Hapkido, like most martial arts, possesses its fair share of myths, legends, rumors, distorted facts, and outright fantasies. The lack of printed material, and the fact that many practitioners distort facts to serve their own interests, has not helped to clarify the historical record. As a result, a number of misconceptions can be encountered by Hapkido students and scholars.

Is Hapkido an ancient art?
Although its roots extend back more than 1000 years, the art of Hapkido did not exist before the mid-twentieth century—neither as a name, nor as a distinct martial system of ideas and techniques. In fact, between 1945 and 1958 Hapkido was called Yu Sul, Yu Kwon Sul, Hapki Yu Kwon Sul, or Kido. Hapkido is primarily thought to be an outgrowth of Japanese Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu, which was reinterpreted and integrated with a broad range of native Korean philosophical ideas and martial techniques. Many of the new techniques Hapkido masters created during the post-war period, such as the modern spin kick (a very fast, explosive, turning heel kick), did not exist in any martial art prior to the 1950s. Consequently, Hapkido cannot be considered an ancient art. Rather, it is a new and unique Korean synthesis of various traditional styles, which have been fused with new innovations. All martial arts have roots which can be traced backward to ancient times. From a technical standpoint, this is why so many martial arts share technical and philosophical similarities. However, this does not make them ancient arts, unless they contain the same techniques employed in ancient times. Very few martial arts do this.

Is Hapkido “purely” Korean?
Most objective historians agree that the cultures of China, Korea, and Japan influenced one another for thousands of years. This was a result of economic trade, frequent wars, the spread of Buddhism, and close geographic relationships. Consequently, no modern Korean, Chinese, or Japanese martial art can claim to have evolved without some form of foreign influence. Many Koreans have tended to downplay the influence of Japanese and Chinese martial arts on Hapkido’s evolution, preferring to link it to Korean history—no doubt due to centuries of foreign oppression and the desire to forge a unique national identity. Japanese and Chinese historians have been guilty of similar distortions in the past.

Is Hapkido a combination of Taekwondo, Aikido, and Judo?
Hapkido, Aikido, and Taekwondo all emerged around the same time, in the mid-twentieth century. Based on this fact alone, it is impossible for Hapkido to be a combination of these martial arts, or vice versa. Similarities in technique result from the fact that all of these arts share common roots. Hapkido and Taekwondo share a common ancestry through native Korean kicking arts. Hapkido, Aikido, and Judo share a common ancestry through Aiki-Jujutsu and Yawara (ancient Jujutsu). Genealogy charts can be found in the book Hapkido: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique, on page 31.*

Is Hapkido very similar to Aikido?
While Hapkido and Aikido share certain technical and philosophical points, they remain very distinct as martial arts. Generally speaking, Aikido stresses non-aggressive joint locks, takedowns, and occasionally a limited number of light strikes. Hapkido possesses a much larger repertoire of strikes, blocks, kicks, joint locks, holds, and throws. Hapkido also permits a much higher level of aggression than found in mainstream Aikido. When looking for comparisons, Hapkido may be more similar to the comprehensive combative systems said to exist in Daito Ryu Aki-Jujutsu before 1943; or in more aggressive and unabridged forms of Tai Chi Chuan. Confusion also results from the similarity of their names. “Aikido” and “Hapkido” are phonetically very similar. Also, both names possess the same basic meaning: harmony, life-energy, the way. This has led the general public to assume a relationship between these martial arts. There is none.

Are Hapkido kicks identical to Taekwondo kicks?
While there are points of similarity, many Hapkido kicks are vastly different than those found in Taekwondo. Both arts blend linear and circular motions, although Hapkido also incorporates many of the unusual spins and body positions more characteristic of native Korean and Chinese kicking styles.

Is Hapkido basically a Korean version of Japanese Jujutsu or Aki‑Jujutsu?
While Hapkido does bear some similarity to these Japanese arts, it also possesses many qualities that are uniquely Korean. In fact, many of its techniques are completely foreign not only to Japanese Jujutsu, but to all Japanese martial arts. Hapkido also possesses a much greater variety of strikes and kicks than is found in any modern Jujutsu system. While many martial arts share common roots, they all evolve in unique ways based on the culture where they reside, and the personalities who provide leadership. Hapkido’s link to Daito Ryu Aki-Jujutsu is based entirely on Yong-Sul Choi’s claim to have studied under Sokaku Takeda for thirty years in Japan. This is thought to be true, although no written records have been found to substantiate this.

Is Hapkido very similar to Hwa Rang Do and Kuk Sool Won?
Technical similarities between these Korean arts are obvious to anyone who has observed them. However, each martial art is organized and taught quite differently. Both Hwa Rang Do and Kuk Sool Won tend to emphasize traditional Korean qualities, historical weapons, and healing arts to a greater degree than does Hapkido. Similarities probably result from the fact that all three martial arts developed in close contact, synthesized similar native Korean techniques (particularly kicking skills), and shared similar teachers. Many individuals believe that Joo-Bang Lee (founder of Hwa Rang Do), and In Hyuk Suh (founder of Kuk Sool Won) were both students of Hapkido pioneer Yong-Sul Choi. This has not been verified. In Hyuk Suh states he was never a student of Choi. Lee states he and his brother achieved master-level under Choi in 1955 (the name Hapkido did not yet exist). Lee states he already possessed an extensive background in other traditional Korean martial arts, and points to these earlier styles and his other teacher, Suahm Dosa, as being the source for Hwa Rang Do. Interviews with Lee and Suh are found in the book Hapkido: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique, on pages 88 and 92.*

Are all Hapkido techniques based on large circular movements?
Circular movements in Hapkido can be either large or small, depending upon the technique or Hapkido system. Different systems often have different preferences. In the hands of highly-skilled practitioners, many Hapkido techniques are applied using small, tight circular movements (particularly joint locks). Nonetheless, Hapkido is often incorrectly perceived as an art of large circular motions. Inaccurate perceptions regarding Hapkido’s circular movement likely stem from the following: When teaching circular movements (e.g., joint locks), the traditional methodology was to initially teach large circular motions, which were gradually made smaller over a period of years. This made the techniques safer (also less effective), and assisted students in understanding basic movements and biomechanical principles. It was also done to camouflage the real nature of the technique, until students had proved their loyalty over many years. In other words, students basically practiced “bad” technique until their master decided to give them the key that allowed them to progress to a higher level. This practice of “holding back” was common to most Asian martial arts. Unfortunately, this practice also produced teachers who were practicing and passing-on improper techniques. Today, many American instructors are beginning to introduce small circular motions at the beginner level, allowing students to progress at a much faster rate.

Previous text copyright 2000 by Marc Tedeschi. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.
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