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The History of Hapkido

By Scott Shaw

Yong Shul Choi, the founder of Hapkido, was born in the town of Yong Dong, Choong Chung Province, relatively near Taegue, South Korea in 1904. In 1909 Korea came under Japanese occupation. It is believed that Japanese troops took Young Shul Choi from his homeland at the age of seven to be assigned work in Japan. Sadly, it was a very common practice, at that period of history, for the Japanese occupying forces to relocate young male Korean children to Japan for various types of labor.

As fate would have it, Choi eventually came to work for, Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943), the 32nd patriarch of Daito Ryu Aikijitsu. Takeda was forty-four years old at the time Choi, a seven-year-old boy, came to his service. Choi was given the Japanese name Yoshida, Asao. The first or given name, Tatjuttsu, that is propagated as being the name Choi used in Japan is not a valid Japanese name. Therefore, it is historically inaccurate to believe he went by this name.

Takeda and Choi

Choi, now living under the employee of Takeda, in Hokkaido, was not treated as an adopted son by Takeda, as legend has led many modern Hapkido practitioners to believe. In fact, Choi was simply an employee of Takeda.

We must place this association into historical perspective to understand the true relationship between Takeda and Choi. At this juncture of history, the Japanese viewed themselves as the "Divine race." Koreans were simply thought of as a conquered people. Takeda, perhaps came to be found of Choi, but due to his cultural programming, he would never have accepted him as a son. Certainly, there were affluent individuals, of Korean descent, who lived in Japan during this period and were more readily assimilated in Japanese martial culture. Unfortunately, Choi did not possess this status and was forced to live a life supported by labor.

It is important to note that the true relationship between Choi and Takeda was clearly known to all of Choi's early students - including Hwa Rang Do Grandmaster and Founder Joo Bong Lee and Choi's first student, Suh, Bok Sup. It is the later generations of western students who were lead to believe that Choi was the adopted son of Takeda. Though it is impossible to say where this myth was born, all of those who propagate this falsehood base their knowledge on one interview conducted with Choi in 1982. It may simply be that Choi's statements were misinterpreted or mistranslated in this interview, as the statement of him being the adopted son of Takeda was never mentioned in an media report in Korea. Therefore, it is factually inaccurate to perpetuate the belief that Choi was the adopted son of Takeda.

Takeda's own son, Tokimune Takeda, stated that he never knew Choi, Yong Shul. This may be explained by the fact that Takeda possessed two distinct households. Only one of which housed his family. In addition, Japanese immigration records, of the late 1930's and early 1940's, list Choi, under his Japanese name, as an employee of Takeda.

Choi remained in the employ of Takeda for thirty years until 25 April 1943 when Takeda died. At that point he took his leave from the house of Takeda and shortly thereafter returned to the Taegue area of Korea.

It must be noted that there is no historic record of Choi ever being certified as a student or teacher of Daito Ryu. The myth that Choi lost his certificates while returning to Korea is a falsehood as there is in-depth records of every Daito Ryu Aikijitsu student kept in Japan. Choi, by his Korean or Japanese name, was never listed. This fact substantiates the true relationship between Choi and Takeda. Choi, however, for decades was under the direct influence of the art. He obviously mastered its techniques.

The Birth of Hapkido

As stated, Choi remained with Takeda for thirty years until Takeda's death. Relieved of his duties, Choi returned to Korea.

Choi's first student was a successful brewery manager named, Suh, Bok Sup. Prior to his study with Choi he had been awarded a 1st Dan Black Belt in Judo, under the direction of Korean Judo instructor, Choi, Yong Ho. In February of 1948, the twenty-four year old Suh witnessed Choi, who was then in his forties, get into a fight with several men. Choi rapidly devastated his opponents. So impressed with his technique, Suh summoned Choi to his office and inquired as to his style. This meeting eventually lead to Suh hiring Choi, who had previously been a poor rice cake seller and hog farmer since his return to Korea. Choi would teach Suh for several years privately, eventually also became a bodyguard for Suh's father, Suh, Dong Jin.

Suh, Bok Sup became instrumental in helping Choi open his first school of self-defense, which was established in February of 1951. He also became his first Black Belt. Due to Suh's advanced understanding of Judo, Suh lent some of this knowledge to the system that later became known as Hapkido. Many of the basic sleeve grabs, shoulder grabs, and throws, used in Hapkido, can trace their origin to Judo.

The initial name of the system of self-defense Choi taught was, Dae Dong Ryu Yu Sool. This is the Korean translation for Daito Ryu Jujitsu.

Initially, Choi taught his students a very pure form of Daito Ryu Aikijitsu. Many of the later students of Hapkido attempt to falsely date the origin of Hapkido to some ancient Korean art. This is historically inaccurate. Choi, himself, never made this claim.

As time progressed and other Korean martial art pioneers, such as General Hong Hi Choi (Taekwondo) and Hwang Kee (Tang Soo Do) were rediscovering and expanding upon the offensive nature of Tae Kyon, their discoveries influenced some of the advanced students of Choi, such as Ji, Han Jae, who slowly began to incorporate the very aggressive punching and kicking techniques into the overall understanding of Hapkido. Choi, himself, never taught kicking in association with Hapkido, however.

Hapkido's final criteria came through a slow testing period, as did the other martial art systems born on the newly independent Korean Peninsula. Even the name Hapkido went through various changes, including: Yu Kwon Sul, Yu Sool, Ho Shin Mu Do, and Bi Sool.

Today, there is no one system of Hapkido, as is the case with WTF Taekwondo, for example. As time has gone on, each teacher and ensuing organization has integrated their own understandings and self defense realizations into this art. There are, however, two distinct types of Hapkido. The first are the schools that hold tightly to the original teachings of Yong Shul Choi. This style of Hapkido will commonly be observed when visiting or studying in the Hapkido dojangs located in the Taegue vicinity of South Korea. Here, the focus is placed primarily upon the Daito Ryu based joint locks, deflections, and throws. The second distinct style of Hapkido is those instructors, schools, and organizations that trace their lineage to Grandmaster Ji, Han Jae - whether directly or indirectly. In these schools one will observe a plethora of punching, kicking, and weapon techniques, in association with the joint locks and throws commonly associated with Hapkido. This style of Hapkido will commonly be observed at the dojangs based in Seoul, South Korea and, in fact, most of the Western world.

The continued evolution of Hapkido is a good thing. It has allowed the art to change and embrace the needs of each student in their own unique way.

Ji, Han Jae and the Evolution of Hapkido

Grandmaster Ji, Han Jae was born in Andong, Korea in 1936. He was a student of Yong Shul Choi between approximately 1949 and 1956. He opened his first school, known as An Mu Kwan, in 1956 in Andong, South Korea. Later that year, he moved his school to Seoul and shortly there after renamed it, Sung Moo Kwan. At that time he held the rank of 3rd Dan Black Belt in Hapkido, then known as Yu Kwan Sul.

Grandmaster Ji is said to have additionally studied the ancient Korean martial arts and meditation from a Taoist monk referred to only as, Taoist Lee. Ji states that he combined the techniques of his two teachers and invented the term Hapkido in 1959. Original students of Choi Dojunim say, however, that the term Hapkido was first used by Choi before Grandmaster Ji decided to use the name. Thus, this issue may never be fully resolved as to who first used the name. But, it is of little historic importance.

It must be noted that due to the fact that Grandmaster Ji relocated to Seoul, he was central to the homebase of the evolving Korean martial arts. As such, he was exposed to the advanced kicking techniques that were being integrated into these modern systems of self-defense. Thus, he was the person who integrated the advanced methods of offensive and defensive kicking into Hapkido. In addition, he was the first instructor to add such weapons to the art as the short and middle staff, known as Don Bong and Jung Bong respectively, and the Hapkido cane.

Due to his strategic location and dynamic personality, he became a very influential figure in the development and evolution of Hapkido. He was the instructor of many Hapkido practitioners who later become very famous masters of the art and spread Hapkido across the world. These students include: Grandmaster Kwon, Tae Mon (one of his first students and a man who helped introduce Hapkido to the United States ), Grandmaster Myung, Jae Nam, Grandmaster Choi, Sea Oh, and Grandmaster Han, Bong Soo - to name just a few. As such, Ji has done more to expand upon the original system of Hapkido and to promote the art around the world than any other individual. There is more direct and indirect student of Ji, Han Jae's style of Hapkido than any other Hapkido instructor in history.

Several of his original students no longer wish to be associated with him, however, due to differing personal ideologies. Thus, many Korean instructors no longer reference him as the source of their knowledge. Instead, they claim they studied directly from Yong Shul Choi - though this is factually not the case.

In 1961, Kim, Yong Jin who opened the Oh Ji Kwan School of Hapkido, joined Grandmaster Ji in Seoul. Soon after that, Kim, Moo Hong established Sin Moo Kwan Hapkido.

In 1967 Grandmaster Ji initiated the use of the eagle as the logo for Hapkido. Later that same year, the first textbook on Hapkido was written by Hapkido Masters: Nyung, Kwan Shik and Kim, Jong Tek.

In 1968 another student of Ji, Myung, Kwan Shik, opened a new Hapkido Kwan in Seoul. It was called Young Moo Kwan.

In 1969, Grandmaster Ji first visited the United States and was introduced to Bruce Lee by Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee. He later appeared in Bruce Lee's film, "Game of Death."

In 1984, Grandmaster Ji officially relocated to the U.S. and formed, Sin Moo Hapkido. "Sin," referring to "Higher Mind," and "Moo," to "Warrior Ways."

Historically, it can be understood that Grandmaster Ji, Han Jae was one of the most influential and instrumental proponents of the art of Hapkido - no matter who invented the name. Though he greatly expanded upon the art, as many advanced masters have done, he was, none-the-less, a direct student of Choi Dojunim. Thus, he did not invent the art. The foundation of Hapkido must be ultimately attributed to Choi, Yong Shul.

Hapkido's Governing Bodies

By the early 1960's the various South Korean based schools of Hapkido were already fragment from the original teaching of Yong Shul Choi. Seeking an official governing body, advanced teachers the art petition the Korean government for a formalized organization. On September 2, 1963, the Korean Ministry of Education granted a charter to the Korea Kido Association. This extended this organization the right to supervise and regulate the standards of teaching, as well as promotion requirements for Hapkido and thirty additional Korean martial arts that had not congregated under the banner of Taekwondo. The first chairman of the Korea Kido Association (Ki Do Hae) was Choi, Yong Shul. Its first President was Lee, Kyu Jin, who held this position for two terms. Ji, Han Jae and other Korean Hapkido masters were additionally on its Board of Directors. In 1967, a new President, Kim, Du Young was elected. He held this position for several terms. On 26 January 1978, at the eighth Ki Do Hae election, a new president, Choi, Byung Rin, was elected. And, Choi, Byung Gu was elected the new Chairman. At the ninth Ki Do Hae election, held on 5 April 1981, Pyo, Si Chan was elected the organization's new president.

On the first of June, 1983, at the tenth Ki Do Hae election, Suh, In Hyuk was appointed the Chairman. And, 10th Dan, Kuk Sool Won, Grandmaster, Seo, In Sun was elected its president.

Grandmaster Seo was the first non-politician and actual martial art master to hold this appointment. He has maintained this position since his election.

The Evolution of the Korea Hapkido Association

As time progressed, fragmentation of Hapkido continued. This was due to ongoing individual differences. In 1965, Ji, Han Jae left the Korea Kido Association. He formed and became President of Daehan Hapkido Hae, The Korea Hapkido Association. This association was formed with the blessing of then South Korean President Park, Chung Hee.

The reason President Park was so in favor of this new organization was, in no small part, due to the fact that Park, Jong Kyu, a student of Ji, Han Jae and head of the Presidential Protective Forces, was an instrumental element in its formation. In 1973 Ji, Han Jae resigned from this organization, with the hopes of taking many of its members with him and bringing them to a new organization he was instrumental in creating: The Republic of Korea Hapkido Association.

What is now known as the Korea Hapkido Association has gone through several incarnations. Its presidents have included, in addition to Ji, Han Jae: Kim, Woo Choong, Kim, Gye Ho, Park, Dow Soon, and Hwang, Duk Kyu.

Myung, Jae Nam

Another essential figure in the development of Hapkido is Myung, Jae Nam. Myung was born on 31 December 1938. He began his Hapkido training in 1958 under the direction of Ji, Han Jae at Ji's Joong Boo Si Jang studio in Seoul. He trained next to several other influential Hapkido Masters, including: Han, Bong Soo and Choi, Sea Ho. Myung was one of the original Masters on the board of directors of the Korea Hapkido Association and was awarded his 8th Dan by Ji, Han Jae in 1972.

Prior to this, however, it is interesting to note that in 1965, Myung, Jae Nam was the only master of Hapkido to heartily welcome a Japanese Aikido instructor, Hirata Sensei, who was touring Korea. The less than warm reception for a visiting Japanese Sensei was obviously due to the remaining Korean distaste for the Japanese due to Japanese occupation. For the next several years, Myung exchanged techniques with the man. Myung eventually formed an alliance with Japanese Aikikai. In 1969, when Grandmaster Myung formed his own organization and named it, Han Kuk Hapkisool Hae, the certificates he issued had the name of Aikido's founder, Uyeshiba Morihei on them in association with his own.

From that point forward, until his death in 1999, Myung, Jae Nam was the Korean representative for Aikikai. In his version of Hapkido there are many Aikido based techniques.

From 1969 forward his organization continued to evolve. In 1972 he moved the location of his headquarters from Inchon to Bukchang-Dong, Chung-Ku, in Seoul and renamed his organization Han Kuk Hapki Hae, The Korea Hapki Association. In 1974 he changed the name to Kuk Jae Yong Meng Hapki Hae. This organization is more commonly known as, The International Hapkido Federation.

The Korea Hapkido Federation

The birth of the Korea Hapkido Federation can be traced to Grandmaster Ji, Han Jae. In 1973 he invited two advanced masters of Hapkido: Kim, Moo Wong, and Myung, Jae Nam, to join him. Both of which were previously his students. They untied their individual organizations. They named the newly formed association, Dae Han Min Kuk Hapkido Hyub Hae, The Republic of Korea Hapkido Federation. Ji, Han Jae was the first to leave this organization. Grandmaster Myung eventually left the organization, as well. A new organization emerged from the foundations of this association, The Korea Hapkido Federation.

Oh, Se Lim was elected the president Korea Hapkido federation. He has remained the president of this organization since its inception. Today, the Korea Hapkido Federation is the largest, wholly Hapkido, governing body for Hapkido in the world.

Prior to 1990, the Korean Hapkido Federation, and all other South Korean based non-Taekwondo martial art organizations, were required to be a part of the South Korea Amateur Athletic Association. (this was the equivalent to holding nonprofit status). Each of these associations were required to register their Black Belts with the Korea Kido Association (Ki Do Hae), if they wished their students and instructors to possess Korean certification. In 1990, governmental and organizational laws changed in South Korea, however, and the various established martial art organizations were allowed to become financial based entities. Due to this fact, the Korean Hapkido Federation and other established Korean martial art organizations broke away from Ki Do Hae and were allowed to offer promotions without Ki Do Hae approval.

During this period of change in South Korea, in 1990, Korea Ki Do Hae expanded and instituted a new branch of operation known as, The World Ki Do Association. This branch of Ki Do Hae was formed to supply legitimate non-Korean martial artists with rank recognition from South Korea.

Hapkido was formally introduced into the United States in 1964 by then twenty-eight year old, Sea Oh Choi. At that time he held the rank of 5th Dan Black Belt. Though not the first Hapkido Black Belt to immigrate to America, he was the first instructor to open a Hapkido school in the United States. The name of the school was the Hapki-Jujitsu School of Self Defense. It was located at 821 Temple Street in Los Angeles, California. He later relocated his school to 721 S. Western Ave. Master Choi retired from teaching Hapkido in the mid 1970's at the rank of 6th Dan to pursue a career in architecture and interior design.