Hapkido's roots go well beyond the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945). In fact, the foundations of Hapkido and other more ancient martial arts philosophies can easily trace their beginnings to the period between 7197 BC and 3899 BC. The first Korean book, Sam Sung Ki, makes a first reference to Ki - Universal Energy - in the following passage:
"In the oldest days of the world, a lonely god became flesh under a Siberian sky, shinning a bright light throughout the universe and created all things therein. He moved through the perfect power of Ki (energy of nature) and it was delightful and wondrous."
Chan (Zen/Son) and Buddhist Influence in Korea and the Martial Arts
Many historians make reference to ancient Chinese folklore that tell of how Chan (Zen/Son) teachers, along with their followers, had developed defensive fighting skills based on their spiritual philosophies. These skills, founded in and developed through Taoist philosophies, were used to protect themselves against attacks by the "emperor's soldiers." As time evolved, many of the Chan masters taught others they met in their travels in Chan (The Way). Quite naturally, their acquired knowledge in the martial arts was also passed on to the inhabitants of far off lands like Korea. Through assimilation, each region (country) they visited developed their own forms of martial arts.
King Chinhung rose to power in 540 AD. During this period in Korean history the kingdoms of Shilla, Koguryo and Paekche and China were embroiled in a number of political and territorial disputes which threatened to divide, and weaken, the Korean peninsula. China’s army far outnumbered the combined armies of Korea’s kingdoms and King Chinhung constantly worried about invasion. Since he could not possibly match his enemies’ armies in numbers he decided he could at least create an army of soldiers that would outmatch them in skill on the battlefield. He created the Hwarang (Flowering Youth) Warriors.
King Chinhung's aim was to ensure these warriors were trained in the most lethal and modern methods of martial combat arts while also teaching them about the cultural arts. The famous Buddhist monk, Won Kwang Bopsa, taught the Hwarang Warriors a martial art he had developed based on harmony with the laws of nature. The Hwarang were the embodiment of culture and chivalry guided by a code of ethics laid down by their teacher known as the Code of the Hwarang. Some of its elements still exist to this day. The original code read: 1.) serve the king with loyalty, 2.) obey your parents, 3.) honour your friends, 4.) never retreat in battle, and 5.) kill justly. Marc Tedeschi, in his book Hapkido: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique (p. 27, Weatherhill, CT, 2000), writes:
"In addition to being warriors, they are reputed to have established a high moral code of conduct and were schooled in the intellectual and cultural arts of the time. They were later instrumental in unifying Korea and are also thought to have influenced development of Japanese Bushido ("way of the warrior"), a code of ethics followed by the Japanese warrior-classes."
Their empty hand techniques were famous for their blend of hard and soft and linear and circular attacks. These blended techniques were based on Won Kwang Bopsa's concepts of the harmony of opposites - Um (Yin) and Yang. The ferocity of the Hwarang Warrior became legendary and their exploits are recorded in poetry and literature. This literature became part of Korean folklore and evolved into a true model of the martial art code of ethics and chivalry. The code eventually evolved into a more modern system of martial arts ethics and morality essential to the warrior's mental state. Ego and self-interest were never a factor in the warrior's balanced mental state. The Hwarang are credited with leading the unified Three Kingdoms of Korea against a superior Chinese army between 671 and 676 AD.
Early Aikijujitsu and the Hapkido Connection
As mentioned already, the region experienced a vast exchange of art and culture and China's civilization had a great influence on Korean and Japanese cultural developments. Zen (Chan/Son), the martial arts, and Buddhism lessons were exchanged among travelling monks and absorbed into native martial arts as they developed. The Korean art called Yawara (an ancient form of Jujitsu) is one such art thought to have emerged before 500 AD and may have influenced the eventual development of Japanese Aiki-Jujitsu and Jujitsu that involved a Korean prince1.
From 668 AD the Shilla kingdom dominated the Korean peninsula and there was an abundance of martial arts styles growing in popularity along with a boon in many other cultural developments. Korean folklore tells of a prince, believed to be called Sadsumi (known as Prince Teijun in Korean), who fled to Japan to escape political persecution. He took with him a popular martial art that was principally based on defensive techniques, circle movements and using the opponent's force against him known as Yu Sool (Soft Art)2.
According to historians, Sadsumi's name is inscribed on the Daito-Ryu family scroll, third from the top of the hierarchical lineage of the Daito family martial art masters. As the Japanese kept meticulous records of their family and clan history, in particular the history of their martial arts, it can only be deduced that Sadsumi had a major influence in the development of early aikijujitsu.
Yu Sool, the soft art, is believed to have originated from one of the many early Chinese martial arts. It flourished and eventually reached its peak in popularity, in Korea, about 1150 AD. Much like our modern-day Combat Hapkido, its techniques were characterized by a passive combat attitude where the attacker was seduced/tricked into making the first move against the defender. His attack, expected exactly as it was delivered, was then easily redirected to the defender's advantage. Throws (mechigi), grappling techniques (kuchigi), and assaulting techniques (kuepso chirigi) made up the main components of Yu Sool. There were 24 basic and 10 secret methods at the heart of Yu Sool3 .
Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu
According to Japanese custom and tradition, and like many martial arts, Aiki-jujitsu was passed down from father to son over the centuries. Such hierarchical transference could also include adopted sons or close clan/family allies and associates. The Japanese Prince Sadsumi (873-916 AD), also known by his Korean name of Prince Teijun, was in fact the sixth son of the Japanese Emperor Seiwa and is likely the Paekche prince who infused Yu Sool into Aiki-jujitsu. Korean folklore tells of how Aiki-jujitsu was established after Prince Sadsumi received instruction in Yu Sool by travelling Korean Buddhist monks. How long he actually studied under the monks is not known.
Despite disagreements among historians, it is accepted that Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1045 to 1127), the 5th generation descendant on the Aiki-jujitsu family scroll, is regarded as the founder of Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu.
Driven to perfecting his art, Yoshimitsu delved into a goulish practice, He began to study the human anatomy by dissecting the cadavers of fallen soldiers and executed criminals. This gruesome practice enabled him to refine the art he was teaching. As he carried these practices and taught Aiki-jujitsu in his home, Daito house, the name Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu was adopted. The secrets of Daito house and Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu were passed down through the generations until they came to rest on the shoulders of Takeda, Sokaku (1860-1943).
During its history, one of the heads of the Takeda house, moved to Aizu. Here, in 1574, Takeda Kumitsugu established Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu exclusively as a Samurai practice, handed down within the family until Japan emerged from its self-imposed isolation in 1868. Not long after Takeda Sokaku became the 32nd, in the line of Yoshimitsu, to teach the art. He opened a school in Hokkaido, Japan, and he became the first of the Takeda family to teach his art to students who were not of the Japanese warrior classes.
There are several, seemingly, contradicting accounts of how Hapkido was founded and when, where and how the name for our art came about. There are Korean masters who claim they know the facts about who came up with the name and when. There are other masters, some westerners, who say they had the privilege of having had the history passed on to them by the founder of Hapkido, Choi Yong Sool himself - before he died. Our Hapkido Master, John Pellegrini, the founder of Chon-Tu Kwan Hapkido shared some anecdotes of that history with Master Mike and Master Eric over a quiet meal on one of his seminar trips to Halifax.
The years before 1945 were a tumultuous period in Korean history and the peninsula did not actually enjoy peace until after the end of the Korean War in 1952. How did this affect the country's martial arts? During its occupation of the Korean peninsula the Japanese prohibited the practice of any martial arts which almost erradicated them. However, the Korean martial arts were kept alive by the few who were scattered about the country and in the mountains. Many of these were monks living in seclusion who only knew one or two disciplines. Since the end of the Second World War the Korean martial arts have enjoyed a resurgence where elements from ancient arts such as Tae Kyon and Yu Sool have been incorporated into the modern arts of Hapkido, Kuk Sool Won and Tang Soo Do.
Modern hapkido (what we practice today) is not only made up of elements of Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu it also comprises of elements from other traditional Korean martial arts. These are: Kwan Jul Ki Bub (joint twisting, throws, holding and choking); Dang Shin Ki Bub (strikes, punches and kicks); Moo Ki Sool (short sword, long sword, short stick, long pole, cane, spear, rope, stone throws, knife throws). All these styles evolved from Sado Mu Sool (tribal martial arts; Buldo Mu Sool (Buddhist martial arts) and Koong Joong Mu Sool (royal court martial arts).
In the Beginning
There are many conflicting stories about how Choi, Yong Sool came to develop and establish Hapkido; where and how he acquired his skill and knowledge; and who actually gave our martial art its name. The following is a generally accepted accounting of Choi, Yong Sool's early life and the history behind the birth of Hapkido. This accounting is revised and is based on published articles, books as well as a personal interview between Choi, Yong Sool and Master Rim, Jan Bae and Master John Sheya in 1982. Another source is the interview between and Master Michael Wollmershauser of Massachussetts and Suh, Bok Sub in 1996.
Choi, Yong Sool was born in 1904 in the Choong Chung Province of Korea, in the village of Yong Dong, near a candy factory. Soon after the 1910 Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, about 1912, Choi became acquainted with Mr. Morimoto, a Japanese businessman, and his wife. The couple owned the village candy store. According to Suh, Bok Sub and Kim, Jeong Yoon, Choi's family was extremely poor and could not afford to feed and care for him. Since the Morimotos had no children and, as they took a liking to Choi, his family allowed them to take Choi to Japan. Mr. Morimoto's intention, apparently, was to adopt Choi.
But in the 1982 interview with Master Michael Wollmershauser, Suh, Bok Sub contradicts the above version, stating that Mr. Morimoto and his wife abducted him when it was time for them to return to Japan. And, since Choi did not like this man he made a point of being extremely difficult every chance he had, constantly protesting and crying. No longer able to cope with young Choi, Mr. Morimoto and his wife abandoned him in a town in Moji (around Mekari Park), in Japan. Eventually, he came to be in Kyoto where authorities arranged for him to stay at a local Buddhist temple. How he travelled over 550 kms is unknown. He lived at the temple for two years under the care of the monk Kintaro, Wadanabi.
During his time at the temple, Choi did not show much interest in schooling and exhibited behavioural problems that manifested themselves through fighting and a lack of self-discipline and seemed more fascinated by the temple's murals depicting historical martial arts battles and paintings. Kintaro, Wadanabi recognized his interest and made arrangements to introduce young Choi to his very close friend Takeda, Sokaku. So, at the age of 11 or 12 the 32nd patriarch of Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu, Takeda, Sokaku was asked by monk Kintaro, Wadanabi to take Choi as his disciple. Choi recounts that Takeda, Sokaku adopted Choi and was given the name Asao, Yoshida. Takeda, Sokaku eventually settled in Hokkaido to open his Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu dojo (school).
Some Hapkido historians, and masters, seem to disagree about Choi, Yong Sool's relationship to Takeda, Sokaku. Some claim that Choi was orphaned in Korea and taken to Japan by a Japanese family, some say he was Takeda, Sokaku's houseboy. Others suggest he merely attended some of Takeda, Sokaku's seminars or observed the training and could not fully participate in Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu training because he was Korean. It seems irrelevant to argue about the accuracies of these details in a great man's life which appear to be driven by politics and ego. What does appear to be accurate, however, is the timeline and order of events - he was born to a poor Korean family; he left Korea for Japan when he was a boy; he was placed in a Buddhist temple; and ended up in Takeda, Sokaku's house.
The period between Choi's adoption and his return to Korea at the end of the War is based on the details provided in his 1982 interview. He spent over 30 years, 20 of them in seclusion in the mountains, studying under Takeda, Sokaku's instruction. During this time he assisted in teaching Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu to royal family members, high ranking government officials and others throughout Japan. When he was 28 years old, Choi remembers travelling to Hawaii, as part of a demonstration team, on a cultural tour. There is also evidence that he traveled to Korea during this period. Suh, Bok Sub believes he may have married a Korean on such a trip as he already had three daughters and a son when he returned to Korea in 1945.
Choi, Yong Sool recounts how events near the end of the Second World War significantly influenced his life. The war was not going well for Japan and they were loosing much of their territory and their forces were facing a high rate of attrition. In desperation, Japan instituted a special military draft, calling into service most of the country's prominent martial artists to form special force units to be used in guerrilla warfare. The entire inner circle, the most senior, of the Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu clan were drafted except for Takeda, Sokaku and Choi, Yong Sool. Consequently, all were killed in the fighting. According to Choi, he was also being drafted into service but Takeda, Sokaku used his influence to intervene. Instead, Choi was hospitalized for minor surgery which stopped the conscription process. Choi, Yong Sool claims that if Takeda was killed in the war Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu would be lost in its entirety upon his death.
Post- World War II 4
The story goes that Choi, Yong Sool returned to Korea at the end of the war but lost his suitcase, which contained all of his money and his certificates from his Sensei, Takeda, Sokaku. This event left him stranded in Tae Gu province, this time with a family and forced to live off the streets. After a year of selling rice cakes, he earned enough money to buy some hogs, which he fed with free leftover grain he acquired each morning from the Suh Brewery Company. On February 21st, 1948, during one of Choi's early-morning visits to the brewery, a group of men tried to steal his place in line for grain after he had volunteered to help draw water from the brewery's underground spring. They tried to gang up on Choi but he quickly defeated them with the techniques he had learned in Japan.
This altercation happened to be observed by the Suh-family Brewery manager, Suh, Bok Sub. He was amazed by what he saw and immediately sent an aide out to fetch Choi. Suh was already a black belt in Judo and was very interested in learning this new style of fighting. He asked Choi to teach him this martial art. Initially, Choi refused because he had a family to support and didn't have the money to rent a dojang to teach in. Suh, Bok Sub promised him that in exchange for his private lessons he would provide Choi with grain, money and the use of his private dojang, located in the brewery.
Initially, Choi called his art Yu Sool (Soft Art), a modifed version of the Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu system's techniques. In 1951, Choi and Suh opened a school in the town and began teaching the Korean version of Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu called Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool (the harmonized power of the soft fist arts).
In 1954, Suh's father ran for local politics and won the election. During the election, Suh, Bok Sub was attacked by the brother of his father's opponent who tried to beat him using boxing and judo. Suh easily handled the man and this style of martial art began to gain a wide respect. After his election, Suh's father hired Choi to be his bodyguard while Choi continued to train with Suh, Bok Sub and give demonstrations. As a result, Hapkido became very popular.
Ji, Han Jae was among Choi's students (the 14th) and, after one year, agreed to open and affiliate school. Ji left Choi in 1958 to form his own form of Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool. This is where there seems to be two opposing claims to how the name Hapkido came to be. Some Hapkido masters loyal to Choi claim that he shortened the name and those loyal to Ji, Han Jae claim he shortened the name to Hapkido when he formed his own organization. According to some sources, Ji, Han Jae began to infuse some of the more traditional Tae Kyong kicking techniques, Korean weapons techniques and spiritual training into his system. In 1958, he opened two schools in Andong he named Sung Moo Kwan. He went on to train two great Hapkido masters Bong, Soo Han who went on to found the International Hapkido Association and Myung Kwan Sik who founded the World Hapkido Association.
Over the years, many masters went on to form their own style of Hapkido. These styles eventually came under the scrutiny of the Hanminjok of the World Hapkido Federation to be studied and eventually accredited as a kwan (style). There are approximately 32 recognized Hapkido kwans in the world and an unknown number of yet-to-be recognized Hapkido systems taught by legitimately trained Hapkido instructors.
Hapkido remains the martial art of choice for many of the world's close protection officers who guard royalty and political leaders in many of the Asian and Western nations. More and more law enforcement agencies are turning to Hapkido as their choice in a martial art to train in because they know it is more fluid and effective than the more rigid contemporary martial arts.
1. David Middleton of the Australian Hapkido Association examined the Dayto Ryu family scroll that lists this Korean prince's name third from the top. A translation of the name has yet to be provided.
2. In 2001, David Middleton had mentioned in his thesis that the name was in the process of being translated to ensure accuracy.
3. David Middleton, Australian Hapkido Association.
4. Based on accounts from the East York Hapkido-Karate Club, Master Michael Wollmershauser's interview with Suh, Bok Sub, and a conversation with Grandmaster John Pellegrini.