Understanding Hapkido

By Scott Shaw

This was a list of questions about Hapkido, asked of Scott Shaw, and published on a martial art website in 1997.


1) Who was the founder of Hapkido?
Yong Shul Choi (1904-1986).

There are two other individuals who were essential in the foundation of Hapkido, however. The first is, Suh, Bok Sup. Suh was Yong Shul Choi’s first student and his first Black Belt. Without his contribution, Choi may never have been given the opportunity to formally teach Daito Ryu Aikijutsu in Korea. The second person is, Ji, Han Jae. Ji, an early student of Choi, relocated from Taegue, (the birth place of Hapkido), to Seoul in 1957. Once there, he was central to where the modern Korean martial arts were being formulized after Japanese occupation. He is responsible for introducing the advanced offensive punching, kicking, and weapons techniques into Hapkido.

2) What does the name Hapkido mean?
The Way of Coordinated Internal Power.

3) A brief history of Hapkido?
Yong Shul Choi was taken to Japan from his native Korea by the occupying Japanese forces when he was a young boy. He was eventually assigned work in the household of Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943), the Patriarch of Daito Ryu Aikijutsu. Choi remained in his employee until Takeda’s death in 1943. He then returned to his homeland where he labored as a roadside rice cake salesman and later a hog farmer. As fate would have it, Choi got into a physical altercation near the brewery of Suh, Bok Sup. Suh witnessed this confrontation. Impressed with Choi’s fighting abilities, he called Choi to his office and inquired as to his style of martial arts. Suh, already a Black Belt in Judo, became Choi’s first student and eventually helped him to open his first school in 1951.

4) What country does Hapkido originated from?
Korea.

5) What are some of the strengths of Hapkido?
Deflection, as opposed to traditional forceful blocking.
The defensive process of Continual Motion — moving forward with one technique after the other until an opponent is defeated.

6) What are some of the weaknesses of Hapkido?
Traditional Hapkido has a number of advanced throws that are very beautiful to witness in demonstrations but are completely unrealistic in hand-to-hand combat.

7) What age should kids start training in Hapkido?
Hapkido training can begin as soon as a child is mentally and emotionally ready to undertake formal martial art training. In South Korea it is not unusual for children to begin training as early as four or five years old.

8) Is Hapkido suitable for women?
Hapkido is highly suitable for women as it is a wholly self defense orientated system of martial arts.

9) Are there any weapons involved in Hapkido and which ones?
Yes, at advanced levels the Hapkido practitioner is taught the use of The Long Staff, The Middle Staff, The Short Staff, The Cane, The Rope or Belt, and The Sword.

10) Who is the highest-ranking person in Hapkido?
Due to the fact that Yong Shul Choi left no formal successor, and several advanced Masters of Hapkido have formalized their own subsystem of the art and have chartered new Hapkido organizations, there are several people who hold the rank of 9th and 10th Dan Black Belt. As Suh, Bok Sup was the first Hapkido Black Belt and as he was so essential to the original foundation and development of Hapkido, he can rightly be considered the highest-ranking Hapkido Black Belt.

11) Is there a national organization that oversees your style?
There are several Korean based organizations that oversee the art of Hapkido. The largest is The Korea Hapkido Federation, followed by The Korea Ki Do Association, The Korea Hapkido Association, The InterĖ‡national Hapkido Federation, and The Korean Hapkido Games Federation. In the West, several other organizations have been formalized which were founded by Korean, and Western Hapkido Masters. They include: The World Hapkido Federation and Ji Han Jae’s, Sin Moo Hapkido.

12) What advice would you give new beginners that are looking for a martial art school?
Go to the school and watch a few classes - see if what the instructor is teaching is what you wish to learn.

13) Who is the one person in your opinion that has made a great contribution to Hapkido?
Without a doubt, aside from the founder, Yong Shul Choi, Ji, Han Jae has done more to expand upon the original system of Hapkido and to promote the art around the world than any other individual. There are more direct and indirect student of Ji, Han Jae’s style of Hapkido than any other instructor in history — though due to differing personal ideologies many Korean instructors no longer reference him as the source of their knowledge.