Hapkido – A Short History. Hapkido is a Korean martial art which uses joint locks, kicks, punches, and other striking attacks. Weapons such as sword, nunchaku, rope, cane, and staff are also used, although their emphasis varies. Hapkido focuses on using circular motions, non-resisting movements, and control of the opponent, using footwork and body positioning to gain leverage and avoid strength against strength. Although aikido and hapkido are thought to share a common history, they differ significantly in philosophy, range of responses, and execution of techniques.
History and major figures from Korea
The birth of modern hapkido can be traced to the efforts of a group of Korean nationals in the post Japanese colonial period of Korea, Choi Yong-Sool (1904–1986) and his most prominent students; Seo Bok-Seob, the first student of the art; Ji Han-Jae (born 1936), one of the earliest promoters of the art; Kim Moo-Hong, a major innovator; Myung Jae-Nam, a connector between the art of hapkido and aikido, Myung Kwang-Sik the historian and ambassador, all of whom were direct students of Choi or of his immediate students.
Choi Yong-Sool (Hangul: 최용술)’s training in martial arts is a subject of contention. It is known that Choi was sent to Japan as a young boy and returned to Korea with techniques characteristic of Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu (大東流合気柔術), a forerunner of aikido. The next portion of the story is quite controversial in Daitō-ryū circles but is claimed by many contemporary hapkido-ists and is attributed to Choi in an interview (released posthumously) that took place during a trip Choi made to the United States in 1980 to visit his second direct lineage successor Chinil Chang in New York City.
In the interview with second direct lineage Doju Chinil Chang, Choi claims to have been adopted by Takeda Sōkaku when he was 11 years old and was given the Japanese name, Yoshida Asao. He claims to have been taken to Takeda’s home and dojo in Akita on Shin Shu mountain where he lived and trained with the master for 30 years. The interview also asserts that he travelled with him as a teaching assistant, that he was employed to catch war deserters and that he was the only student to have a complete understanding of the system taught by Takeda.
This is contradicted by other claims asserting that Choi was simply a worker in the home of Takeda. In fact, the meticulous enrollment and fee records of Tokimune Takeda, Takeda Sokaku’s eldest son and Daitō-ryū’s successor, do not seem to include Choi’s name among them. Therefore, except for claims made by Choi himself, there is little evidence that Choi was the adopted son of Takeda Sokaku, or that he ever formally studied Daitō-ryū under the founder of the art.
Stanley Pranin, then of Aiki News and now editor of the Aikidojournal.com, asked Kisshomaru Ueshiba about Choi Yong-Sool and hapkido:
“ On another subject, it is true that a Korean named “Choi” who founded hapkido studied aikido or Daito-ryu?
I don’t know what art it was but I understand that there was a young Korean of about 17 or 18 who participated in a seminar of Sokaku Takeda Sensei held in Asahikawa City in Hokkaidō. It seems that he studied the art together with my father and would refer to him as his “senior”.
If that’s the case the art must have been Daito-ryu.
I’ve heard that this man who studied Daito-ryu had some contact with my father after that. Then he returned to Korea and began teaching Daito-ryu on a modest scale. The art gradually became popular and many Koreans trained with him. Since aikido became popular in Japan he called his art hapkido [written in Korean with the same characters as aikido]. Then the art split into many schools before anyone realized it. This is what my father told me. I once received a letter from this teacher after my father’s death.
Some argue that Choi Yong-Sool’s potential omission from the records, and the ensuing debate over hapkido’s origins, may be due to tensions between Koreans and Japanese, partly as a result of the Japanese occupation of Korea. At the height of dispute, it is claimed by hapkido practitioners that Koreans were excluded from listing, though this is contradicted by Takeda’s records which contain other Korean names. While some commentators claim hapkido has a Japanese lineage, others state that its origins lay with indigenous Korean martial arts.
Choi Yong-Sool’s first student, and the man whom some claim helped him develop the art of hapkido was Seo Bok-Seob, a Korean judo black belt when they met. Some of Choi’s other respected senior students are: Chinil Chang, Ji Han-Jae, Chung Kee Tae, Kim Moo-Hong, and arguably Suh In-Hyuk (Hangul: 서인혁) and Lee Joo-Bang (Hangul: 이주방) who went on to form the arts of Kuk Sool Won and modern Hwa Rang Do respectively (though some argue that their training stems from time spent training under Kim Moo-Hong).
Choi’s first student and the first person known to have opened up a dojang under Choi was Seo Bok-Seob (also spelled Suh Bok-Sup; Hangul: 서복섭).
In 1948, when Seo Bok-sub was still in his early 20s, he had already earned his black belt in judo and was a graduate of Korea University. After watching Choi Yong-Sool successfully defend himself against a group of men when an argument erupted in the yard of the Seo Brewery Company, Seo who was son of the chairman of the company, invited Choi to begin teaching martial arts to him and some workers at the distillery where he had prepared a dojang.
In 1951, Seo opened up the first proper dojang called the “Daehan Hapki Yu Kwon Sool Dojang (Hangul: 대한 합기 유권술 도장)”. The first symbol, designed by Seo, which was used to denote the art was the inverted arrowhead design featured in both the modern incarnation of the KiDo Association and by Myung Kwang-Sik’s World Hapkido Federation. Choi Yong-Sool was also employed during this time as a bodyguard to Seo’s father who was a congressman. Seo and Choi agreed to shorten the name of the art from ‘hapki yu kwon sool’ to ‘hapkido’ in 1959.
A direct student of Doju Choi, Chinil Chang inherited the title of Doju in Choi’s personal and complete system of Hapkido on January 15, 1985 becoming the second direct lineage Grandmaster.
On April 5, 1985 Doju Choi personally awarded Doju Chang the only existing 10th Dan certificate in Hapkido history. Doju Chang had the privilege and honor as well of being the first hapkido master awarded the 9th Dan certificate by Doju Choi in 1980.
A large inauguration ceremony followed on April 11, 1985 covered by Korea Sports News and MBC Korean Television to document the historic event that was attended by Doju Choi, Doju Chang and Doju Choi’s son the late Choi Bok-Yeol. Doju Chang is the only Hapkido master ever awarded the 10th dan and the Doju title directly from Doju Choi. Doju Choi left the full documents and recordings of the system to Doju Chang who continued to research and document the full history and development of Hapkido.
Furthermore, the future Grandmaster, who was a personally trained, closed-door disciple of Doju Choi, was given Letter Of Appointment certificates, the second dated December 1, 1977 and the third dated March 5, 1980, that gave Doju Chang more progressive power and authority in Doju Choi’s Hapkido Association. These specific certificates that were issued in addition to his Dan ranking certifications amply demonstrate that Doju Choi was clearly grooming Doju Chang for the future Grandmaster and 10th dan appointment that was to come in 1985.
Grandmaster Chang continues to teach in New York City after decades of maintaining a commercial school as well as a stint teaching Hapkido at the United Nations. He currently teaches a small group dedicated to the preservation of Hapkido in NYC. Many detractors have spread conjecture about him and his mission. One lineage has created further controversy by stating Doju Choi passed the system to his only son Choi Bok-Yeol which is incorrect and misleading as well as insulting to the legacy and wishes of Doju Choi. Black Belt Magazine respecting Doju Chinil Chang as the second lineage successor asked him to write a brief obituary on Doju Choi that appeared in Black Belt magazine in the April 1987 issue Vol 25 Number 4.
Ji Han-Jae (Hangul: 지한재) was undoubtedly the prime mover in the art of Korean hapkido. It is due to his physical skills, technical contributions, promotional efforts and political connections as head hapkido instructor to the presidential body guard under Korean President Park Jeong-Hee (Hangul: 박정희) that hapkido became popularized, first within Korea and then internationally.
If the martial art education of Choi Yong-Sool is unconfirmed, the same must be said for martial art history of Ji Han-Jae’s training, apart from his time as a student of Choi. Ji was an early student (Dan #14) of Choi. He details that prior to opening his martial art school in Seoul, the Sung Moo Kwan (Hangul: 성무관), he also supposedlly studied from a man known as ‘Taoist Lee’ and an old woman he knew as ‘Grandma’.
As a teacher of hapkido, Ji incorporated traditional Korean kicking techniques (from Taoist Lee and the art Sam Rang Do Tek Gi) and punching techniques into the system and gave the resulting synthesis the name hapkido in 1957. Hapkido is the Korean pronunciation of (Japanese) aikido and is sometimes erroneously referred to as its Korean cousin.
Although a founding member of the Dae Han Ki Do Hwe (Korea Kido Association) in 1963 with Choi Yong-Sool as titular Chairman and Kim Jeong-Yoon as Secretary General and Head Instructor for the association Ji found himself not able to exert as much control over the organization as he might have wished. To this end and with the support of the Head of the Security Forces, Park Jong-Kyu, Ji founded the very successful Korea Hapkido Association (Dae Han Hapkido Hyub Hwe; Hangul: 대한 합기도 협회) in 1965.
Later when this organization combined with the organizations founded by Myung Jae-Nam (Korea Hapki Association/Hangook Hapki Hwe; Hangul: 한국 합기회) and Kim Moo-Hong (Korean Hapkido Association/Hangook Hapkido Hyub Hwe; Hangul: 한국 합기도 협회) in 1973 they became the very extensive and influential organization known as the Republic of Korea Hapkido Association (Dae Han Min Gook Hapkido Hyub Hwe; Hangul: 대한민국 합기도 협회).
In 1984, Ji moved first to Germany and then to the United States and founded Sin Moo Hapkido (Hangul: 신무 합기도), which incorporates philosophical tenets, a specific series of techniques (including kicks) and healing techniques into the art. Two of Ji Han-Jae’s notable students in Korea were Kwon Tae-Man (Hangul: 권태만), Myung Jae-Nam (Hangul: 명재남). Ji can be seen in the films Lady Kung-fu and Game of Death in which he takes part in a long fight scene against Bruce Lee.
After the death of Choi Yong-Sool in 1986, Ji came forward with the assertion that it was he who founded the Korean art of hapkido, asserting that Choi Yong-Sool taught only yawara based skills and that it was he who added much of the kicking, and weapon techniques we now associate with modern hapkido. He also asserts that it was he that first used the term ‘hapkido’ to refer to the art. While both claims are contested by some of the other senior teachers of the art, what is not contested is the undeniably huge contributions made by Ji to the art, its systematization and its promotion world wide.
(alternately rendered as Kim Moo-Woong or Kim Mu-Hyun)
A student from the Choi and Seo’s Daehan Hapki Yu Kwon Sool Dojang, was Kim Moo-Hong (Hangul: 김무홍), who later taught at Seo’s Joong Ang dojang (Hangul: 중앙 도장) in Daegu. Seo, who promoted Kim to 4th degree, credits Kim with the development of many kicks which are still used in hapkido today. Kim apparentally took the concepts from very basic kicks he had learned from Choi and went to a temple to work on developing them to a much greater degree. Later, in 1961, Kim travelled to Seoul and while staying at Ji Han-Jae’s Sung Moo Kwan dojang they finalized the kicking curriculum.
Kim went on to found his Shin Moo Kwan dojang (Hangul: 신무관 도장) in the Jongmyo section of Seoul, also in 1961. Won Kwang-Hwa (Hangul: 원광화) also served as an instructor at this dojang. Kim’s notable students were Lee Han-Cheol (Hangul: 이한철), Kim Woo-Tak (Hangul: 김우탁; who founded the Kuk Sool Kwan Hapkido dojang), Huh Il-Woong (Hangul: 허일웅), Lee Joo-Bang (Hangul: 이주방; who founded modern Hwa Rang Do), Na Han-Dong (Hangul: 나한동), Shin Dong-Ki (Hangul: 신동기) and Seo In-Hyuk (Hangul: 서인혁; who founded Kuk Sool Won).
Originally a member of the Korea Kido Association, the organization sent Kim to teach hapkido in the United States in 1969. Upon returning to Korea in 1970, Kim looked to Ji Han-Jae’s move to set up his own organization and with the encouragement of his students followed suit and founded the Korean Hapkido Association (Hangook Hapkido Association) in 1971. Later he combined this organization with the groups led by Ji Han-Jae and Myung Jae-Nam to form the Republic of Korea Hapkido Association.
In 1972, Myung Jae-Nam (Hangul: 명재남) was one of the original members of the Korea Hapkido Association (Dae Han Hapkido Hyub Hwe; Hangul: 대한 합기도 협회), which was formed in 1965 at the request of the South Korean President Park Jeong-Hee. The Korea Hapkido Association was formed with the assistance of Mr. Park Jong Kyu, who was the head of the Presidential Protective Forces and one of the most powerful men in Korea at the time.
Myung Jae Nam exchanged martial art techniques and information with an Aikido practitioner named Hirata in 1965, for a period of about four years and included many aikido-like techniques into his version of hapkido. He has produced Several books and videos on the subject of hapkido self-defense. Later Myung Jae-Nam broke away from all the other organizations and started to focus on promoting a new style, hankido. Until his death in 1999 he was the leader of the International Hapkido Federation.
Lim, Hyun Soo
Lim, Hyun Soo is a disciple of Dojunim, Choi Yong Sul. Lim created the Jung Ki Kwan on October 24, 1974. In 1965 he visited Founder Choi, Yong Sul and had his first meeting with Hapkido. He was taught Hapikdo by Master Kim, Yeung Jae, Founder Choi’s pupil. During his time with the founder, he endured strict and intense training which amounted to a little less than 4 years with all his ranking and training coming from his primary hapkido teacher not founder Choi. Knowing Hapkido’s true value and meaning during his special training period with the founder, he opened the Jung Ki Kwan. Grand Master Lim continues to teach Choi, Yong Sul’s style of original Hapkido to this day. His dojang is in Daegu City, South Korea. Grand Master Lim is also a top swordsman in Korea and created a sword system known as Chung Suk Kuhapdo. Grand Master Lim’s Jung Ki Kwan is an international organization that is committed to teaching Hapkido as taught to Grand Master Lim from Dojunim Choi, Yong Sul.
Lee, Chong Min
Grand Master Chong Min Lee was born and raised in Seoul, Korea. He began his study of Hapkido as a teenager and continued studying Hapkido throughout his life. He is a 9th Degree Black Belt, the Master Instructor of Hapkido Center, President of The World Hapkido Association.
Master Lee served as an Instructor with the 1st Special Forces Group in the Korean Army, and has taught martial arts to the Police Departments in Seoul as well as Plainfield, New Jersey. He has also served as the director of Hapkido demonstrations for such dignitaries as Hubert H. Humphrey and the Chancellor of the Republic of China, Mr. Chang, during their visits to Seoul, Korea. Master Lee came to the United States in June, 1980. He currently operates a Hapkido Center in Warren, New Jersey and is also a member of the Law Enforcement Officers Association New Jersey State. He has been instructing students for over 42 years in Hapkido