Hapkido evolved from earlier styles, including Kung Fu from China, Aikido and Judo from Japan, and Tae Kwon Do from Korea. While there are several variations on Hapkido, it basically is a blend of these styles. The concept is to give its practitioners maximum flexibility in dealing with threats, ranging from "soft" responses such as joint locks, throws, and evading strikes, to devastating "hard" responses with punches and kicks.
Many of these techniques were developed by the warrior classes who were the backbone of the armies of the three kingdoms of early Korea. Continuously trying to dominate each other, each kingdom established martial arts training schools that became the foundation for much of what is taught today. In 688 A.D., the Silla Kingdom unified the other two kingdoms into the Koguryo Kingdom. The warrior class, now called the Hwarangdo, developed and refined kicking techniques called Taik kyun. These became the basis for the kicks of Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido among other Korean martial arts.
During the following centuries, martial arts continued to evolve in Korea. Among these were the elements that would eventually be blended into Hapkido. The man responsible for initiating this blend was Choi Yong-sool. Born in 1904, he travelled as a young man to Japan, where he trained in Dai Dong Ryu Yu Sool. In 1945 he returned to Korea, where he raised pigs for a while. To feed them, he went every morning to a local brewery to obtain leftover grain chaff.
One day the owner of the brewery , Suh Bok-sub, watched Choi successfully defend himself against a group of muggers. He was so impressed that he sent for Choi who then demonstrated several wrist throws and defense against grabbing ones jacket lapel. Suh then asked Choi to train him, and established a dojang on the brewery premises. Choi agreed, and called his style, which he had adapted from his training in Japan, Yu Sool, later to be changed to Yu Kwon Sool.
Yu Kwon Sool was taught by Choi for many years. In 1953, a new student, Ji Han-jae, began studying under Choi. Ji trained extremely hard, and in 1957 opened his own school. He worked with Kim Moo-woong to develop and refine the kicking techniques that are still taught in Hapkido. It was also during this time that Ji coined the term Hapkido for what he was developing into a new martial art. Coincidentally, there is a Japanese style with the same name, and for a time, Ji changed his style's name to Kido to avoid confusion. Eventually the growing popularity of his version of Hapkido convinced him to go back to the original name.
Ji is also responsible for attaching Sin Moo to Hapkido. Meaning "Spiritual Warrior," it signifies that a student of Hapkido recognizes it as a blend of mind, body and spirit. Bowing and saying "Sin Moo" upon entering a Sin Moo Hapkido dojang is a display of honor and respect.
Another important student of Choi's and Ji's was Myung Kwang-sik. Among his many contributions to Hapkido was establishment of the World Hapkido Federation which set up uniform guidelines for training and belt promotion. Myung also was instrumental in introducing and promoting Hapkido in the United States.
There are three major principles in Hapkido; Flowing Water, Circular Motion and Harmony.
Water is one of the most powerful forces of nature, even when it is flowing softly. In time it will erode the strongest rock, and when propelled by wind can explode with tremendous force. In Hapkido, one is taught to never respond to power with power. A punch or kick can be easily deflected with minimal energy and movement. As water flows around a rock in a stream while at the same time slowly eroding it, the Hapkido practitioner will use constant movement and soft blocks and evasion techniques as his opponent is forced to waste more and more energy on his attack. Eventually he will tire, then the Hapkido practitioner can, at his choice, either let the confrontation end with his opponent's exhaustion and frustration, or counter with a series of devastating punches and kicks. In this the flowing water can be seen as a firehose, concentrated, unstoppable and directed to a single point of attack.
Circular blocks, and kicks and general movement maximize one's energy by using centrifugal force to help deflect the incoming blow. At the same time they help get one into better positions for further defense and counterattacks. Linear attacks are predictable and difficult to modify once the attacker has committed to one. Thus they easier to defeat while circular movements are more adaptable to changing conditions in both defense and attack.
Physical ability alone cannot make one a martial artist. All moves, all strategy for attack and defense, all use of the arts in everyday life comes from harmony of mind, spirit and body. How many of us have seen an overconfident individual injure a hand while trying to break a board even though he possesses the strength to do it? It's because his mind harbors lingering doubts and has not merged the power of thought and will with his body.
Envisioning oneself doing a technique is an important step in linking the mind with the body so that in time the technique is accomplished without thought or hesitation. It becomes as instinctive as breathing. And with more experience one begins to use this harmony to anticipate the intentions and moves of an opponent, much as if his mind can actually be read.
Dr. He-Young, Kimm, published by Andrew Jackson Press, 1991