Thirteen centuries ago, the land currently occupied by North and South Korea consisted of three kingdoms - Kokuryo, Paekche, and Shilla. The people of Kokuryo were known for their military and intellectual skills (head); the Shilla were craftsmen (hands); and the Paekche were agrarian (feet).
During this time it was felt that the security of many lay in the strength of a select few. A group of elite young nobleman developed "a way of life." This Way was based upon adherence to a strict code of ethics and a disciplined life style dedicated to living in harmony with the natural laws of the universe. This group came to be known as Hwarangdo.
Wars and insurrections were a common part of everyday life. King Chin-Heung of Shilla, in concert with the Mongols, succeeded in over-throwing the rulers of Kokuryo and Paekche. The remaining royalty of the defeated Kokuryo and Paekche kingdoms fled to the mountains or to neighboring islands. One group of people from Kokuyro sailed to the Island of Hokkaido, while another group sailed from Paekche to Kyushu, and established some of the first ancient settlements of Japan.
Those that fled to the mountains established monastic order and carried on their traditions in secret for the next 500 years. During this time, devoted monks practiced and refined their martial skills. Many of the monasteries developed their own fighting styles and concepts. The most effective and devastating style was known as Tae Kyon, primarily a martial art of kicking.
1910 – 1945: The Japanese Army invaded and ruled Korea from 1910 through the end of World War II. During that period, it was not uncommon for Korean families and treasures to be relocated to Japan. During the Japanese occupation, a young boy, Yong Sul Choi, was sent to Japan. By age 9, Yong Sul Choi was alone and living with a group of monks in a Buddhist temple. Shortly thereafter, it became apparent to the monks that Yong Sul Choi was not suited for monastic life.
At this time, many great warriors, in accordance with ancient traditions, undertook annual pilgrimages throughout Japan to improve their martial arts skills. During their travels they visited local temples to offer prayers and donations. One such warrior, Master Sokaku Takeda, paid regular visits to the monastery where Yong Sul Choi resided. During one of Master Takeda's visits, the resident monks, seeing an opportunity, beseeched Master Takeda to take the young Choi as a disciple.
Master Takeda practiced the art of swordsmanship and a weaponless martial art known as Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu. This art emphasized the use of joint locks, strikes, and nerve attacks to neutralize an opponent. Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu, itself, originated from the united Shilla Dynasty of Korea. Sam Lang, Won Eui Guang, a Korean bureaucratic official, taught this art to Japan's Minamoto Shogunate, the ruling family of Japan during the Kamakura feudal era. The Shogunate, in return, passed the art to members of the Takeda Clan where it remained for over 35 generations. Master Sokaku Takeda was the 37th generation.
The young Choi served as Master Takeda's assistant and student. Consistent with the training methods of those days, Master Takeda's training of young Choi was both tough and rigorous.
Yong Sul Choi remained in Japan for 35 years training under Master Takeda. Near the end of World War II, Yong Sul Choi returned to Korea and opened a small school in Taegu, the third largest city in Korea. He began training a small group of students informally. Yong Sul Choi is credited with the founding of modern day Hapkido.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea, 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. Grand Master Bong Soo Han studied these arts during World War II.
1948 to 1960: Shortly after the end of World War II, Grand Master Han studied Kwon-Bup under the late Master Yoon, Byung In. At the outbreak of the Korean War all schools were closed. Life for Grand Master Han and his fellow Koreans during this time was, at best extremely tenuous and, at worst, deadly. Although the world was recovering from the devastation of World War II, Korea, was still struggling violently between two diametrically opposed political structures that tore apart the country. People's minds, bodies, and spirits were as fractured as Korea and harmony of any kind was a fleeting ideal.
Grand Master Han resumed his martial training shortly after the Korean War training in Hapkido under the late Founder Yong Sul Choi.
In the late 1950’s, Grand Master Han would meet with other instructors to train and exchange ideas. During this period, Grand Master Han also studied the ancient Korean Kicking art of Tae-Kyon in the Wachun Province. The kicks found in Tae-Kyon can be directly related to the Hapkido kicks we study today.
Grand Master Han was able to master the system of Hapkido as taught by Yong Sul Choi and was ultimately instrumental in spreading the art to the entire world.
1960 and beyond: During the turbulent times of the post Korean War and the increasing conflicts of the Vietnam War, Grand Master Han taught martial arts on a U.S. Air Force base.
In 1966, Grand Master Han traveled to Vietnam as part of the Korean Intelligence Corps. During his stay he traveled throughout Vietnam training hundreds of military personnel, including American and Korean Special Forces.
Following his service in Vietnam, Grand Master Han introduced Hapkido into the United States in 1967 and began his quest of teaching Hapkido to the world.
On July 4, 1969, Grand Master Han was performing a demonstration at a park in Pacific Palisades, and in the audience was Tom Laughlin. After the spectacular demonstration, he approached Grand Master Han about being involved in a movie project called, "Billy Jack."
"Billy Jack" filled the nation's theaters in 1971 and Hapkido reached mass exposure. In this film, Grand Master Han gained critical acclaim for creating and staging some of the most breathtaking and realistic fight sequences ever to have graced the silver screen. Prior to this film, brief references to martial arts in movies were often portrayed by actors and not by martial artists. Grand Master Han redefined and revolutionized Hollywood's understanding of martial arts by demonstrating a level of martial arts skill previously not seen. This film would influence every action picture thereafter and this film introduced Hapkido and Grand Master Han to the world.
Since 1968, Grand Master Han taught at his school in Santa Monica. In 1974, in an effort to preserve the art of Hapkido as he had been taught, Grand Master Han formed the International Hapkido Federation.
Grand Master Han was the subject of hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles and countless martial arts magazine cover stories. He was also featured in The Arts and Entertainment documentary, "The Martial Arts," the Wesley Snipes-produced "Master of the Martial Arts," and several other print, film, and television profiles.
In addition to being cited in dozens of martial arts books, Grand Master Han wrote many articles on the Way of martial arts, and also authored the book, HAPKIDO, The Korean Art of Self-Defense, which is now in its 23rd printing. He also created a series of detailed instructional Hapkido videotapes and DVD’s.
Grand Master Han is best known, however, for his unrelenting dedication to the teaching of Hapkido, sharing with thousands the truth and nature of martial arts, impacting those who commit to embark on this journey of self-development and harmony.
Grand Master Bong Soo Han was the world's foremost practitioner of Hapkido, and is referred to as the Father of Hapkido in the Western World. As one of the original senior students to the Founder of Hapkido, Yong Sul Choi, he led a dedicated effort in the development of Hapkido and taught thousands of loyal students throughout his life.