I was recently having a discussion with another long-time Hapkido practitioner about how the art has evolved over the years.
Some would say that a specific system of martial arts should not evolve. In fact, many a practitioner holds fast to what they were taught as a novice student and never move their art forward in any manner. Others, the more open-minded, commonly proclaim that any system of martial arts must constantly evolve or it becomes stagnate and lost to the hands of time. Wherever you fall in this thought process, it cannot be denied that the understanding and development of Hapkido has remained in a constant state of evolution since its inception just over seventy years ago. This is in stark contrast to many of the other traditional system of self-defense.
From my own perspective, I began training in Hapkido in 1964. At that time, Hapkido only utilized the most basic of kicks: the front kick, the side kick, the roundhouse kick, and the circle or crescent kick, with just a few variations on those kicks. The hand-techniques, as we call them, (the formalized self-defense movements), were all very standardized.
I was a child when I begin my study, so I never thought too much about the process of evolution within Hapkido. I simply trained in what I was taught.
As Hapkido is a very hands-on system of self-defense, it is quite common that the students will go hand-to-hand with each other. In each class, there is a time period where the fundamental basics of the hand techniques are to be practiced. Whereas in other martial art systems, like Taekwondo, much of a class may be devoted to the practice of forms. But, as traditional Hapkido has no forms, much more of an emphasis is placed on the practicalities of hand-to-hand combat and how to defend against specific forms of attack.
As Hapkido arrived in the United States in the 1960s, via Korean-born instructors, this was also a time when the various martial art systems, formulated within South Korea, were taking notice of one another. Certainly, the martial art system that became known as Taekwondo took the biggest hold on the country. From this, the development of Hapkido was also impact. Many of the advanced kicking techniques associated with Taekwondo eventually came to be utilized by Hapkido practitioners. This may be considered the first evolution of the art, but it certainly was not the last.
From the end of World War II forward, and particularly by the 1960s, there were U.S. military men returning home from military service in Asia. Some of these men had studied the indigenous martial arts while they were stationed in Asia and, upon returning home, began to train others in what they had learned. Some taught and continued to teach a very formalized system, mirroring what they had been taught. But, times were changing in the world and a more wide-spanning system of belief was emerging. Insightful Korean martial art practitioners like Chuck Norris began to understand that if they would incorporate the martial art techniques used by other systems, they could enhance their own self-defense and competitive capabilities. From this, a new understanding of ever-evolving integration was given birth to in the world of the martial arts. This mindset also took hold in some schools of Hapkido.
If you look at the various schools of Hapkido, particularly those who trace their lineage back to different first-generation instructors, one will quickly witness that though there may be a similarity in the techniques practiced, the focus on specific types of techniques and the applications of those techniques varies greatly. This shows us that even from its source there was no singular formalized concept being propagated in Hapkido as say in the case of Taekwondo. The techniques of Hapkido were always allowed to be dictated by the teacher. Thus, evolution in Hapkido was and is inevitable.
For any of you Hapkido practitioners out there, simply compare the art the way you learned it, to the way another advanced practitioner was taught and practices it from another school. You will instantly see that there is a vast level of understanding housed within the art. Yet, each advanced practitioner focuses on varying levels of techniques ideally emulated via their own understanding of the art.
So, what does this tell us? Like I discussed with my friend, from its inception, Hapkido has allowed each individual practitioner to embrace the art through their own unique level of understanding and to teach Hapkido via their own distinctive comprehension of the art. There has never been a blockade about what one could or could not practice or teach. Thus, the art has been allowed to evolve naturally throughout the entire time of its existence.
Is this the right way that a system of self-defense should be embraced? I believe that it is. For by allowing the advanced practitioners to convey the art via their best understanding of the art, nothing ever remains stagnant, and it is allowed to naturally evolve meeting the needs of each individual and each specific period of time.
This is the same with all aspects of life, at least I believe that it should be. We are each formed by our basis in life. From there, it is what we do with those fundamentals that causes us to either remain stagnant or allows us to evolve and become the best version of ourselves that is possible. We can choose to stay in one place and never become more and better, locking ourselves into one pattern of thought and action, or we can keep our minds open, allowing the new to guide us to becoming all that we can be.
What you do with your life is your choice. Do you choose to remain the same throughout your existence? Or, do you choose to constantly evolve; embracing the new, and possibly better, whenever it is presented to you: constantly learning, constantly changing, constantly evolving, becoming the best example of you that you can possible be?
Personal evolution is your choice. What choice do you make?
Copyright © 2023—All Rights Reserved
Originally from the Scott Shaw Blog.