Every culture has its own methods of fighting, regardless of religion or political beliefs. While you may want to take the moral high road and not fight, there are people in this world who won’t give you that option, and then all that’s left is to fight. The nation of Korea, like so many others, found themselves repelling invaders, and like others before them, they developed martial arts. Taekwondo and Hapkido are two of the most well-known Korean martial arts styles that are still around today.

Taekwondo dates back to the Silla Dynasty in Korea and was developed for the military. Hapkido, although practised before World War II, emerged after the war and is billed as a purely defensive art. Both Korean martial arts are now practised all over the world.

Taekwondo was first taught to the elite Hwarang warriors of the Silla Dynasty, an ancient Korean kingdom. The style focuses mainly on stairs and was incorporated into the traditional military training and education of a soldier. The style was practised openly for centuries, but when Japan took over and colonised the country in the early 20th century, the martial art was forced to stay hidden.

The Facts About the Korean Martial Arts Styles

The Japanese were tough invaders and did their best to change Korean culture and make the Koreans more like them. The treatment was brutal, but the Japanese shared their martial arts training with the Korean people, and those who had the chance to train in Japan and China would share their knowledge and adapt Taekwondo accordingly. That Japanese influence would shape modern Tae Kwon Do.

When General Choi, the most recognised founder of Tae Kwon Do, grew older, he went to Japan to study. Choi had studied calligraphy and Taek Kyon in Korea under Han Il Dong, and upon arrival in Japan, began to study Shotokan Karate as a student of a Korean named Kim Hyun-soo. After two years of intensive training, he was awarded the first Dan Black Belt in Shotokan. He then attended Tokyo University, where he could attend the Shotokan and perhaps train occasionally under Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of the Shotokan.

General Choi received his second Dan (second degree black belt) in Shotokan, and around this time, he started teaching and became an instructor at the Tokyo YMCA. (There are photos of General Choi as a student at the main Shotokan dojo when he was a student in Japan, which have been published in “Taekwon-Do Times” magazine.)

Choi was enlisted in the Japanese army in 1943 and was sent to Pyongyang, where he became involved in the Korean independence movement, which resulted in his imprisonment. Wanting to maintain good physical and mental health while incarcerated, he practised karate, first alone, then by teaching it to the prison staff and the other inmates. At least some of his martial art skills were learned and improved by him until he was freed at the end of World War II.

After becoming an officer in the new Korean army after the end of the war, he continued to teach his martial art to his soldiers and to American soldiers serving in Korea.

His beliefs and his vision of a different approach to teaching martial arts led General Choi to combine elements of Taek Kyon and Karate techniques to develop a modern martial art. He called it TaeKwonDo, which means “the way of the feet and hands,” and this name was officially adopted on April 11, 1955.

Taekwondo would eventually be spread around the world by US military personnel stationed in Korea. Among those who had to train in Korea was a young man in the Air Force named Chuck Norris, who would make martial arts history. Taekwondo can be exciting, but those with military training in the United States never saw it as a substitute for what they had already learned, namely Jujutsu. The lack of struggle with the ability to handle modern weapons limits one who practises Taekwondo. That’s not to say it’s not good to train in Taekwondo, but it won’t be an effective self-defense system.

Hapkido is another popular Korean martial art that also has close ties to the Japanese martial arts. Hapkido is a direct adaptation of the popular Japanese martial art of Aikido. Many in Korea consider Taekwondo to be a hard martial art, while Hapkido is a soft martial art. Like those who practise Aikido, those who practise Hapkido consider the spiritual side to be very important and say that the martial art is about uniting harmony and energy, and those who practise Hapkido pride themselves on the fact that their martial art is purely self-defense. A Hapkido student will try to use his attacker’s energy against him like in other martial arts, but unlike Jujutsu, they always let the attack make the first move and try to respond to the attack.

Korean martial arts for self-defense

Like most martial arts, both Hap Kido and Tae Kwon Do take years to master. But once they get the hang of it, they will use it for self-defense in real life. At the end of the day, a punch is still a punch and a kick is still a kick, so you have to look at where the system stands today. Tae Kwon Do, like Judo, Wrestling, and Boxing, is an Olympic sport where the emphasis is on the rules.Athletes are trained to avoid methods that would disqualify them. The same can be said for mixed martial arts. Although they are brutal in nature, they are designed for safety.

In the case of the Korean martial art of Hapkido, practitioners focus on less strife and more peace. Like Aikido, Hapkido was developed for those who seek a higher spiritual level, not fighting. The idea of “Combat Hapkido” is much like that of “Combat Buddhism”. It just doesn’t make sense. Hapkido has spiritual intentions of NOT fighting the roots. Self-defence is not a style or way of life, it is a skill, a skill that can be easily learned and memorized. If you want to follow the path of the warrior and scholar, then martial arts are what you are looking for. If you want to know what works, start training in hand-to-hand combat. If you want the best of both worlds, do both. A true warrior is a student first.