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BOOK REVIEW: Hapkido by Scott Shaw

Hapkido: Korean Art of Self-DefenseHapkido: Korean Art of Self-Defense by Scott Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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When I picked up this book, all I knew about Hapkidō was that it was a Korean martial art, that it wasn’t a sport like its more famous martial cousin—Tae Kwon Do (TKD), and that it was a more comprehensive art (grappling as well as striking) than TKD. I grabbed it because at least one of these mental reductions proved only partially correct and I wanted to know what else I might be getting wrong. In the first paragraph, I learned that Hapkidō was heavily influenced by / a descendant of Daitō-ryū Akijūjutsu. (If that art sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it was also a big influence for its most famous student, Morihei Ueshiba—i.e. the founder of the Japanese art Aikidō.)

This book is tiny. It’s an overview of the art in less than 100 pages (and, as is common with martial arts books, at least half the space is devoted to photos.) So the first thing a reader might want to be aware of is that you’ve probably read newspaper articles with higher word counts than this book. I’ll leave it to the reader to determine whether that’s a good or bad thing.

The book consists of five chapters, but the last chapter accounts for the majority of the page count (but not the word count.) The first two chapters are histories. The first offers an overview of Korean martial arts situated in the context of national events of the time. The second chapter is a history of Hapkidō and gives one insight into Daitō-ryū Akijūjutsu and how it came to influence the Korean founder of Hapkidō, Choi Yong-Sul.

Chapters 3 and 4 examine aspects of the art that one might call “pre-basics” for lack of a better term. As ki (i.e. life force / energy, those familiar with Chinese arts might know it as “chi” or “qi”) plays a central role in the art, Chapter 3 discusses ki and describes breathing and meditation practices that are used for building energy. Chapter 4 describes break-falls and the art’s one posture / stance (a natural posture.)

Chapter 5 describes, and presents photos of, basic defensive moves of Hapkidō. There are five sub-sections that explore, respectively, the following types of techniques: disengagements (i.e. breaking away from an opponent who has seized one), joint locks, throws, punch defenses, and kick defenses.

I found this book to be concise and informative. If one is seeking a detailed overview of the art, one might want to look elsewhere. However, if one is just trying to figure out what Hapkidō is all about, it should serve you well. I doubt that an experienced student of the art would get much out of this book as it’s just the bare bones. Not everybody is looking to delve into the minutiae.

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