A Brief History of Hapkido


During the Silla Dynasty in Korea, 7th Century AD, about 1,350 years ago, an organization called the Hwa Rang Do was formed to train the young men of the Noble classes to become emergency combat teams, ready to defend the region in times of need. The Hwa Rang Do, which translates roughly to “Way of the Young Flower”, was legalized and supported by King Chin Hung of the Silla Dynasty. These small groups lived in common quarters and drilled both mind and body with strict discipline and teachings under the provisions of the Gentry Class.

The martial art taught to the Hwa Rang Do, although nameless at the time, formed the basis of what would become modern Hapkido. Various forms of Hapkido are found depicted on the stone walls and remains and ruins of what were Silla Dynasty buildings.

As time went by, the martial discipline of the Hwa Rang Do dissipated as more and more of the young noble men chose to prepare themselves for lives in business rather than war-craft. Most of the descendants of the original Hwa Rang Do chose to pursue intellectual training, preparing themselves to take the National Examination which led to becoming government officials and the like. The result was that maintenance of the martial arts degraded until only a shadow of the former arts remained. This remnant was called Taek Ki Yon and later Tae Kyun. The art was maintained, to a certain extent, by monks in isolated monasteries, and there is evidence that the Korean monks exchanged ideas and techniques with monks in Chinese monasteries. The Chinese influence is evident in the circular motion aspects and spinning kicks of Hapkido, along with the emphasis on mental development and concentration, very much like the flowing circular movements and internal philosophies of Kung Fu in its various forms.

With the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1910, all Korean martial arts were outlawed, and the only practice and maintenance of the original forms was done in secret in isolated monasteries in remote mountain locations. The study of Japanese martial arts, namely judo and kendo, was allowed to a certain extent, and the influences of these arts are seen in Hapkido as well, in its throws and grappling moves, and the relationship between Japanese Kendo and Korean Kum Do is readily evident.

It was shortly after the Japanese occupations’ beginning that Choi Yong Suhl (Korean names are formed with the family name first, i.e., Smith John Lee), the originator of modern Hapkido, emigrated to Japan. Having already mastered Tae Kyun in his youth, Master Choi studied a Japanese system called Daito Ryu or Dai Ju-Jutsu. This system of Ju-Jutsu is said to the the forerunner of Judo and Aikido. Master Choi returned to Korea after the end of W.W.II in 1945, and founded the first Hapkido school in Taegu, Korea. Hapkido was an amalgamation of the Chinese-influenced Tae Kyun and Japanese Ju-Jutsu. This made it one of the first truly integrated arts that recognized the effectiveness of combining the best aspects of both the “hard” and “soft” styles into very powerful combinations of techniques and theories.

Eventually Master Choi and his top student, Ji Han Jae, brought Hapkido to Seoul to teach it to the public for the first time (over 75 percent of the Republic of Korea’s population lives in Seoul, making it the logical choice for expansion efforts). Master Choi eventually retired back to Taegu and died in 1987.