A Conversation with Daito-ryu’s Other Child by Ellis Amdur

When I ask if aikido is “for real,” I mean “Will aikido create, within me,
what O-Sensei asserted was created and embodied within him?”

From Aikido Journal #101 (1994)

Yong-Sul Choi, Founder
of Hapkido (1904-1986)

Over the past six months, I have had the honor to be invited to teach both kenjutsu and aikido at the Pacific Rim Martial Arts Academy, a school which offers instruction in hapkido, tae kwon do, judo, and aikido. The school is headed by Quanjan Nim (3rd generation Grandmaster) James Garrison of the Ju Sool Kwan hapkido traditioa. The headquarters of the Ju Sool Kwan is in Korea.

It is asserted by practitioners of this art that the founder, Yong Sool Choi, studied Daito-ryu under Sokaku Takeda. Unfortunately, no records have been located to substantiate this assertion, and it may well be that none will ever be found. First of all, due to Japan’s former colonization of Korea, many historical records were lost or destroyed. Secondly, according to Mr. Garrison, the Korean people generally do not have as strong an affinity for maintaining tradition unchanged, or even maintaining records of traditions as do the Japanese martial schools. Korean martial arts have, instead, maintained themselves as syncretic entities, absorbing and adapting new influences in each generation, attempting to establish themselves as viable in their chosen environment Viability is determined by such factors as combat effectiveness, political influence, financial standing, social standing of the participants, and changes in fashion.

All this makes the world of Korean martial arts one of constant ferment, showing some of the best and worst traits of martial arts practice. On the down side, inflated ranks, even rank for sale, are rife, and political maneuvering among the practitioners occurs at all levels. Commercialism takes place on a mind-boggling scale, and traditions are sometimes changed to suit the whims of a fickle public. On the up side, however, creative individuals, who have diligently trained in the basic requirements of their respective arts, have a lot of room to breathe and to continue to develop. Korean yudo (judo), for example, shows an energy and fierceness often absent from the more mannered practice of modern-day Japanese dojos. Some of the innovative kicking techniques of tae kwon do have been incorporated into karate, both in Europe and America, and this, through the influence of international tournaments, seems to have been imported back into some Japanese karate schools.

Hapkido, perhaps more than any Korean martial art, exemplifies this creative drive. There are small dojos in back alleys, run by men in the shadowy world between the law and organized crime, schools that teach how to survive and win on the hard, mean streets of Seoul. The Presidential guard is composed of hapkido experts, and they focus on hapkido as it pertains to their role as a paramilitary force. Other schools appeal to a rising middle class, with flowing techniques softened and controlled, so that one returns safely home with hardly a bruise. Other schools are maintained by Buddhist organizations, and practice is considered a means of stilling the mind-much of training time is taken up in meditation. Breakaway factions have emerged, becoming more publicized abroad than in Korea. Most notable among these factions are the Hwa Rang Do and Kuk Sool Won, both of which now claim lineages going back hundreds of years.

I recently had the opportunity to view a long video tape of a Korean national demonstration of Ju Sool Kwan hapkido. Although the techniques and styles of different groups within this federation varied, I believe that one could easily recognize all of the participants as belonging to a single tradition-colored, as it were, by the personality of the founder, and of the art.


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