A History and Style Guide of Hapkido

Sport/Diverse: Hamburger Sportwochenende
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What caused the martial arts style of Hapkido to grow? Effectiveness. As history tells it, a Korean man by the name of Suh Bok Sub watched one man amazingly defend himself against multiple attackers. Being a judo black belt himself, Suh invited this man, Choi Yong Sul, to train with him. Choi brought knowledge of Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu to the table.

Though there are many different accounts of hapkido's history, one thing is for certain. These two Korean nationals sure had a lot to do with it.

Hapkido History and Choi Yong Sul

Choi Yong Sul (1899-1986) set in motion the teachings that would eventually become known as hapkido. Choi, a Korean, moved to Japan as a young boy where he claimed the following:

  • To have learned Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu, a precursor of aikido, under Takeda Sokaku for approximately 30 years.
  • That he is the only one that learned the full extent of Takeda's teachings and was adopted by him.

Many argue that Takeda would never have adopted a poor Korean boy (the Japanese considered themselves superior) and that Choi was likely a servant. The degree to which Choi trained under Takeda is also a contentious topic.

Hapkido History and Suh Bok-Sub

Suh Bok Sub was Choi's first student. A judo black belt by his 20's, he became interested in Choi's teachings after seeing him defend himself against the attackers noted earlier at a brewery company he was chairman of. Soon after, Choi began teaching his martial arts style to Suh and some of his workers at Suh's dojang.

The art became more formal and grew as these two worked together. One of the ways the style grew, in fact, happened via publicity when Suh defeated a much larger brother in law of one of his father's political adversaries in hand to hand combat.

Hapkido History and Ji Han Jae

If Choi Yong Sul started hapkido, Ji Han Jae popularized it. Serving as head hapkido instructor to the presidential bodyguard under Korean President Park Jung Hee, Ji's connections gave the art clout, allowing him to eventually form the Korea Hapkido Association in 1965. Further, he added more Korean punching and kicking techniques to the art and founded his own style (sin moo hapkido) after moving to Germany and then the U.S. in 1984. In 1986, Ji claimed to have founded hapkido instead of Choi, noting his influence on striking and weapons. Of course, this is highly disputed.

The Name Hapkido

The term hapkido literally translates to "The way of coordination and internal power." Historical accounts of who and how this name was given to the martial arts style of hapkido differ. Suh Bok Sub said that in 1959, he and Choi decided to shorten the name of the art from 'hapki yu kwon sool' to Hapkido. However, Ji Han Jae once asserted that he was the first to use the term 'hapkido' to refer to the art in question. What we do know is that the style's name can be written utilizing the same traditional Chinese characters which would have been used to refer to the Japanese martial art of aikido prior to 1945.

Characteristics of Hapkido

Hapkido attempts to be a complete fighting style, rather than a specialization art. Along with this, it uses the soft techniques it borrowed from aikido to use an opponents' energy against them with throws and standing joint locks, along with the hard punching and kicking techniques it borrowed from Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do. Weapons usage is also focused on. One of the things that makes hapkido somewhat unique is its use of circular rather than linear movements.

Hapkido is meant to be a style of self-defense, not sport. That said, some styles of hapkido do teach a level of grappling.

Basic Goals of Hapkido

The basic goals of Hapkido are tied to its attempts at self-defense. Thus, a practitioners' goal will be to disable their opponent. Oftentimes this is done by using striking to bridge distance before clinching and gaining a takedown/throw. There, one of several techniques, including a joint lock, may be used to stop an adversary.

Major Hapkido Organizations

  • International Combat Hapkido Federation (ICHF)
  • International Hapkido Federation (IHF)
  • International H.K.D Federation (IHF)
  • JungKiKwan Hapkido Association (JHA)
  • Korea Hapkido Federation (KHF)
  • Korea Hapkido Federation Yoo Sool Kwan Brazil
  • World Hapkido Association (WHA)


As with all martial arts styles with some history to them, an abundance of offshoots of hapkido have sprung up. That said, these all share several commonalities with the art of hapkido that Choi first initiated. Here is a sampling:

  • Combat Hapkido
  • Jin Jung Kwan Hapkido
  • Shinshei Hapkido
  • Sin Moo Hapkido

Some Arts That Hapkido Sprang From:

  • Aikido: Choi Yong Sul learned Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu under Takeda Sokaku while in Japan. This art would form the basis for aikido later. Aikido's influence in throws and joint locks can very much be seen in hapkido's teachings.
  • Judo: Due to judo black belt Suh Bok Sub's help formulating the art, Hapkido employs many judo style takedowns.
  • Tae Kwon Do: The kicks and punches from this Korean striking art were brought into hapkido mostly through the influence of Kim Moo Hong (student of Choi and Suh) and Ji Han Jae.
  • Tang Soo Do: Similarly, Tang Soo Do style striking was also brought in.