Controversial Hapkido Frequently Asked Questions


Beck Martial Arts - Controversial Hapkido Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What makes you think *you* know the answers?

It's difficult to know what the actual facts are -- even when there are written records, sometimes the writers are biased. Although I've used books, web sites, mailing lists, questions to my teachers, etc, I am not a trained historian, and I don't claim that these answers are the be all end answers to these questions. But they are MY answers to these questions based on what I've experienced, seen, and heard from multiple sources in three decades of studying martial arts. If something I say makes you mad, I'm easy to find. :)
Most of these questions involve differing views of history. To me this is all pretty unimportant. One, Hapkido is a martial art that has changed and continues to change with the times. Two, the term 'art' in martial art implies creativity and individual expression. Every instructor teaches a little bit differently, and every student will find certain techniques just work better for them than others, so every martial art becomes an individual martial art. I can teach you my interpretation of Hapkido, but I encourage you to use that as a base and eventually develop your own interpretation. What matters is that you train to meet your goals, not who created that particular method of training.

I have capitalized family names and used the Western approach of placing them last; you'll often see them reversed in the Asian way.

David N. Beck, Richardson Texas

Q. What is the difference between Taekwondo and Hapkido?

Sometimes not all that much; there has been a LOT of cross-pollinization.
Virtually everyone in Korea gets some Taekwondo training (it's their national sport - ever know an American boy who'd NEVER played baseball?). The specialty jumping spinning kicks of Hapkido proved very useful for demonstration and breaking purposes and got adopted into Taekwondo. Any Hosinsool (self-defense) techniques involving joint locks or throws you see in Taekwondo got adopted in from out of Hapkido. Even though TKD is more known for kicking than HKD, HKD has a wider variety of kicks. But on the flip side, any HKDists that want to spar tend to do so under TKD rules and adapt their techniques accordingly. There's a lot of mixed versions out there; although typically a LOT heavier on the TKD side; TKD is easier to learn and easier to market. Go far enough in either and you'll learn some of the other one, so how much does it really matter? In general, if sport oriented, it's Taekwondo; and if self-defense oriented, it's Hapkido.

Q. What's wrong with TKD types doing Hapkido seminar training?

Nothing, if it's used properly. There are many many more TKD type places than HKD, and many schools do some sort of mix; doing some Hapkido as the self-defense part of their curriculum. I've attended, hosted, and taught many seminars and much can be learned from them. But for myself and for the vast majority of people, learning something well takes time. For anything physical, repetition to acquire muscle memory is absolutely essential. So if the material shown at a seminar is not practiced enough over time, it is lost. Ongoing regular Hapkido practice with a good instructor will correct mistakes in your practice and stop bad habits from being ingrained. But a seminar here and a seminar there is not going to do much more than give you an idea of the material. Thus I feel that doing rank tests at a seminar that simply test what's been worked on at that seminar is a bad practice. It tends to promote memorization of the particular techniques done just before, without understanding principles behind the techniques or being able to apply the techniques to different situations. And to me, that's like someone playing scales versus someone playing music. If it's rote technique, you're not a martial artist.

Q. Who founded Hapkido?

Some sources will say Yong Sool CHOI (1904-1986), some will say Han Jae JI. My answer is Ji, and call Choi the 'father' of Hapkido.

Q. Why would Yong Sool Choi be considered the founder?

Because all the branches of Hapkido go back to Choi and Choi was Han Jae JI's primary teacher. Yong Sool CHOI was taken to Japan as a young boy and supposedly became an adopted son of the famous Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu martial artist Sokaku TAKEDA (1860-1943). He supposedly was with Takeda until Takeda's death, after which Choi returned to Korea and shortly thereafter opened a school.

Q. Why 'supposedly'?

Choi always claimed he learned from Takeda, yet none of the Takeda family say they remember him. Takeda kept meticulis records of those he trained down to the level of exactly what technique he taught who and how much he charged for it. Yet none of the names Choi used appears in the records, and there ARE some Korean names there, including at least one with a teaching license. Choi claimed to have teaching licenses from Takeda, but said the bag he had them in was stolen from him at a train station on his arrival in Korea after Takeda's death.

It was common at the time for Korean children to be taken into rich Japanese households as servants. Perhaps Choi was a servant in the household and around (carrying the bags, etc) but not an actual participant in Takeda's seminars. But you would certainly expect the family to remember him, and they say no. As far as an adopted son, perhaps Choi just looked on Takeda as a father figure and there's been some mistranslation in interviews. Culturally, adoption of any Korean into a Japanese family would be VERY unlikely. There were other teachers of Daito-ryu aikijujitsu, I think that perhaps Choi was a second generation student of Takeda rather than first generation. Regardless of where and from whom he learned, Choi was a formidable martial artist when he returned to Korea after Takeda's death.

Q. Why would JI be considered the founder?

Because Ji came up with the name, added many different things to the art, and is most responsible for the spread of Hapkido. Between 70-80% of the Hapkido branches can be traced back to Ji.  Choi actually directly taught very few people because he always charged very high rates and the training was very severe. Choi never taught high, spinning, or jumping kicks; cane, staff, or other weapons; or breathing exercises -- these things were added by Ji. Most new martial arts styles come from some one person studying several different arts under several teachers, merging some things and modifying others, and then teaching the result under a new name. Choi never claimed to have studied with any other teacher than Takeda, and never modified what he taught.

Han Jae JI began martial arts training in 1949 at the age of 13 with Choi in Seoul. He trained for 7 years full time with Choi. Ji learned meditation techniques, weapons, and Tae Kyun kicking from a man he know as Wise-Man Lee starting at age 18. He learned more meditation techniques from a lady Taoist monk he knew only as Grandma. He was still training with Choi during this time as well.

Ji moved to his hometown of Andong, opening a school there (the An Moo Kwan) as a 3rd Dan in 1956. He taught Yoo Kwon Sool there for 9 months, then moving to Seoul and opening a school at a tie factory he called the 'Sung Moo Kwan'. He gained more students and soon was able to teach from a boxing gym. He added techniques to deal with boxing style punches at this time.

In 1958, Ji moved his school to Joong Boo Shi Jang where he continued teaching until April of 1960. During this period, Ji began to add basic kicking and punching techniques taken from other Korean schools and his Tae-Kyun training. In 1959 he decided that his system was sufficiently different from Choi's culturally patterned Japanese aiki-jiu jitsu to call it 'Hapkido'.

Into the early 60's, Ji was merging in techniques and modifying his curriculum. A fellow student of Choi's and good friend of Ji's, Moo-Woong KIM, gave input and advice during 8-9 months in 1961 to help finalize the kicking curriculum. Kim had also trained in Tae-Kyon and was a noted kicker.

Ji offered Choi use of the name and Choi thereafter taught using 'hapkido' as the name until his death in 1986. Choi continued always with his original teachings, which meant that most of the striking, kicking techniques and weapons techniques were omitted.

Q. So if what Choi taught was simply Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu, why not continue to call it that?

Choi didn't care what it was called. He called it 'yawara' at first. Then 'Dai Dong Ryu Yu Sool', the Korean equivalent of Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu. Many of Choi's students had backgrounds from other martial arts, and Korean names were desired rather than Japanese names. So it became 'Dai Dong Ryu Yu Kwon Sool', then 'Hapki Yu Kwon Sool', then eventually 'Hapkido'.

Q. Isn't it inconsistent to call Ji the founder of HKD and not call Hong Hi Choi the founder of TKD? Didn't both create the name, add stuff to the art, and spread it widely?

No, it's more a matter of degree. Ji is directly responsible for the differences between HKD and Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu, including the name, and at least 70% of HKD lineage is his. Choi is not responsible for any differences between TKD and its karate forebears with the exception of the sine wave (done only in ITF TKD) and a few ITF forms, he may or may not be responsible for the name Taekwondo, and his percentage of TKD lineage is less than 10%. And even that percentage would more properly be credited to Tae Hi Nam. See the Controversial TKD FAQ for more on this subject.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Aikido?

Aikido founder Morehi USHIBA studied with Sokaku TAKEDA for a number of years as well as a number of other teachers before forming Aikido. The simularity of technique is very apparent between the two arts in the circular non-resistive motions, joint-locking and throwing. Both even are written with the same Chinese characters. However, the philosophy is different in that a Hapkidoist mixes in hard with the soft, including kicks and strikes; plus the footwork tends to be a little different. Possibly CHOI never directly studied with TAKEDA but only watched (and Aikidoists wear the hakamas - which block viewing of the feet). Or possibly the cross-influence of other Korean kicking/punching arts with Hapkido modified the footwork. There has been enough cross training influence over the years that it's very hard to track. There have been HKDists that studied Aikido and Aikidoists that studied Hapkido, with the primary crossover influence being Hapkido Grandmaster Jae Nam MYONG. Myong founded the International Hapkido Federation (one of the top 3 HKD organizations in Korea) and became the International Aikido Federation representative in Korea.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Kido?

None. The same Chinese written characters are used for Hapkido and Aikido. In the early 60's, President Chung Hee PARK lifted import restrictions from Japan and Ji came across a book on Aikido and noticed this for the first time. He didn't like them having the same name and dropped the 'Hap' from his art. In 1963 the Korean government granted a charter through the Ministry of Education to create the Korea Kido Association, with Choi as Chairman and Jung Yoon KIM as First Secretary. The majority of Ji's students didn't like the name change and many kept calling it Hapkido, plus Ji and Kim did not get along. By 1965 Ji was in the politically powerful position of Chief Instructor for the President's Security Forces and left the Kido Association to establish the Korean Hapkido Association. The Korea Kido Association retained many members and became something of an umbrella organization for Korean martial arts that did not want to associate themselves with Taekwondo and the Kukkiwon. It has expanded to become the World KiDo Federation, and now it contains Hapkido, Kuk Sool Won, Hwarangdo, Tuk Gong Mool Sool, etc. at least 31 styles at last count. It is headed by GM In Sun SEO, whose brother In Hyuk SUH founded Kuk Sool. It remains one of the three major hapkido organizations in Korea.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Kuk Sool?

Not much, mostly more palm heel strikes and Chinese weaponry training from Southern Praying Mantis. Any other differences appear to be in the trappings; fancier uniforms, stressing flashier techniques, etc. In Sun SEO studied Hapkido with Yong Sool Choi and earned a black belt in 1958. The founder of Kuk Sool Won, In Hyuk SUH, is SEO's older brother (same name pronounced 's uh', they just spell it differently in English). Suh claims that everything in Kuk Sool is from his grandfather handed down from generation to generation from original Korean royal court martial arts, that he never studied with Hapkido with Choi or kung fu with Monk Hae Dong and Wang Tae-eui. But Suh is extremely nationalistic, and discounts everything non-Korean. He sees Choi's HKD as Japanese daito ryu aiki jujitsu, and kung fu as Chinese. I think that Suh can perhaps justify to himself saying that he never trained with Choi because it came through his brother. But you look at the techniques and Kuk Sool Won is Hapkido with a few other things added in. For many years Kuk Sool schools even went by the name Kuk Sool Hapkido.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Hwarangdo?

Not much. The founder of Hwarangdo, Dr. Joo-Bang Lee studied Hapkido in private lessons with Choi and also visited and trained in many Hapkido schools, including training with Moo-woong Kim and In Hyuk Suh, founder of Kuk Sool. He claims to have merged a little HKD with secret techniques taught to him and his brother Joo Sang Lee by a monk named Sahm Dosa to create Hwarang-do. Supposedly the techniques were secretly handed down through 57 generations of warrior/monks since the Silla dynasty and the days of the hwarang. Dr. Lee had his own school as early as 1960, and was promoted to 8th degree by Yong Sool Choi at the same time as Han Jae JI in May of 1968, so his skill level was certainly superlative. From 1961-68 he called his school a Hapkido school. But shortly after that he supposedly got permission from Sahm Dosa to teach the 'secret techniques', founded Hwarangdo, and moved to the USA.

Actual differences to Hapkido appear to be in the trappings -- more philisophical and Korean cultural stuff based on the historical hwarang, some forms and more strikes than is typical in HKD, and more weapons training. But all the self-defense techniques in his 3-book series are HKD. And the forms and teaching methodologies are very similar to Kuk Sool. How much stock to put in the 'secret techniques' and the 57 generations handed down from monk to monk -- well, I won't say it's *impossible*.

I will add that the reputation of Kuk Sool and Hwarangdo is to an extent that of ‘dojang technique’ heavy – really fancy impractical stuff.  However, I’ve seen and felt the technique of In Sun SEO and some of his top people and they can make it work.  And Taejoon Lee appears to be adapting his father’s art to meet today’s needs in training with modern weapons.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Krav Maga?

In the late sixties the Korea Hapkido Association President was Woo Joong KIM, also president of the Dae Woo Company which had many interests in the Middle East. Many HKD instructors went there and taught police forces and military officers. The founder of Krav Maga was a very skilled Israeli boxer and wrestler that participated in some of this training, studied some other martial arts as well, and boiled his knowledge down into a very simple quick to learn practical system to teach the Israeli armed forces. The style looks like some basics from a number of martial arts including HKD. It's a good fighting system; it's very hard for me to call it a martial art. There's little creativity or flexibility; it's drill drill drill to install muscle memory and blast the opponent, there's no art involved. It's immediate destruction no nonsense stuff, great for a sentry in the military; not so good for graduated levels of response necessary for policemen or for the general person in today's society. I would say the same thing about Haganah, or so many of the xyz 'combatives' self-defense courses that are out nowadays.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Viet No Vuem?

In 1967 the KHA sent 15 members of demonstration teams to Vietnam and taught Korean, US, and Vietnamese troops and special forces. Viet No Vuem is the Vietnamese martial art that appeared shortly thereafter, coming from out of that training. Viet No Vuem appears to be basic HKD with some TKD mixed in, plus the advanced acrobatic falls and rolls from Hapkido.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Han Moo Do?

Han Moo Do is Dr. He-Young KIMM's combination of Hapkido, Kuk Sool, and Taekwondo. Dr. Kimm is a HKD pioneer in the US, a scholar, a historian, and the author of the Hapkido Bible. Train with him if you ever get the chance.

Q. What's the difference between Hapkido and Hankido?

Hankido is Jae Nam MYONG's combination of Hapkido and Aikido. Introduced in 1992, it tries to be an easy-to-learn martial art. Myong was the head of the International Hapkido Federation. Myong died in 1999 and his IHF is led by his son Sung Kwang Myong. This IHF is actually a 3-pronged organization that teaches with the martial arts of Hapkido under the banner of International Hapkido Federation, Hankido under the banner of the International Hankido Federation, and Hankumdo (Korean sword) under the banner of the International Hankumdo Federation. A lot of IHF's already, plus there are at least two other totally unrelated International Hapkido Federations, one led by the late Bong Soo HAN and another by James Benko

Q. What Hapkido organizations exist?

There are many, there's no clearly dominant one like TKD has in the WTF. The joke is that the first thing a Korean does when opening a school in the US is start his own organization...
Anyway, I've listed only ones I know something about; there are many more. Note: the same word in Korea is used for 'federation' or 'association', so some of these can be confusing.

American Hapkido Association - Chong Min LEE

American Hapkido Association - Mike Wollmershouser
Wollmershouser was a student of Choi's, his bio says the highest ranking American ever taught by Choi. He was active in the northeast U.S. There was a video series he put out in the 1980's that I've seen one or two of; cheap quality tapes but excellent techniques shown, well worth getting if you can find them. He died some years ago of cancer.

International Hapkido Federation - James Benko, Ph. D

International Combat HKD Federation - John Pelligrini.
Pelligrini has the reputation of having taken out much of the Hapkido curriculum and primarily markets to martial artists of other styles, focusing on seminar training. It is my opinion and that of many others that this is a disservice to HKD, making it easy to get HKD rank and encouraging a picture of it as an adjunct style rather than the complete martial art it is. Having seen his videos, my opinion of his skill level is that it is nowhere near grandmaster level.  My understanding is he was a TKD guy that did some seminars with Mike Wolmershouser and received an HONORARY 1st Dan black belt in Hapkido given at a seminar in 1988, then bounced around organization to organization attending seminars and jumping up in rank; emerging with an 6th Dan when he created the ICHF in 1992, and shortly thereafter getting an 8th Dan from In Sun SEO. I guess since he was able to gain rank quickly by seminars and changing organizations he's happy to do the same for others. For what little it's worth, I started Hapkido before he did. I started training in Hapkido in 1983, tested for my 1st Dan in 1987, followed my organizations guidelines in going through the ranks one by one never skipping any, and I received 6th Dan in June 2005 (see my MA resume). That's 18 years between 1st to 6th Dan for me versus 4 for Pelligrini...

International Hapkido Alliance - Geoff Booth. Grandmaster Booth is a student of DJN Ji. I've hosted him now over 15 times and it's always a great deal of fun, with superb Hapkido and keeping everyone smiling with his jokes. Grandmaster Booth has a DVD series out that are fantastic -- great techniques, very clear, extremely well done. Of note, Beck Martial Arts is now an affiliate member of the IHA.

International Hapki Federation - Jae Nam MYONG (deceased), now named the International Hapkido Federation. Close relationships with Aikido organizations. This one is also involved in sponsoring HKD competitions. Probably the best known American associated is Marshall Gagne.

International Hapkido Federation - Bong Soo HAN
Han was a student of Ji's (starting 1958) and Choi's that claims Choi as his teacher and disassociated himself from Ji many years ago. He was one of the first Hapkido instructors in the United States and is famous for the Billy Jack movies that gave Hapkido its first big visibility. He also appeared in Kentucky Fried Movie in the funniest MA related scenes ever filmed.

International Korean Martial Arts Federation - Ian Cyrus - Grandmaster Cyrus is a student of DJN Ji, GM Suh, and others, a pioneer who had achieved 9th Dan in 1989. I've trained with him several times and been very impressed. His background includes the FBI, studies of the physics of striking, and oriental medicine; and he emphasizes Socially Relevant Expression of Violence (SREV), i.e. how people express violence changes as society advances.

Korea Hapkido Association - Duk Kyu HWANG
Hwang was Ji's first student in Seoul; his father owned the boarding house where DJN Ji was staying. The name has been changed to the Korea New Martial Art Hapkido Association.

Korean Hapkido Association - Moo Woong KIM - helped add the kicks to HKD

Korea Hapkido Federation - Se Lim OH
Oh was an early student of Ji's in Andong, his first school. The KHF overall has a good reputation, with some people in it with impeccable reputations such as Hal Whalen and Holcombe Thomas. But also associated previously was Richard Hackworth., Ocee, Florida. I don't understand all the relationships but Hackworth marketed himself as the US representative for the KHF, plus had a slew of other organizations such as the National Han Moo Kwan Association and the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association. My own experience with him was limited to buying material from him he represented as being the official KHF curriculum. But it was in fact only his requirements, which included some ridiculous things like 1 armed cartwheels. Other reputable HKD people I know of have had much worse experiences with him, including selling false certificates. He's also been in trouble for selling false Kukkiwon Taekwondo certification. I believe the KHF kicked him out in 2003 or 2004, but it took a long time after many many complaints. The point is, buyer beware; any organization can have bad apples.

Korean Martial Arts Brotherhood - This is an umbrella organization between a number of Grandmasters each with their own organizations to support sharing knowledge and training. Involved are GMs Rudy Timmerman, Geoff Booth, James MacMurray, Ian Cyrus, Serge Baubil, and Michal deAlba.

National Korean Martial Arts Association - Rudy Timmerman. Excellent reputation. GM Timmerman is a Kuk Sool and Kong Shin Bup person, a student of In Hyuk SUH, In Sun SEO and others. Based in Canada, his is an organization with a reputation for no politics and helping people learn.

World Hapkido Federation - Kwang Sik MYUNG
This may be the biggest in the US. Myung was a student of Ji's (starting in 1957) that claims Choi as his teacher. Excellent training materials (books and tapes). My 2nd instructor Yon Sun Kim, was affiliated with the WHF, and so was Beck Martial Arts for many years. The reason for switching to DJN Ji's organization for certification was that I have directly studied with DJN Ji many times over more than a decade and have never had the opportunity to directly study with GM Myung.

World Kido Federation/Korea Kido Association - In Sun SEO
Seo was a direct student of Choi's. This is something of an umbrella organization for non-TKD martial arts in Korea. Many Hapkido kwans are members including Rudy Timmerman's National Korean Martial Arts Association and Pelligrini's International Combat HKD Federation so it's a grab bag of people. I've been to seminars of Suh's and can directly witness to his and his direct students' expertise, although I could nit-pick a little on teaching methods. He considers himself the most senior Hapkido person still living and teaching with two exceptions: his elder brother In Hyuk SUH and Han Jae JI. He is actively creating training materials, building a strong organization, and has groomed multiple successors. He is based in California.

World Sin Moo Hapkido Association - Han Jae JI- founder of Hapkido. This is Doju-nim Ji's current organization. It is fairly small and has few training materials available, but is developing more. DJN still actively travels around the world teaching seminars; he's retired 4 or 5 times but always comes back. I've had the pleasure and privilege of hosting him several times and Beck Martial Arts is involved in his organization.

United States Hapkido Federation - Don Burns. Burns is a student of Ki-Duk Lee. This is largely a regional organization in Indiana, but has been around a long time; founded in 1980. It's non-profit with an excellent reputation. Also involved is Robert Spear, author of one of the first Hapkido books.

United States Korean Martial Arts Federation - J.R. West. I've now been to several of Grandmaster West's seminars and hosted him once and have been extremely impressed. His reputation as a superb Hapkido man is well-deserved. The integrity, openess, and skill of this man is amazing. Train with him if you ever get the chance. He puts on a big seminar every six months in Jackson, Mississippi that attracts a lot of major Hapkido people, and his organization involves no politics; simply helping people learn the art.  He is the top student of Dr. He-Young Kimm and Dr. Kimm is always there at the 6-month get-togethers and brings some of his books for sale.  Good chance for autographs.

Universal Hapkido Institute - Ik Hwan KIM

Q. Why do all these 10th Dan HKD Grandmasters who were Ji's students claim Choi as their teacher?

Korean martial artists traditionally study under multiple people and then claim one as their teacher, supposedly the one who most influenced them. So they could study for years under Ji, go to one seminar with Choi, and claim Choi (the more famous person) as their teacher. Ji was a very young man when he first started teaching -- almost all his students were older.

Another reason is that DJN Ji is a very creative individual and would teach whatever he felt like teaching that day. When an organization sets out specific requirements for rank for instance, if he didn't follow them or he promoted someone that hadn't met those specific requirements; it caused problems. He doesn't like doing the administrative work that is necessary to run a good organization. So he'd be involved in founding a HKD organization, then would delegate the admin details, eventually there'd be some disagreement on some detail or another, and he'd leave that organization to found another one.

And DJN admits to not being very likeable when young -- he didn't really mellow and begin using the Taoist theory he put into Sin Moo HKD until after his prison term.

Q. Prison term? What happened?

DJN Ji was the head of the presidential bodyguards when President Chung Hee Park's wife was killed during an attempt on the President's life. DJN Ji was out of the country on R&R at the time. DJN Ji was not the head of the bodyguards when President Park was killed in 1979. The new head bodyguard was with President Park at that time and was also killed. The assassin was the head of the Korean CIA, i.e. someone within President Park's inner circle. But Ji resigned after the assassination anyway. When he became a civilian he joined the Min Jung Dang political party, and got involved with one of two rival groups inside the party. Ji started training some people from the group to protect President Doo CHUN when he would visit party headquarters, and the leader of the other group reported to the president that secret training was going on to overthrow him. Ji received a 1-year prison term. During the term, he was unable to work out, but meditated a great deal, and when he got out started Sin Moo Hapkido

Q. What's the difference between Sin Moo Hapkido and other kinds of Hapkido?

Not much. There is a lot of variance throughout Hapkido, with a wide spread of the amounts of focus on particular types of techniques. But to be called Hapkido it should have some defenses versus all ranges and all types of attacks; and it should include kicks, strikes, throws, joint locks, and pressure points. The percentage of time spent on any particular types of techniques varies much more with the particular instructor than with a particular HKD organization or kwan. Sin Moo Hapkido has essentially the same techniques as other kinds of Hapkido. Sin Moo Hapkido adds more mental and spiritual training, with more stress on meditation and how to live your life.

Q. What are the best (and worst) Hapkido books and videos?

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