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Hapkido Principles

While there are many different concepts of movement in the various Hapkido styles, there are still three basic philosophical/physiological concepts that are central to all of them. The following descriptions of the three central concepts are excerpted from Dr. He-Young Kimm's book, HAPKIDO, which is one of the few truly excellent reference works for Hapkido practitioners.

YU -- Theory of Flowing Water
In Hapkido practice, one does not stop an attacker's force directly with force, but redirects it. If one will imagine a stream flowing rapidly down a mountain, the problems to overcome if one decided to change the direction of the water flow becomes apparent. Constructing a dam perpendicular to the flow is obviously not the solution. However, if one would simply divert its flow, success would be realized. Hapkido theory follows the same approach. One does not stop an attacker's punch by applying force in direct opposition to the attack. By applying force to the side, tangentially, the attack can be diverted and less energy expended.

Water never struggles with any object that it encounters. If water cannot win the contact, it will not conflict. Instead it will join with its adversary, providing no friction. Although this is a demonstration of its ability to adapt, it is important to realize water never changes itself.

Softness is another characteristic of water that relates to the understanding of Hapkido. We must accept the fact that softness has the capacity to win against hardness. A tempered steel bar will eventually break under enough stress. Water, on the other hand, though it may be made to break up, will invariably join together again.

WON -- Theory of the Circle
The theory of the circle is emphasized in Hapkido training. Every man has his own circle. Inside this circle is his private territory. If someone were to enter this private domain without approval or proper warning, each man has a right to defend against this invasion. In actual practice, when an opponent punches, if this punch does not trespass into one's circle, there is no need to block. If one chooses to block, it is considered a waste of time and energy. When an opponent's punch does penetrate the circle, it should be received indirectly. Leading this force in a circle minimizes its effect. Utilizing a circle or winding block not only disrupts the opponent's force, but also sets the position for a counterattack.

WHA -- Theory of Harmony
In Hapkido training, there must exist a simultaneous combination of mind, body, environment, and techniques. Harmony is the most important element one should achieve in his training. After one achieves harmony with himself, the next requirement is to harmonize with one's opponent. Accomplishing this, one will find it quite easy to read the minds of others. Following this, learning to harmonize with the environment is the next stage. The final task is blending the harmony that one has developed with himself, his opponent, and the environment with that of his techniques.

What Hapkido Is

So what does this mean? It means that Hapkido is a soft, circular style of martial art, that prefers to re-direct and off-balance attackers as opposed to meeting force with force. It means that Hapkido prefers to use the attacker's strength and momentum against him. And it also means that Hapkido practitioners bear in mind that if there is no attack, then they don't need to defend. If there is an attack, however, then an active defense is not only a good idea, but one that is morally acceptable, as well.

Hapkido includes punches, kicks, locks, throws, and weapons techniques, which are all then presented in a self-defense format.

NOTE: From this point on, we will be speaking of Hapkido as we know it---meaning we will be speaking of the style of Hapkido that we practice. There are many styles, so these comments may not be true of all styles.

There are a number of different groups of Hapkidoists: US Hapkido Federation, International Hapkido Federation, Sin Moo Hapkido, International Kido Federation, US Hapkido Association, American Hapkido Association, etc. This makes for a lot of different styles----plus, each teacher (in each school) teaches slightly differently, and emphasizes different things. This means that there are a number of different concepts of what Hapkido "really" is, and how it should be practiced.

So the following description/discussion is specifically going to be talking about the style of Hapkido that we practice, with occasional comments about SPECIFIC things we have seen in others. Other styles are similar, but probably won't be exactly the same.

What Hapkido Does

In Hapkido, we teach you to defend yourself. What is important is HOW we teach you to do this. In Hapkido, what we do is build character---and our OUTWARD EXPRESSION of that character is learning how to defend ourselves.

The style of Hapkido that we practice has no forms, unlike many other arts. Instead, much of what we do is called "practicals"---situational drills and reactions. Many arts do this, but not to the extent that we do. (This doesn't make us better or worse---each art has a different reason, emphasis, and mindset.)

In the first ten weeks of Hapkido class, newcomers are taught the basic stances, kicks and punches, like in any art. However, MOST of the time beginners spend in our class is taken up in learning sets of reactions to different types of attacks, such as: Grabbed from the front, wrist grab, opposite wrist grab, headlock, grabbed from behind, grabbed by the hair, etc.

The new students learn simple, efficient ways to deal with attacks like this---and more importantly, start hearing about how to be in control of themselves. Building self-confidence, building certainty, and building the self-control needed to stand up straight and speak out to control their own choices.

Different arts are for different things. Not better, not worse, just different. Hapkido isn't a sport art, though it can be; isn't a "blending" art, though we do that as well, since it's a wonderful mental set; isn't an aerobic workout or exercise program, though it certainly works your body. Our focus is specific: self-defense applications.

Hapkido is for building character---and we do that by defending ourselves.

If you are already a hapkidoist, and are interested in finding written resources for information, you might check out the NHA Martial Arts Bookstore, which has ways to get yourself a number of hapkido books.