Hapkido is a Korean martial art and aims to be an effective form of self-defense. Hapkido employs joint locks, pressure points, throws, kicks, and other strikes. Hapkido practitioners train to counter the techniques of other martial arts as well as common "unskilled" attacks. There is also a range of traditional weapons including short stick, cane, rope, sword and staff which vary in emphasis depending on the particular tradition examined.

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Although hapkido contains both long and close range fighting techniques, the purpose of most engagements is to get near for a close strike, lock, or throw. 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.


On the "hard-soft" scale of martial arts, hapkido stands somewhere in the middle, employing "soft" techniques similar to aikido and "hard" techniques reminiscent of taekwondo and tangsoodo. Even the "hard" techniques, though, emphasize circular rather than linear movements. Hapkido is an eclectic martial art, and different hapkido schools emphasize different techniques. However, some core techniques are found in each school (kwan), and all techniques should follow the three principles of hapkido:

* Nonresistance ("Hwa")
* Circular Motion ("Won")
* The Water Principle ("Yu")

Hwa, or non-resistance, is simply the act of remaining relaxed and not directly opposing an opponent’s strength. For example, if an opponent were to push against a hapkido student’s chest, rather than resist and push back, the hapkido student would avoid a direct confrontation by moving in the same direction as the push and utilizing the opponent’s forward momentum to throw him.

Won, the circular principle, is a way to gain momentum for executing the techniques in a natural and free-flowing manner. If an opponent attacks in linear motion, as in a punch or knife thrust, the hapkido student would redirect the opponent’s force by leading the attack in a circular pattern, thereby adding the attacker’s power to his own. Once he has redirected the power, the hapkido student can execute any of a variety of techniques to incapacitate his attacker. The hapkido practitioner learns to view an attacker as an "energy entity" rather than as a physical entity. The bigger the person is, the more energy a person has, the better it is for the hapkido student.

Yu, the water principle, can be thought of as the soft, adaptable strength of water. Hapkido is "soft" in that it does not rely on physical force alone, much like water is soft to touch. It is adaptable in that a hapkido master will attempt to deflect an opponent’s strike, in a way that is similar to free-flowing water being divided around a stone only to return and envelop it.

"As the flowing stream penetrates and surrounds its obstructions and as dripping water eventually penetrates the stone, so does the hapkido strength flow in and through its opponents."


Hapkido seeks to be a fully comprehensive fighting style and as such tries to avoid narrow specialization in any particular type of technique or range of fighting. It maintains a wide range of tactics for striking, standing jointlocks, throwing techniques (both pure and joint manipulating throws) and pinning techniques. Some styles also incorporate tactics for ground fighting although these tactics generally tend to be focused upon escaping, controlling, striking and gouging tactics over submissions and emphasizing the ability to gain one’s feet and situational awareness over pins.

Proper Hapkido tactics include using footwork and a series of kicks and hand strikes to bridge the distance with an opponent. Then to immediately control the balance of the opponent (typically by manipulating the head and neck), for a take down or to isolate a wrist or arm and apply a joint twisting throw, depending upon the situation; Hapkido is a comprehensive system and once the opponent’s balance has been taken, there are a myriad of techniques to disable and subdue the opponent.

Hapkido makes use of pressure points known in Korean as ‘hyul’ which are also used in traditional Asian medical practises such as acupuncture. These pressure points are either struck to produce unconsciousness or manipulated to create pain allowing one to more easily upset the balance of one’s opponent prior to a throw or joint manipulation.

Hapkido emphasizes self defense over sport fighting and as such employs the use of weapons, including environmental weapons of opportunity, in addition to empty hand techniques.


The wide variety of kicks in hapkido make it distinctly Korean. Taekwondo kicks appear to be similar to many of the kicks found in hapkido, though again circular motion is emphasized. Hapkido’s method of delivery tends toward greater weight commitment to the strikes and less concern for quick retraction of the kicking leg. As in other arts, such as Muay Thai, hapkido’s emphasis is more towards power and commitment than to speed and the preference is toward hip rather than knee generated power.

Traditionally, Choi Yong Sul’s yu kwon sul kicking techniques were only to the lower body, but most derived varieties of hapkido also include high kicks and jumping kicks.

Two of the earliest innovators in this regard were Ji Han Jae and Kim Moo Hong, both of whom were exposed to what were thought to be indigenous Korean kicking arts. They combined these forms together with the yu sool concepts for striking taught to them by Master Choi and during a period of 8 months training together in 1961 finalized the kicking curriculum which would be used by the Korea Hapkido Association (Daehan Hapkido Hyub Hwe) for many years to come.

Other influences also were exerted on the kicking techniques of important hapkido teachers. Bong Soo Han studied under kwon bup and Shudokan karate from Yoon Byung-In, whose students were influential in the later forming of kong soo do and taekwondo styles, specifically the chang moo kwan and jido kwan. He, like Kim Moo Hong, also trained briefly in the Korean art of taek kyun under Lee Bok-Yong.

Many other teachers like Myung Kwang-sik, Chung Kee-Tae, Lim Hyun-Soo, and many others trained in tang soo do and kong soo do, Shotokan and Shudokan karate based systems which predated and influenced the forming of first tae soo do and later modern taekwondo styles.

Kim Sang Cook states that while many of the original yu kwon sool students were exposed to many different contemporary Korean arts the chung do kwan was of particular importance in the transition from the original jujutsu based form to what we know today as modern hapkido.

Most forms of hapkido include a series of double kicks used to promote balance, coordination and muscular control.

An example of a double kick set

* Front Kick — Side Kick
* Front Kick – Back Kick ("Turning-Side Kick")
* Front Kick – Roundhouse Kick

An example of a turning side kick
An example of a turning side kick
* Front Heel/Hook Kick — Roundhouse Kick
* Low Side Kick – High Side Kick
* Inside Crescent Kick — Outside Crescent Kick (or Heeldown/Axe Kick for both)

* Inside Crescent Kick – Side Kick (or Inside Heeldown Kick and Side Kick)
* Outside Heel-down Kick — Roundhouse Kick
* Ankle Scoop Kick — Side Kick
* Cover Kick – Front Kick
* Inside Heel Hooking-the-Thigh Kick — Front Kick

* High Spinning Heel Kick — Low Spinning Heel Kick
* Inside Footblade Kick – Outside Footblade Kick
* Outside Heeldown Kick – Roundhouse

After these kicks are mastered using one foot kick the student moves on to jumping versions using alternate kicking legs.

Kim Chong Sung, one of the oldest living active hapkido instructors, maintains that the source of these kicking methods is from the indigenous Korean kicking art of taek kyon. Others feel that these kicks are more representative of the kong soo do and tang soo do styles which emerged from an adaptation of Japanese karate forms.

Hand strikes

Like most martial arts, hapkido employs a great number of punches and hand strikes, as well as elbow strikes. A distinctive example of hapkido hand techniques is "live hand" strike that focuses energy to the baek hwa hyul in the hand, producing energy strikes and internal strikes. The hand strikes are often used to weaken the opponent before joint locking and throwing, and also as finishing techniques. Hand striking in hapkido (unless in competition) is not restricted to punches and open hand striking; some significance is given to striking with fingernails at the throat and eyes; pulling at the opponent’s genitals is also covered in conventional training. In order to recall hand strikes more easily in an emotionally charged situation, beginning students are taught conventional, effective patterns of blocks and counterattacks called Makko Chigi, which progress to more complex techniques as the student becomes familiar with them.

Joint manipulation techniques

Much of hapkido’s joint control techniques are said to be derived largely from aikijujutsu. They are taught similarly to aikido techniques, but in general the circles are smaller and the techniques are applied in a more linear fashion. Hapkido’s joint manipulation techniques attack both large joints (such as the elbow, shoulder, neck, back, knee, and hip) and small joints (such as wrists, fingers, ankles, toes, jaw).

Most techniques involve applying force in the direction that a joint moves naturally and then forcing it to overextend or by forcing a joint to move in a direction that goes against its natural range of motion. These techniques can be used to cause pain and force a submission, to gain control of an opponent for a ‘come along’ techniques (as is often employed in law enforcement), to assist in a hard or gentle throw or to cause the dislocation or breaking of the joint. Hapkido differs from some post war styles of aikido in its preservation of a great many techniques which are applied against the joint that were deemed by some to be inconsistent with aikido’s more pacificistic philosophy.

Wristlocks Hapkido is well known for its use of a wide variety of wristlocks. These techniques are believed to have been derived from Daito-ryu aikijujutsu although their manner of performance is not always identical to that of the parent art. Still many of the tactics found in hapkido are quite similar to those of Daito-ryu and of aikido which was derived from that art. These involve such tactics as the supinating wristlock, pronating wristlock, internal rotational wristlock and the utilizing of pressure points on the wrist and are common to many forms of Japanese jujutsu, Chinese qin na and even ‘catch as catch can’ wrestling.

Elbowlocks Although well known for its wristlocking techniques hapkido has an equally wide array of tactics which centre upon the manipulation of the elbow joint (see armlocks). The first self defense technique typically taught in many hapkido schools is the knifehand elbow press. This technique is thought to be derived from Daito-ryu’s ippondori, a method of disarming and destroying the elbow joint of a sword wielding opponent. Hapkido typically introduces this technique off a wrist grabbing attack where the defender makes a circular movement with his hands to free themselves from their opponent’s grasp and applies a pronating wristlock while cutting down upon the elbow joint with their forearm, taking their opponent down to the ground where an elbow lock is applied with one’s hand or knee to immobolize the attacker in a pin. Interestingly both Daito-ryu and aikido prefer to use handpressure on the elbow throughout the technique rather than using the forearm as a ‘hand blade’, cutting the into elbow joint, in the hapkido manner.

Throwing techniques

In addition to throws which are achieved by unbalancing one’s opponent through the twisting of their joints, hapkido also contains techniques of pure throwing which do not require the assistance of jointlocks. Some of these techniques are found within Daito-ryu but a great many of them are held in common with judo (the same Chinese characters are pronounced "yudo" in Korean). Many of early practitioners of hapkido had extensive judo backgrounds including Choi Yong Sul’s first student Suh Bup Sok.
Hapkido holds many throwing techniques in common with judo.

Judo techniques were introduced in the early years of 20th century in Korea during the Japanese colonial period. Judo/yudo tactics employ extensive use of throws, various chokes, hold downs, joint locks, and other grappling techniques used to control the opponent on the ground. It is believed that these techniques were absorbed into the hapkido curriculum from judo as there were a great many judo practitioners in Korea at that time and its tactics were commonly employed in the fighting of the period. Indeed, there also exists a portion of the hapkido curriculum which consists of techniques specifically designed to thwart judo style attacks.

The judo/yudo techniques were however adopted with adjustments made to make them blend more completely with the self defense orientation which hapkido stresses. For example many of the judo style throwing techniques employed in hapkido do not rely upon the use of traditional judo grips on the uniform, which can play a large role in the Japanese sport. Instead in many cases they rely upon gripping the limbs, head or neck in order to be successful.

Even today Korea remains one of the strongest countries in the world for the sport of judo and this cross influence on the art of Korean hapkido continues to be felt in Korean schools such as the Gong Kwan.


As a hapkido student advances through the various belt levels (basically the same as other Korean arts, e.g. taekwondo), he or she learns how to employ and defend against various weapons. The first weapon encountered is most often the knife (kal). Then, techniques and defenses against the short stick (dan bong, 단봉), the walking cane (jipangee), and the rope are introduced in hapkido training. Some styles also incorporate the long staff (jang bong), middle long staff (jung bong), nunchaku (Ssang Jeol Gon,) and the sword (Gum).


Hapkido training takes place in a dojang. While training methods vary, a typical training session will contain technique practice, break falling (nakbop, 낙법), sparring, meditation and exercises to develop internal energy (ki).

Although hapkido is in some respects a "soft" art, training is very vigorous and demanding. The practitioner could benefit in training by being lean and muscular. However, strength is not a prerequisite of hapkido; what strength and fitness is necessary to perform the techniques develops naturally as a result of training.

Example Curriculum

The following is an example of the Korea Hapkido Association technical requirements from white belt to 5th degree Black Belt as recorded by He-Young Kimm, created in association with Ji Han Jae. As one of the largest and most influential organizations[12] the content is fairly consistent with what is taught in a great many of today’s hapkido dojangs and the current Korea Hapkido Federation. The order in which the techniques are introduced may vary with individual schools.

Hapkido students practice throws and joint manipulation in a dojang.
Hapkido students practice throws and joint manipulation in a dojang.

1st Degree Black Belt

* Single Kicks
* Defense Against Wrist Grabs
* Defense Against Clothing Grabs

* Punch Defense
* Kick Defense
* Combination Kicks
* Jumping Kicks
* Defense Against Throws
* Knife Defense

* Attacking Techniques / Taking the Initiative

2nd Degree Black Belt

* Advanced Defense Against Wrist Grabs
* Advanced Defense Against Clothing Grabs
* Advanced Punch Defense
* Advanced Kick Defense

* Defense Against Chokes
* Attacking Techniques
* Special Kicks
* Defense From A Sitting Or Lying Posture

A hapkido kick is countered by another practitioner.
A hapkido kick is countered by another practitioner.

3rd Degree Black Belt

* Joint locking Counters
* Short Stick Techniques
* Staff Techniques

4th Degree Black Belt

* Cane Techniques
* Sword Techniques

* Defense Against Multiple Attackers

5th Degree Black Belt

* Techniques Using Opponent’s Force
* Rope Techniques
* Knife Throwing Techniques
* Revival Techniques


Some organizations have events where practitioners can compete. Sometimes in sparring, but the most common style of competitions are those where teams or individuals compete by demonstration. In 1990 the International H.K.D Federation organized the first International H.K.D Games in Seoul. Several editions followed and other organizations started organizing their own events.


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