Hapkido is a Korean martial art with a primary emphasis on self-defense rather than sparring or sports related competition. It is a complete, or integrated, fighting system which combines the dynamic kicking and punching traditionally associated with Korean martial arts, together with a vast array of joint locks and throws designed to subdue or control an attacker, more typically associated with Japanese arts such as Aikido and Juijutsu.

    “Hapkido” can be literally translated as “the way of harmonized power”.  This refers to the way in which most Hapkido techniques deal with an attacker’s force: obliquely redirecting it rather than confronting it head on.  To meet an attack head on only results in a clash in which the larger, stronger adversary has a decided advantage.  However, by directing the force of his/her defense in the same direction as the force of the attack, the Hapkido practitioner can combine (or “harmonize”) his/her power with that of the attacker, using both against the attack.  In this way the defender always has the advantage.    To accomplish this redirection of energy, Hapkido makes frequent use of circular motion in its defensive techniques.  The effects of circular motion on an attacker can be easily visualized if you can imagine someone getting stuck in a revolving door.  Pushing forward, the force they exert comes full circle and is ultimately directed back in the direction it came from.  Lesser fractions of a circle can also be used to easily deflect the force of an attack off to one side.  In addition to the principle of circular motion, 

    Hapkido also makes use of what has been referred to as the “water principle”.  Water is, of course, one of the softest things on earth.  It has no rigid shape.  If you use your hand to push water sitting in a pool, the water will always yield but then return to its natural level and thus not be moved.  Likewise, the Hapkido practitioner yields in the face of head-on force but is not moved by it.  Then, when in motion, water does not seek to penetrate an obstacle, rather it takes the path of least resistance, flowing around an obstacle it cannot move, surrounding it, and ultimately eroding and washing it away.  Likewise, when the Hapkido practitioner counterattacks, he/she does not do so directly and head-on, but rather moving obliquely, delivering his/her strikes from the side or even the rear of the assailant, to exploit his weak points, overwhelm and ultimately defeat him.       

    Developed in the late 1940’s and early 50’s by a Korean named Yong Sool Choi, Hapkido is a relatively modern art form.  However, it is this origin, in the years immediately following the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II, and the subsequent years which saw the outbreak of the Korean War, which is responsible for forging the practical, self-defense oriented focus of the art.  The central purpose has always been to enable the average person to escape unharmed when confronted by a violent attacker or attackers.  Hapkido proved so effective along these lines that it was soon being taught to the South Korean presidential bodyguards.  Later, Hapkido was taught to members of elite units in the South Korean armed forces and, after coming to the attention of the U.S. military in the 1960’s, was taught to the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) for use in hand-to-hand combat.     

    Time-and-again, Hapkido proved itself to be one of the world’s most effective fighting arts.  However, it is also a highly versatile art, capable of modulating in severity between more or less violent applications of the same technique.  A technique which would be used on the battlefield to completely tear apart the joints of an attacker’s arm can also be used in a bar room to restrain a drunken assailant without causing any injury at all.  Frequently in class, techniques will be shown in their less violent applications to all students while high ranking students will be shown the more advanced (and more dangerous) applications of the same technique.  Likewise, technique is taught in an age appropriate manner, with the more potentially dangerous techniques being confined to the adult classes while children’s classes focus on more non-violent technique categories appropriate to the level of schoolyard altercations that they are more likely to find themselves in. 

 

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