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Hapkido (also spelled hap ki do or hapki-do) is a dynamic and eclectic Korean martial art. It is a form of self-defense that employs joint locks, pressure points, throws, kicks, and other strikes. Hapkido practitioners train to counter the techniques of other martial arts as well as common unskilled attacks. There are also traditional weapons including short stick, cane, rope, nunchucks, sword and staff which vary in emphasis depending on the particular tradition examined.
Hapkido contains both long and close range fighting techniques, utilizing dynamic kicking and percussive hand strikes at longer ranges and pressure point strikes, jointlocks, or throws at closer fighting distances. Hapkido emphasizes circular motion, non-resisting movements, and control of the opponent. Practitioners seek to gain advantage through footwork and body positioning to employ leverage, avoiding the use of strength against strength.
The art evolved from Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu or a closely related jujutsu system taught by Choi Yong Sul who returned to Korea after WWII, having lived in Japan for 30 years. This system was later combined with kicking and striking techniques of indigenous and contemporary arts such as taek kyun and tang soo do. Its history is obscured by the historical animosity between the Korean and Japanese peoples following the Second World War.
Hapkido is rendered “???” in the native Korean writing system known as hangul, the script used most widely in modern Korea. The art’s name can also however be written “???” utilizing the same traditional Chinese characters which would have been used to refer to the Japanese martial art of aikido in the pre-1945 period. The current preference in Japan is for the use of a modern simplified second character; substituting ? for the earlier, more complex character ?.
The character hap means “harmony”, “coordinated”, or “joining”; ? ki describes internal energy, spirit, strength, or power; and ? do means “way” or “art”, yielding a literal translation of “joining-energy-way.” It is most often translated as “the way of coordinating energy,” “the way of coordinated power” or “the way of harmony.”
Although the arts are believed by many to share a common history they remain separate and distinct from one another. They differ significantly in philosophy, range of responses and manner of executing techniques. The fact that they share the same original Chinese characters, despite ? being pronounced “ai” in Japanese and “hap” in Korean, has proved problematic in promoting the art internationally as a discipline with its own set of unique characteristics differing from those of the Japanese art.
The birth of modern hapkido can be traced to the efforts of a group of Korean nationals in the post Japanese colonial period of Korea, Choi Yong Sul (b. 1899, d. 1986) and his most prominent students; Suh Bok Sub, the first student of the art; Ji Han Jae (b. 1936 ), arguably the greatest promoter of the art; Kim Moo Hong, a major innovator in the art; Myung Jae Nam, who forged a greater connection between the art of hapkido and Japanese aikido and then founded Hankido, and others, all of whom were direct students of Choi or of his immediate students.
Choi Yong Sul’s training in martial arts is a subject of contention. It is known that Choi was sent to Japan as a young boy and returned to Korea with techniques characteristic of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, a forerunner of aikido. The next portion of the story is quite controversial in Daito-ryu circles but is claimed by many contemporary hapkido-ists and is attributed to Choi in an interview (released posthumously) reputed to have taken place during a visit Choi made to the United States in 1980.
In the interview, Choi claims to have been adopted by Takeda Sokaku when he was 11 years old and was given the Japanese name, Yoshida Asao. He claims to have been taken to Takeda’s home and dojo in Akita on Shin Shu mountain where he lived and trained with the master for 30 years. The interview also asserts that he travelled with him as a teaching assistant, that he was employed to catch war deserters and that he was the only student to have a complete understanding of the system taught by Takeda.
This is contradicted by other claims asserting that Choi was simply a worker in the home of Takeda.  In fact, the meticulous enrollment and fee records of Tokimune Takeda, Takeda Sokaku’s eldest son and Daito-ryu’s successor, do not seem to include Choi’s name among them. Therefore, except for claims made by Choi himself, there is little evidence that Choi was the adopted son of Takeda Sokaku, or that he ever formally studied Daito-ryu under the founder of the art. 
Stanley Pranin, then of Aiki News and now editor of the Aikidojournal.com, asked Kisshomaru Ueshiba about Choi Yong Sool and hapkido:
Some argue that Choi Yong Sul’s potential omission from the records, and the ensuing debate over hapkido’s origins, may be due to tensions between Koreans and Japanese, partly as a result of Japanese involvement in the occupation of Korea. At the height of dispute, it is claimed by hapkido practitioners that Koreans were excluded from listing, though this is contradicted by Takeda’s records which contain other Korean names. While some commentators claim hapkido has a Japanese lineage, others state that its origins lay with indigenous Korean martial arts.
Choi Yong Sul’s first student, and the man whom some claim helped him develop the art of hapkido was Suh Bok Sup (also spelled Bok-Sub), a Korean judo black belt when they met. Some of Choi’s other respected senior students are: Ji Han Jae, Kim Moo-Hong, Won Kwang-Hwa, Kim Jung-Yoon, and arguably Suh In-Hyuk and Lee Joo Bang who went on to form the arts of Kuk Sool Won and modern Hwarang-do respectively (though some argue that their training stems from time spent training under Kim Moo-Hong).