Origins of Hapkido

The father of Hapkido is Doju Choi Young Sul (1899-1986), who was born in North Chungcheong Province near Daegu, in a village named Yong Dong. A Japanese candy merchant named Morinoto took Choi Young Sul to Moji, Japan when he was around 8 years old. Shortly after arriving in Japan, Choi Young Sul survived by begging and, after being picked up by the police, was sent to a Buddhist temple with a monk named Kintaro Wadanabi. After 2 years of living in the temple, he was sent to the monk’s friend, Takeda Sokaku, the 32nd patriarch of Daitoryu Aikijujutsu. Choi Young Sul was given the Japanese name Yoshida. It is disputed as to whether Takeda Sokaku treated him as an adopted son, although Choi Young Sul did consider Takeda Sokaku his father. We do know that Choi Young Sul was originally assigned to be Takeda’s houseboy and later became a personal manservant.

Ueshiba Morihei who founded the Japanese martial art of aikido was an older contemporary of Choi Young Sul and studied under Takeda Sokaku briefly while Choi Young Sul was in Takeda Sokaku’s service. Although Korean Hapkido and Japanese Aikido have similar origins and even many similar techniques, there is a difference in the philosophy of the two martial arts. Upon the death of Takeda in April 25, 1943 Choi Young Sul returned to Daegu, Korea.

After a few years, Choi Young Sul had saved a small amount of money and bought some pigs. He obtained the grain to feed the pigs from a brewery. On February 21, 1948, Choi Young Sul had easily defended himself while waiting in line at the grain counter. Suh Bok Sup, the manager and son of the brewery’s owner watched this event from his office and asked Choi Young Sul to teach him. Suh Bok Sup, Choi Young Sul’s first student, was a first dan in Judo. A few years later Choi Young Sul was a bodyguard for Suh Bok Sup’s father who was a congressman.

Choi Young Sul first called daedongryu hapkiyusul (the Korean pronunciation of daitoyru aikijujutsu), yawara. The first public dojang opened on February 12, 1951 named the Daehan yukwonsul hapki dojang by Choi Young Sul and Suh Bok Sup. Hapkido went through many names before being called Hapkido by adding to the name hapki yukwonsul creating yukwonsul hapkido. The names were, yusul, yukwonsul, daedong hapki yukwonsul, hapki yukwonsul. Yukwonsul hapkido became hapkido in 1958. According to Suh Bok Sup, one of the students of the Daehan yukwonsul hapki dojang, Kim Moo Hyun, who studied in various temples, created the kicking techniques of hapkido. In 1963, Choi Young Sul became the chairman of the newly founded Korea Kido Association, an umbrella organization of all Korean martial arts and acknowledged by the Korean government.

Obviously hapkido developed slowly and others influenced its development. Many of the techniques that are part of the hapkido we practice were not part of the original system taught by Choi Young Sul upon his return to Korea from Japan. This type of maturity is common for martial arts after the original development. Choi Young Sul died in 1986 and is buried in Daegu.

Brief History of Korean Martial Arts

It is generally thought that the nucleus of the martial arts was formed when Bodhidharma (480-528 AD), the 1st patriarch of Zen and the 28th patriarch of Buddhism, made an epic trek across the Himalayas and arrived at the Song Shan Shaolin Temple. It is said that he introduced what is now known as sun (Korean) or zen (Japanese) to the temple in the year 520 AD. However, we know that the martial arts as a whole are not something that any specific individual, group or country founded. It is thought that they are a natural growth from techniques used by primitive tribes to hunt for food and for self-protection. Bodhidharma may have been one of the first to teach self-defense techniques or health enhancing exercises to a group of monks at the temple who were too tired for the monistic rituals after a day of hard work. We also know that other areas of the world have indigenous martial arts that are also used for development of the mind and body.

Unfortunately, very few records dealing with the ancient Korean martial arts can be found. Little information can be found in the Samguk Sagi (history of the three kingdoms) which was written during the 12th century, and the Samguk Yusa (memorabilia of the three kingdoms) written in the 13th century. We do know that many early stone weapons have been excavated from the Korean peninsula and that the art of toosul (stone throwing) has survived to this period of time. Korean and Japanese history have also shown that the Japanese Samurai originated from the Paekche warrior Ssaurabi and that the original sword smiths of Japan were Korean and Chinese. The Korean swords were thicker than the Chinese sword and the Chinese swords uncovered from ancient Japanese tombs were two thin to be used for anything other than ceremony. It is also known that the Chinese regarded two Korean martial arts as “powerful and superb. These two arts were koryogi (techniques of Korea) and yukyo (a form of wrestling). Recent documents have shown that the title of chumong was given to certain warriors who excelled in the state Puyo. Puyo was in existence at the same time as the Koguryo.

During the Koryo dynasty (935-1392 AD) martial art development declined as Buddhism became the state religion. The only exception worthy of noting is the creation of the kungjoong musul (royal court martial arts), which was an integration of older techniques and was confined to the palace. The practice of sangyea (common arts) such as subak and kwonbop declined during this period. In the beginning of the Chosen dynasty (1392-1910), the founder of the dynasty imposed tight restrictions on the practice of martial arts by common people. Confucianism spread once again throughout Korea. This opened the doors for the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1596, and for the Manchuria invasion of 1637. In 1790, King Chong Jo ordered the compilation of a manual of martial arts for the royal army. The result was the muyea dobotongji (illustrated manual of martial arts) compiled by Lee Duk Mu (1741-1794). By 1910, Japan annexed Korea. This actually had little effect on the customs and manners of the Koreans until the 1930’s when the Japanese Empire assumed greater control of Korea. The Korean language was outlawed in education and in public and the teaching of Korean history and culture was forbidden. The Koreans were even required to assume Japanese names. Many of the Koreans were farmers and made few changes as the Japanese concentrated their efforts in urban areas. Although the Japanese occupation of Korea ended on August 15, 1945 with the end of World War II, General MacArthur, who had set up his headquarters in Japan, directed the military government in Korea. In 1948 the new Republic of Korea government assumed control and in 1965 Korea signed the normalization treaty with Japan. The classification of Korean martial arts as “do” is influenced by the Japanese occupation of Korea. Traditionally, the term's muyea and musul were used.

Diatoryu Aikijujutsu

Daitoryu aikijujutsu is one of the oldest recorded forms of Japanese aikijujutsu. Korean legend states that aikijujutsu was developed by Prince Sadsumi, (850-880 AD), known as Prince Teijun in Korea who was the sixth son of Japanese Emperor Seiwa. It is said that he founded aikijujutsu after receiving martial arts instruction from traveling Korean Buddhist monks, in the Korean martial art of yusul (which is pronounced jujutsu is Japanese). According to the daitoryu aikijujutsu honbu dojo, the art was founded in 1087.

The first historic documentation of aikijujutsu’s existence, however, attributes the style’s development to Shinra Saburo Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1045-1127 AD), the third son of Minamoto no Yoriyoshi who was the 5th generation descendant of Emperor Seiwa and lived in a castle known as Daito (great eastern). Minamoto family was one of the major ruling clans of Japan during the Heian Period (794-1185 AD). Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199 AD) led Japan into the Kamakura Period (1192-1333 AD) by establishing the Kamakura Shogunate. This was a period of Japanese history when the samurai aristocrats governed the country with military rule. The eldest son of Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, Yoshikiyo moved away from the central clan to an area known as Kai. He then founded a new branch of the Minamoto clan, known as Kaigengitakeda. Kai from the region, Gengi the original Chinese root of their family name and Takeda the new chosen family name. From this came the birth of the Takeda family. Daitoryu was then passed down through the Takeda family until Takeda Sokaku; (1858-1943 AD) received the martial art and opened a daitoryu school in Hokkaido, Japan. Japan emerged from isolation into the Meiji period of 1868 and Takeda Sokaku was the first person to open a daitoryu school in which the general public could attend.