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The Korean term ‘hapkido’ is a combination of three words: ‘hap’ meaning harmony or coordination; ‘ki’ meaning power or more literally, cosmic force; and ‘do’, meaning the way of the art. In short, hapkido means the art of power coordination.




This coordination of power is manifest in two ways: first and most important is the harmony between the mind and the body. To be able to function most effectively in a combat situation, one must have total control of both mind and body. You should use the physical body as an extension of your mental directives. The second concept of harmony deals with the coordination of an attack or defense. Both concepts are essential to good self-defense. A person might know how to save himself from a knife attack, but if he allows to much fear to affect his physical movements in such a way that he becomes clumsy. Hurried, or even worse, frozen, then all his knowledge is in vain. Likewise a person may be totally calm, in full control of his emotions and body; however if he does not know how to use his opponents movements and force, he will be at a disadvantage.

The Koreans describe this harmony or coordination of power on a deeper, more philosophical level. Being greatly influenced by both Buddhism and Taoism, they feel that hapkido is a way of becoming one with nature. This is a concept central to both of these Chinese influences.

Although hapkido is primarily defensive in nature, it can be very offensive when the need arises. Many of the techniques are based upon an opponents attack. Once the attack has been nullified (or even simultaneously to the attack), a devastating counterattack is launched. Some people try to compare hapkido to Japanese aikido, which uses similar joint bending techniques and throws. One reason for this comparison is that the Japanese kanji figures for aikido and the Korean figures for hapkido are exactly the alike and translate into the same English words: the art of power coordination/harmony. In actuality, hapkido continues to a point beyond that reached by aikido in its philosophy of self defense. According to Yoshitsu Yamada in his book complete Aikido, an aikidoist will apply defensive techniques only, nullifying attack after attack until the aggressor becomes thoroughly confused and frustrated and gives up. Hapkido not only meets the attack, but turns it back on the opponent and follows through with offensive methods which may control his violence or may render him incapable of living, much less capable of any further antagonistic actions.

The element of self control is very important in situations requiring self-defense. For example, one would react differently to a drunken friend at a party than he would to a mugger on a dark street. In the first instance, he may want to constrain his friend so that no one is harmed. In the second he may be fighting for his life and, therefore, he might find it necessary to kill or be killed. Hapkido teaches techniques of many different levels of harshness. It also teaches when to use them.

Hapkidos basic techniques consist of kicking, striking, joint-breaking throws and locks, both soft and hard blocks, nerve and muscle pressure attacks, and self-defense skills with common weapons such as the walking cane and the 12’’ billy club.

The most important element in hapkido and the most difficult to develop is the power of the mind. The basis for mental power is Ki. Ki is an oriental concept of the power in nature all around us. It is said that all living things possess Ki in varying intensities. Perhaps one could say that plants express ki when they give of measurable reactions to human emotions directed toward them in scientific tests.

Martial artists say that one can tap into this essence of force around us and use it as one’s own. They cite examples of hysterical strength and similar superhuman feats of speed and power as proof.

Whether the body performs feats far beyond its normal capabilities for short periods of time because of help from an external natural force or because governor-like mental blocks have been temporarily stripped away is not as important as the fact that the human body is capable of superhuman feats. This ability can be consciously developed. The ideal to strive for is the ability to understand the power of ki, to learn how to draw upon it, and to use it at will. Three hapkido concepts may be used as tools for positive ki control:

1    Mind-like-water is a vital concept to many martial arts. The most effective mind, especially in a combat situation, is one that is totally free of emotion, free to centre its attention on the task at hand. Ideally, ones mind should be like a pool of water that is placed, undisturbed, at rest. Allow one violent, uncontrolled emotion to enter the mind and its as if a rock had been dropped into the quiet pool. The whole surface becomes disturbed and concentration will be lost as a result. Without total concentration, ki cannot be coordinated or focused. When one loses concentration, he also loses his initiative. If one’s life and well being are endangered, he must not allow anger and fear to disturb his concentration. People who have learned to do this become fighting machines, fearing no fear or pain until the combat is finished. They are capable of hearing and seeing more, moving faster and more powerfully, and sense reality as a slow motion film.

2    Only if you develop a mind like water can you develop the second ability called the mind-like-moon (aikidoists call it ‘soft eyes’) This concept emphasis total awareness in all directions. The moon baths the landscape with a serene, all knowing light. Ki extends are wareness in all directions if we but learn to recognise its signals. Another exercise we do in our class is ki sensing exercise with our eyes closed. The students are taught to feel and aura around them that some describe as a feeling of static electricity. When a person or object gets too close to that aura, a disturbance is felt. Naturally, a high degree of concentration is required to learn this, plus the guidance of an experience instructor who bot only knows how to do this but also knows how to guide students into realizing the capability lies within them. With the mind like moon, one may have a better opportunity to sense danger, threats and openings in combat.

3     Distinctly characteristic of both hapkido and aikido, is the concept of the live-hand. Open one hand as wide as possible. Notice how hard the wrist and forearm become. Hapkidoists believe that this wide-open hand gathers ki in from the air, which in turn flows through the arm and chest down into the tanjon (tan tien in Chinese). This is an area approximately three inches in diameter centred just below the navel. They believe that since this is where all the nourishment and power enters an unborn baby’s body, the same should hold true for an adult. Spiritual aspects aside, the tanjon area is the power centre in a physical sense as well. One’s centre of gravity lies in this region and it is also the point where the major muscle groups of the body directly or indirectly interconnect. Tapping into ki with the live-hand and pouring it into the tanjon will ensure this power will be used throughout the body in a coordinated manner.

Prove to yourself the surprising strength of the live hand. Hold an arm straight out in front, making a fist with the thumb area on the top and the little finger at the bottom. Ask a friend to pull down on your upper arm with one hand and to push up on your fist with the other, trying to bend your arm while you resist and try to keep it straight. Unless unusually strong, most people find their arm being bent. Now repeat the experiment except, instead of using a fist, this time open your hand completely and imagine ki flowing through it. You will find that as long as you concentrate on the ki flow, your arm cannot be bent.

Principles of motion

      The techniques of hapkido are based on two dynamic theories:

1                    Theory of spinning (turning or redirection of force)

2                    Theory of joining and one step (using your opponents force in conjunction with your own).

The theory of spinning implies circular movement and it is in this sense that hapkido is a ‘soft’ art. Rather than meet a blow head-on, hapkido teaches that the blow should be redirected in a direction less harmfull to the defender. This is done by changing a straight line blow into a more rounded or circular movement around or past the intended target. The theory of spinning is also applied for throws and for those hapkido kicks and strikes which are based upon centrifugal force.

The theory of joining and one step is concerned with taking advantage of an opponents force and adding one’s own force to the counter to the opponent’s detriment.  For instance, an attacker throws a right cross at your face. Quickly stepping to your left (or his right), push his right elbow slightly toward the centre (theory of spinning) causing him to miss his target (your face) In the meantime, he will continue to move forward under the impetus of the attack. If you should follw through after your first defensive movement (one step) and counter attack with a blow to the face while he is still moving forward, you will join his force and your own together and sum total of the two forces will culminate at the point in time when your hand meets his unguarded face. Later, on we will see how this concept is applied in numerous hapkido counter attacks.

Written by Conrad Howard — November 21, 2012

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