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Yong Sul Choi / Han Jae Ji The History of Hapkido

The history of Hapkido is the subject of some controversy. I say Grandmaster Han Jae Ji is the Dojunim -Founder- of Hapkido [image on the right] and, with all due respect,Grandmaster Choi was the 'Father'[image on the left]. Some say that Hapkido was founded by Yong Sul Choi who had studied Daito Ryu AikiJu-Jitsu in Japan till the end of World War II. Some claim that Choi's Daito Ryu training was limited to simply attending seminars.

There's no such thing as simply attending a seminar, especially if you are the assistant to the Grandmaster-who in this case was Grandmaster Takeda, the head of the exclusive, 800 year old Daito Aki-Ryu Jujutsu Japanese system of martial art. There is work to be done and, as indicated by the proximity as the assistant sitting close-by, I can say from direct experience that the young Grandmaster Choi had his work cut-out and sitting right in front of him.


Grandmaster Choi was stolen, as a young boy, from Korea by the Japanese. He was constantly getting into trouble and the police took him, as a last resort, to the monastery of Monk Wanatabe, located in the Shin Shu mountains of Japan.

The old monk asked the young Korean boy what he wanted to do with his life. Young Choi looked around the 'Great Hall' and pointed at one of the several murals of various warriors- 'I want to do that!,' the little boy said.So the old monk bundled the young boy and took him to his friend, the Great-Grandmaster Takeda-head of the Aki-Ryu Jujutsu system. The Takeda family had held the system together for over 800 years and the system was exclusively Japanese until a Korean named Yong Sul Choi came along and was 'included,' rather than 'excluded,' and there our story begins. Until the 1960's, Hapkido was known by various names: Yu Kwon Sool, Yu-Sool, Ho Shin Sool, and Bi Sool.

DJN Han Jae Ji is the "Dojunim" (founder) of Hapkido. In my office is a copy of the original World Sokiship Council Certificate of Authenticity (given to me by the DJN Han Jae Ji in 1995} dated October of 1995. It was dated and signed by the "Sokeship Council" of all the Grandmasters of the World and presented to DJN Ji. It declared DJN Han Jae Ji to be the father and founder of Hapkido period-no if, ands, or buts!

DJN Ji started his physical training under Grandmaster Choi, Yong Sool (Sul) as a teenager in 1953. Choi taught Bok Suh Yu Sool (yawara), the Korean version of Daito Ryu AikiJu-Jutsu. At this time, under the supervision and control of DJN Han Jae Ji, certain Korean kicks, strikes,weapons, breathing techniques, diet, and 'mind power' were combined and the name expanded to indicate the broadened art form called Korean Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool.

DJN Ji, Han Jae opened his first Yu Kwon Sool Hap Ki school one year after he began training under Choi with an agreed affiliation with him. Ji left Choi in 1956 to form his own organization, shortening the long name to Hapkido. DJN Ji immigrated to the United States and continues to teach Hapkido today.

Hapkido and Aikido

Hapkido closely parallels (and is sometimes confused with) Aikido and is a complete system of self-defense using striking, kicking and grappling techniques. Hapkido and Aikido both have significant similarities to Daito Ryu AikiJu-Jutsu.

All Hapkido techniques are used for their practical self-defense purposes. Billy JackSince the style is predominately defensive, a practitioner generally allows an attacker to make the first move, thereby committing him or herself. Originally a grappling and throwing art, it now includes a variety of strikes and kicks.

Hapkido was introduced in the United States in the 1960s. The style became popular after the motion picture Billy Jack featured Hapkido in its fight scenes, realistically choreographed by Bong Soo Han, and it has grown in popularity since.

Bong Soo Han learned Hapkido from his senior DJN Han Jae Ji and both affiliated and studied with Grandmaster Choi. DJN Ji allowed Grandmaster Choi, out of respect, to claim himself as 'founder' of Hapkido. Grandmaster Choi taught the Aki-Ryu Jujutsu system (and a good one it is!), not Hapkido. Hapkido was all DJN Han Jae Ji.

I know the DJN personally and there is much more I have to say about this great man. In the 1970's and 80's Hapkido was taught as the style of choice to elite South Korean armed forces units. The DJN Han Jae Ji was the personal body guard for President Park, the President of South Korea, for 19 years. He was also the fight coordinator for Harvest Films in Asia and played in many martial art movies.

During the time that Kung-Fu was being popularized, in the Asia movie scene (Kung-Fu Theater and all), it is only fair to note that much of the "kung-fu" was really Hapkido in disguise...being the new kid on the block...the term Hapkido was unfamiliar with the movie going public.

DJN Ji says,in one seminar lecture, that "Judo was popular, then Ju-Jitsu. Next came Karate and then kung-fu," "Now is Hapkido time," speaking in order of popularity with the public at large. Since Hapkido has elements of these martial arts, and more, it was hard to 'nail down' - this new, fledgling martial art called "Hapkido" into something specific, in the eyes of the public.

It still is today. Sin Moo Hapkido, the DJN would say, is the martial art of today. It fits into today's world extremely well and bears further investigation by those with discerning minds and character. As I close, I would like to invite everyone to watch the old Bruce Lee movie, the Game of Death.

The DJN Ji choreographed the fight scenes and starred in the movie with Bruce. They were roommates during the filming and DJN Ji was Bruce Lee's coach, as well as mentor. Bruce let DJN Ji wear the 'gold belt,' signifying the highest honor that can be given to the DJN Grandmaster Han Jae Ji.

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