HAPKIDO – An Organic Martial Art


Worldwide, over the past decade, Hapkido took a great leap forward in terms of stepping out of the shadows, and now this beautiful and yet highly practical art is more widely recognized and practiced than perhaps ever but what does the future hold? Nial Adams writes.

Hapkido has suffered its fair share of politics and debate around the origins of what is generally accepted to be a relevantly modern style. The fact that much of the technical aspects are drawn from ancient forms is not disputed but the formation of what we see today is down to a single founder Choi Young Sul. Sadly since his death in 1986 pretenders to the throne have been hard at work to re-write a history that fits their own aims mostly commercial.

As perceived to be Korean art, there is also contention in giving credit to the Japanese elements from the Daito-Ryu school of Aiki-Jujitsu and in reworking the history some wonderful tales have recently appeared, liberally scattered with the usual elements of wandering monks, hidden monasteries, secret books and texts passing on once-forgotten knowledge to the chosen few.

Fred Adams, who in 1971 founded the Great Britain Hapkido Association, the very first association to teach art in Britain, talks about where art stands today and why it should be respected as a practical and organic style, without the need to take on added extras. Often referring to his own system as Authentic Hapkido we asked what this means.

There is so much rubbish talked about the style, and even more, rubbish being taught, the problem is the general public don’t know what their getting is the genuine article or not, and sadly in most cases, it’s the latter. I use the word Authentic as I want to emphasize that we’re teaching an unadulterated style, where we haven’t padded it out with unnecessary elements like hyungs (patterns) or competitive sparring.

But why don’t you see these as beneficial? Hapkido is an amazing art, complex and yet beautiful in its simplicity. Quite simply, Hyungs were never part of the original training system. We choose to work hands-on with a training partner. Hapkido is very direct and practical, it’s combat, self-defense in its purest form and this requires actual physical contact, whether that be in practicing the many locks, throws, holds, etc, or working on defenses from attacks like punches and kicks.

How can Hapkido work in a competitive environment? – It can’t, that’s the point. It’s not Taekwondo and it’s not kickboxing, how on earth can you make moves that are designed to dislocate someone’s shoulder, snap their wrist, or knock them out and apply that, practically in a sporting context? The minute you produce a rule book you destroy the whole concept of the art.

So where does your Hapkido stand in terms of the rest of the martial arts community? We really have no interest in those that wish to dilute and effectively degrade what is fantastic art. Evidently, the kind of people who have experienced a meteoric rise in their standards and grades have a key element missing training time. Hapkido teaches you the basics of art that you can develop organically, for the rest of your life. There’s enough learning to keep you busy for more than a lifetime without adding any artificial ingredients, they’re a poor substitute for learning the real thing, authentic Hapkido.

What does it offer and what kinds of students are attracted to your Authentic Hapkido? Because we teach it from a practical perspective our students come from all walks of life. Everyone should have a right to protect himself or herself, no matter what age, sex, or ability. Because of the practical way we teach in particular we attract people who need effective self-defense, like members of the police, armed forces, bodyguards, medical staff, teachers, door supervisors, etc. It represents a devastatingly effective system of self-defense and doesn’t require great strength or size.

And how do you approach the more esoteric elements in your teaching? Hapkido is a Do, away, and there is much more to the study of the art than simply practice it and training. We find people who take a serious study and grow into the art benefit enormously. We don’t brainwash students with religious, cult-like teaching as some others do but focus on the values of their character and build positive elements like confidence, care, and understanding. It’s a very effective style and so potentially dangerous in the wrong hands and we want to develop students who respect themselves, others around them, and the art.

Where do you see Hapkido going from here? Sadly, like so many other styles there are plenty of people out there looking to profit from people’s ignorance and gullibility, and I will do everything possible to give students with a desire to learn the opportunity to study the genuine article. Ensuring that Hapkido grows and moves forward is essential. As the largest, most widespread, and established organization in the UK we are looking to expand further and let more people have the chance to experience the style.”

Written by Grandmaster Fred Adams, 8th Dan

Fred Adams is internationally recognized for his pioneering work for the development of Hapkido as well as other styles. Having studied martial arts for over 50 years, now at the age of 71, he still travels to teach, grade his students and promote Authentic Hapkido through seminars and training.

For more information contact: International Hapkido – 0845 226 6935

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