The Throws of Hapkido:
When They Work, When They Don't
This article originally appeared in Taekwondo Times, March 2004.
By Scott Shaw
The Korean martial art of Hapkido is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive systems of self-defense ever developed. It possesses the kicks most frequently associated with Taekwondo, the joint locks seen in Jujitsu, and the throws most commonly associated with Judo and Aikido. Though Hapkido possesses a vast arsenal of self-defense techniques, the aspect that has come to most commonly define this art is its elaborate throwing techniques.
To witness a Hapkido demonstration, the spectator will commonly see the Hapkido stylist throwing a much larger opponent through the air in the most artistic of defensive maneuvers. It is these elaborate throwing techniques that draw many students to this art. But, the question must be asked, "Can an individual actually cause an attacking opponent to fly precisely through the air and be sent tumbling to the ground?"
To come to better understand if Hapkido's throwing techniques are actually a viable self-defense option in street combat, we must first define and analyze each of these throws. From this, we may come to better understand when the Hapkido throw is a viable self-defense option and when it is not.
The Four Throws of Hapkido
The throws of Hapkido are made up of four primary applications. They are:
1. The Deflective Throw.
2. The Body Throw.
3. The Joint Lock Throw.
4. The Airborne Throw.
Each of Hapkido's throwing techniques is applied in a unique manner and each is designed to be utilized against a specific form of attack. As such, each style of throwing technique must be studied individually in order to ascertain their defensive effectiveness.
The Deflective Throw
Deflection witnesses you redirect the momentum of an attack. In Hapkido, deflection is commonly incorporated with throwing.
The Hapkido deflective throw is an ideal form of self-defense that can be used against a charging attacker. For example, an attacking opponent is running towards you — simply by sidestepping out of the path of the attack, you have achieved initial self-defense. Once out of the way, the momentum your opponent has developed will cause him to continue to travel forward on the path he has instigated.
This style of deflective self-defense can ideally be witnessed in a football game when a member of the opposing team rushes towards the quarterback, attempting to tackle him. If the quarterback is quick enough, and sees the oncoming charge, he need only move out of the path of the intended tackle. Then, simply by pushing the charging opponent to the back of his head or shoulders, he will be sent to the ground, face first.
The Limitations of the Elementary Deflective Throw
It is essential to note that this style of deflective throwing can only occasionally be used in an altercation that takes place on the street. This is due to the fact that most attackers do not launch into their assault until they are in close proximity to your body. None-the-less, this style of deflective throwing defense is one of the most effective techniques of throwing in Hapkido's self-defense arsenal. It is a highly efficient first-line of defense when an attacker is rushing in towards you.
Advancing in Deflection
It is much more common in a street altercation that an opponent will be in close proximity to your body before he launches into his attack. In these cases, deflection, leading to a throw, can also be used as an effective means of self-defense. For example, your attacker attempts to punch you. Simply by rapidly sidestepping the punch or leaning back out of its range, your opponent's attack will miss. As the punch has missed, the momentum he has developed by unleashing it will cause his punch to continue forward in the direction in which it was launched for an extremely brief period of time. This is where you must utilize the next step in Hapkido's science of deflection — you must gain control over your opponent's aggressive movement.
In the case of a straight punch, you could initially sidestep the attack. Once this has been accomplished, you would deflect your attacker's punching arm away from your body with a knife hand block. You could then send him to the ground by extending your leg in a tripping motion, shove him to the back of his head or neck, and send him face first into the ground over your extended leg.
The Limitations of the Advanced Deflection
The limitations of deflection are rooted in the fact that street combat takes place in very rapid succession of moments and you never know what your opponent will unleash. To throw an opponent to the ground, while using deflection, you must not only be very precise in your interception of attack, but must be very rapid and exact in your throwing techniques. If you do not truly understand the deflective throw you are attempting to unleash, you can easily leave yourself in a position where your adversary may launch a secondary attack at you before you can finalize your throwing technique.
The Body Throw
The body throw occurs when an opponent is in close proximity to you and has taken a hold of your body and/or clothing. The body throw is commonly seen in Judo events. The body throw witnesses you taking control over your opponent, possibly extending a leg, and throwing him to the ground utilizing a combination of tripping, strength, and body dynamics. The body throw in an ideal weapon to employ once an opponent has grabbed a hold of you.
Though the body throw is commonly witnessed in Judo events, there are many rules that are associated with this sport that are not recognized in Hapkido. For example, in Judo no striking is allowed. In Hapkido, however, striking an opponent to a pressure point before you attempt any throw is understood to be one of the best preliminary techniques.
The reason an initial pre-throw pressure point strike is commonly utilized in Hapkido is that this is understood to momentarily distract and disable your opponent. This second of hesitation may be all that it takes to send your opponent tumbling to the ground.
The ideal pre-throw strike points are locations such as the solar plexus, the temples, the throat, the base of the nose, or a kick to the knee. To simply attempt to unleash a wild punch and hit your opponent in some undefined location on his body or head is never a good idea. This style of defensive attack is far too random and its results are impossible to calculate. For this reason, precise pre-throw pressure point strikes are always the locations of choice in Hapkido.
The Limitations of the Body Throw
Though small framed Hapkido practitioners are commonly seen body throwing their opponents to the ground in classes and in demonstrations, on the street this is not a viable self-defense weapon. This is because of the fact that a street savvy opponent will not simply go flying to the ground with no countermeasures, as is the case in a Hapkido class, when a body throw is employed. It is most likely that once you have taken a hold of him and begun your throw, he will grab a hold of your body or clothing. From this, even if you do achieve the throw, you will be most likely pulled to the ground with him, where you will be forced to enter into ground fighting combat.
Whereas the previously described deflective throw utilizes virtually no body strength, this is not the case with the body throw. To achieve a body throw, you must actually lift your opponent from the ground and guide him to the floor. Of course, Hapkido trains the practitioner to do this in the most efficient manner possible. None-the-less, body strength must be utilized. Therefore, the body throw should only be employed when you are of a similar weight or actually outweigh your opponent. The body throw is best left to demonstrations, sanctioned fighting matches, or utilized on an opponent who has been duly disabled by a powerful defensive counter-strike.
The Joint Lock Throw
The Hapkido joint lock throw is executed when an attacker is in close proximity to your body. The difference between the Hapkido joint lock throw and the Hapkido body throw is that you must actually lock a bodily joint on your opponent before you send him downwards onto the ground. The ideal joint to lock, before you instigate your throw is any joint that can be easily bent back against itself. These joints include: the fingers, the wrist, the elbow, and to a lesser degree the knees, the shoulder, and the neck.
To achieve the joint lock throw, you must first take control over the portion of your opponent's body that you plan to lock. This is more easily accomplished in the case of a body grab than that of intercepting a punch or a kick. The reason for this is that once your attacker has grabbed your body, his hand and arm are stationary. As they are not in motion, as is the case with the punch, taking control over them is more easily accomplished.
As previously described, a preemptive strike should always precede your throw. This is also the case with the joint lock throw.
Once you have diverted your opponent's attention with this initial strike, you can then set about bending back his finger, wrist, or elbow on the arm that he has taken a hold of you. Your attacker can then be sent to the ground in a very precise pattern.
The Interceptive Joint Lock Throw
To intercept the oncoming punch or kick of an opponent, and then joint lock him, is much more difficult than to simply take control over a grabbing hand or arm. A strike, be it a punch or a kick, has momentum associated with it. As such, you must initially make sure any offensive strike does not make contact with your body. This is where Hapkido's science of deflection is once again employed.
As forcefully blocking a punch or a kick has the potential to injure your own body, this is never your best first line of defense. Instead, moving out of the path of the attack should be your initially defensive action. Once your opponent's attack has missed, you must then rapidly move in, take control over his striking bodily element, lock it, and send him to the ground.
The Limitations of the Joint Lock Throw
The limitations of the joint lock throw is that the practitioner who utilizes it must possess an understanding of body dynamics in addition to the necessary strength required to effectively lock the joint of his attacker. Joint locking should never result in your entering up in a struggle of muscle against muscle with your opponent. As this is never to your defensive advantage. As such, to joint lock and then throw your opponent, you must be extremely efficient in your bodily movements and know how to most effectively lock the joints on your opponent and drive him to the ground.
The Airborne Throw
The airborne throw is one of the most exciting and beautifully executed techniques in Hapkido's arsenal of throwing techniques. The airborne throw witnesses the opponent being completely flipped over in a spectacular circular motion. But, could this advanced level of throwing technique actually be utilized on the street? Before this question can be answered, it is noteworthy to mention a saying that is expressed among Japanese practitioners of Aikido, "I want to thank my partner for allowing me to throw him."
Understanding the Airborne Throw
The average male weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred and seventy pounds. No matter how well trained a Hapkido practitioner may be, is it unrealistic to believe that he could cause the average male to flip uncontrollably through the air.
The Hapkido practitioner is trained to flip through the air, when certain techniques are unleashed. From this naturalized flipping, he is saved form injuring his joints when the training partner has locked him into position. Though this is the norm in the Hapkido class and in the Hapkido demonstration, the average street fighter would never allow himself to be so precisely and artistically tossed to the ground. He would fight against this joint lock with all of his strength.
The Limitations of the Airborne Throw
The limitations of the airborne throw are that they are simply not effective on the street. They are beautiful to watch in demonstrations, but any practitioner who attempts to launch one of these techniques against a street savvy opponent will quickly be disappointed in his ability to make the throw work. For this reason, the airborne throw is best left to the realm of the Hapkido studio and the Hapkido demonstration.
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No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.