Brief History of Hapkido

It is generally accepted that the nucleus of the martial arts was formed when Bodhidharma (480-528, the 1st patriarch of Zen and the 28th patriarch of Buddhism) made an epic trek across the Himalayas and arrived at the Song Shan Shaolin Temple. He introduced Zen to the temple in the year 520.


Thirteen centuries ago, when the great religions of China began to penetrate southward, the Korean peninsula was divided. The land currently occupied by North and South Korea consisted of three kingdoms - Kokuryo, Paekche, and Silla. The people of Kokuryo were known for their military and intellectual skills (head); the Silla were craftsmen (hands); and the Paekche were agrarian (feet).

Silla, being the smallest, was under constant attack from its two neighbors: Paekche to the west and Kokuryo to the north. Buddhism was already several hundred years old in the northern kingdoms before it was introduced to the southern tip of the Korean peninsula in the small kingdom of Silla. Buddhism was introduced to Silla by two monks from Kokuryo in the latter half of the fifth century, but it was another hundred years before Buddhism took root and won general acceptance. Under the reign of King Pophung, Buddhism became the sanctioned state religion of Silla. With the advent of religion came the written language, culture, and the arts. It was the beginning of a great period in Korean history.

In the year 540 a new monarch by the name of King Chin-Heung came to power in Silla. During this time it was felt that the security of many lay in the strength of a select few. One of the most significant acts by the King was the creation of the Hwarang warrior. To accomplish this, he called upon a famous Buddhist Priest, Won Kwang Bopsa. Along with a group of elite young noblemen, he developed a system of martial arts and a “way of life”. This Way was based upon adherence to a strict code of ethics and a disciplined lifestyle dedicated to living in harmony with the natural laws of the universe. Based on the concept of unity (um/yang), empty hand fighting techniques were developed and were known for their blending of the soft and hard hand techniques and for their linear and circular foot techniques. This group came to be known as Hwarangdo.

Wars and insurrections were a common part of everyday life. King Chin-Heung of Silla, in concert with the Mongols, succeeded in over-throwing the rulers of Kokuryo and Paekche. The remaining royalty of the defeated Kokuryo and Paekche kingdoms fled to the mountains or to neighboring islands. One group of people from Kokuyro sailed to the Island of Hokkaido, while another group sailed from Paekche to Kyushu, and established some of the first ancient settlements of Japan.

Those that fled to the mountains established monastic order and carried on their traditions in secret for the next 500 years. During this time, devoted monks practiced and refined their martial skills. Many of the monasteries developed their own fighting styles and concepts. The most effective and devastating style was known as Tae Kyon, primarily a martial art of kicking.

Sokaku Takeda

1910 – 1945: The Japanese Army invaded and ruled Korea from 1910 through the end of World War II. During that period, it was not uncommon for Korean families and treasures to be relocated to Japan. During the Japanese occupation a young boy, Yong Sool Choi, was sent to Japan. By age 9, Yong Sool Choi was alone and living with a group of monks in a Buddhist temple. Shortly thereafter, it became apparent to the monks that Yong Sool Choi was not suited for monastic life.

At this time, many great warriors, in accordance with ancient traditions, undertook annual pilgrimages throughout Japan to improve their martial arts skills. During their travels they visited local temples to offer prayers and donations. One such warrior, Master Sokaku Takeda, paid regular visits to the monastery where Yong Sool Choi resided. During one of Master Takeda's visits, the resident monks, seeing an opportunity, beseeched Master Takeda to take the young Choi as a disciple.

Master Takeda practiced the art of swordsmanship and a weaponless martial art known as Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu. This art emphasized the use of joint locks, strikes, and nerve attacks to neutralize an opponent. Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu, itself, originated from the united Silla Dynasty of Korea. Sam Lang, Won Eui Guang, a Korean bureaucratic official, taught this art to Japan's Minamoto Shogunate, the ruling family of Japan during the Kamakura feudal era in the mid 900’s. The Shogunate, in return, passed the art to members of the Takeda Clan where it remained for over 35 generations. Master Sokaku Takeda was a 37th generation practicioner.

Founder, Yong Sool Choi

The young Choi served as Master Takeda's personal manservant and, in that capacity, was privy to the lessons Takeda provided to all levels of students of his style of unarmed combat; including the most senior students of Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu.

Yong Sool Choi remained in Japan for 35 years training under Master Takeda. After Takeda’s passing, near the end of World War II, Yong Sool Choi returned to Korea and opened a small school in Taegu, the third largest city in Korea. He began training a small group of students informally. Yong Sool Choi is credited with the founding of modern day Hapkido.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, all school age children were required to read, write, and speak Japanese. In addition they were taught Judo and Kendo for discipline and physical education. Grand Master Bong Soo Han studied these arts during World War II.

Grand Master Bong Soo Han "Father of Hapkido"

1948 to 1960: Shortly after the end of World War II, Grand Master Han studied Kwon-Bup under the late Master Yoon, Byung In. At the outbreak of the Korean War all schools were closed. Life for Koreans during this time was extremely harsh and often deadly. Although the world was recovering from the devastation of World War II, Korea, was still struggling violently between two diametrically opposed political structures that tore apart the country. People's minds, bodies, and spirits were as fractured as Korea and harmony of any kind was a fleeting ideal.

Grand Master Han resumed his martial training shortly after the Korean War training in Hapkido under the late Founder Yong Sool Choi.

In the late 1950’s, Grand Master Han would meet with other instructors to train and exchange ideas. During this period, Grand Master Han also studied the ancient Korean Kicking art of Tae-Kyon in the Wachun Province. The kicks found in Tae-Kyon can be directly related to the Hapkido kicks we study today. Grand Master Han was one of the first five Hapkido instructors allowed to incorporate these kicks into the Hapkido curriculum and teach this unique art, which some have called the first “mixed martial art”.

1960 to 1993: During the turbulent times of the post Korean War and the increasing conflicts of the Vietnam War, Grand Master Han taught Hapkido at Osan Air Force base.

In 1966, Grand Master Han traveled to Vietnam as part of the Korean Intelligence Corps. During his stay he traveled throughout Vietnam training hundreds of military personnel, including American and Korean Special Forces.

Following his service in Vietnam, Grand Master Han introduced Hapkido into the United States in 1967 and began his quest of teaching Hapkido to the world.

On July 4, 1969, Grand Master Han was performing a demonstration at a park in Pacific Palisades, and in the audience was Tom Laughlin. After the spectacular demonstration, he approached Grand Master Han about being involved in a movie project called, "Billy Jack”.

"Billy Jack" filled the nation's theaters in 1971 and Hapkido reached mass exposure. In this film, Grand Master Han gained critical acclaim for creating and staging some of the most breathtaking and realistic fight sequences ever to have graced the silver screen. Prior to this film, brief references to martial arts in movies were often portrayed by actors and not by martial artists.
Grand Master Han redefined and revolutionized Hollywood's understanding of martial arts by demonstrating a level of martial arts skill previously not seen. This film would influence every action picture thereafter and this film introduced Hapkido and Grand Master Han to the world.

Grand Master Bong Soo Han was the world's foremost practitioner of Hapkido and is referred to as the “Father of Hapkido” in the western world. As one of the original senior students to the Founder of Hapkido, Yong Sool Choi, he led a dedicated effort in the development of Hapkido. In his 40 years residing in the United States, Grand Master Han promoted only 125 students to 1st Dan Black Belt.

1993 to Present: Jon Michael Davis began training under Grand Master Bong Soo Han in 1993. He trained under the legendary Master for over 13 years and served as an Instructor and Director of Operations for Grand Master Bong Soo Han’s International Hapkido Federation (IHF) from 2002 - 2007.

Mr. Davis oversaw the day-to-day business of the IHF Headquarters as well as overseeing the affiliate school Hapkido programs across the country. He was one of Grand Master Han’s senior students and trusted instructor. He has participated in countless demonstrations, has taught seminars across the country, and has also trained members of the LAPD and FBI. He was a contributing author and editor of the IHF Student Manual and IHF Hapkido Newsletter. He has been an instructor since 1998 and in 2003 was awarded IHF Instructor of the Year. During his tenure as an Instructor and Director of Operations, the IHF Headquarters in Santa Monica, California was named “Best Traditional School” by Black Belt magazine in 2006. Articles written by Mr. Davis on the philosophy of Hapkido and the martial arts have been published in Black Belt Magazine and TaeKwonDo Times Magazine.

In 2013, he founded Zen Hapkido in Austin, Texas and started teaching formal classes. Adding “Zen” to this specific style of Hapkido was an acknowledgement of Grand Master Han’s influence, the magnanimous martial artist and author of Zen in the Martial Arts Joe Hyams, and Bodhidharma. Without the concepts and philosophies of Zen, one could say that the study of martial arts would be incomplete.

Mr. Davis has managed to keep the integrity of the art intact by adhering to ancient fundamentals and principles that have been passed down from Master to student for generations. In 2016, he was inducted into the United States Martial Artist Association Hall of Fame as “Instructor of the Year”.

Schedule First Free Class

Schedule your first free class and you'll work one-on-one with an assistant instructor to learn about Hapkido and our program.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.