Note: The early history of Hapkido is difficult to pin down because it was largely handed down in oral accounts. This may result in some differences between our information and other sources.
Hapkido is a Korean martial art. Its name means, literally, “the way of coordination and power”. It is a combination of two other martial arts, Yool Sool (which comes from the Japanese Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujitsu) and Tae Kyon (an ancient Korean kicking skill).
Daito-Ryu has its roots in the combat techniques of the Minamoto clan. These techniques were refined by General Yoshimitsu and combined with Aizu techniques. The origin goes back to Soemon Takeda, who taught “aiki-in-ho-yo”, or “the aiki system of yin and yang”. Soemon passed this style on to Tanomo Saigo, who also had training in Misoguchi-Ryu swordsmanship and Koshu-ryu military science.
After a Boshin War battle against Imperial forces, Tanomo was presumed dead, and his family committed ritual suicide. However, he had not been killed. He changed his name to Hoshina and served as a Shinto priest. During this time, he took on Sokaku Takeda (Soemon’s grandson) as a disciple.
Sokaku also recieved his teaching licenses in Ono-ha Itto-Ryu swordsmanship and Hozion spear fighting, and had studied with the swordsman Kenkichi Sakakibara of the Jikishin-kage-ryu. He traveled a lot and had many students. One of these was his manservant, a Korean named Choi Yong Sool. Exactly what training Choi recieved and how he recieved it is unclear, but it appears that he was one of Sokaku’s most talented and favored pupils.
After Sokaku died, Choi attempted to return home, but lost his suitcase. Since it had contained all of his papers, he found himself stranded in Tae Gu province. There, he made a living on the streets. Eventually he earned enough money to buy some pigs, which he fed with leftover grain given away by the Suh Brewing Company. One day, he was involved in a fight in the grain line, and his skills caught the eye of manager Suh Bok Sup.
Suh had a black belt in Judo and was intrigued by Choi’s unique style of martial arts. He asked Choi to teach him. After that, Choi was allowed the use of the brewery’s private dojang to teach other students in return for giving Suh private lessons. He was also paid in money and grain. Choi called his art Yool Sool, the Korean pronunciation of Jujitsu, and began to modify it with kicking and weapons techniques. In 1951, Choi and Suh opened a school outside the brewery and called it the Yu Kwon Sool Hap Ki Dojang.
In 1954, Suh’s father ran successfully for the Korean National Assembly. Suh was involved in a confrontation with the brother-in-law of one of his father’s opponents. This fight helped to spread the word about the style of martial arts Choi and Suh were teaching. Choi was appointed Assemblyman Suh’s bodyguard.
Grandmaster Choi and Suh continued to teach and train. One of their most notable students was Ji Han Jae. He opened his own school in Andong in 1958, eventually relocating to Seoul and remaining there until April of 1960. There, his students included Bong Soo Han and Myung Kwan Sik. They later went on to found the International Hapkido Association and the World Hapkido Association, respectively. Grandmaster Ji is credited with being the first person to use the term “Hapkido”, although he says he gave the term to Grandmaster Choi to use out of respect. He served the Korean government for several years after the old government was overthrown in 1961 and was brought to the United States in 1969 to train FBI and Secret Service agents. In 1984 he moved to the United States permanently and founded Sin Moon Hapkido.
Grandmaster Ji’s student Bong Soo Han is credited with popularizing Hapkido in the West and bringing it to the big screen. His first feature film was Billy Jack in 1971. He doubled for Tom Laughlin and coreographed the fight scenes.
In the early 1960s, Grandmaster Ji found a book about Aikido and realized that the Japanese spelling of Aikido was the same as Hapkido. To avoid confusion, he began referring to his art simply as “Kido”. In 1963, the Korean government granted a charter to the Korea Kido Association, of which the first chairman was Grandmaster Choi. However, due to political and philosophical differences, Grandmaster Ji left the Association and resumed calling his art Hapkido.
Today there are three Hapkido associations in Korea: the Korea Kido Association, the Korea Hapkido Association, and the International Hapki Federation.