What is Hapkido?... and my biased view

In my first blog I thought the best place to start is to explain what Hapkido is. Not just for the benefit of anyone coming across this by chance but also my existing students. In part this was spurred on by one of my existing students telling me how he was once asked what Hapkido is and by his own admission he struggled to explain and do the martial art justice. He actually tried to recite something he read on a t-shirt I own, something that was a little tongue-in-cheek. This served as a little lesson for me as the student in question has been training with us for a couple of years and is becoming quite skilled, but it is fair to say he doesn’t know what he is getting skilled in. The question then needs to be asked – do any of the students?

I am sure this is the same across many martial arts clubs across the world. People want to learn a martial art, want some self defence skills or want to learn how to fight so they visit a club and if they find something they like they continue with it. This is fine, so long as they are enjoying themselves and learning along the way then there is no issue. However, to be a true Hapkido practitioner (or other martial art) I believe you need to have a deeper understanding of what you are studying.

Hopefully this piece of writing will help my students with that and also anyone else coming across this.

Hapkido is a Korean martial art which has a fairly young history. The origins of the art are a little shady but Choi Yong-Sul is the man credited with its birth. Having studied Aiki-Jujutsu for many years in Japan it was when Choi Yong-Sul returned to Korea after World War II that the art of Hapkido was founded. Being closely related to Aikido it was later that it was adapted by a small group to what the art is today, being more dynamic and incorporating a wide array of strikes.

Hap-Ki-Do can be translated to “the art of coordinated power” or “the way of coordinated energy” – in layman’s terms this is a martial art which utilizes good foot positioning and balance to use the attackers own force against them. This is further understood by looking at the three theories that lie behind Hapkido:

Yu – flowing water (think of the Bruce Lee philosophy of ‘be like water’). It adapts to its surroundings, fit into any situation and can be extremely powerful.

Won – circle. Momentum and leverage is stored for redirection without the loss of balance and efficiency.

Wha – harmony. The theory of being at one with body, spirit, mind and environment. Practicing the techniques so many times that eventually the mind and body act as one. Then when faced with an attack the practitioner reacts by instinct.

These can be looked into in far more detail but for now it should give some sort of basic understanding.

It is important to know that there are different types of martial arts available to everyone nowadays. With this I don’t mean the huge list including, Judo, Aikido, Muay Thai, many styles of Karate etc. Martial arts can be split into categories of Sport Martial Arts and Self Defence Martial Arts. This is very basic and can be further done by splitting between traditional and modern arts or hard and soft styles. There are also crossovers in the categories, often dictated by the club itself. In the basic form though Hapkido is a self defence martial art and it falls somewhere in between the hard a soft styles.

As an art Hapkido utilizes both long distance and close range fighting techniques. This means that someone experienced in Hapkido will have a skill set to handle a variety of different situations and feel ‘comfortable’ no matter where the fight goes (water principal). Some martial arts focus on keeping the fight at long range and these are traditionally very good at kicks, hand strikes and movement. Put in a situation where they are grabbed by an attacker or even end up on the floor they might struggle more. The same is to be said about a grappler who is made to keep the fight at a distance. A Hapkido practitioner will have the skills to defend themselves at both distances.

(What is Hapkido Continued...)

I need to make it clear at this point that I love all martial arts and I think they all have something good to offer on every level. The end goal of all martial arts should be to develop such a level of awareness that confrontational situations are avoided or stopped before they start anyway. My view and explanation of Hapkido may appear very biased but I have personally studied it for many years and enjoy teaching it so much because I know what it offers. Please do not take my bias approach as a slur on any other styles. I regularly try to adapt what I teach from what I have learnt from other martial arts.

Back to it…
At longer distances Hapkido uses a range of highly refined hand and kicking techniques and at close range uses joint locks, throws, chokes and pressure point strikes. Grappling also plays an important part here. In the art too there is the use of weapons both for defence and attack.
Strength versus strength is avoided in Hapkido and the use of footwork, body positioning and the transfer of body weight allows a student to defend themselves against a larger, stronger attacker.

With such a vast amount techniques at the disposal a Hapkido practitioner has a choice to make. This choice is whether to injure or control the attacker. The right choice is always dependant on each individual situation and over time it is important that this isn’t a conscious choice, it should be instinctive to leave full focus on the situation and not how to deal with it. Generally strikes would be used to injure and joint locks, throws etc used to control. There is of course a fine line where the locks can be used to injure. Also the strikes can be used to set up the control. Here is an example of the injure-control decision:
You’re in a bar having a quiet drink when a very drunk man, who can barely
stand, bumps into you and knocks your drink over. You let this pass but then
the drunk blames you and picks a fight with you. Swinging his hands wildly
in your direction you now have a choice to make. Do you injure or control?

If he wasn’t drunk he probably wouldn’t be acting in this manner and the fact he can barely stand nor form his words correctly would indicate that he is of little threat to you. The right choice here would be to control him until he calms down. To kick and punch him to cause injury could land you in trouble with the police as ‘another pub brawl’ and to be fair beating someone up who is so drunk would be a very shallow victory.

There is a lot to learn in Hapkido. So many techniques but also more refined skills such as body positioning, balance and focussing on your attackers energy. With the techniques it is important to learn and practice all – kicks, jumping kicks, punches, locks, throws…everything there is to offer that can all be used to cover a variety of situations. That said it is also important for each individual to select their own ‘favourite’ techniques that suit their body type and allow them to be more instinctive than anything else.

At our Hapkido club in Middlesbrough we cover all aspects of the martial art but emphasise the self-defence training. We unfortunately live in a world where attacks happen in each town daily whether it be muggings, sexual attacks or fights in pubs and clubs. We want to help our students get to a stage where they feel confident that they can look after themselves and their loved ones. But ideally we want to help people avoid these situations completely and if in the next 20 years not one of my students has to use the techniques I have taught them I will class this as a bigger success story than being told that the techniques do work. However, if we always work at worse case scenario then we are working toward always being prepared.

Matt Fawcett
4th Dan Black Belt