What Is Hapkido?

What is Hapkido

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 or 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 may result 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 fraction of a circle can also be used to easily deflect the force of an attack off to one side.

Developed in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s by 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 the elite units in the South Korean armed forces and, after coming to the attention of the U.S. military in the 1960s, was taught to the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) for use in hand-to-hand combat.

Time and again Hapkido proves itself to be one of the world’s most effective fighting arts. A highly versatile art capable of modulating in severity between more or less violet application of the same technique. A technique which would be used in serious altercation to tear the joints of an attacker’s arm can also be used to restrain a less violent incident without causing any injury at all. Frequently in class, techniques will be shown in their less violent applications to all students while higher ranking students will be shown the more advanced and more dangerous application 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.