The true history of Hap Ki Do is a controversial topic, like many of the other martial arts. All the different styles have their own version of the history of Hap Ki Do and believe that their version is correct. This has led to quite a bit of confusion and varying information to be found. Therefore, it should be understood that the martial arts are and were not created and/or invented by any one person. The techniques taught today have been developed and perfected by many people over hundreds of years. And, just as baseball, hockey, and football have significant rolls in the history of the western world, the martial arts have a strong connection to the history of many Asian countries.
During the Three Kingdom Era (57 B.C. to 688 A.D. ) there were three Kingdoms competing on the Korean Peninsula: Koguryu in the North, Paekche in the Southwest, and Shilla in the Southeast. Martial arts techniques similar to those of Hap Ki Do were introduced to ancient Korea in approximately 372 A.D., with the introduction of Buddhism. Evidence of this has been found in many cave paintings and ancient wall art of that period.
During the Shilla (57 B.C. to 660 A.D.) and United Shilla Kingdom (676 to 925 A.D.) a group of young warriors were gathered. The HwaRang were highly disciplined, adhered to a strict code of ethics and were extremely proficient in the martial arts. These warriors, who were to train the future national leaders, were taught Hap Ki Do techniques for their physical fitness, mental discipline and self-defense.
In 935 A.D. the Shilla Kingdom was overturned by the Dynasty of Ko-Ryo and the name “Korea” was derived. During this dynasty Buddhism was the state religion and greatly influenced politics, administrations, and martial arts. Kings Eyi-Jong and Choong-Hei brought Hap Ki Do experts to the palace for demonstrations and Hap Ki Do became a “royal” martial art.
However, the Ko-Ryo dynasty collapsed and the new Cho-San Dynasty (often called the Yi Dynasty) came into power (1392-1910 A.D.). The new leaders collapsed the Buddhist religion and imported Confucianism, which respects scholarly discipline and has a strict code of life without physical force or martial arts. Martial Arts were replaced with art, writing, and sculpting. By the nineteenth century, the country had taken on a non-military view of life and many areas outwardly banned the study or teaching of martial arts.
Many of the masters and students of the martial arts secreted themselves into the monasteries of Korea during this time. They continued to study and perfect the martial arts. A Master would have one student only and would teach that student throughout his lifetime. When the Master died, the student was given his title and found another student. Masters would not take more than one student and it was a lifelong partnership. This allowed their secret way of life to remain a secret from the outside world. Documents have been found that show the great lengths these monks took to keep their teachings both alive and secret.
Korea was invaded in 1910 by Japan. the Japanese rule of Korea was devastating to the country. All civil liberties were removed and public schools, libraries, and other educational institutions were closed. The Japanese established their own educational system to “assimilate” Korean youth into the Japanese culture. During this time period the Korean language was omitted and Japanese was used instead. Korean history books, buildings, art, and other items that documented history of Korea were burned or destroyed. The martial arts were once again banned. Several monasteries were burned in this time period and many of the documents and books of the martial arts were destroyed. However, several monasteries were not discovered and continued the practice and teachings of the martial arts.
Korea regained its independence in 1945 and the martial arts regained their popularity. Hap Ki Do was re-introduced to the Korean population and has become a widely respected martial art in both Korea and the United States of America. There are over one million students of Hap Ki Do worldwide.