Hapkido History

Hapkido is the martial art of Choi, Yong Sul (1904-1986). Mr. Choi was born in Korea, but was brought to Japan as a young boy. Eventually he was adopted into the household of Takeda Sokaku, head of Daito-Ryu Aikijutsu. Mr. Choi lived and studied with Takeda Sokaku until Sokaku’s death. At the end of World War II, Mr. Choi returned to his native Korea and supported himself and his family by teaching a "new" martial art, Hapkido, which was based on the Daito-Ryu Aikijutsu he had learned in Japan. This story is told in Mr. Choi’s words in the interview with Grandmaster Choi. This web page is the only place where you will find Mr. Choi’s story. The truth has been largely overwhelmed by Asiatic rivalry.

Many Japanese will not accept a Korean born master of Daito-Ryu, especially one claiming to be the only man to have mastered the entire art. To acknowledge Mr. Choi would undermine the purely Japanese character of Daito-Ryu. Instead, the Japanese minimize Mr. Choi's role, stating only that Mr. Choi attended a seminar with Sokaku.

On the other hand, many Koreans ignore or diminish Mr. Choi’s tie to Japan because they want Hapkido to be considered Korean in origin. Some Korean authors trace Hapkido history to an ancient warrior class and then refer to Mr. Choi as an afterthought. Others omit Mr. Choi entirely from the history of Hapkido.

The two distortions are self-corroborating. The Koreans make "Hapkido" their own by teaching indigenous hard styles with elementary soft motion mixed in. The Japanese then support their contention that Mr. Choi only attended seminars by noting that no high motion appears in the major Hapkido schools.

This rivalry has obscured Mr. Choi's position as Takeda Sokaku's chief instructor, and neglects the enormous contribution of Mr. Choi to soft martial arts. Mr. Choi's teaching preserved the Daito-Ryu system of Takeda Sokaku, although some of Mr. Choi's students have not. Serious students of soft martial arts will be pleased to discover the wealth of soft techniques still being taught in traditional Hapkido schools.

Grandmaster Choi, Yong Sul visited the United States in June of 1982 with the purpose of unifying Hapkido. Mr. Choi knew his life was near its end. His greatest wish was that all Hapkido would be united. He came to New York to name his successor and thereby insure the continuity of the art he had brought to Korea so many years before.

Much had changed in Mr. Choi’s lifetime. The culture in which Mr. Choi learned his art was that of a wealthy nobleman in pre-war Japan. This was in stark contrast to the practice of martial arts in 1980’s America. Martial arts were being mass marketed in America. Time consuming traditional methods of instruction were sacrificed in order to accommodate the American appetite for immediate results. Sadly, this state of affairs extended too many schools professing to teach Hapkido.

Mr. Choi was dissatisfied with the state of Hapkido. Some Hapkido black belts had broken off to form their own schools and organizations, promoting themselves and others to artificially high ranks. As of 1982, Mr. Choi had not personally issued any seventh or eighth degree black belt certificates to anyone except Mr. Chang.

Hapkido's problems were not just organizational. Different schools taught different patterns of technique. Many instructors were spreading unfounded teachings, describing their techniques as Hapkido when they were not. These instructors found that student interest was easier to maintain when the techniques were easily mastered and promotions occurred quickly.

In an attempt to reverse the digression that Hapkido was experiencing, Mr. Choi gave his endorsement to ninth degree black belt, Chinil Chang. Mr. Choi hoped Mr. Chang would dominate the imposters and create a single Hapkido organization. Mr. Chang did not share Mr Choi's vision, and did not act to unify Hapkido.

At present there are many Hapkido organizations. Most teach a hard style martial art and incorporate a few "soft" techniques, sometimes called self-defense techniques. Rim's Hapkido, teaching the soft style of Mr. Choi, is a rare exception.

Rim's Hapkido has a long history. The details are in the biographies of Grandmaster Rim and Grandmaster Sheya, the main points are repeated here.

Mr. Rim immigrated to the United States in 1973 and settled in Baltimore, Maryland. At this time, Mr. Rim was a sixth degree black belt in Korean Hapkido, promoted personally by Hapkido's founder, Grandmaster Choi, Yong Sul. Mr. Rim participate in a couple of martial arts demonstrations soon after he arrived. A spectator at one of these demonstrations told Joe Sheya that Hapkido might be what he was looking for. Joe visited Mr. Rim to inquire about Hapkido. Communication was difficult, so this first meeting consisted of Mr. Rim demonstrating Hapkido on Joe.

A lasting relationship developed from this unlikely beginning. For a while Joe was the only student, but gradually others joined the group. After Joe was promoted to black belt, he started teaching on his own and attracting more students. Mr. Rim had several black belt students at the time of Mr. Choi's visit in 1982.

After the meeting in New York, Mr. Choi visited Mr. Rim in Maryland and worked out in the dojang with Joe and his students. Mr. Choi was pleased to see his traditional method of instruction preserved and he posed with the school for a photograph. Mr. Choi presented Mr. Rim with a handwritten personal certificate of endorsement attesting to Mr. Rim's mastery of Hapkido, and his personal chop, the chop of the original Hapkido organization. Black belt certificates from Rim's Hapkido are stamped with Mr. Choi's chop.

In 1984 Mr. Rim wanted to promote Joe to sixth degree, his own rank. He didn't want to do this on his own authority, and Joe wasn't able to go to Korea. Mr. Rim went to Korea, hoping Mr. Choi would issue Joe a sixth degree certificate based on Mr. Rim's testamony and Grandmaster Choi's personal knowledge of Joe and his skills as a practitioner and a teacher. Mr. Choi promoted Joe to Sixth Degree black belt and Mr. Rim to seventh degree.

Mr. Choi died in 1986. He was the only teacher Mr. Rim ever had. By this time it was clear that Mr. Chang had succeeded Mr. Choi in name only. There was no association or organization to which Mr. Rim felt allegiance. Rim's hapkido became an independent school, run by Joe Sheya, and remained so for many years. On September 18,1998, Rim, Jong Bae announced to his students that he was forming an organization in order to preserve the purity of the art that was personally taught to him by Choi, Yong Sul. This organization will be called "Rim's Hapkido Association." Grandmaster Rim and the members of Rim's Hapkido Association will dedicate themselves to perpetuating Choi, Yong Sul's Hapkido motion and his spirit.

In 2007 Sheya's Traditional Hapkido Association was formed out of the original Rim's Hapkido Association to further preserve this ideal.