InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives July 2003

EJMAS Tips Jar

Continuing Hapkido Training in Korea

By Monica Bielke

Copyright © EJMAS 2003. All rights reserved.

Ed. note: See also "Beginning Hapkido Training in Korea," at

Four people tested at my Hapkido dojang on January 24, 2003: two white belts (a newer guy and myself), a yellow belt (male), and one red-black belt (female).

Five senior black belts showed up for this class, as well as a few other people who havenít been around much lately. Thankfully, the senior black belt, who speaks decent English, was there. I figured (correctly, it turned out) heíd probably be assigned as my partner.

Figure 2
Thatís me, in the back row, at the right

We did lots of warm-ups before the Kwanjangnim came out. I wasnít too nervous. For better or worse, I donít have a lot invested in my Hapkido training, yet. Itís fun. I find it interesting to compare what Iím learning there to other martial arts Iíve studied. I wanted to do well to show them I value the time theyíve spent training me. And of course no one likes to make a fool of herself on a test. Otherwise, I wasnít too wound up about it--just enough adrenaline to keep me alert!

After warm-ups, we all sat along the wall and Kwanjangnim called the four of us up to stand on the mat. He called out each item in turn from a sheaf of papers that he made notes on as we tested. I donít always remember the Korean names for things, so I kept an eagle eye on him for hand signals, and watched the red-black belt in front of me for body language.

First, we did the four basic breathing exercises (tan ju ho). (NOTE: My spellings are phonetic, as I havenít found a book to give me the "correct" transliterations yet.) Then, a short, basic, striking form (sandang gongbang), which I find much easier to remember than the Heian Shodan.

Figure 1
Doing breathing exercises

Afterwards were the first four kicks - front kick, side kick, side heel kick, and inside front kick. Hereís where I really needed the signals. Kwanjangnim would call out each kick, then look at me and give a brief descriptive hand signal. He and I had never used these before, but his signals told me exactly what he wanted, thank goodness! I was relieved that my kicks went well, as they look awkward to me when I do them in the mirror.

Then, we did forward rolls, the dreaded forward breakfalls - which I did from my knees, even though the other white belt did his from standing, and backfalls.

Next, we were paired with a black belt to do the sohn guk ki (joint-lock/throws), once on each side. Iíve been taught 9 of them so far. Although they arenít numbered consecutively, I know 1, 3, 5, 8, 11, then four more from various sleeve/jacket grasps that I donít know the numbers for, so I have to remember the order they go in. I hesitated on just one, #8, which is not bad considering how much Iíve been out sick lately. My partner has a bad left wrist, so I tried to do the other side well, thus allowing me to take it slightly easy on his left wrist. It helped me a lot that all four of us were doing the techniques simultaneously. Much less feeling of being in the spotlight that way. And itís not as if the teacher hasnít seen our techniques nearly every class.

Fig 3
Demonstrating joint-lock/throws

After this, the two white and the yellow belt were told to sit down while the red-black continued with her throws. Sheís still a little tentative on her finishing strikes (we lower grades donít do the pin and strike yet), but she did great on her throws. Her partner wasnít tanking for her at all. He even made an audible noise of pain one time, which drew a chuckle from those seated. Sheís thin and wiry, but very determined.

Lower grades donít take falls. No one has explained why to me, Iíve just watched a lot and made some assumptions. I figure itís mostly because beginners can learn the basic choreography of the throws fairly well without having to take the falls. And also, because most of the falls are either flip breakfalls, parallel over-the-back or over the hip/koshi breakfalls, or just straight down (sideways, backwards, and front-ways), it takes time for a beginnerís skill to reach a level where sheís safe doing them.

Even the woman testing for black belt didnít take any falls, although one of her test techniques was a parallel over-the-back judo-like throw (thatís where we heard a faint groan from her uke). This tells me a little bit about the different way of looking at a black belt here. It would seem it isnít until black belt level that you begin learning the attacks, and thus have to learn the falls. A shame really--I wonít get that far before I leave Korea.

After she finished, we stood a bit. Meanwhile, Kwanjangnim asked the other three questions. My best guess says the discussion was related to Hapkido principles, as I saw him gesturing at various bits of calligraphy on the walls. Some of these are in Chinese characters, and some have Buddhist faces on them. Very frustrating to not understand what was being said. At the end, Kwanjangnim said to me, "Monica, good job." and smiled. Then everyone stood up again, the three lower grades who tested were called forward and Kwanjangnim tied our new belts on us. We were applauded briefly, then the red-black was called up for her new black belt, already embroidered with her name (and something else, as there were lots more than just three characters on it).

So yes, I passed!

The testing cost 20,000 won, less than $20 US. Assuming I donít get sick again, Iíll most likely be testing at least two more times before I leave. That would put me up to red, if I passed. The color progression at our dojang goes:

  • White - 8 Gup.
  • Yellow - 6 Gup.
  • Blue - 4 Gup.
  • Red - 2 Gup.
  • Red-black - 1 Gup.
  • Black - il-dan.
  • I passed the test for 2 Gup on May 26. Yet there is so much about even everyday training customs that I donít know. For example, why did I learn techniques 1, 3, 5, 8 and 11 first, and not the ones in between? In addition, there is the art itself. Must keep training just so I can find out!
    InYo July 2003