Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool -
The harmonized power of the soft fist arts

Hapkido has deep and ancient roots

If an average person, untrained in the martial arts, were to witness a Hapkido and an Aikido demonstration they would certainly enjoy the spectacle. If that same person were then told that what they witnessed was a demonstration of two distinct martial arts, one Korean and one Japanese, they likely wouldn’t believe it. To the uninitiated, one martial art looks very much like the other except for the traditional uniform, especially if they see two similar defences against a punch. In fact, even the semi-knowledgeable person might believe that Hapkido, a Korean martial art, evolved from Aikido, a Japanese martial art.

This confusion may arise from a vague notion that, Choi, Yong Sool, the founder of Hapkido, might have studied under Ueshiba Morehei, the founder of Aikido. This is based on the fact that they both studied under Takeda Sokaku, a Daito-ryu Aikijujitsu grandmaster, in the early part of the 20th century. Quite coincidentally, this is the only thread that connects both arts. Each master studied under Takeda Sokaku but for different lengths of time. Ueshiba Morehei studied Daito-ryu Aikijujitsu under Takeda Sokaku for seven years during the period that Choi was in the service of Takeda Sokaku. Choi, Yong Sool, it is widely believed, lived and studied with Takeda Sokaku for 30 years returning to Taegu, Korea upon the master's death. This is usually why many will draw this comparison or relationship between the two. Though Hapkido and Aikido have the same roots and many similar techniques they are quite different in philosophy.

As we are practitioners of Hapkido I shall lay out the development of our martial art, drawing on various historical sources, leading to modern-day Hapkido.

A Brief Historical View of the Evolution of Korea

It has been recognized that ancient Korean history began around 700,000 BC through human habitation1. Berkely University marks the following dates as some of the more significant watersheds in Korea's Ancient Period (Prehistory to 108 BC):
   • 700,000 BC: beginning of human habitation on the Korean peninsula
   • 6000 BC to 4000 BC: Korea's New Stone Age
   • 2333 BC: Tan'gun Wang Gom founds Old Choson
   • 1000 BC (approximate): start of Bronze Age in Korea
   • 194 BC: Wimam Wang usurps King Jun - Wimam Choson Period
   • 108 BC: Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty invades Korea

Korea's recorded history goes back to 7197 BC beginning with the Han Kuk, the first Korean nation which, according to legend, was established by the god of Heaven2. This new nation is said to have reached north beyond the Korean peninsula to take in present-day China and Siberia. Inevitably, this placed Korea in a position where she was influenced by various foreign elements. Despite a constant cross-pollination of culture and art Korea was able to maintain its identity throughout this ancient period. Korea is sometimes referred to as the "cultural bridge" between China and Japan.

The Earliest References to Ki - Universal Energy

It is speculated that, between 7197 BC and 3899 BC, the foundations of ancient martial arts philosophies was formed. The Korean book, Sam Sung Ki, makes a first reference to ki in the following passage:

    "In the oldest days of the world, a lonely god became flesh under a Siberian sky, shinning a bright light throughout the universe and created all things therein. He moved through the perfect power of Ki (energy of nature) and it was delightful and wondrous. Things could be seen without physical form; things were accomplished without words of command."

This corresponds to a popular Korean myth that tells of Hwan Ung, the son of the god Hwan In, who craved for earthly powers to allow him to rule over humankind. Hwan In, aware of his son's desires, sent Hwan Ung to earth with a sword, a mirror, a drum, and 3,000 soldiers to a place under the trees around the holy altar on Mt. T'aebaek. From this place Hwan Ung commanded the Lord of Wind, the Master of Rain and the Master of Cloud as well as attend to the planting of grain, the regulation of life, sickness and judged good and evil.

The Birth of Korean Martial Arts

The recorded history of Korean martial arts seems to originate with Woon Sah. Woon Sah, according to legend, guarded Chun Wang, the last ruler of the Old Choson, with a "general's sword" and 100 warriors. He stated that Chi Woo, the 14th emperor of the Shin Si Foundation, was responsible for the development of the traditional form of Korean martial arts called Sun Bae. According to Korean history, Emperor Chi Woo developed weapons made of iron and attained great power by defeating his enemies with superior tactical warfare and the use of the martial arts.

Chan (Zen/Son) and Buddhist Influence in Korea and the Martial Arts

Many historians make reference to ancient Chinese folklore that tell of how Chan (Zen/Son) teachers, along with their followers, had developed defensive fighting skills based on their spiritual philosophies. These skills, founded in and developed through Taoist philosophies, were used to protect themselves against attacks by the "emperor's soldiers." As time evolved, many of the Chan masters taught others they met in their travels in Chan (The Way). Quite naturally, their acquired knowledge in the martial arts was also passed on to the inhabitants of far off lands like Korea. Through assimilation, each region (country) they visited developed their own forms of martial arts.

Buddhism, the Indian religion, came to China during the Hu Han Mal (the late Han period around 67 BC) and eventually, spilled into the Korean kingdom of Koguryo in 372 AD. Buddhism and Taoism, although espousing opposing religious and philosophical edicts had enough basic similarities to coexist comfortably. Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Son (Zen in Japanese/Chan in Chinese) Buddhism began teaching Son (Zen) to the monks of China after his arrival in 520 AD.

The Shilla kingdom ruler, King Pap Heung, adopted Buddhism as the Korean State’s official religion, which finally gave the Buddhist monks there prominence in Korean society, government and the royal court. As a result, the Buddhist monastic order grew, as monasteries were built and Korean art and culture developed.

Many scholars credit Bodhidharma, with laying the foundation to the philosophical teachings of the martial arts but many others will argue that notion. Nevertheless, Zen Buddhism, an integration of Taoist and Buddhist tenets, was eventually adopted by Korean Buddhist monks through exchanges between Chinese and Korean monks. As the Korean monks were also practicing their own forms of martial arts, it stands to reason that Zen Buddhism also influenced their martial arts disciplines.

Hwarang Warriors

King Chinhung rose to power in 540 AD. During this period in Korean history the kingdoms of Shilla, Koguryo and Paekche and China were embroiled in a number of political and territorial disputes which threatened to divide, and weaken, the Korean peninsula. China’s army far outnumbered the combined armies of Korea’s kingdoms and King Chinhung constantly worried about invasion. Since he could not possibly match his enemies’ armies in numbers he decided he could at least create an army of soldiers that would outmatch them in skill on the battlefield. He created the Hwarang (Flowering Youth) Warriors.

The Hwarang warriors were selected from Korea's noble families that were known to be exceedingly loyal to the throne. Young men, some as young as 12, were gathered together and submitted to aselection process which included instruction in Buddhism, poetry and song. Those noble youths who fared well were considered to possess the qualities necessary to serve the king as Hwarang Warriors. Their next phase of training involved training in a variety of martial art disciplines and continued training in Buddhism and the arts. Their physical training program involved mountain climbing, swimming in turbulent and freezing rivers. Their martial training also included the mastery of weapons such as sword, staff, hook, spear, and bow.

King Chinhung's aim was to ensure these warriors were trained in the most lethal and modern methods of martial combat arts while also teaching them about the cultural arts. The famous Buddhist monk, Won Kwang Bopsa, taught the Hwarang Warriors a martial art he had developed based on harmony with the laws of nature. The Hwarang were the embodiment of culture and chivalry guided by a code of ethics laid down by their teacher known as the Code of the Hwarang. Some of its elements still exist to this day. The original code read: 1.) serve the king with loyalty, 2.) obey your parents, 3.) honour your friends, 4.) never retreat in battle, and 5.) kill justly. Marc Tedeschi, in his book Hapkido: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique (p. 27, Weatherhill, CT, 2000), writes:
"In addition to being warriors, they are reputed to have established a high moral code of conduct and were schooled in the intellectual and cultural arts of the time. They were later instrumental in unifying Korea and are also thought to have influenced development of Japanese Bushido ("way of the warrior"), a code of ethics followed by the Japanese warrior-classes."

Their empty hand techniques were famous for their blend of hard and soft and linear and circular attacks. These blended techniques were based on Won Kwang Bopsa's concepts of the harmony of opposites - Um (Yin) and Yang. The ferocity of the Hwarang Warrior became legendary and their exploits are recorded in poetry and literature. This literature became part of Korean folklore and evolved into a true model of the martial art code of ethics and chivalry. The code eventually evolved into a more modern system of martial arts ethics and morality essential to the warrior's mental state. Ego and self-interest were never a factor in the warrior's balanced mental state. The Hwarang are credited with leading the unified Three Kingdoms of Korea against a superior Chinese army between 671 and 676 AD.

Early Aikijujitsu and the Hapkido Connection

As mentioned already, the region experienced a vast exchange of art and culture. This exchange eventually included Japan. As a result, China's civilization had a great influence on Korean and Japanese cultural developments. Zen (Chan/Son), the martial arts and Buddhism lessons were exchanged among travelling monks and absorbed into native martial arts as they developed. One such art is Yawara (an ancient form of Jujitsu) which is thought to have emerged before 500 AD and may have influenced the eventual development of Aiki-Jujitsu and Jujitsu. Such an influential development involved an unidentified Korean prince3.

From 668 AD the Shilla kingdom dominated the Korean peninsula and there was an abundance of martial arts styles growing in popularity along with a boon in many other cultural developments. Korean folklore tells of a Paekche prince, believed to be called Sadsumi (known as Prince Teijun in Korean), who fled to Japan to escape political persecution. He brought with him a popular martial art that was principally based on defensive techniques, circle movements and using the opponent's force against him known as Yu Sool (Soft Art)4.

Sadsumi's name is inscribed on the Daito-Ryu family scroll, third from the top of the hierarchical lineage of the Daito family martial art masters. As the Japanese kept meticulous records of their family and clan history, in particular the history of their martial arts it can only be deduced that Sadsumi had a major influence in the development of early aikijujitsu.

Yu Sool, the soft art, is believed to have come from one of the many early Chinese martial arts. It flourished and eventually reached its peak in popularity, in Korea, about 1150 AD. Much like our modern-day Combat Hapkido, its techniques were characterized by a passive combat attitude where the attacker was seduced/tricked into making the first move against the defender. His attack, expected exactly as it was delivered, was then easily redirected to the defender's advantage. Throws (mechigi), grappling techniques (kuchigi), and assaulting techniques (kuepso chirigi) made up the main components of Yu Sool. There were 24 basic and 10 secret methods at the heart of Yu Sool5 .

Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu

According to Japanese custom and tradition, and like many martial arts, Aiki-jujitsu was passed down from father to son over the centuries. Such hierarchical transference could also include adopted sons or close clan/family allies and associates. The Japanese Prince Sadsumi (873-916 AD), also known by his Korean name of Prince Teijun, was in fact the sixth son of the Japanese Emperor Seiwa and is likely the Paekche prince who infused Yu Sool into Aiki-jujitsu He appears to be in the Minamoto line. Other Korean folklore also tell of how Aiki-jujitsu was established after Prince Sadsumi received instruction in Yu Sool by travelling Korean Buddhist monks. How long he actually studied under the monks is not known.

It would seem there is a bit of contradiction, or at least some conflict, of fact as to the order of events with regard to the establishment or influence of Aiki-jujitsu. Regardless of this, it is accepted that Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1045 to 1127), the 5th generation descendant in the Aiki-jujitsu family scroll, is regarded as the founder of Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu.

Yoshimitsu delved into a practice which people, even today, would consider tasteless and goulish. He was driven to perfecting his art and, in order to achieve this, he began to study anatomy by dissecting the cadavers of fallen soldiers and executed criminals. This gruesome practice enabled him to refine the art he was teaching. It was in his home, Daito house, that he carried out these dissections and also taught Aiki-jujitsu; hence the name Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu. The secrets of Daito house and Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu were passed down through the generations until they came to rest on the shoulders of Takeda, Sokaku (1860-1943).

During its history, one of the heads of the Takeda house, moved to Aizu. Here, in 1574, Takeda Kumitsugu established Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu exclusively as a Samurai practice, handed down within the family until Japan emerged from its self-imposed isolation in 1868. It was during this period that Takeda Sokaku became the 32nd, in the line of Yoshimitsu, to teach the art. He opened a school in Hokkaido, Japan, and he became the first of the Takeda family to teach his art to students who were not of the Japanese warrior classes.


Hapkido and other Korean martial arts students will undoubtedly recognize that some terminology used during training is Japanese and/or Chinese in origin: for example, hap ki do, tae kwon do. Before the Japanese Occupation of Korea, the Korean word for the way or method was sool; the Japanese word for the way or method is do. The more literal translation for sool is art or method whereas do means way of thinking or way of life. This meaning appears in Japanese arts such as Judo and Kendo. The Korean Kuk Sool Won Association asserts that the word do does not appear in Korean references and martial arts until midway through the Japanese colonial rule over Korea (1925-1930).

As mentioned earlier, liberal exchanges in culture and art has gone on for thousands of years between China, Japan and Korea, and continues even today. For example, in his book Tang Soo Do Karate Tae Kwon Do Master Son, Kwon Hwan primarily uses Chinese characters and a spattering of Korean characters throughout. On page 67, he explains Do from a Korean perspective but uses the Chinese character. In his explanation he writes:
"Do means the law of nature in the universe. Everything in the universe is born and disappears under the law of nature. This precept is called Do or the law of nature. We need a certain principle in order to lead desirable lives. Likewise, Do means principle."

As you can see, Master Son's interpretation of Do, the Way, is principle. Therefore, according to him hapkido is: the principle of coordinated power rather than the way of coordinated power. The ensuing account will show how the name hapkido came to be decided on as well as show the Japanese and Chinese influences.

Hapkido History

There are several, seemingly, contradicting accounts of how Hapkido was founded and when, where and how the name for our art came about. There are Korean masters who claim they know the facts about who came up with the name and when. There are other masters, some westerners, who say they had the privilege of having had the history passed on to them by the founder of Hapkido, Choi Yong Sool himself - before he died. Our Hapkido Master, John Pellegrini, the founder of Chon Tu Kwan Hapkido shared some anecdotes of that history with a select few of us over a quiet meal on one of his seminar trips to Halifax.

The years before 1945 were a tumultuous period in Korean history and the peninsula did not actually enjoy peace until after the end of the Korean War in 1952. How did this affect the country's martial arts? During its occupation of the Korean peninsula the Japanese prohibited the practice of any martial arts which almost erradicated them. However, the Korean martial arts were kept alive by the few who were scattered about the country and in the mountains. Many of these were monks living in seclusion who only knew one or two disciplines. Since the end of the Second World War the Korean martial arts have enjoyed a resurgence where elements from ancient arts such as Tae Kyon and Yu Sool have been incorporated into the modern arts of Hapkido, Kuk Sool Won and Tang Soo Do.

Modern hapkido (what we practice today) is not only made up of elements of Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujitsu it also comprises of elements from other traditional Korean martial arts. These are: Kwan Jul Ki Bub (joint twisting, throws, holding and choking); Dang Shin Ki Bub (strikes, punches and kicks); Moo Ki Sool (short sword, long sword, short stick, long pole, cane, spear, rope, stone throws, knife throws). All these styles evolved from Sado Mu Sool (tribal martial arts; Buldo Mu Sool (Buddhist martial arts) and Koong Joong Mu Sool (royal court martial arts).

In the Beginning

There are many conflicting stories about how Choi, Yong Sool came to develop and establish Hapkido; where and how he acquired his skill and knowledge; and who actually gave our martial art its name. The following is a generally accepted accounting of Choi, Yong Sool's early life and the history behind the birth of Hapkido. This accounting is revised and is based on published articles, books as well as a personal interview between Choi, Yong Sool and Master Rim, Jan Bae and Master John Sheya in 1982. Another source is the interview between and Master Michael Wollmershauser of Massachussetts and Suh, Bok Sub in 1996.

Choi, Yong Sool was born in 1904 in the Choong Chung Province of Korea, in the village of Yong Dong, near a candy factory. Soon after the 1910 Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, about 1912, Choi became acquainted with Mr. Morimoto, a Japanese businessman, and his wife. The couple owned the village candy store. According to Suh, Bok Sub and Kim, Jeong Yoon, Choi's family was extremely poor and could not afford to feed and care for him. This Japanese couple, the Morimotos, had no children and, as they took a liking to Choi, his family allowed them to take Choi to Japan. Mr. Morimoto's intention, apparently, was to adopt Choi.

But in the 1982 interview with Master Michael Wollmershauser, Suh, Bok Sub contradicts the above version, stating that Mr. Morimoto and his wife abducted him when it was time for them to return to Japan. Since Choi did not like this man he made a point of being extremely difficult every chance he had, constantly protesting and crying. No longer able to cope with young Choi, Mr. Morimoto and his wife abandoned him in the town of Moji, in Japan. Eventually, he came to be in Kyoto where authorities arranged for him to stay at a local Buddhist temple. He lived at the temple for two years under the care of the monk Kintaro, Wadanabi.

During his time at the temple, Choi did not show much interest in schooling and exhibited some minor problems which manifested themselves through fighting and a lack of self-discipline. In fact, he seemed more fascinated by the temple's murals depicting historical martial arts battles and paintings. The monk Kintaro, Wadanabi recognized his interest and made arrangements to introduce young Choi to his very close friend Takeda, Sokaku. So, at the age of 11 or 12 the 32nd patriarch of Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu, Takeda, Sokaku was asked by monk Kintaro, Wadanabi to take Choi as his disciple. Choi recounts that Takeda, Sokaku adopted Choi and was given the name Asao, Yoshida. Takeda, Sokaku eventually settled in Hokkaido to open his Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu dojo (school).

Some Hapkido historians, and masters, seem to disagree about Choi, Yong Sool's relationship to Takeda, Sokaku. Some claim that Choi was orphaned in Korea and taken to Japan by a Japanese family, some say he was Takeda, Sokaku's houseboy. Others suggest he merely attended some of Takeda, Sokaku's seminars or observed the training and could not fully participate in Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu training because he was Korean. It seems irrelevant to argue about the accuracies of these details in a great man's life which appear to be driven by politics and ego. What does appear to be accurate, however, is the timeline and order of events - he was born to a poor Korean family; he left Korea for Japan when he was a boy; he was placed in a Buddhist temple; and ended up in Takeda, Sokaku's house.

What continues to be a point of contention is Choi, Yong Sool's actual relationship with Takeda, Sokaku. The Japanese martial arts elite and historians have difficulty in acknowledging that a Korean was adopted by the Daito Ryu patriarch, was taught and mastered Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu secrets. Conversely, given the historical events during the era of Korea's subservience to the Japanese occupiers Korean martial arts masters and historians are loathe to believe that a Japanese martial art would have influenced the development of Hapkido. They would rather believe that because of this bad experience, Hapkido was influenced by the more traditional Korean martial arts mentioned above.

The period between Choi's adoption and his return to Korea at the end of the War is based on the details provided in his 1982 interview. He spent over 30 years, 20 of them in seclusion in the mountains, studying under Takeda, Sokaku's instruction. During this time he assisted in teaching Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu to royal family members, high ranking government officials and others throughout Japan. When he was 28 years old, Choi remembers travelling to Hawaii, as part of a demonstration team, on a cultural tour. There is also evidence that he traveled to Korea during this period. Suh, Bok Sub believes he may have married a Korean on such a trip as he already had three daughters and a son when he returned to Korea in 1945.

Choi, Yong Sool recounts how events near the end of the Second World War significantly influenced his life. The war was not going well for Japan and they were loosing much of their territory and their forces were facing a high rate of attrition. In desperation, Japan instituted a special military draft, calling into service most of the country's most prominent martial artists to form special force units to be used in guerrilla warfare. The entire inner circle, the most senior, of the Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu clan were drafted except for Takeda, Sokaku and Choi, Yong Sool. Consequently, all were killed in the fighting. According to Choi, he was also being drafted into service but Takeda, Sokaku used his influence to intervene. Instead, Choi was hospitalized for minor surgery which stopped the conscription process. Choi, Yong Sool claims that if he was killed in the war Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu would be lost in its entirety upon his death.

Post- World War II 6

The story goes that Choi, Yong Sool returned to Korea at the end of the war but lost his suitcase which contained all of his money and his certificates from his Sensei, Takeda, Sokaku. This event left him stranded in Tae Gu province, this time with a family and forced to live off the streets. After a year of selling rice cakes, he earned enough money to buy some hogs, which he fed with free leftover grain he acquired each morning from the Suh Brewery Company. On February 21st, 1948, during one of Choi's early-morning visits to the brewery, a group of men tried to steal his place in line for grain after he had volunteered to help draw water from the brewery's underground spring. They tried to gang up on Choi but he quickly defeated them with the techniques he had learned in Japan.

This altercation happened to be observed by the Suh-family Brewery manager, Suh, Bok Sub. He was amazed by what he saw and immediately sent an aide out to fetch Choi. Suh was already a black belt in Judo and was very interested in learning this new style of fighting. He asked Choi to teach him this martial art. Initially, Choi refused because he had a family to support and didn't have the money to rent a dojang to teach in. Suh, Bok Sub promised him that in exchange for his private lessons he would provide Choi with grain, money and the use of his private dojang, located in the brewery.

Initially, Choi called his art Yu Sool (Soft Art), a modifed version of the Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu system's techniques. In about 1951, Choi and Suh opened a school in the town and began teaching the Korean version of Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu called Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool (the harmonized power of the soft fist arts).

In 1954, Suh's father ran for local politics and won the election. During the election, Suh, Bok Sub was attacked by the brother of his father's opponent who tried to beat him using boxing and judo. Suh easily handled the man and his style of martial art began to gain a wide respect. After his election, Suh's father hired Choi to be his bodyguard while Choi continued to train with Suh, Bok Sub and give demonstrations. As a result, Hapkido became very popular.

Ji, Han Jae was among Choi's students and, after one year, agreed to open and affiliate school. Ji left Choi in 1958 to form his own form of Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool. This is where there seems to be two opposing claims to how the name Hapkido came to be. Some Hapkido masters loyal to Choi claim that he shortened the name and those loyal to Ji, Han Jae claim he shortened the name to Hapkido when he formed his own organization. According to some sources, Ji, Han Jae began to infuse some of the more traditional Tae Kyong kicking techniques, Korean weapons techniques and spiritual training into his system. In 1958, he opened two schools in Andong he named Sung Moo Kwan. He went on to train two great Hapkido masters Bong, Soo Han who went on to found the International Hapkido Association and Myung Kwan Sik who founded the World Hapkido Association.

Over the years, many masters went on to form their own style of Hapkido. These styles eventually come under the scrutiny of the Hanminjok of the World Hapkido Federation to be studied and eventually accredited as a kwan (style). There are approximately 32 recognized Hapkido kwans in the world and an unknown number of yet-to-be recognized Hapkido systems taught by legitimate Hapkido instructors.

Hapkido remains the martial art of choice for many of the world's close protection officers who guard royalty and political leaders in many of the Asian and Western nations. More and more law enforcement agencies are turning to Hapkido as their choice in a martial art to train in because they know it is more fluid and effective than the more rigid contemporary martial arts.

1. Downloaded from the Berkely University web site, 2001.
2. Sun Bae, Tae Guek Moo Ye Ki Seo, Volume 1, 1994, Master Son, Kwon Hwan.
3. David Middleton of the Australian Hapkido Association examined the Dayto Ryu family scroll that lists this Korean prince's name third from the top. A translation of the name has yet to be provided.
4. In 2001, David Middleton had mentioned in his thesis that the name was in the process of being translated to ensure accuracy.
5. David Middleton, Australian Hapkido Association.
6. Based on accounts from the East York Hapkido-Karate Club, Master Michael Wollmershauser's interview with Suh, Bok Sub, and a conversation with Grandmaster John Pellegrini.