Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo survives by bending with the wind

bruce-lee-kung-fu-quotes-24At some point in our martial arts training, students realise that strong, linear movements are painful to work with, and require a large expenditure of energy. The use of force against force is a crude way to get a result, and is not a true expression of martial arts. Students training like this may develop bruises in class training, and over time may even cause long lasting damage to their bone structure. This linear way of training is also difficult to maintain long term, as our bodies grow tired and age.

It is at this point that alternatives are sought out by the Martial Artist who wishes to continue practicing in a healthy body on a long term basis.

This is where the student starts to see the value, and apply the principles of circular motion in their movements to avoid attacks and re-position themselves in a more effective position. It is where students start to be able to apply the more advanced and complicated motions that incorporate circles. These movements allow the student the flexibility to respond to direct attacks by absorbing an attack and redirecting it, much as bamboo moves in the wind.

It takes considerably more time to learn to move in a circular way, however after time spent in studying the Martial Arts, students begin to naturally see the advantages of moving in a smoother responsive way instead of a binary linear way.

Understanding this way of moving also allows the students to respond differently to different situations. Students start to understand that the same response is not always appropriate, and that there are many ways of achieving the desired outcome.

Moving smoothly and circularly is a challenging skill to master. It is not the same as learning how to perform an individual technique, no matter how complex, as it requires us to have the presence of mind to alter something as fundamental as the way we move. The way we do this is we practice the ability to observe ourselves in action.

When we start our training, we have a bit of tunnel vision – we see hands and feet flying through the air towards us and we just concentrate on dealing with that – we see a target and we hit it, we see an attack and we block it, all the time trying to keep our heads above water.

Next stage in our training is the ‘Doh!’ stage. This is a frustrating stage as we can see opportunities to do something different and good just microseconds after the opportunity has passed. This is a natural and healthy stage as it means we are starting to be able to look wider than the tunnel vision of the previous stage.

mindfulness-gives-you-timeAfter time in our training, we develop the ability to relax in our training, to wait for opportunities and respond to the them as soon as they arise and make a decision about what action to take. This ability is taking the moment between stimulus and response and stretching it out to make enough time to choose between a variety of options, instead of shrinking the moment to be so small that all we can do is lash out, or do what we have been conditioned to do without thinking about if it is the right action to take.

We do this by looking outwards, away from the little details in front of us and at the bigger picture. We do it by trying to be in the moment and yet also distant from it, observing it. Most people will have, at some time or another been asked something and they instantly gave a response (usually in the negative) without thinking about, and later realised that was actually an opportunity that we passed up to change something for the better. When we go around on autopilot, or when we get caught up in busyness and respond without thought, we do not have the chance to move forward. When, however, we can be present in each moment, looking at each situation and making conscious decisions about it, then we are able to make good choices about the course of action we should take, and this shapes the person and the martial artist we become.

Honourable Founder of the Way – Ji Han Jae

A recent photo of Doju Nim Ji Han Jae
A recent photo of Doju Nim Ji Han Jae

There have been several times in class where I have referred to the founder of Hapkido, Ji Han Jae, spending some time in prison in Korea. This is just one aspect of this interesting man’s life, so this blog post will give everyone the details of the time in prison, as well as some other interesting facts about Ji Han Jae’s life.

Gramdmaster Ji Han Jae, or Dojunim, to use his teaching title, which can be translated as Honourable Founder of the Way, was a very influential person in South Korea. He was born there, in Andong in 1936 or thereabouts. At this time in Korea it was common to not register children’s births until after their first birthday, due to the high infant mortality rate.

Ji Han Jae credits three instructors as being influential in his martial arts development. The first is Yung Sul Choi. Choi is himself a fairly controversial figure, as he claims to have studied under the prolific Japanese instructor, Sokkaku Takeda, who was one of an old samurai family. It is clear that he did study with Takeda, as his techniques are clearly based on Takeda’s style, Daito Ryu AikiJuJitsu, however none of Takeda’s family will admit to remembering Choi, and in Takeda’s very comprehensive records of students, there is no record either of Choi or of the Japanese name he used while in Japan. Ji Han Jae trained with Yung Sul Choi from the age of 13, and from him he learnt the self defence techniques and strikes that are part of our Hapkido syllabus today.

Another instructor of Ji Han Jae was a man known as Taoist Lee. Ji Han Jae explains that this name was the best approximation he could offer in english of this man and his influence on Ji Han Jae’s practice. From Taoist Lee he learnt the spinning kicks and high jumping kicks that Hapkido is so famous for, also the Bo staff and the Dan Bong.

His final instructor was a lady monk who he refers to as ‘Grandma’ and is his spiritual instructor. This is significant to Ji Han Jae as the spiritual side of the practice of martial arts is very important to Ji Han Jae.

Ji Han Jae in Vietnam, around 1967
Ji Han Jae in Vietnam, around 1967

With these instructors, Ji Han Jae came up with a very effective and practical martial art style. He was gained a position instructing in the Korean Military Academy, due to his reputation as a highly skilled fighter and teacher. From there he was given permission to train the Military Supreme Council in Hapkido Techniques, and then a government position training the Presidential Security forces, who work on guarding the president in the Blue House, the Republic Of Korea’s equivalent to the US’s White House.

Due to such important officials being trained in Hapkido, it became known as the official martial art of Korea, while Taekwondo, which was also gaining in popularity at this time was known as it’s national sport.

As he increased in influence, Ji Han Jae had several opportunities, one of which was to travel to Vietnam in approximately 1967, where he spent some time training soldiers in Vietnam, and also training ROK marines.

Shortly after this, in 1969, Ji Han Jae had the opportunity to travel to the US as part of an exchange with President Richard Nixon’s security forces. While he was there, he had the opportunity to teach Hapkido to the US secret service, the CIA, the FBI and Special Forces.

It was also while he was there that he was introduced to Bruce Lee, who was very impressed with Ji Han Jae’s fighting skills. Bruce Lee asked Ji Han Jae to teach him, and Ji Han Jae was able to teach him the spinning kicks that he is now so well known for. Bruce Lee also insisted that Ji Han Jae accept a role in his film, ‘Game of Death’, which he did, and appears in a scene in the movie, and was also a martial arts advisor in making the film.

Bruce Lee and Ji Han Jae on the set of 'Game of Death'
Bruce Lee and Ji Han Jae on the set of ‘Game of Death’

During this time, Ji Han Jae was running a large school of his own, with over 500 students, and was active in his work training the military in Korea, including training the presidential bodyguards. Then, President Park of the Republic of Korea was assassinated. Ji Han Jae resigned his position, and he joined a political party run by a politician from Ji Han Jae’s hometown. The leader of the political party decided that this would be a good time to reorganise the presidential bodyguards so they could accompany the president when he travelled, not just guard him in the Blue House.

A political rival heard of this plan, and saw it as an opportunity to discredit his rivals. He informed the President that the plan was a plot to overthrow the President, and many of the individuals involved in this political turmoil were arrested and jailed, and some were executed. Ji Han Jae himself was sent to jail for one year, on a charge of tax fraud. The sentencing judge at the time said that if he did not imprison Ji Han Jae at this time, it was likely that more and more charges would be trumped up against him until he was facing a much longer jail sentence.

Ji Han Jae himself says that this time in prison was a very interesting time in his life, as it allowed him to experience people and situations that are not available to most people. He used his time in jail to develop a reinvented Hapkido, which he called ‘Sin Moo Hapkido’, which incorporated a number of very specific, close range kicks and meditation techniques.

This is interesting as it shows that our Art has come through a range of situations, from personal defence, to performance based work to meditation and study of the meditation and spirituality of martial arts to be the amazing system it is today.

Philosophy of Martial Arts Belts

Almost, but not quite what our Belt Exam looked like last night
Almost, but not quite what our Belt Exam looked like last night

We had a Belt Exam at our martial arts school last night, and it made me think about our system of using belts in the martial arts. The use of coloured belts to indicate rank was introduced by Jigaro Kano, the father of Judo. Dr Kano was a student of Sokkaku Takeda, who was the instructor of Yung Sul Choi, who was the founder of Hapkido, along with his student Ji Han Jae.

The use of these belts seems to have been introduced in the 1880’s, when Jigaro Kano awarded his first Black Belts. Other arts followed the use of a coloured belt system to indicate rank after that time.

Martial arts belts used to come in either white – which was actually undyed canvas, so was a cream sort of colour – or in black. It is a tradition in the martial arts that students do not wash their belts. Some people say this is a symbolic way of not ‘washing away’ the knowledge you have gained. Perhaps a more practical consideration is that martial arts belts are made of very thick cotton, which shrinks when it is washed, and also takes a very long time to dry!

At the time when the coloured belt system was first introduced, there were no commercially available belts of different colour. Therefore, when students got their new belts, they would go home and dye their belt the appropriate colour. Therefore, the first colours were lighter coloured, and they became progressively darker colours as the student increase in rank as this was the only way to generate new colours when you have the same belt!

Commercial coloured belts became available in Australia in a range of colours in the 1970’s, however the range of colours was limited. In most belt systems, the instructors of today have inherited a belt order that was based on what belts were available for purchase at that time. As more and more colours became available, instructors would introduce new belt colours, and insert them in the order of belts at a place that made sense to the syllabus, and so today, few martial arts systems have the exact same ranking system, however the general idea of lighter to darker colours is preserved.

There is a legend in the martial arts that a black belt evolved into the special belt that it is today due to the tradition of not washing your martial arts belt. As the student trained for longer and longer without washing their belt, over time the belt would become darker in colour. A very experienced student would have a belt that was no longer white, but a discoloured, black colour. Therefore you would hold a person wearing a black belt in high regard because of the length of their experience.

19fae48a1d4f50356c9aa64e2e0b9744Whether this is factual or not, I believe it is been preserved as a legend because it alludes to a concept which is a core part of martial arts – reward without external recognition. This legend is telling the student that it is obvious who has skill from their abilities, not the colour of their belt.

It also suggests that the student is motivated to continue in their martial arts training because they enjoy the experience, not because of any recognition the student might get in the form of formal belts. It suggests that students would train and progress in their skills, and would have to recognise their progress themselves, instead of having their progress recognised externally, in the form of new belts that other people can recognise.

The recognition of progress in any activity is important to a student’s motivation. The thing that a belt system does is creates a potential for conflict between the instructor’s impression of the student’s progress, and the student’s understanding of their progress.

It can happen that the student feels more advanced than their instructor has officially recognised with a new belt. Then the student can either feel frustrated that they are not being recognised, or they can look within, and see perhaps there is something they have missed, that they think they might be able to do but perhaps might need to work more to perfect.

It can also sometimes happen that a student is given a rank by their instructor that they feel that perhaps they do not deserve yet. I think many of us can recognise that fraudulent feeling that happens when you have a new belt, and you feel you only got it by the skin of your teeth and the techniques of your new belt are completely beyond you. Again in this circumstance, it might be that you need to trust your instructor can see more clearly from their vantage point, and recognises that you are ready to move on, even though you might want to spend more time in your comfort zone.

Despite this potential for frustrations, the belt system offers a great many advantages for instructors and students. In a time before belts and tips on belts, the process for recognising achievement is more haphazard, less consistent between students. A belt system offers the student the potential to understand their own learning, and see the path they are being led down as they learn more techniques. It also gives students the chance to notice the level that other students are at, not to compare themselves to others, but to identify who might need more help and patience in training, and who might be able to offer help.

Also+the+martial+arts+teaching+a+ton+of+_2badab366dcd50a7792d232d5b9a8a28-2When it comes down to it, the instructor can lay down a clear path, in the form of a belt system, and explain to all the students what they must to to achieve each step on the path. At the end of the day, it is the student who must take the steps, who must tie on their belt of whatever colour firmly and with pride in what they have achieved, and with confidence they can take on the challenges ahead of them.

As a final note, it is always important to be proud of our uniform, our belt and the traditions of the martial arts. It is just as important to remember that we are wearing fancy pyjamas tied with a colourful piece of cloth that does not wash particularly well, and not attach too much importance to the external, remembering that the internal journey is the one that counts.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will

gandhi-strengthStrength is an important component of the practice of the martial arts. Students of the martial arts strive to punch and kick harder so as to be more effective in their martial skills. This is because the more strength a student can strike with, the more effective they can be as they have to strike fewer times to achieve the desired response, the subduing of an opponent.

Strength does not come from physical training alone. A student can work out with weights and develop the ability to do many push ups, sit ups or other physical feats of strength. There are many tools you can use to assist developing strength, such as ankle and wrist weights, resistance bands, however this alone does not ensure that the student’s strikes will be strong and effective.

True strength comes from the correct application of technique. If a student develops excellent technique, and can apply those techniques to an appropriate target with excellent timing, then their strikes will be strong and effective.

This sort of strength comes through study, practice, observation and awareness. In this state, the student can use minimal effort and physical strength to achieve tremendously powerful results through the appropriate use of timing, speed and technique. This is how the martial arts masters are able to perform extremely powerful strikes and kicks that rival a much younger person’s strength even when they are past their physical peak. The Masters of martial arts are not young people at the peak of their physical abilities. They are people in the 60’s and 70’s who have devoted decades of their lives to the study of martial arts. In martial arts the strength we develop is more than simply the abilities of our bodies.

To develop this strength requires Indomitable Spirit. The student needs to work on the technique, and persevere to always improve their technique. Once you have the external recognition from your instructor that you can do a technique, for example when you get a new belt, it is still important to continue working on that technique. Once you have a satisfactory standard of technique, and can perform it consistently, you will find that you reach a new level of understanding of the technique. You will get a new insight that shows you a whole new way of looking at the technique. Then it can seem like you learn the technique all over again! By continuing this process over and again, we can develop ever more strength in the technique.

To be powerful, you also need to work on speed, especially reaction time. This is important as being powerful is great, but to be effective you must be able to use that power at the right time to get results. If we develop only strength, we can become slow as our body bulks up. A martial artist trains to have quick reactions so they can use their power at the correct time. We train for this is activities such as step sparring. If we train correctly in this activity, we wait for our partner to attack, and teach ourselves to wait until the very last moment before we react, even though we know that they are about to attack. If we treat each step sparring incident as though we were actually being attacked, we train ourselves to respond with speed as well as strength.

Additionally, you needs to have great awareness of your surroundings, and the ability to decide what is the most appropriate action for the situation. Strength is not only about action, sometimes strength is refraining from action if that is the appropriate thing to do.

strength-quotes-pictureStrength in martial arts is not only measured in the physical sense, it is also important to have mental and character strength. This can be developed by being prepared to step outside of your comfort zone to do things that make a difference.

This can be as simple as speaking to a new student in the martial arts school to help them feel comfortable. It can be facing the challenges that crop up in everyday life without loosing your cool, but being a solid rock that the waves of circumstance crash against but cannot move. It can be facing the big challenges that come into our lives without flinching, or avoiding and denying the things we have to do.

Just as physical strength increases with repetition and practice, so does mental and character strength increase the more it is used. Each time we stand up for what is right, we increase our strength. Each time we make a decision based on what is right instead of what is easy, we increase our strength. Each time we step outside our comfort zone we increase our strength.

If we have the indomitable will to work on these areas of our training, we will become immensely powerful martial artists.

Our Martial Arts Inheritance

Ancient Map of Korea
Ancient Map of Korea

Hapkido, which we practice at our martial arts school, is a Korean martial art. Korean arts have always relied heavily on kicking in their unarmed attacks, and on the use of the bow and arrow as their main armed weapon.

Korea sits as a peninsula of land in between China to the North and the West, and Japan across the water to the East. The development of martial arts in each country has been strongly influenced by the development of martial arts in the countries around it.

Our inheritance as practitioners of a Korean art can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea, where the three kingdoms of Korea were Silla, Paikche and Koguryo. At different times, one or the other of these kingdoms was dominant in the Korean peninsula, and each has it’s legacy for us.

The Koguryo dynasty was dominant from about 56BC to 37BC. At this time, there are mentions in some surviving documents of a form of combat known as Taekkyong, which is a kicking based style. There is some thought that this style may have come from China, which neighbours the northern Koguryo kingdom.

The next dominant dynasty was the Silla Dynasty. This was a golden age for martial arts in Korea. The kingdom was largely Buddhist at this time, with some followers of the Tao also.

Incidentally, the leaders of the Koguryo kingdom at this time fled to Japan, to Hokkaido where they founded some of the early Bushido settlements which later gave rise to the Samurai warriors of Japan. While these warriors focused on a quite different style of martial arts, the fundamental philosophical ideas of the warrior groups of both countries were the same.

During this time, there were several groups of warriors in Silla that were formed outside of the main army. These groups were organised by the king with the intention of being a showcase for the people of what a loyal, upright citizen could be. The Hwarangdo strongly influenced Korean culture and martial arts by their bravery, loyalty and fighting prowess.

The first of these groups was the Wonhwa, which is translated as ‘Original Flowers’.  These cadets were unlikely to have seen battle, although they were trained in the arts of war. This group was largely female, and certainly all their leaders were female. These warriors were in fact highly esteemed buddhist nuns, whose role was to provide spiritual guidance to the army and the country. Unfortunately, the two female leaders disagreed, and one killed the other, causing the king to disband the Wonwha permanently.

The next group of warriors that came to be established were the Hwa Rang Do, which is translated as ‘The Way of Flowering Youth’. This group of warriors was largely, although not exclusively, drawn from young men from good families with good morals. There were exceptions to this, and sometimes a young person who was not from an aristocratic background would be selected as a member of the Hwarangdo.

Mydbtj-masangssanggeomThe Hwarangdo had five core tenets that they lived by;

사군이충 / 事君以忠 – Loyalty to one’s king.
사친이효 / 事親以孝 – Respect to one’s parents.
교우이신 / 交友以信 – Faithfulness to one’s friends.
임전무퇴 / 臨戰無退 – Courage in battle.
살생유택 / 殺生有擇 – Make a righteous kill.

The Hwarang warriors were recruited from as young as age 12, although 15 was more common. Their training and association with the group was ended by age 25. The Hwarang studied Taekkyong, history, philosophy, ethics, morality, poetry, social skills and etiquette and military strategy. They also trained in horse riding, including archery from horseback, they trained in the sword, javelin throwing, rock throwing and ladder climbing.

They were trained to be leaders in times or war or in times of peace.  Their training made them capable of being a general when called upon during wartime, or a politician or statesman during times of peace. The Hwarang was a unique movement, as it allowed young people of any background who had promise to train to better their lives through a spiritual and physical training. This is what martial artists today strive towards – to improve their lives and the lives of others through education in the martial arts.

chinese-general-yue-fei-martial-arts-facts,-tales,-and-mysteries-361Following the fall of the Silla dynasty, the Paikche dynasty came to power. At this time martial arts focused on armed forms of combat. This particularly involved the use of bow and arrow, including from horseback, which it is thought was learnt from the Mongols.

After this dynasty, the Chosun dynasty came to power. This dynasty followed Confucianism, which had a reverence for academic and scholarly abilities and a reverence for ancestors. In this climate, martial arts was not considered as honourable, and over time, the practice of martial arts went into decline. It was still practiced in some areas, particularly the remote mountainsides, however in most company martial arts was rather looked down on at this time.

The Chosun dynasty was eventually overthrown by the invading Japanese, who further crushed martial arts in Korea, outlawing the practice of this and many other cultural activities. When they were finally overthrown at the the end of the Second World War, martial arts had a huge increase in popularity, to the point where Taekwondo is now taught in all state schools in Korea.

Korean martial arts have spread all over the globe, and is practiced by men, women and children from all walks of life. Martial Arts calls to people for it’s ability to inspire, to bring out the best in us, train us as leaders and make us better people.

The Three Principles of Hapkido

The three principles of Hapkido are the underlying concepts which help us understand how to apply and implement our Martial Art. These principles are called the three principles of Hapkido, however they are very fundamental principles which are applicable to most Martial Arts.
koi_fish_yin_yangThe first principle is Non Resistance to Force. In our Martial Arts practice we use this principle to move around obstacles and maintain our balance. This often causes our partner to loose their balance by their own intention to harm us. When someone punches us, we do not have to block force with force, we can reposition ourselves so that the punch is no longer threatening us. The principle of Non Resistance to Force is a core part of our Art, which is in some ways based on opportunity. Our style is not aggressive, however once an attack is initiated, we control and neutralise an attack very rapidly.

Bruce Lee is quoted as saying ‘in moving flow like water, respond like an echo’. This is a very poetic way of describing Non Resistance to Force. Move like water; water has the excellent property of being able to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Echoes – reflecting back what a partner says or does is an excellent skill for conflict resolution. Mirroring a partner’s body language can deflect angry confrontations. Reflecting back someone’s words shows you were paying attention and understood what they were saying. In both of these cases you do not give up your ideas or thoughts, you simply acknowledge your partners. This leads us in to a deeper understanding of how the first principle applies to our lives.

I believe the mental definition of this principle is about keeping calm in the face of confrontation. We often find that in times of stress we response reflexively rather than in a calm and considered manner. The idea of non resistance to force embraces the idea of ‘going with the flow’. This also helps us to understand the principle of seeking first to understand, then to be understood. When we allow the other side or the other person in a situation or a conflict to have their say, and really listen to them, then we can get a good resolution. Much as when a partner in sparring can overbalance themselves by their own attack, so can a verbal antagonist find their own resolution without us jumping in. we go with the flow and try to position ourselves side by side with our partners, rather than set ourselves up as opponents.

enso_zen1The second principle of Hapkido is Circular Motion. This is a way that we move which allows us to build up more energy and unleash greater power. It is an excellent way of adding strength to our attacks and effectiveness to our defensive positions. When you look at our Martial Art, there are circles everywhere. Even when we punch we rotate our first as we deliver the strike. Circular motion allows us to be more powerful in our strikes and more unpredictable. It is harder to predict where a circle will end up, compared to a straight line.

Circles are far friendlier shapes than straight lines or squares. When we think in a linear manner, we continue to think in the same way at the end of a problem or situation as we thought when we started out. When we are able to embrace the idea of circular thinking, or spiral thinking, we encompass a lot of different ideas along the way. We may still end up at the same place, but it has been a far more enlightening journey than if we had thought only in a straight line.

The final principle of Hapkido is the Water Principle. This is divided into 4 sections. The first part is to be calm and reflective. This is an important thing in a physical situation; to first be calm and think about what is happening and analyse what the correct thing to do might be. This is often enough to defuse a situation before it even has time to develop. It is also important to develop a calm attitude in the midst of fighting or other forms of conflict. There is an excellent quote from the Bhagvagad Gita which says

‘Enter into the heat of the battle and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord.’

This is telling us that even when we are surrounded by noise and chaos we can still be calm and reflective. Even when we are under high pressure, stressful situations we can still keep a calm centre in the midst of all the chaos. This is the essence of being calm and reflective. It has to come from inside us or it is not there at all.

The next aspect of the Water Principle is flowing like a river. When we put our techniques together we aim to flow them together seamlessly to make a more effective attack and at the same time increase our defensive capacity. As we flow our techniques together we become a stream of moving energy, changing direction where necessary but always continuing to move. A stream is always moving in one direction though it changes course frequently. Its driving purpose is to find lower ground and it constantly moves towards this goal. Obstacles appear and the stream simply flows around them.

Another aspect of the water principle is infiltration. As water drips on a rock, eventually it either finds or creates a weakness in the rock, enabling the water to pass through, wearing away the rock over time to create cave systems and canyons. So we can continually attack in our sparring, searching for a weakness in our partner’s defence, or creating one by wearing them down. In this way, with time and perseverance we can overcome even the largest obstacles.

Waterfall2The final aspect of the water principle that we will consider is concentration of force. We use this aspect of the water principle as a follow up to the other principles. Once we have discovered a weakness, flowed into a good position, when we attack, we do it with the power of a wave crashing on the beach, swamping everything in our path.

Our Martial Arts Family Tree

It is an interesting thing to trace our Martial Arts family tree, and to see some of the people who have shaped our Art and been influential in the development of the Art we practice today. I started training in 1996 while I was at university. I trained under an Instructor named Mark Walker, who in turn was taught by Matthew Sung Su Kim, one of the early pioneers of Martial Arts in Australia, and with Ji Han Jae, the founder of Hapkdio.

Ji Han Jae and Bruce Bee
Ji Han Jae and Bruce Lee

Incidentally, Ji Han Jae has been involved in teaching a great many Martial Artists over the years, including the legendary Bruce Lee. Grandmaster Ji Han Jae credits three Instructors as being significant in his Martial Arts training. One is a Buddhist nun known to him as ‘Grandma’ who taught him breathing techniques. Another was a man called Taoist Lee who taught him Bo techniques and more breathing techniques. His final Instructor was Yung Sul Choi, who taught him the base physical skills of the Martial Arts which we now know as Hapkido. Ji Han Jae studies with Choi in Korea for a period of about 3 years before Ji Han Jae formed his own organisation. Yung Sul Choi was a Korean who was sold into slavery at an early age. It is unclear whether he was an orphan or whether is parents sold him, however he went to Japan as the slave of a Japanese family. He was not happy there and soon ran away and ended up begging on the streets in Japan. He was taken in by a Buddhist temple, however he didn’t really get on there either as he was always fighting with the other boys. The abbot of the temple spoke to his friend, Sokkaku Takeda who agreed to take the boy in.

Sokkaku Takeda
Sokkaku Takeda

Sokkaku Takeda was the leader of a famous samurai family. He was a prolific teacher and many of his students went on to found Martial Arts styles in their own right. Some of his students included Moreihi Uesheba, the founder of Aikido and Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo. Takeda took Yung Sul Choi in and he became a part of the Takeda household. There is a lot of debate about the role Choi played in the Takeda household. Choi himself claims to have been the adopted son and inheritor of all the Takeda family teachings. This seems very unlikely given the prevailing attitude of the Japanese to the Koreans. The Japanese consider themselves as a superior race, and it seems unlikely that a famous Samurai family would adopt an orphaned Korean boy and pass on all their teachings to him. Contemporaries and students of Choi state that Choi was only ever a house boy and a demonstration dummy, he was never actually taught by Takeda. We will probably never know his exact position in the Takeda family, however when you look at the techniques which are in Choi’s Martial Arts and those techniques which appear in the Martial Arts of other of Takeda’s students, it is clear that Choi learnt from Takeda. After the end of the Second World War, Master Takeda died and Choi returned to a newly liberated Korea. He had some initial difficulties in finding his feet  and engaged in a range of activities, working up to pig farming, eventually, To feed his pigs, Choi would queue for the free chaff that was given away at the brewery. As he would wait in line, fights would break out amongst the pig farmers for places in the line. With the teachings of Sokkaku Takeda, Choi was easily able to defend himself and keep the best place in line.

Bok Sub Suh
Bok Sub Suh

His abilities were noticed one day by the owner of the brewery, Bok Sub Suh, who was interested in the martial arts. Bok Sub Su asked Choi to teach him what he knew of the martial arts, and Choi agreed. So it was that the first Hapkido Dojo was started in a brewery. At this time the art was known as Daito Ryu Aiki Ju Jitusu, which was the name given to the art by Sokkaku Takeda, and can be loosely translated as the self defence techniques of the House of Takeda. However this name was unpopular in Korea as it was too Japanese, and after the end of the Second World War anti Japanese sentiment was high in Korea. The name was therefor changed to Dai Dong Ryu Yu Sul, which means the same thing but in Korean. This name too was eventually discarded as it was too long and the art became known as Yu Sul. In time it was decided that a name incorporating the ending ‘Do’ would be desirable. This means ‘The Way’ and many arts starting at this time were using this ending, such as Taekwondo, another Korean martial art. The name Hapkido was chosen, and can be translated to mean ‘The Way of Coordinated Power’. This name gives us direction in developing our martial arts skills as we work to coordinate our mind and body to increase our power and effectiveness.

What Is Martial Arts?

WaterfallWhat do you think Martial Arts is for? Some people might say it is for Self Defence. Some people might think it is for fitness and health. There are a large variety of reasons that a person might give. I always feel sad when people say Martial Arts is about fighting. Because that really is the last thing that Martial Arts is about. It is just the most obvious thing that you see when you look at someone practicing Martial Arts. I think everyone knows though that there is more to Martial Arts than just punching and kicking.

Martial Arts is different to fighting. Fighting has been around for a long time. Fighting systems began ever since there were two people who both wanted the same thing. Then one of them used force to get what they wanted. This does not make it Martial Arts, however.

Fighting developed simultaneously all over the world. There was no one who invented it, it just happened that there were some things that were more effective than others. This is where the development of Martial Arts is different. Martial Arts was developed by one man, Tamo Boddhidharma, a Buddhist monk from India. There is some debate about when he started teaching and developed Martial Arts, however many people put the time at around the 6th century AD.

Boddhidharma was a member of the nobility, perhaps even royalty in India and he threw that aside to become a monastic. He lived in a monastery, living a life of simplicity and devotion. He also followed the Buddhist monastic practice of travelling. Many monks would travel from monastery to monastery and spread the teachings of Buddhism with them to the new temples they visited. Many of them also hoped to achieve enlightenment along the way. When he travelled from monastery to monastery, he did not take with him any food or anything else, just his begging bowl. You see, for a monk to beg for food, he is practicing humility and he is also giving the people an opportunity to be generous.

Boddidharma was a prolific traveller. There are stories which say he was the first person to cross the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. There are some very fanciful stories that he levitated himself across the mountains. While that is unlikely, it is accepted that he was among the first to travel through the Himalayan Mountains. Along the way he would have travelled for extended times in very wild areas where he would have had to learn how to defend himself against wild animals and sometimes even wilder men. He had these skills from learning a form of Indian wrestling as a young man and through his experiences on the road.

naginataPaintingHe travelled very widely through Asia and ended up in China, in the Hunan province in the north. There is a very famous temple there, the Shaolin Temple, which many of you will have heard about. However it was not famous back then, and when Boddhidharma arrived, he found a temple full of overweight, unfit monks who were unable to hold themselves still in meditation for very long. They were lazy in their care of the temple and slow in performing their tasks. They had none of the Martial Arts skills and attention to their practice and their temple which they are famous for today. Boddhidharma left the temple in disgust.

He left the temple and went to cave in the hills above the mountain. The cave is still there and you can go and visit it. He spent a certain amount of time there, some say it was nine years and others say differently. However, he was, after a certain period of time, invited back to the temple to teach the monks there.

Boddhidharma agreed to return to the temple and to teach, but he refused to teach them meditative or study based techniques. Instead, he had the monks rise early in the day and perform a range of physical exercises in the courtyards of the temple. He taught them the combat techniques he had learnt and practiced on the road. He taught them physical skills to strengthen their bodies. They practiced in silence and they worked on breathing techniques at the same time as their physical techniques.

As they learnt the physical skills and their bodies became tougher, an interesting thing started to happen. They started to be able to hold themselves still for longer in their meditation. They started to be able to focus for longer at their studies. They started to become more careful and mindful in their duties around the temple.

This is where Martial Arts really started. Right there in the Shaolin temple. It happened not when Boddhidharma brought new fighting skills to the monks. They were old techniques which had been around for a long time. It was not when the temple was attacked and monks rose up to defend their temple. It was when the physical skills of personal defence were combined with mindfulness, with a determination to increase mental growth through physical health that Martial Arts really started.

It was the bringing together of physical skills and mental skills that created Martial Arts. This is what makes it special. This is why people practice it for way longer than any other activity. It is a journey of discovery not only of physical skills, which decrease as we get older. It is a journey of discovery of our mental skills, which only increase with age and application.

Chinese CranesThis is why we say in Martial Arts that it is not the number of people that you can knock down that is important. It is the number of people that you can lift up that counts. We lift people up by our example, by our attitudes and by living by the tenets of the Martial Arts – Humility, Self Discipline, Courage and Loyalty. We lift people up when we refuse to allow bullying or taunting. We lift people up when we do the right thing, even though it is hard and it might get us in trouble. We lift people up by becoming a part of a brighter and stronger future.

As we practice our Martial Art, it is worth remembering that it is not through fighting people and learning to win competitions that we become stronger and better people. The battle is within. It is when we win the internal battles to focus on our higher purpose, to concentrate on worthwhile projects and to spend our time in improving activities that we become mighty people.

Hello world!

This is the first post in what I am hoping will be a long martial arts blogging career. I am Anneke Wright, and I am the Head Instructor at Fire Phoenix Martial Arts, where I am known by my teaching title, Sah Bu Nim.

Many years ago, when martial arts was taught and passed down from parents to children, with perhaps one or two friends permitted to train with the family, many important teaching stories of the martial arts were told over a meal at the end of a training session. While in our busy lives we do not have the ability to all remain after classes simply to talk, many students in my classes will attest to the fact that I can certainly talk and share stories!

I plan for this blog to be a place for students and martial arts can come and find information about their style and the history of the martial arts. I also plan to share training tips here, to post interesting information about our techniques and the theory behind them, and also the theory of martial arts as a practice.

This is intended for the students of Fire Phoenix Martial Arts, however anyone who is interested in the martial arts is welcome to read my thoughts and ideas on the subject by following this blog.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share.

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