My martial art journey began with a conversation. I had a good friend and mentor who had done martial arts for most of his life. He and I discussed many things, mainly philosophy, theology, and spiritual practices. I was not a religious person, but he turned me onto Taoist and Buddhist thought, mainly as a gateway to meditation and other such practices.
One day, I expressed to him that I was thinking about getting into something like yoga or tai chi. He laughed and said, “Oh no. I know you. With your personality and attitude, what you need is hapkido. Specifically, you need Joe Sheya.” I’d never heard of hapkido or Joe Sheya, so I inquired further. He explained that hapkido was a Korean martial art. I was not interested in martial arts, I told him. “Well,” he continued, “Hapkido is classified as a ‘soft’ martial art. In a soft martial art, you don’t use force against force. Instead, you use your attacker’s force and multiply that with your own in such a way that you move as a unit and he essentially throws himself. Beyond that, I think the kind of spirituality you need can be found in the hapkido dojang. Joe Sheya has been one of my greatest spiritual mentors and I think he’s just what you need. He is a force of nature.”
Little did I know at the time, but I was being set up, in the best possible way. In Joe Sheya, I was expecting some sort if ultra-spiritual, soft-spoken guru and in hapkido I was expecting to find a pacifistic system of moving meditation that would bring me into some kind of enlightened harmony with myself and the world around me. What I found in each was much different than my expectations and much better for me.
Robert Van Valkenburgh, Co-Founder of Kogen Dojo & Taikyoku Mind and Body