, the Korean Peninsula was led into a period of rapid advancement in agriculture, health science, (which includes the doctrine of the Nei Ching, and formalized governmental statesmanship. Confucianism, Taoism, and later Buddhism were all introduced to Korea from China.
The Transmission of Ki Knowledge from Korea to Japan
From Korean, Chinese philosophic ideals were first transmitted to the island nation of Japan at the bequest of King Kunch-ogo (346-375 C.E.). Two Korean scholars, A-Chikki and Wang-In were sent to Japan, to instruct the Japanese Crown Prince in the Confucian doctrines. They brought with them copies of the Analects of Confucius, Chien Cha Wen, (The Thousand Character Classic). This first transmission of Confucian thought became one of the most culturally influential events in ancient Japanese history.
Korea began to embrace Buddhism as the early centuries of the Common Era unfolded. Korean Buddhist monks were sent to Japan in the 5th century C.E., introducing Buddhism to the island nation. The Buddhist monk Kwall-uk, (Kanroku in Japanese), crossed the Sea of Japan in 602 C.E., bringing with him a large number of Buddhist sutras, historical books, medical books, works on astronomy, geography, and the occult arts. Kwall-uk was instrumental in the founding of the Sanron school of Buddhism in Japan.
As there was no evidence of Chinese medical practices in Japan until this period, it is believed this is when the knowledge of Ki, detailed in the Nei Ching, was first transmitted from Korea to Japan. Though Chinese and Korean medicine rapidly expanded throughout Japan and was practiced by monks and priests from this time period forward, the use of Ki for other than medical purposes did not evolve in Japan until the 12th century with the Samurai. From the continued contact between Korea, China, and Japan, Ki was assimilated into Japanese culture, where its practice has taken a firm hold.
Daito Ryu Aikijitsu
Daito Ryu Aikijitsu is one of the oldest recorded forms of Japanese Aikijujitsu. Korean legend states, Aikijujitsu was developed by Prince Sadsumi, (850-880 C.E.), known as Prince Teijun in Korean — the sixth son of Japanese Emperor Seiwa. It is said that he founded Aikijujitsu after receiving martial arts instruction from traveling Korean Buddhist monks, in the Korean martial art style of Yu Sul. The first historic documentation of Aikijujitsu's existence, however, attributes the styles development to Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1056-1127 C.E.), the third son of Minamoto no Yoriyoshi who was the 5th generation descendant of Emperor Seiwa.
Ki science was passed down through Japanese history, not only through Daito Ryu Aikijitsu but via Japanese Buddhist monks, as well. Ki science as a source of martial defense was, however, predominately formalized and refined in Japan at the hands of the various martial arts schools or Ryu. Until it ultimately reached the point it has ascended to in the twentieth century; where it is propagated not only as a science of health but as a defense method as taught by Hapkido.
Understanding Ki Energy in the Human Body
As described, Ki flows through the human body along invisible circulation channels known as Meridians. There are a total of twelve Primary or "Constant" Meridians in the human body. The reason these twelve Meridians are referred to as "Constant" is because Ki energy circulates through them in a constant and continual delineated path. Ten of these meridians are defined by, and govern specific organs of the human body. These Meridians are: the Gall Bladder Meridian, the Liver Meridian, the Lungs Meridian, the Large Intestine Meridian, the Stomach Meridian, the Spleen/Pancreas Meridian, the Heart Meridian, the Small Intestine Meridian, the Bladder Meridian, and the Kidney Meridian. The final two "Constant" Meridians: The Heart Constrictor Meridian and the Triple Warmer Meridian are related to the control of bodily functions. The Heart Constrictor Meridian dominates the continual flow of blood throughout the body and the Triple Warmer Meridian control the energy of respiration.
Each of the "Constant" Meridians possesses a location on both the right side and the left side of the body. Ki flow along the Meridians is, therefore, exactly directed to specific regions of the body the Meridian effects. Furthermore, when an individual is experiencing a blockage of Ki flow along any of the "Constant" Meridians, exacting stimulation can be applied to reinstate proper Ki circulation.
There are two other Meridians which also aid in the control and circulation of Ki throughout the human body; they are: the Conceptual Meridian, and the Governing Vessel Meridian. As they do not possess a direct relationship to a specific body organ and are not an integral element of the body's primary Ki circulatory system, they are referred to as "Secondary" Meridians (Pu-ch-a-jok Kyung). These "Secondary" Meridians influence highly specific Ki channels and bodily activities.
Ki flow, through each of the body's Meridians, progresses in a constant and unchanging direction of either "Ascending" or "Descending." Each of the Meridians is dominated by either Um (Yin) or Yang.
Pressure Points or "Hyel" in Korean are precise access sites along a Meridian. These Hyel, when properly stimulated by Acupuncture (Chim Sul) or Accupressure (Ki-op-sul), enhances the flow of Ki along a specified Meridian. Thus, exacting pressure to points aid the body in recovering from Ki blockage or Ki deficiency.
Ki stimulation of a specific meridian is commonly understood to aid in adding Ki flow to a specific meridian of the body; additionally, if these Hyel are impacted in a precise and specific manner, they can also be accessed to hamper the flow of Ki in an individual. This is where Hapkido begins its understand of Ki self defense.
The Basis of Ki Self Defense in Hapkido
To utilize Ki in self defense, one must possess an abundance of Ki and know how to focus its energy precisely. The ability to focalize Ki power is known in Korean as Ki Gong. The first step in obtaining the ability to consciously focusing your Ki energy for external use is initially accomplished by concentration on your Center Point or Tan Jun.
Tan Jun is the center point of the human body. The Tan Jun is located approximately four inches below the navel. This bodily location is the source point of all usable Ki in the human form. The martial arts practitioner who desires to utilize Ki energy efficiently must first define this location. This can be accomplished by performing a Tan Jun defining exercise.
Tan Jun Defining Exercise
Stand with your legs separated, approximately even with your shoulders. Allow your knees to be slightly bent. Your feet should be pointing forward, in a natural pattern. Bend your elbows slightly. Extend the fingers of your hand naturally straight. Do not tighten the muscles of your hand, but allow your fingers to be semi relaxed and naturally separated. Bring your two hands in front of your Tan Jun. Separate your thumbs from your forefingers, allow them to form an inverted triangle with approximately one inch of separation between both of your thumbs and forefingers.
Once you have achieved this stance, close your eyes and breathe slowly, yet deeply. Allow your breaths to go deep into your abdomen. Once you achieve a relative state of calm, after approximately ten natural breaths, begin to visualize the location of your Tan Jun.
Now, pivot your wrists, until your open palms face upward. Bring your fingers together and allow then to point towards one another. Breathe deeply in through your nose, as you visualize your breathe entering your body in a golden flow through your Tan Jun. As you perform this exercise, bring your hands slowly up your body, accompanying your breath, until they reach your chest level.
Once you have taken in a full breath, hold it in naturally for a moment. Then, as you release it, pivot your palms over to a downward facing positioning and allow the breath to naturally leave your body, as your hands travel downwards to their beginning positioning. As your breath leaves your body, visualize it exiting through your Tan Jun in a golden flow.
From this exercise, the exact individual location of your Tan Jun will clearly come into focus and you will develop the ability to easily direct Ki throughout your body, from it. You should perform this Tan Jun breathing technique at least ten times, any time you need to refocus your body, mind, or Ki energy.
Tan Jun and Self Defense
Once the location of the individual's Tan Jun is firmly delineated, all Ki orientated strikes and self defense applications are accomplished by initially focusing on this Center Point. The Korean word, "Ki Hap," (the yell associated will all punching, kicking, and throwing techniques), signals the fact that the practitioner is pulling Ki up from this location and then releasing it as any offensive or defensive technique he is unleashing.
Pressure Point Strikes
As has been explained, there are numerous locations on the human body which will directly access Ki meridian pathways. These Hyel can be employed to interrupt the flow of Ki in an attacking opponent. In its most elemental form of Ki orientated self defense, Hapkido teaches its students to strike precisely to a Hyel. From this Ki science defensive application, you can effectively stop the Ki flow of the opponent along the specific Meridian pathway you are impacting. Thereby, Ki to the element of the body that specific Meridian effects is halted and your opponent will be hindered in his offensive abilities.
Striking to a Hyel does not necessarily immediately knock a person out or cause a body part to become instantly numb, as has been propagated by many martial art charlatans. What this type of self defense does achieve, however, is the interruption of the overall Ki force in an attacker. This type of self defense may be understood by the analogy of a body part which has fallen asleep, when proper circulation has been cut off from it.
When applying forced pressure to specific Hyel, your goal is not to magically render your opponent lifeless. What you are planning to achieve, however, is both short term and long term interruption of your attacker's Ki energy.
In Hapkido, a focused Pressure Point strike is initially accomplished by focusing your energy in your Tan Jun. Then, as your strike travels towards its final Hyel impact point, you expel your focused Ki, with a Ki Yap, and strike your opponent to one of these precise locations. From this, his Ki will be interrupted and you can continue on with additional self defense as necessary.
The Ki of an attacker is not only interrupted by forceful striking techniques. In fact, the more advanced martial artist will not focus his defense on offensive techniques, at all. Instead, he will choose to interrupt the Ki of his opponent by far less obvious methods. In many cases, this may be achieved by applying direct pressure to one of the opponent's Hyel with a holding or a grabbing technique.
Non-Forceful Ki Interruption
When a martial artist uses Ki interruption techniques, in the midst of self defense, he does not posses the time to exactly locate a specific Hyel. The extended time frame such as an accupressurist would have when applying healing touch therapy. Equally, he does not generally have the time to hold a pressure point for more than a few seconds. It is for this reason, that a martial artist must not only possess an exact understanding of Meridian Pressure Points, to make Ki self defense effective, but also must possess the ability to strike or apply debilitating pressure to them rapidly and precisely.
To maintain the ability to effective deal with any opponent, one must initially remain free for injury. To this end, when attacked by an aggressive opponent, the first element in all forms of Hapkido self defense is to remove your body from the intended path of an opponent's strike.
To Block or Not to Block
In many traditional martial art systems they choose to intercept a powerful attack with a forceful block. Though this type of self defense is common, it is, in fact, one the easiest ways to become injured in the process of defending yourself. As has been proven time and time again, by encountering a strike, bone to bone, the defender will often times injure himself, having his own bones broken due to the forceful impact of the block. In the least destructive of these encounters, the defender will become severely bruised due to the forceful blocking of the strike. This is due to the fact, by allowing your opponent to first launch his attack and then waiting for it to be fully deployed before you encounter it, you have allowed him the ability to develop full power and velocity with whatever strike technique he has unleashed upon you. Hapkido, does not follow this method of self defense. It, instead, chooses to encounter an attack before it has the potential of reaching climax or to simply move out of the path of the attack, deflecting its onslaught before it has the potential of making harmful impact.
To put this Hapkido defense theory into practice, the easiest form of opponent deflection is to simply move out of the pathway of any oncoming strike. This can be easily achieved in the case of a linear technique, such as a Straight Punch or a Front Kick by side stepping the path of the offensive technique. In the case of a circular technique, such as a Roundhouse Punch or a Roundhouse Kick, the best method is to simply step back beyond its range. In either case, your opponent's offensive technique will not strike you and you will not become injured by attempting to forcefully block it. Thus, you will maintain the ability to effectively move forward with additional self defense as necessary.
Once your opponent's onslaught has not made contact with you, is the moment where you must immediately take action to debilitate him before he can launch a secondary attack. Hapkido practices "Continual Motion Theory." This is to say, that one technique immediately follows the last, be it offensive or defensive. In the case of Ki self defense, you first deflect an attack and then immediately apply pressure to one of your opponent's Hyel.
The Hyel which is most appropriate to apply pressure to is the one which is most easily accessible to your current positioning. In other words, you should never attempt to excessively relocate your body when moving forward with Ki self defense. If you attempt to awkwardly rearrange your positioning, you allow your opponent the ability to launch a secondary attack at you. Therefore, the Hyel you utilize in any Ki self defense must be readily accessible.
The Straight Punch Ki Interception
If we view the case of Ki self defense in regard to the Straight Punch, what we see is that once your opponent's Straight Punch has been deflected, his arm is fully exposed. This allows you two primary location in which to apply appropriate Ki interrupting pressure to an accessible Hyel. These locations are: the inside of his elbow and his wrist.
The inside of the elbow possesses a Hyel for the Heart Meridian (Su So Um Shim Kyung). To interrupt Ki flow along this Meridian, you can reach in with your free hand and take a firm grip of your attacker's elbow. With your middle finger, place substantial pressure on this Hyel.
By blocking the Ki flow along the Heart Meridian, the proper beating of your opponent's heart is interrupted. Thus, blood flow to all areas of his body is hampered. As all bodily functions are highly reliant to proper blood flow, this causes your opponent to have an interruption of his overall aggressive energy. Thus, controlling his attack, becomes much easier.
Is Ki Enough?
As discussed, Ki blockage is not enough to guarantee victory in any confrontation. Therefore, once you have interrupted Ki flow along his Heart Meridian, you must follow through with additional self defense.
In the case of the deflected Straight Punch, as you now possess control over your opponent's elbow, you can continue forward with your "Continual Motion" self defense, by allowing your Pressure Point finger to remain in place, as a central force for bending, you then use your other hand to shove the upper part of his punching arm back into his body. With this, you will have created a flux point, from which you continue forward with your own directed pattern of energy and send him backwards, over an extended leg, onto the ground.
The second Hyel, easily accessible to the deflected Straight Punch, is your opponent's wrist. On the wrist there is a Hyel; on the bottom portion, approximately one inch from the wrist bone which accesses the Heart Meridian and the Lung Meridian (Su Tae Um Pay Kyung). By encountering this Hyel, you have the potential to not only disrupt your opponent's heart beat, but his breathing patterns, as well.
When defending yourself with the anticipation of accessing this Hyel, you will first deflect your opponent's Straight Punch. Once it has missed its intended target point on your body, you will reach your hand in, and take a hold of this Pressure Point, encountering it with your middle finger. You perform this grabbing technique at the same time you place your other hand on your opponent's outer elbow. From this positioning, you will maintain control over his entire arm movements and, thus, he will not be able to easily launch another punching attack at you.
Once his wrist Hyel is accessed and his elbow is in check, you can easily force him, face first, towards the ground. This is accomplished by applying appropriate pressure to the back of his elbow while maintaining your locking control on his wrist Hyel.
Ki and the Frontal Choke Hold
If you find yourself in a face to face confrontation and an attacker has rapidly taken you into a Frontal Choke Hold, the most accessible Hyel to perform initial Ki self defense upon is one of the many Hyel located on the neck. The most appropriate Hyel, as discussed, is defined by your actual positioning, but one of the most effective neck Hyel is one located on the side of the neck; as this Hyel has the potential to not only disrupt your opponent's Ki but will causes him temporary physical pain, as well. This Hyel can be accessed at the base of the jaw bone, just at the point where the jaw bone arches and moves downwards towards the chin, is a Hyel which accesses the Triple Warmer (Su Soo Yang Sum Cho Kyung), the Gall Bladder (Juk So Yang Dam Kyung), and the Small Intestine Meridians (Su Tae Yang So Jung Kyung). (See Photo Series Three). By applying appropriate pressure to this Hyel you will substantially disrupt the flow of Ki to two organs of your opponent's body, as well as his respiration patters, which are dominated by the Triple Warmer Meridian.
In continuing forward with Hapkido's "Continual Motion," your opponent can easily be sent to the ground by maintaining your finger in its Hyel positioning as you send him over your leg, onto his back.
Hyel Self Defense
There are numerous Hyel throughout the human body. The Pressure Points you access in Ki self defense is only dominated by your precise knowledge of their location and your ability to effectively reach them. It is important to note that drawings of Hyel are not a good source of reference to their precise location. As most drawings are not exact pictures, they are deceptive in their depictions. Therefore, it is important to receive personal training from an individual who possess a substantial understanding of Ki Pressure Points before you attempt to make it a common form of personal self defense.
Ki self defense is based in the understanding of bringing the nonphysical world into the realms of the physical. Just as the sound waves of music being broadcast from a speaker can not be seen, they are, none-the-less, experienced. Ki, is similar. Though Ki cannot be physically touched, the essence of its energy has been documented for centuries.
Copyright © 1996 — All Rights Reserved.
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.