Why Hapkido is my favourite martial art


There are thousands of martial arts to choose from if one is considering a taking up a new sport. Japan has a rich tradition and legacy of martial arts, as does its larger and more ancient neighbour China, to say nothing of countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, which each have their own traditions.


Although nowadays more associated with relaxation, a healthy lifestyle or spiritualism India’s yoga started out as a way for warriors to train their bodies. From those beginnings yoga branched out and has many martial arts that evolved from it.


It’s widely known that martial arts were developed—either systematically or organically—as the name suggests to help individuals become better fighters. European traditions of martial arts nowadays are a bit antiquated like fencing and archery for example or they have evolved into something else. Most equestrian sport that we have today comes in one form or another from cavalry training from the days before mechanised warfare. Gymnasts is another example of a European martial art that has evolved over time. Now it’s not even considered  martial art, but it was created in the German-speaking world during the Napoleonic Wars and was taught to civilian fighters that today might be called partisans or guerillas.


Perhaps because so many of the martial arts are hundreds or even thousands of years old many people believe that somehow the age of a martial art is some sort of a prerequisite. That is most certainly not the case as new martial arts are regularly developed. Krav Maga, developed by the Israeli army during the last half-century, is bespoke to the conditions of fighting in Israel, with its ancient cities and their compact streets. The Thai Royal army and the police in Brazil have also both developed their own unique forms of combat tactics.


Hapkido, for my money, is the best martial art. It lies somewhere between ancient and modern. Or to be more precise it’s a modern martial art, having been developed in the early 20th century, but it’s inspiration and influence are thousands of years old.


It was developed in Korea and, as it the case with most martial arts, it was was used by the Korean army. Tang Soo Do and taekkyeon techniques—also 20th century fighting techniques native to Korea, were added to the Hapkido canon, so to speak, after its founder died. Choi Young-Sool had lived in Japan for thirty years and upon his return to Korea after the World War II he imported many of the Japanese fighting techniques.


It’s the composite nature of the sport that brings for me such great appeal. Not only does it teach ancient methods of fighting such as using a cane or short stick or knives—to name just a few—but it also has more modern methods. With its emphasis on self-defence and neutralising attackers (as opposed to being the aggressor one’s self) it’s also ideally suited to the average person.