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Choi Yong Sul
Hangul 최용술
Revised Romanization Choe Yongsul
McCune–Reischauer Choi Yong Sul

Choi Yong Sul (1904 - 1986), alternative spelling Choi Yong Sool, was the founder of the martial art hapkido. He was born in the province Chungcheongbuk-do of today's South Korea and was taken to Japan, during the Japanese occupation of the country, when he was eight years old. It is said that while in Japan Choi became a student of Takeda Sokaku and studied a form of jujutsu known as Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu.

He returned to Korea at the end of the second World War and in 1948 began teaching his art at a brewery owned by the father of his first student Suh Bok Sub. He first called his art Yu Sul (유술) or Yawara (柔) later changing it to Yu Kwon Sul (유권술(柔拳術)) and Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sul (합기유권술(合氣柔拳術)) and eventually hapkido.[1]

Choi Yong Sul is honored with the titles doju (도주(道主)), which can be translated as "Keeper of the way", and changsija (창시자(創始者)), which means founder. [2]

It is claimed that the arts of Hapkido, modern Hwarangdo, Kuk Sool Won, as well as lesser known arts such as Han Pul all owe a debt to the teachings of Master Choi.[3]



According to Choi he was abducted from his home village of Yong Dong in Chungcheonbuk-do in 1912 by a Japanese sweet merchant named Morimoto who had lost his own sons and wished to adopt Choi. Choi resisted and proved so troublesome to the candymaker that he abandoned him in the streets of Moji, Japan. Choi made his way to Osaka as a beggar and, after having been picked up by police, was placed in a Buddhist temple which cared for orphans in Kyoto. The abbot of the temple was a monk named Wantanabe Kintaro.[4]

Choi spent 2 years at the temple and had a difficult life there, not only in school but with the other children due to his poor Japanese language skills and his Korean nationality which made him stand out in Japan. Apparently due to the boy's tendency of getting into fights and his intense interest in the temples murals depicting war scenes when asked by Watanabe what direction that he wished for his life to take he expressed interest in the martial arts.[1]

The temple monk (Wantanabe Kintaro) was reputedly a friend of Sokaku Takeda , the founder of the Daito-ryu aikijujutsu system, which is a martial arts system emphasizing empty handed methods based upon the sword styles and jujutsu tactics in which Takeda was an expert. Sokaku Takeda is also famous for having taught Ueshiba Morihei the founder 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 a posthumously released interview reputed to have taken place during a visit Choi made to the United states in 1980.

Retouched photograph of Sokaku Takeda circa 1888

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. [5] 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 traveled 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.

Other sources place Choi as a servant in the Takeda household, [6] while still others assert that he merely attended some of Takeda's seminars. Ueshiba Kisshomaru, son of Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of aikido and Takeda Sokaku's most famous student, stated that his father had told him that Choi had attended seminars held by Takeda with his father in Hokkaidō and that his father had been Choi's senior. [7] Choi apparentally contacted Kisshomaru upon hearing the news of Morihei's death.

Regardless of the source of Choi's skills he returned to Korea after World War II and settled in Taegu, first selling sweets and later raising hogs. In 1948 after becoming involved in an altercation with several men in a dispute over grain at the Suh Brewing Company, the chairman of the brewery, Suh Bok Sub, was so impressed by his skills that he invited him to teach at a makeshift dojang that he created on the premises for that purpose. In this way he became Choi Yong's Sool's the first student. Later Choi became a bodyguard to Suh's father who became an important congressman in Taegu.[3]

Spreading the art

In 1951, Choi and Suh opened up the Korean Yu Kwan Sool Hapki Dojang, the first formal school to teach the art and in 1958 Choi Yong Sool opened up his own school using the shortened name Hapkido for the first time. Both schools were located in Taegu. Some of the more important students from this period of time were Won Kwang-Wha, Kim Moo Hong (Kim Moo Hyun), Kim Jung Yoon. [3] Apparently Choi also taught people on his farm during the early years of the art and it was in this way that Ji Han Jae, one of the great popularizers of the art, came to learn from Choi.

There is some disagreement about this but it also suggested that the founders of two arts, Lee Joo Bang of modern Hwarangdo and Suh In-Hyuk of Kuk Sool Won, are thought to have trained with Choi Yong-Sul. However some others assert that their training came from Kim Moo Hong's hapkido school in Seoul with which they were known to have been associated.[3]

Choi's student Kim Jung-Yoon (also rendered Kim Jeoung-Yun) was one of his senior most students and in 1963 when Choi became the first Chairman on the Korea Kido Association (Daehan Ki Do Hwe) and appointed Kim as Secretary General.[3] Later Kim separated from the hapkido organizations to form his own Han Pul organization, although his art remains firmly based in the teachings of Choi Yong-Sul.[8]

Students of importance who trained who Choi during the later periods of his teaching were Kim Yun Sang who later went on to form his Hapki Yu Sool organization.[9] and Lim Hyun Soo who claims to teach only the core skills taught to him by Choi Yong Sul without the additional techniques which were appended to the art by Choi's students such as Ji Han Jae and Kim Moo Hong.[10]


Choi's claims of being a student of Daito-ryu under Takeda Sokaku are contested and unsupported by the fee and attendance records of Takeda Sokaku which still exist today. However since Choi was Takeda's house servant it is logical to assume he was trained by him or at least in his dojo. While staying in Japan, Choi is said to have taken on a Japanese name and was known as Asao Yoshida (吉田朝男) according to a posthumously released interview[11] or Yoshida Tatujutu according Suh Bok Sub. The claim by some that the lack of documentation was due to his Korean ancestry is difficult to uphold since other Korean students are mentioned in the records. Still there is a strong similarity to the techniques taught in Daito-ryu and the techniques of hapkido.

Argued also is the source of the name 'hapkido' for the art which Choi Yong Sul's student, Ji Han Jae, claims to have coined the name for the art. Suh Bok Sub however states in a 1980 interview that it was Jung Moo Kwan who first used the term to refer to the art as well as the symbol of the eagle to represent the art.[12]


In 1982, four years before he died, Choi embarked on a trip to the United States visiting various schools, such as Rim Jong Bae's, and expressing his wish that Chang Chinil (Jang Jin-Il) would succeed him and lead the different hapkido factions closer together.

Some claim that he was chosen as Choi's successor while others claim that he was designated to lead only in North America and that Choi Bok Yeol was always meant to lead in Korea. Chang was however unable to fulfill this role, eventually closing down his own New York City dojang.

After Choi's death his son, Choi Bok Yeol, followed in his father's footsteps as the new leader. Choi Bok Yeol however died in 1987 just a year after his father. At that point an official successor to Choi Bok Yeol had not been appointed yet. It was Kim Yun Sang who, in the year 2000, became the 3rd doju. Kim Yun Sang is actively promoting Hapki yusul with the apparent support of Choi's family members.[13]

Another prominent disciple of Choi Yong Sul is Lim Hyun Soo. He studied with Choi for 19 years and is one of the few men promoted to 9th degree black belt by Choi himself. Lim who founded and still serves as the president of the Jungki Kwan is an important connection to Hapkido's history and the preservation of the original techniques Choi Yong Sul.[14]


Many people have claimed to be students of Choi Yong Sul, and it is often hard to verify whether or not these claims are valid. This is a list of people who were long time students of Choi.

  • Suh Bok Sub (Choi's first student)
  • Han Bong Soo (Founder of the International Hapkido Federation)
  • Ji Han Jae (student #14 of Choi, Founder of the Korea Hapkido Association and Sin Moo Hapkido)
  • Won Kwang-Wha (Founder of the Moo Sool Kwan)
  • Kim Moo-Hong (Founder of the Korean Hapkido Association)
  • Kim Jung-Yun (Secretary General of the Kido Association and founder of Han Pul)
  • Yoo Byung Don (Han Kuk Jeong Dong Hapkido, Orthodox Hapkido)
  • Kim Yun Sang (Hapki yusul)
  • Kim Jung Soo (student #8 of Choi, still teaching in Taegu)
  • Lim Hyun Soo (Founder of Jung Ki Kwan)

Prominent hapkido teachers also claiming to have been students of Choi Yong Sool are:

  • Kim Chong Sung (Founder of the Jang Mu Hapkido Federation)
  • Kim Yong-Jin (Founder of the Ulchi Kwan)
  • Myung Kwang-Sik (Founder of the World Hapkido Federation)
  • Hwang In-Shik (Chief Master of the World Hapkido Association)
  • Suh In Hyuk (Founder and Grandmaster of Kuk Sool Won)
  • Joo Bang Lee (Founder and Surpreme Grandmaster)Hwa Rang Do World Association)
  • Mike Wollmershauser (Founder of the American Hapkido Association)

although some say that these teachers learned the art primarily through students of Choi's such as Ji Han Jae.[3]


  1. ^ a b Hentz, Eric (editor), Taekwondo Times Vol. 16, No. 8. Tri-Mount Publications, Iowa 1996. ("The Beginning of Hapkido; An Interview with Hapkido Master Suh, Bok Sub" by Mike Wollmershauser)
  2. ^ From the hapki-yusul homepage
  3. ^ a b c d e f Kimm, He-Young. Hapkido (alternately The Hapkido Bible). Andrew Jackson Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1991
  4. ^ Posthumously Released Interview with Choi Yong Sul (1982)
  5. ^ Posthumously released Interview with Choi Yong Sul (1982)
  6. ^ Scott Shaw (1996). Hapkido: Korean Art of Self-Defense. Boston, Massachusetts: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-2074-0.  
  7. ^ Pranin, S. (1988) 'Interview with Kisshomaru Ueshiba: The Early Days of Aikido', AikiNews, 77. Retrieved from [1]
  8. ^ Kim Jeong Yun. Personal interview with Matthew Rogers. Seoul. 1995.
  9. ^ Spiedel, Rod. Taekwondo Times. Nov. 2006/Vol.26. No.6. Article compiled by Barrie Restall. 'Yong Sul Kwan; History of the Hapkido Hapkisul Headquarters.'
  10. ^ Stepan, Charles (Editor). Taekwondo Times Magazine. May 2005/Volume.25, No.3. Tri-Mount Publications, Iowa. Article by Sheryl and D'Aloia Michael "Mysterious Charm of Hapkido Granmaster Lim, Hyun Soo." pg.30 ]
  11. ^ Interview with Choi Yong Sul (1982)
  12. ^ Hentz, Eric (editor), Taekwondo Times Vol. 16, No. 8. Tri-Mount Publications, Iowa 1996. "The Beginning of Hapkido; An Interview with Hapkido Master Suh, Bok Sub" by Mike Wollmershauser.
  13. ^ Spiedel, Rod. Taekwondo Times. Nov. 2006/Vol.26. No.6. Tri-Mount Publications, Iowa. Article compiled by Barrie Restall. 'Yong Sul Kwan; History of the Hapkido Hapkisul Headquarters.'
  14. ^ Robert Young. Black Belt Magazine. Sept. 2006. Article/Interview compiled by Michael D'Aloia & Sheryl Glidden. 'The 10 Original Kicks of Hapkido.'

Further reading

Kimm, He-Young. Hapkido II. Andrew Jackson Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1994.

Myung, Kwang-Sik. Korean Hapkido; Ancient Art of Masters. World Hapkido Federation, Los Angeles, California 1976.



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