This article is adapted from information in the Hapkido Essentials and Self-defense video app
Hapkido means the way of coordinated power. It consists of over 300 techniques with thousands of variations organized into three major groups: empty hand vs. empty hand, empty hand vs. weapon and weapon vs. weapon. Each group of techniques can be further categorized as offensive or defensive. Empty hand techniques include kicking, punching, locking, throwing, and immobilization. Weapons techniques include the knife, cane, rope/belt, club/short stick and sword. One of the most unique aspects of hapkido is its emphasis on techniques done from unusual positions such as the prone or seated position.
There is a great deal of emphasis placed on uniting the body as a harmonious whole and focusing the body's natural energy in the performance of hapkido techniques. Methods for doing this are taught in great detail, making hapkido one of the most scientifically developed martial arts.
There are three guiding principles in hapkido: hwa, won and yu. Hwa means using the opponent's strength against him. Won means moving in a circular pattern. Yu means flowing like water. Combining these three principles is the foundation of hapkido's power.
Hapkido is an excellent means of self-defense because its wide variety of options lets students focus on attacking the weakest part of an opponent, for example a vital point, neural channel or vulnerable joint, using a stronger technique. In addition to this strong against weak principle, hapkido, like aikido, emphasizes using the opponent's strength against him. Defensive techniques favor a circular pattern designed to weaken the oncoming attack and, at the same time, strengthen a counter-movement. This concept is derived from the water principle: redirecting the force of an attack rather than meeting it head on, much the way water flows around a stationary object.
With its heavy emphasis on self-defense, hapkido teaches techniques in all fighting ranges from kicking and striking to joint locking and immobilization on the ground. Many techniques are formulated for use in everyday situations such as seated in a chair, standing in a confined space like a hallway, reclining in bed or walking in a crowded building. Defensively, students learn varying degrees of force from joint locks to control an attacker without causing permanent damage to choking techniques and vital point strikes that can cause severe damage if necessary to save the practitioner's life.
Dan Jun Breathing
In many martial arts, such as hapkido, movements should originate from the dan jun area for optimum effectiveness. By focusing the energy originating from the body’s center, techniques become fluid and synchronized. There are a number of recognized methods for strengthening and focusing the energy of the dan jun including ki gong (ki focusing) and dan jun breathing.
Dan jun breathing is widely practiced by students of Korean martial arts, including hapkido and haedong kumdo. Students of hapkido learn dan jun breathing exercises from the very first class to help them locate and become aware of their center. As students advance, dan jun breathing exercises help them build inner strength and increase the effectiveness of their techniques. By harnessing their ki power, students can create maximum results with minimum physical exertion.
Weapons taught as part of the hapkido curriculum include the short stick (dan bong), sword, cane, rope/belt and staff. One of the most unique weapons in hapkido is the use of a rope or the practitioner's belt to capture the arm, leg or neck of the opponent. Once the opponent is within close range, the belt or rope is used to immobilize, choke or strangle him into submission. These techniques are some of the most dangerous taught and should be practiced with utmost care. In addition to offensive skills with weapons, hapkido teaches defenses against the knife, gun and club.
Hapkido kicks are in some ways similar to taekwondo balchagi, but with a greater emphasis on self-defense applications. In addition to the jumping, acrobatic and spinning kicks found in taekwondo, hapkido includes low kicks and sweeps. The hapkido curriculum also places great emphasis on nakbup or falling skills. Students learn to fall to the front, side and back so they can land safely when practicing with a partner. Advanced students learn spectacular flying and flipping falls which are often used as part of demonstration techniques, such as defeating two or three attackers in quick succession.
There are currently over 1.2 million hapkido black belts training in Korea plus millions more students in over 50 countries throughout the world. Worldwide, hapkido is the second most popular Korean martial art behind taekwondo.