Hapkido, Jeju, South Korea
No matter when one listens from the outside of the door, the same sounds can be heard – groans, mock cries of pain mixed in with the occasion real ones, laughter, and cheers of accomplishment. If one glances into the room, though, the scene before them can vary depending on the day or even the minute. At one minute, limber students can be seen performing a succession of handsprings down the mat, trailed by less experienced students falling flat on their backsides. Several minutes later, various 2-person groups can be spotted sparring. No attention is paid to levels as white belts kick at brown belts and yellow belts duck from blue belts. Yet still later, a glance may yield one with views of sword handling or fighting routines, in which the students engage in a series of prescribed punches and kicks according to their level.
This wide variety of skills is typical in a hapkido class – and even more typical in Master Hang’s class, in which American soccer is occasionally performed as a cool-down. Hapkido is actually a relatively new martial art, having only been started in February of 1951, when Masters Choi Yong Suk and Seo Bok-sup trained twenty participants on the second floor of a distillery in Daegu in this wide variety of skills. It is the wide variety of skills, in fact, that distinguishes hapkido from most martial arts. According to Master Hang, most other martial arts try to hone a specific system of techniques instead of emphasizing a variety of systems.
It was this variety that appealed to Master Hang, owner and sole instructor at Teukgong Gym. Variety appeals to him in all forms, as a glance at the awards posted on his dojo walls would confirm. Mixed in with the expected hapkido medals are awards for multiple physical activities, including a certification as a SSI Master Scuba Diver and a glass plaque declaring him part of the Special Guard Club. Before taking up hapkido, he had trained himself by means of several athletics and martial arts, including tae kwon do and woshu. He ultimately settled on hapkido, finding it the “best fit” for him. Among his lengthy list of reasons for enjoying it, he mentions the protection it provides, the stress relief, the growth of perseverance and patience it encourages in an individual, as well as the self-confidence and exercise.
All ages and levels are welcome to participate in any of his classes, as are speakers of any language. Although Master Hang only speaks a few non-Korean words (among which is the all-important “soccer”), he takes great pleasure in teaching non-Koreans. He can communicate quite easily despite the language barrier.
There are six levels of belts before one can obtain a first-level (1 dan) black belt. The six levels are white, yellow, blue, red, brown, and red-black. After that, of course, is the 1 dan black belt, followed by (logically enough) a 2 dan black belt. There are 4 dans, each successively harder to obtain. A 4 dan black belt is required for an instructor position.
When: One-hour classes are offered five days a week, Monday through Friday. Class times are in the afternoon, at 2:30, 4, 5:30, 7, and 8:30. Students are allowed to stay after class to practice.
Where: In Shin Jeju, near Marchen House (pronounced Marian House), a blue-hued apartment building commonly known among foreigners. Near Marchen House is a light. On the corner across from the light stands a 3-story building. The first story contains a Samsung, the second story is the ECC Center, and the third story is the hapkido dojo.
Cost: 80,000-100,000 won a month, depending on level.