Before I walked into my first hapkido dojang (Korean word for martial art training hall), I was told by a friend that there were different styles of hapkido. He put it to me plainly, “There is traditional hapkido and there is taekwondo with some joint locks and throws added to it in order to charge more money by calling it hapkido.” The latter, a hybrid of modern Korean striking arts and Japanese jujutsu derived joint-locks and throws, I was told, is the more common form of hapkido and I should avoid it. Traditional hapkido, it seems, is quite rare in both Korea and the United States, as most people simply don’t want to put in the time required to learn it. This is not a new phenomenona, as I’ve read hapkido histories stating that very few people actually learned the entire art from Choi Yong-sul, the founder. My friend explained to me that Joe Sheya’s dojang, then an affiliate of Rim’s Hapkido Association (Rim was a direct student of Choi Yong-Sul who moved here to teach hapkido in the late 70’s), was the only place I would find traditional hapkido locally. Then, I moved away, not that far away, but far enough away that getting to Joe Sheya’s dojang was inconvenient. I’d come to find out that quality is more important than convenience, but I was young.
There I was, living in limbo, between Baltimore and my hometown of Annapolis, MD. I’d moved there with my girlfriend at the time and she left me to live with her parents in Mississippi (it all worked out and that’s a whole other story). Really, I was supposed to go with her, but her absence made my heart grow fonder for the distance between us more so than for her. I digress. She left. I was sad. I needed something positive in my life and I decided to seek out a place to train hapkido. Annapolis, where Joe Sheya was, seemed too far away, so I looked around for local schools (this was before the internet was ubiquitous, so I actually had to look — like, with my eyes) and I saw a Taekwondo school with a sign that said, “HAPKIDO.” After thinking about going in for a few days, I finally got up the nerve to do it. I walked in during off hours and asked the teacher if they taught hapkido there. He was kind of shocked. Apparently, this was an unusual question, in spite of the fact that their signage clearly displayed the word hapkido in big, bold letters. He said, “Yes, but not many people do hapkido. We can schedule private lessons if you want.” I asked him what doing hapkido there was like and he explained that it involved punches, kicks, and some joint locks and throws. “Ahhhh,” I thought, “This is what my friend told me about. This is Taekwon-kido.” I thanked him for his time and told him I would come back if I wanted to commit.
A few weeks later, I moved back to Annapolis and sought out Joe Sheya.
Robert Van Valkenburgh, Co-Founder of Kogen Dojo & Taikyoku Mind and Body
P.S. If you are dating someone and decide to move in together, but have kind of a knot in your gut about it, do yourself a favor and find a place that offers month-to-month leases. It’s worth the extra money.