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Hapkido (also spelled hap ki do or hapki-do; is a dynamic and also eclectic Korean martial art. It is a form of self-defense that employs joint locks, techniques of other martial arts, as well as kicks, punches, and other striking attacks. There is also the use of traditional weapons, including a sword, rope, nunchaku, cane, short stick, and staff (gun, bo) which vary in emphasis depending on the particular tradition examined.

Hapkido contains both long and close range fighting techniques, utilizing jumping kicks and percussive hand strikes at longer ranges and pressure point strikes, joint locks, or throws at closer fighting distances. Hapkido emphasizes circular motion, non-resisting movements, and control of the opponent. Practitioners seek to gain advantage through footwork and body positioning to employ leverage, avoiding the use of strength against strength.

The birth of modern hapkido can be traced to the efforts of a group of Korean nationals in the post Japanese colonial period of Korea, Choi Yong-Sool (1899 to 1986) and his most prominent students; Seo Bok-Seob, the first student of the art; Ji Han-Jae (born 1936), one of the earliest promoters of the art; Kim Moo-Hong, a major innovator; Myung Jae-Nam, a connector between the art of hapkido and aikido, Myung Kwang-Sik the historian and ambassador, all of whom were direct students of Choi or of his immediate students.Choi Yong-Sool

Choi Yong-Sool training in martial arts is a subject of contention. It is known that Choi was sent to Japan as a young boy and returned to Korea with techniques characteristic of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, a forerunner of aikido. The next portion of the story is quite controversial in Daito-ryu circles but is claimed by many contemporary hapkido-ists and is attributed to Choi in an interview (released posthumously) that took place during a trip Choi made to the United States in 1980 to visit his second direct lineage successor Chinil Chang in New York City.

In the interview with second direct lineage Doju Chinil Chang, Choi claims to have been adopted by Takeda Sokaku when he was 11 years old and was given the Japanese name, Yoshida Asao. He claims to have been taken to Takeda's home and dojo in Akita on Shin Shu mountain where he lived and trained with the master for 30 years. The interview also asserts that he travelled with him as a teaching assistant, that he was employed to catch war deserters and that he was the only student to have a complete understanding of the system taught by Takeda.

This is contradicted by other claims asserting that Choi was simply a worker in the home of Takeda. In fact, the meticulous enrollment and fee records of Tokimune Takeda, Takeda Sokaku's eldest son and Daito-ryu's successor, do not seem to include Choi's name among them. Therefore, except for claims made by Choi himself, there is little evidence that Choi was the adopted son of Takeda Sokaku, or that he ever formally studied Daito-ryu under the founder of the art.

Retouched photograph of Takeda Sokaku circa 1888

Stanley Pranin, then of Aiki News and now editor of the, asked Kisshomaru Ueshiba about Choi Yong-Sool and hapkido:

On another subject, it is true that a Korean named "Choi" who founded hapkido studied aikido or Daito-ryu?

I don't know what art it was but I understand that there was a young Korean of about 17 or 18 who participated in a seminar of Sokaku Takeda Sensei held in Asahikawa City in Hokkaido. It seems that he studied the art together with my father and would refer to him as his "senior".

If that's the case the art must have been Daito-ryu. I've heard that this man who studied Daito-ryu had some contact with my father after that. Then he returned to Korea and began teaching Daito-ryu on a modest scale. The art gradually became popular and many Koreans trained with him. Since aikido became popular in Japan he called his art hapkido [written in Korean with the same characters as aikido]. Then the art split into many schools before anyone realized it. This is what my father told me. I once received a letter from this teacher after my father's death.

Some argue that Choi Yong-Sool's potential omission from the records, and the ensuing debate over hapkido's origins, may be due to tensions between Koreans and Japanese, partly as a result of the Japanese occupation of Korea. At the height of dispute, it is claimed by hapkido practitioners that Koreans were excluded from listing, though this is contradicted by Takeda's records which contain other Korean names. While some commentators claim hapkido has a Japanese lineage, others state that its origins lay with indigenous Korean martial arts.

Choi Yong-Sool's first student, and the man whom some claim helped him develop the art of hapkido was Seo Bok-Seob, a Korean judo black belt when they met. Some of Choi's other respected senior students are: Chinil Chang, Ji Han-Jae, Kim Moo-Hong, and arguably Seo In-Hyuk (Hangul: ???) and Lee Joo-Bang (Hangul: ???) who went on to form the arts of Kuk Sool Won and modern Hwa Rang Do respectively (though some argue that their training stems from time spent training under Kim Moo-Hong).