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History of Hapkido

The history and practice of Hapkido has been shrouded in secrecy. The Japanese Annexation of Korea in the early 1900s lead to what was tantamount to cultural genocide. The passing of many of the originating pioneers of the art has only exacerbated what little records were kept and firsthand historical accounts and verifications are quickly fading away. Even the “general” consensus that is being propagated through various media can be found to be rewrites or verbatim copies of previously published material (“same” source). At best, a holistic review of the sources, background information, history and culture should be used to form one’s view of the history of Hapkido.

Historical and Cultural Background

Historical artifacts indicate that the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria were inhabited since the Paleolithic (“Old Stone”) Age. The ethnic ancestors of the Korean people settled on the Korean Peninsula from the Neolithic Stone Age to the Bronze Age engaging in basic agriculture and raising livestock. Old Joseon was the first state established and became a central power within Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. Following the second century B.C., several states formed in this area and rapidly developed by interacting with each other. These eventually developed into the Three Kingdoms of Korea around of the first half of the first millennium.

The state of Silla formed alliances with the Tang dynasty and eventually conquered and unified Korea ousting the states of Baekje and Goguryeo. Prior to this unification, the people of the Three Kingdoms, Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla made inroads into Japan actively becoming involved in many diverse sectors. While many nations have mythological legends of their origins, many scholars assert that Japanese culture was heavily influenced by Korea, if not direct descendants (Baekje) of the Korean people. 
The diverse culture of the Three Kingdoms, including religion, philosophy, and practical technology were widely introduced into Japan. Pottery and sculptures reflect this influence including the sculptures of the gold plated (in Korea) Maitreya Bodhisattva (the “contemplating” image of the Buddha with crossed legs) versus the wooden sculpture found in the Goruji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, which are nearly identical.

The gold plated Maitreya Bodhisattva in the National Museum of Korea, Seoul Korea Copyright Mark Schumacher, Wooden Maitreya Bodhisattva in Goruji Temple Kyoto, Japan
Modern Hapkido
A system of martial art is not the product of one man but born out of the culture and history of a nation. Choi Yong Sul, widely recognized as the founder of Hapkido, was taken to Japan in the around 1912, at the age of eight. Koreans forcibly taken to Japan during the Annexation held very low social status and there appear to be few records to substantiate founder Choi’s historical testimony of having trained in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu under Takeda Sokaku. What is clear and documented via his students is that founder Choi’s martial art skills were formidable. 
One of his first and most well known students was GM Ji Han Jae. GM Ji claims that he combined traditional native Korean kicking, weapons, and other techniques along with founder Choi’s teachings and developed what we now call HapkidoGM Ji gained strong political backing after obtaining  the position of Hapkido instructor for the presidential guards at the Blue House (equivalent to the White House) during President Park Chung Hee’s reign. GM Ji along with other pioneers of Hapkido, were instrumental in the development of modern Hapkido.  The lineage of the vast majority of Hapkido masters and pioneers can be traced back to GM Ji.
Based on the historical and cultural evidence suggesting the heavy influence of Korea on Japan, it is likely this included dissemination of fighting techniques. Just as the Korean military arts were influenced by China, the same can be said of Japanese styles. However, each country, Korea, and Japan, uniquely adapted and incorporated their own influences to what was at first assimilated into their respective cultures. But, one cannot deny the flow of cultural and historical expansion from China, to Korea, and Japan. An obvious example can be seen in the architecture of the three countries in the last two millenniums. The royal courts of China are grandiose and elegant, while those of Japan seem very clean, almost “zen” like. Korea shows the cross over, with some very clean lines while also having the elegant grandiose designs one can see in Chinese royal courts.
With the rise of Confucianism, the military arts were frowned upon and practiced and recorded by few, perhaps resorting to handing down from generation to generation with little to no documentation. This was compounded with the Japanese Annexation in perhaps losing what little records there were. It is interesting to note that the Japanese took a much different approach, methodically documenting lineage and embracing the warrior’s code in leading the country into to the twentieth century.
The history and culture of Korea influenced Japan, including what we now call native Japanese arts, and that founder Choi, brought back with him what he learned as Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, whose origins are based on Korean arts. GM Ji Han Jae combined the existing native arts including kicking, weapons, and other techniques, along with the techniques that founder Choi taught, and developed what we now call modern Hapkido. We may be able pinpoint individuals who have had great impact and perhaps even “introduced” an art, but a martial art is not the product of one man, it is the culmination of the history and culture of a nation.