What got me into martial arts was a friend, but what got me passionate about martial arts was a story. When I first started doing traditional Korean hapkido, it was difficult, I was uncoordinated, and I was inconsistent. It was an extracurricular activity for me, not much different than going to the movies or reading a book.
When leaving class one day, I saw a pamphlet that my teacher had by the door with the class schedule on it. I picked it up and took it home. When I got home, I opened it up and began reading. It was about the history of traditional hapkido, specifically the history of a man named Choi Yong-sul.
Choi, the pamphlet said, founded hapkido in Korea based on the teachings of the Japanese martial art Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, which he studied under a man named Takeda Sokaku. The pamphlet explained how Daito-ryu aikijujutsu was a samurai martial art developed for use in the palace, as a means of protecting the emporer of Japan.
I now know that there is a lot of controversy surrounding this story,* but my teacher, Joe Sheya, having met and trained with Choi himself, believed it and I believed my teacher. He had his flaws, but he was a stand-up guy through and through. As I wrote in Truth & Gospel, there are a lot of truths, but to me, at this time, this story was gospel.
I was absolutely enthralled by the idea that what I was being taught was an ancient samurai martial art, that what I was doing had a deep, rich, and even mysterious history. I was hooked. I still am, but, after my teacher’s passing my focus shifted to Taikyoku Budo. A few paragraphs on a pamphlet was enough to change my life. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I began writing.
– Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
*For the best information on Takeda Sokaku, I recomend these sources
- Ellis Amdur’s book Hidden in Plain Sight: Esoteric Power Training Within Japanese Martial Traditions