Scott Be Positive

The History of Hapkido

By Scott Shaw

Yong Shul Choi

Choi, Yong Sool (alternative spelling Yong Shul Choi), the founder of Hapkido, was born in the town of Yong Dong, Choong Chung Province, relatively near Taegue, South Korea in 1904. In 1909 Korea came under Japanese occupation. It is believed that Japanese troops took Choi from his homeland at the age of seven to be assigned work in Japan. It was a very common practice, at this period of history, for the Japanese occupying forces to relocate young male Korean children to Japan for various types of labor.

Choi, Yong Sool stated in an interview conducted shortly before his death in 1982 that he had been abducted by a candy store owner, Mr. Morimoto, and taken to Japan to be his son. As he did not like the man, he eventually escaped.

The actual causation for his transport to Japan may never be proven. If a Mr. Morimoto had been the causation, it would have sadly been for him to be a laborer and not a son.

As fate would have it, Choi eventually came to work for, Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943), the 32nd patriarch of Daito Ryu Aikijitsu. Takeda was forty-four years old at the time Choi, a seven year old boy, came to his service. Choi was given the Japanese name Yoshida, Asao. The first or given name Tatujutu which was originally propagated as being the name Choi used in Japan in the August 1965 issue of Black Belt Magazine is not a valid Japanese name. Therefore, it is historically inaccurate to believe he went by this name, though this is the name that Choi, himself, told people he used while in Japan.

Takeda and Choi
Sokaku Takeda

Choi, now living under the employee of Takeda in Hokkaido, was not treated as an adopted son by Takeda, as legend has led many Hapkido practitioners to believe. Choi, in fact, was simply an employee of Takeda.

We must place this association into historical perspective to understand the relationship between Takeda and Choi. At this juncture of history, the Japanese viewed themselves as the "Divine race." Koreans were simply thought of as a conquered people. Takeda, perhaps came to be fond of Choi, but due to his cultural programming, he would never have accepted him as a son.

Certainly, there were affluent individuals, of Korean descent, who lived in Japan during this period and were more readily assimilated in Japanese martial culture. For example, the credentials of Jang, In Mok and his study and certification in Daito Ryu under the direction of Toshimi Matsuda, who was certified to teach, (Kyoju Dairi), by Takeda, are easily verifiable. Unfortunately, Choi did not possess this status and was forced to live a life supported by labor.

Though it is impossible to say where this myth that Choi was the adopted child of Takeda was originally born, all of those who propagate this falsehood in the West base their knowledge upon one interview conducted with Choi in 1982. It may simply be that Choi's statements were misinterpreted or mistranslated in this interview, as the statement of him being the adopted son of Takeda was never mentioned in any media report in Korea. It must be emphasized that it is factually inaccurate to perpetuate the belief that Choi was the adopted son of Takeda.

Takeda's own son, Tokimune Takeda, stated that he never knew Choi, Yong Sool. This may be explained by the fact that Takeda possessed two distinct households. Only one of which housed his family. Or, that Tokimune Takeda simply wanted to disavow Hapkido's link to Daito Ryu due to cultural reasons. In any case, Japanese immigration records, of the late 1930's and early 1940's, list Choi, under his Japanese name, as an employee of Takeda.

Choi remained in the employ of Takeda for thirty years until April 25, 1943 when Takeda died. At that point he took his leave from the house of Takeda and shortly thereafter returned to Taegue, Korea.

It must be noted that there is no historic record of Choi ever being certified as a student or teacher of Daito Ryu. The myth that Choi lost his certificates while returning to Korea is a falsehood as there are in depth records of every Daito Ryu Aikijitsu student kept in Japan. Choi, by his Korean or Japanese name, was never listed as a student. This fact substantiates the relationship between Choi and Takeda. Choi, however, for decades was under the direct influence of the art. He obviously mastered its techniques.

Takeda Group

This photograph, taken in the early 1900's, shows Takeda Sokaku, Ohbata Shigeta, Hiratsuka Katsuharu, Yoshida Kotaro and several other men. It is sometimes claimed to also depict Choi, Yong Sool (first row, second from the left). Initially, it must be noted that employees, especially those of Korean decent, were never photographed with their Japanese superiors. Furthermore, the name of this man was Takuzo Kawatani. This individual was an associate of Hiratsuka Katsuharu.

The Birth of Hapkido

As stated, Choi remained with Takeda for thirty years until Takeda's death. Relieved of his duties, Choi returned to Korea. Choi's first student was a successful brewery manager named, Suh, Bok Sup. Prior to his study with Choi he had been awarded a 1st Dan Black Belt in Judo, under the direction of Korean Judo instructor, Choi, Yong Ho. In February of 1948, the twenty-four year old Suh witnessed Choi, who was then in his forties, get into a fight with several men. Choi rapidly devastated his opponents. Impressed with his technique, Suh summoned Choi to his office and inquired as to his style. This meeting eventually lead to Suh hiring Choi, who had previously been a poor rice cake seller and hog farmer since his return to Korea. Choi would teach Suh for several years privately, eventually also became a bodyguard for Suh's father, Suh, Dong Jin.

Suh, Bok Sup became instrumental in helping Choi open his first school of self defense, which was established in February of 1951. He also became his first Black Belt. Due to Suh's advanced understanding of Judo, Suh lent some of this knowledge to the system which later became known as Hapkido. Many of the basic sleeve grabs, shoulder grabs, and throws, used in Hapkido, can trace their origin to Judo.

The initial name of the system of self defense Choi taught was, Dae Dong Ryu Yu Sool. This is the Korean translation for Daito Ryu Jujitsu.

Initially, Choi taught his students a very pure form of Daito Ryu Aikijitsu. Many of the later students of Hapkido attempt to falsely date the origin of Hapkido to some ancient Korean art. This is historically inaccurate. Choi, himself, never made this claim.

As time progressed and other Korean martial art pioneers, such as General Hong Hi Choi (Taekwondo) and Hwang Kee (Tang Soo Do) were rediscovering and expanding upon the offensive nature of Tae Kyon, their discoveries influenced some of the advanced students of Choi, such as Ji, Han Jae, who slowly began to incorporate the very aggressive punching and kicking techniques into the overall understanding of Hapkido. Choi, himself, never taught kicking in association with Hapkido, however.

Hapkido's final criteria came through a slow testing period, as did the other martial art systems born on the newly independent Korean Peninsula. Even the name Hapkido went through various changes, including: Yu Kwon Sul, Yu Sool, Ho Shin Mu Do, and Bi Sool.

Today, there is no one system of Hapkido, as is the case with WTF Taekwondo, for example. As time has gone on, each teacher and ensuing organization has integrated their own understandings and self defense realizations into this art. There are, however, two distinct types of Hapkido. The first are the schools which hold tightly to the original teachings of Choi, Yong Sool. This style of Hapkido will commonly be observed when visiting or studying in the Hapkido dojangs located in the Taegue vicinity of South Korea. Here, the focus is placed primarily upon the Daito Ryu based joint locks, deflections, and throws. The second distinct style of Hapkido is those instructors, schools, and organizations who trace their lineage to Grandmaster Ji, Han Jae — whether directly or indirectly. In these schools one will observe a plethora of punching, kicking, and weapon techniques, in association with the joint locks and throws commonly associated with Hapkido. This style of Hapkido will commonly be observed at the dojangs based in Seoul, South Korea and, in fact, most of the Western world.

The continued evolution of Hapkido is a good thing. It has allowed the art to change and embrace the needs of each student in their own unique way.

Ji, Han Jae and the Evolution of Hapkido


Ji, Han Jae was born in Andong, Korea in 1936. He was a student of Choi, Yong Sool between approximately 1949 and 1956. He opened his first school, known as An Mu Kwan, in 1956 in Andong, South Korea. Later that year, he moved his school to Seoul and shortly there after renamed it, Sung Moo Kwan. At that time he held the rank of 3rd dan Black Belt in Hapkido, then known as Yu Kwan Sul.

Ji is said to have additionally studied the ancient Korean martial arts and meditation from a Taoist monk referred to only as, Taoist Lee. Ji states that he combined the techniques of his two teachers and invented the term Hapkido in 1959. Original students of Choi, Yong Sool say, however, that the term Hapkido was first used by Choi before Ji decided to use the name. Thus, this issue may never be fully resolved as to who first used the name. But, it is of little historic importance.

It must be noted that due to the fact that Ji relocated to Seoul, he was central to the homebase of the evolving Korean martial arts. As such, he was exposed to the advanced kicking techniques which were being integrated into these modern systems of self defense. Thus, he was one of the primary people who integrated the advanced methods of offensive and defensive kicking into Hapkido. In addition, he was the first instructor to add such weapons to the art as the short and middle staff, known as Don Bong and Jung Bong respectively, and the Hapkido cane.

Due to his strategic location and dynamic personality, he became a very influential figure in the development and evolution of Hapkido. He was the instructor of many Hapkido practitioners who later become very famous masters of the art and spread Hapkido across the world. These students include: Kwon, Tae Mon (one of his first students and a man who helped introduce Hapkido to the United States), Myung, Jae Nam, Choi, Sea Oh, and Han, Bong Soo — to name just a few. As such, Ji 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 Hapkido instructor in history.

Several of his original students no longer wish to be associated with him, however, due to differing personal ideologies. Thus, many Korean instructors no longer reference him as the source of their knowledge. Instead, they claim they studied directly from Choi, Yong Sool — though this is factually not the case.

In 1961, Ji was joined in Seoul by Kim, Yong Jin who opened the Oh Ji Kwan school of Hapkido. Soon after that, Kim, Moo Hong established Sin Moo Kwan Hapkido.

In 1967, Ji initiated the use of the eagle as the logo for Hapkido. Later that same year, the first text book on Hapkido was written by Nyung, Kwan Shik and Kim, Jong Tek.

In 1968 another student of Ji, Myung, Kwan Shik, opened a new Hapkido Kwan in Seoul. It was called Young Moo Kwan.

In 1969, Ji first visited the United States and was introduced to Bruce Lee by the man who brought Taekwondo to the United States, Jhoon Rhee. He later appeared in Bruce Lee's film, "Game of Death."

In 1984, Ji officially relocated to the U.S. and formed, Sin Moo Hapkido. "Sin," referring to "Higher Mind," and "Moo," to "Warrior Ways."

Historically, it can be understood that Ji, Han Jae was one of the most influential and instrumental proponents of the art of Hapkido — no matter who invented the name. Though he greatly expanded upon the art, as many advanced masters have done, he was, none-the-less, a direct student of Choi, Yong Sool. Thus, he did not invent the art. The foundation of Hapkido must be ultimately attributed to Choi, Yong Shul.

Hapkido's Governing Bodies
By the early 1960's the various South Korean based schools of Hapkido were already fragment from the original teaching of Choi, Yong Sool. Seeking an official governing body, advanced teachers the art petition the Korean government for a formalized organization. On September 2, 1963, the Korean Ministry of Education granted a charter to the Korea Kido Association. This extended this organization the right to supervise and regulate the standards of teaching, as well as promotion requirements for Hapkido and thirty additional Korean martial arts which had not congregated under the banner of Taekwondo. The first chairman of the Korea Kido Association (Ki Do Hae) was Choi, Yong Shul. Its first President was Lee, Kyu Jin, who held this position for two terms. Ji, Han Jae and other Korean Hapkido masters were additionally on its Board of Directors. In 1967, a new President, Kim, Du Young was elected. He held this position for several terms. On 26 January 1978, at the eighth Ki Do Hae election, a new president, Choi, Byung Rin, was elected. And, Choi, Byung Gu was elected the new Chairman. At the ninth Ki Do Hae election, held on 5 April 1981, Pyo, Si Chan was elected the organization's new president.

Seo In Sun

On the 1st of June, 1983, at the tenth Ki Do Hae election, Suh, In Hyuk was appointed the Chairman and Seo, In Sun was elected its president. Seo was the first non-politician and actual martial art master instructor to hold this appointment. He maintained this position until 2002. He remains president of the World Ki Do Federation and in 2003 he founded Han Min Jok Hapkido Association in Seoul, South Korea.

The Evolution of the Korea Hapkido Association
As time progressed, fragmentation of Hapkido continued. This was due to ongoing individual differences. In 1965, Ji, Han Jae left the Korea Kido Association. He formed and became President of Daehan Hapkido Hae, The Korea Hapkido Association. This association was formed with the blessing of then South Korean President Park, Chung Hee.

The reason President Park was so in favor of this new organization was, in no small part, due to the fact that Park, Jong Kyu, a student of Ji, Han Jae and head of the Presidential Protective Forces, was an instrumental element in its formation. In 1973 Ji, Han Jae resigned from this organization, with the hopes of taking many of its members with him and bringing them to a new organization he was instrumental in creating: The Republic of Korea Hapkido Association.

What is now known as the Korea Hapkido Association has gone through several incarnations. Its presidents have included, in addition to Ji, Han Jae: Kim, Woo Choong, Kim, Gye Ho, Park, Dow Soon, and Hwang, Duk Kyu.

Myung, Jae Nam
myung jae nam

Another essential figure in the development of Hapkido is Myung, Jae Nam. Myung was born on 31 December 1938. He began his Hapkido training in 1958 under the direction of Ji, Han Jae at Ji's Joong Boo Si Jang studio in Seoul. He trained next to several other influencial Hapkido Masters, including: Han, Bong Soo and Choi, Sea Ho. Myung was one of the original Masters on the board of directors of the Korea Hapkido Association and was awarded his 8th Dan by Ji, Han Jae in 1972.

Prior to this, however, it is interesting to note that in 1965, Myung, Jae Nam was the only master of Hapkido to heartily welcome a Japanese Aikido instructor, Hirata Sensei, who was touring Korea. The less than warm reception for a visiting Japanese Sensei was obviously due to the remaining Korean distaste for the Japanese due to Japanese occupation. For the next several years, Myung exchanged techniques with the man. Myung eventually formed an alliance with Japanese Aikikai. In 1969, when Myung formed his own organization and named it, Han Kuk Hapkisool Hae, the certificates he issued had the name of Aikido's founder, Uyeshiba Morihei on them in association with his own.

From that point forward, until his death in 1999, Myung, Jae Nam was the Korean representative for Aikikai. In his version of Hapkido there are many Aikido based techniques.

From 1969 forward his organization continued to evolve. In 1972 he moved the location of his headquarters from Inchon to Bukchang-Dong, Chung-Ku, in Seoul and renamed his organization Han Kuk Hapki Hae, The Korea Hapki Association. In 1974 he changed the name to Kuk Jae Yong Meng Hapki Hae. This organization is more commonly known as, The International Hapkido Federation.

The Korea Hapkido Federation

The birth of the Korea Hapkido Federation can be traced to Ji, Han Jae. In 1973 he brought together two other advanced masters of Hapkido: Kim, Moo Wong and Myung, Jae Nam — both of these men were originally his students. They untied their individual Hapkido organizations and named the newly formed association, Daehan Hapkido Hyub Hae, The Republic of Korea Hapkido Federation.

Ji was the first founding leader to leave this association. Myung eventually left, as well. Upon his exit, Ji reclaimed the organizational name he had used prior to this and called his reformed organization, The Korea Hapkido Association. This was, however, the name also adopted by the remaining members of The Republic of Korea Hapkido Federation.

Park, Sung Chul was elected President of the Korea Hapkido Association. Through a long and oftentimes historically debated process of evolution, in 1988 a new organization emerged from the foundations of these previous groups. It was known, in English, as The Korea Hapkido Federation. Oh, Se Lim is its president.


Today, The Korea Hapkido Federation is the largest, wholly Hapkido, governing body for Hapkido in the world — made up of predominately South Korean born students and instructors or those individuals who have directly trained in South Korea.

Historic Note: When The Korean Hapkido Association changed its name to The Korea Hapkido Federation, Park, Sung Chul, remained it president for a short period of time. For this reason, there are a few Hapkido practitioners, who received Black Belt dan ranking during this interim, who have their Korea Hapkido Federation Dan certificates signed by President Park.

Another important point to note is that, there is a separate organization based in Seoul, South Korea, The Korea Hapkido Association. Its President is Hwang, Duk Kyu. The Korea Hapkido Association uses a different logo — the eagle. This organization can also trace its foundation to Ji, Han Jae.

Prior to 1990, the Korean Hapkido Federation, and all other South Korean based non-Taekwondo martial art organizations, were required to be a part of the South Korea Amateur Athletic Association, (which was the equivalent to holding non-profit status), and to register their Black Belts with the Korea Kido Association (Ki Do Hae), if they wished their students and instructors to possess Korean certification. In 1990, governmental and organizational laws changed in South Korea and the various established martial art organizations were allowed to become financially based entities. Due to this fact, the Korean Hapkido Federation and other established Korean martial art organizations broke away from Ki Do Hae and were allowed to offer promotions without Ki Do Hae approval.

During this period of change in South Korea, in 1990, Korea Ki Do Hae expanded and instituted a new branch of operation known as, The World Ki Do Association. This branch of Ki Do Hae was formed to supply legitimate non-Korean martial artists with rank recognition from South Korea.

Hapkido in the United States
sea ho choi

Hapkido was formally introduced into the United States in 1964 by then twenty-eight year old, Choi, Sea Oh (Sea Oh Choi). At that time he held the rank of 5th dan Black Belt.

In the first article describing Hapkido to the United States, published in August 1965 by Black Belt Magazine, Choi explains that in association with Ji Han Chei (believed to be Ji, Han Jae), Choi, who was also a black belt in Tang Soo Do and Ji helped to add Korean kicking and offensive techniques into the base defensive methodology of what was then called, Daito-Ryu Yawara, helping to make it a more completely system of self-defense. Thus, Choi was one of the instrumental components of making Hapkido the expansive art it ultimately became.

Though not the first Hapkido Black Belt to immigrate to America, Choi was the first instructor to formally open a Hapkido school in the United States. The name of the school was the Hapki-Jujitsu School of Self Defense. It was located at 821 Temple Street in Los Angeles, California. He later relocated his school to 721 S. Western Ave. Master Choi retired from teaching Hapkido in the mid 1970's, at the rank of 6th dan, to pursue a career in architecture and interior design.

For a more complete history of the evolution of the Korean Martial Arts: The History of Hapkido, Taekwondo, and the Korean Martial Arts.

Source: Interviews with First Generation South Korean and Japanese Practitioners of the Modern Martial Arts; 1972 to present.

Copyright © 1979, 1982, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2004
All Rights Reserved
No part of this may be reproduced in any manner without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.
Here is a link to
The Hapkido Family Tree.
This is an interesting archived document showing the advanced practitioners of Hapkido and their lineage to the Yong Shul Choi that was created about twenty years.
Be sure to slide left and right as well as up and down.

Here are some historic photographs of Choi, Yong Shul:


















Choi Yong Sool