Han Bong-Soo, known as Bong Soo Han in the United States, was born August 25, 1933 in Incheon, South Korea and died on January 8, 2007 in Santa Monica, California. Han was a martial arts instructor, author, the founder of the International Hapkido Federation and one of the foremost practitioners of Korean hapkido through his participation in books, magazine articles and popular films featuring the art.
Han Bong-Soo was one of the world's foremost practitioners of the Korean martial art of Hapkido. He is often referred to as the "Father of Hapkido" in America.
Han began his study of hapkido as a teenager with Yong Sul Choi in Seoul, Korea. He studied and refined this powerful Korean martial art for more than 50 years. He held the rank of 9th Dan Black Belt. He was the founder of the International Hapkido FederationTM, and was its president until his death.
Throughout his life, Han led a dedicated effort in the ongoing development of Hapkido.
During the occupation of Korea by Japan, between the years of 1910 and 1945, 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. Han Bong Soo studied these arts from 1943-1945.
From 1948 to 1950, Han studied kwon bup, which was a mixture of Chinese chuan fa methods and Shudokan karate, and earned a black belt in the art under the late Master Byung In Yoon. Yoon's teachings later led to the development of one of the Korean schools of kong soo do and greatly influenced two of the early schools who helped to form modern Taekwondo, the chang moo kwan and the jido kwan. At the outbreak of the Korean War all schools of the martial arts were closed in Korea.
Bong Soo Han began his training in Hapkido after going to see a demonstration put on by the founder, Yong Sul Choi. From then on, he committed himself to the rigorous training of Hapkido under Yong Sul Choi.
In the late 1950s, Han Bong Soo would meet with other instructors to train and exchange ideas. From time to time, between 1956 to 1959, he traveled to Hwa Chun, Kang Won Province, where he spent time training in the art of tae kyon, under Master Bok Yong Lee.
Han and his friend Choi Seo-Oh were both employed by the Hankuk Shil Up Company which assisted other companies in bidding on Army surplus goods. Both had prior training in striking based martial arts, Choi in the Jido kwan Taekwondo and Han in kwon bup and tae kyon. However they both joined Ji's Joongbooshijang hapkido dojang in 1958 to receive extra training in order to become bodyguards to Korean Labour Party presidential candidate Jun Jin-Han. When Jun withdrew his candidacy they both decided to continue their training in hapkido.
Han Bong-Soo being older, a native of Seoul, and a senior student of Choi Yong Sul, assisted in promoting the first Hapkido school in the country's capital city. In 1959 Bong Soo Han opened his own Hapkido school in the Samgangji section of Seoul. Han became one of the most important teachers in the very influential Korea Hapkido Association and taught many important people in both the Korean military and the Korean presidential guard. Eventually he secured a position teaching martial arts to U.S. security personnel at the Osan American air force base where he continued to teach for 6 years.
Later in 1967 he immigrated to the United States first staying with and teaching at his friend Choi Sea-Oh's hapkido school in California later opening his own school in Los Angeles in 1968. His early years were difficult and he worked in a factory during the day while he taught at a struggling hapkido school in the evening located in an economically depressed area. Later he relocated his school to the Pacific Palisades area in an effort to be closer to Hollywood and the movie industry.
On July 4, 1969, Han Bong Soo was performing a demonstration at a park in the Pacific Palisades, California. In the audience was Tom Laughlin. After a spectacular demonstration, Laughlin approached Han about being involved in a movie project called Billy Jack. Han gained critical acclaim for creating and staging some of the most realistic martial arts fight sequences in a film. Before Billy Jack, movies contained at most brief references to martial arts, with fights portrayed by actors who had little training. With Billy Jack, Han had introduced Hapkido to the West. In its sequel, The Trial of Billy Jack, he received a co-starring part where he spoke about and demonstrated the art, mentioning the art by name for the first time.
Han continued to choreograph fight sequences and bring martial arts to the big screen. In 1977, he played the evil Dr. Klahn in the spoof film, The Kentucky Fried Movie. In a serious demonstration of pressure-point techniques, Han also arranged the fight scene in which Sean Connery uses one thumb to defeat a burly assailant in the 1988 movie, The Presidio.
Han Bong Soo has been the subject of many magazine and newspaper articles, martial arts magazine cover stories, and was a member of the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Martial Arts History Museum Hall of Fame in 1999. He was also featured in the A&E documentary, The Martial Arts and the Wesley Snipes-produced Master of the Martial Arts.
In addition to being cited in dozens of martial arts books, he wrote many articles on the Way of martial arts, and also authored the book, Hapkido, The Korean Art of Self-Defense, that was published by Ohara Publications in 1974, which is now in its 23rd printing. He completed a series of ten instructional Hapkido DVDs which are in worldwide distribution.
In 1974, Han founded the International Hapkido Federation. On July 6, 2006 Black Belt Magazine presented the International Hapkido Federation with its 2006 Industry Award for Best Traditional School for its commitment to preserving the legacy of Hapkido.
Han Bong Soo died at his home in Santa Monica, California on January 8, 2007. He was laid to rest in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.