Choi Yong-Sul

Choi Yong-Sool
Born 최용술
(1904-11-09)9 November 1904
Chungcheongbuk-do, Korea
Died 15 June 1986(1986-06-15) (aged 81)
Other names Choi Yong-Sul
Residence Daegu
Nationality  South Korea
Style Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu,
Trainer Takeda Sōkaku
Rank Doju,
Occupation Martial artist
Notable students
Chinil Chang 10th Dan/Current Grandmaster,
Ji Han-Jae,
Kim Moo-Hong,
Chung, Kee Tae,
Kim Yoon-Sang,
Notable school(s) Daehan Hapki YuKwonSool Dojang
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last updated on: 2010-02-23

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Choi Yong-sool (Hangul: 최용술; November 9, 1904 – June 15, 1986), alternative spelling Choi Yong-sul, was the founder of the martial art hapkido. He was born in today's Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, and was taken to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea when he was eight years old. Choi later claimed that he became a student of Takeda Sōkaku, and studied a form of jujutsu known as Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu (大東流合気柔術) while in Japan;[5] this is disputed due to the historically tense relationship between the two sides and lack of clear documentary evidence.

Choi returned to Korea after the end of the World War II and in 1948 began teaching his art at a brewery owned by the father of his first student Seo Bok-Seob (Hangul: 서복섭; Suh Bok-Sub). He first called his art "Yu Sul (Hangul: 유술)" or "Yawara (Hangul: 야와라; 柔術)" later changing it to "Yu Kwon Sool (Hangul: 유권술; 柔拳術)" and "Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool (Hangul: 합기 유권술; 合氣柔拳術)" and eventually Hapkido.[6]

Choi Yong-Sool was honored with the titles doju (Hangul: 도주; 道主), which can be translated as "Keeper of the way", and changsija (Hangul: 창시자; 創始者), which simply means "founder".[7] The arts of Hapkido, modern Hwa Rang Do, Kuk Sool Won, as well as lesser known arts such as Han Pul all show influence of the teachings of Master Choi.[8]


According to Choi he was abducted from his home village of Yong Dong in Chungcheongbuk-do in 1912 by a Japanese sweet merchant named Morimoto who had lost his own sons and wished to adopt Choi. Choi resisted and proved so troublesome to the candymaker that he abandoned him in the streets of Moji, Japan. Choi made his way to Osaka as a beggar and, after having been picked up by police, was placed in a Buddhist temple which cared for orphans in Kyoto. The abbot of the temple was a monk named Wantanabe Kintaro.[9]

Choi spent 2 years at the temple and had a difficult life there, not only in school but with the other children due to his poor Japanese language skills and his Korean ethnicity which made him stand out in Japan. Apparently due to the boy's tendency of getting into fights and his intense interest in the temples murals depicting war scenes, when asked by Watanabe what direction that he wished for his life to take he expressed interest in the martial arts.[6]

The temple monk (Wantanabe Kintaro) was reputedly a friend of Takeda Sōkaku, the founder of the Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu system, which is a Japanese martial arts system emphasizing empty handed methods based upon the sword styles and jujutsu tactics in which Takeda was an expert. Takeda Sōkaku is also famous for having taught Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido.

The next portion of the story is quite controversial in Daito-ryu circles, but is claimed by many contemporary hapkidoists, and is attributed to Choi in a posthumously released interview reputed to have taken place during a visit Choi made to the United states in 1980.

In the interview, Choi claims to have been adopted by Takeda Sokaku when he was 11 years old and was given the Japanese name, Yoshida Asao (吉田朝男).[9] He claims to have been taken to Takeda's home and dojo in Akita on Shin Shu mountain where he lived and trained with the master for 30 years. The interview also asserts that he traveled with him as a teaching assistant, that he was employed to catch war deserters and that he was the only student to have a complete understanding of the system taught by Takeda.

Other sources place Choi as a servant in the Takeda household,[10] while still others assert that he merely attended some of Takeda's seminars. Kisshomaru Ueshiba, son of Morihei Ueshiba, stated that his father had told him that Choi had attended seminars held by Takeda with his father in Hokkaidō and that his father had been Choi's senior.[11] Choi apparently contacted Kisshomaru upon hearing the news of Morihei's death.

Regardless of the circumstances of Choi's martial arts training, he returned to Korea after World War II and settled in Daegu, first selling sweets and later raising hogs. In 1948 after becoming involved in an altercation with several men in a dispute over grain at the Seo Brewing Company, son of the chairman of the brewery, Seo Bok-seob, was so impressed by his self-defense skills that he invited him to teach at a makeshift dojang that he created on the premises for that purpose. In this way, Seo Bok-seob became Choi Yong-sool's the first student. Later Choi became a bodyguard to Seo's father who was an important congressman in Daegu.[8][12]

Spreading the art

In 1951, Choi and Seo opened up the Daehan Hapki Yu Kwon Sool Dojang (Hangul: 대한 합기 유권술 도장), the first formal school to teach the art. In 1958 Choi Yong-sool opened up his own school using the shortened name Hapkido for the first time. Both schools were located in Daegu. Some of the more important students from this period of time were Kim Moo-Hong (Hangul: 김무홍) and Moon Jong-Won (Hangul: 문종원).[8][12] Apparently Choi also taught people on his farm during the early years of the art and it was in this way that Ji Han-Jae (Hangul: 지한재), one of the great popularizers of the art, came to learn from Choi.[13]

There is some disagreement about this but it also suggested that the founders of two arts, Lee Joo-Bang (Hangul: 이주방) of modern Hwa Rang Do and Seo In-Hyuk (Hangul: 서인혁; Suh In-Hyuk) of Kuk Sool Won, are thought to have trained with Choi Yong-Sool. However some others assert that their training came from Kim Moo-Hong's hapkido school in Seoul with which they were known to have been associated.[8]

Choi's student Kim Jeong-Yoon (Hangul: 김정윤; also rendered Kim Jung-Yun) was one of his senior most students and in 1963 when Choi became the first Chairman on the Korea Kido Association (Daehan Ki Do Hwe; Hangul: 대한 기도회) and appointed Kim as Secretary General.[8] Later Kim separated from the hapkido organizations to form his own Han Pul Hapkido organization, although his art remains firmly based in the teachings of Choi Yong-sool.[14] Another prominent top student who became crucial to the survival of Doju Choi's full system is Chinil Chang, the personally chosen second direct lineage Doju(Grandmaster) and the only man awarded the 10th Dan and the title of Doju directly from Doju Choi.

Students of importance who were trained by Choi during the later periods of his teaching were Kim Jeong-yoon, Kim Yoon-Sang (Hangul: 김윤상) who later went on to form his Hapki yusul organization.[15] and Lim Hyun-Soo (Hangul: 임현수) who claims to teach only the core skills taught to him by Choi Yong-Sool without the additional techniques which were appended to the art by Choi's students such as Ji Han-Jae and Kim Moo-Hong.[16] Park Jeong-Hwan (Hangul: 박정환), who trained under Choi for three years, is one of the first of Choi's students to be authorized to open a Hapkido school in America, several of which still function today.[17][18][19]

Doju Choi did make his only trip to the United States in 1982, several years prior to his death to visit his highest ranked instructor Chinil Chang in New York City and to preside over the creation of the US Hapkido Association. Master Mike Wollmershauser who was the only American to have trained under Choi Yong-sool himself had documented part of this historic visit on videotape which is in the hands of the second direct lineage Grandmaster Doju Chinil Chang. Doju Choi's wishes in the end was to spread Hap Ki Do all over the world as well as to unite the art as one family, one branch, one heart, even though Doju Choi had realized at that point that the system had splintered into too many political and warring fractions for that to ever happen. It was more his wish to keep his original system intact and for the lineage to be passed in a complete manner to his second direct lineage successor which he accomplished beautifully. Master Wollmershauser attempted to spread this word of unity throughout the world until his death in December 2002. Doju Chang maintains the integrity and purpose of his mission while continuing to teach his students as he has since arriving in the United States decades ago.


Choi's claims of being a student of Daito-ryu under Takeda Sokaku are contested and unsupported by the fee and attendance records of Takeda Sokaku which still exist today. However, since Choi was Takeda's house servant, others claim it is logical to assume he was trained by him or at least in his dojo. While staying in Japan, Choi is said to have taken on a Japanese name and was known as Asao Yoshida (吉田朝男) according to a posthumously released interview,[9] or Yoshida Tatujutsu according Seo Bok-Seob. The claim by some that the lack of documentation was due to his Korean ancestry is difficult to uphold since other Korean students are mentioned in the records. Still there is a strong similarity to the techniques taught in Daito-ryu and the techniques of hapkido.

Argued also is the source of the name hapkido for the art which Choi Yong-Sool's student, Ji Han-Jae, claims to have coined the name for the art. Seo Bok-Seob however states in a 1980 interview that it was Jung Moo Kwan who first used the term to refer to the art as well as the symbol of the eagle to represent the art.[6]


Chinil Chang

A direct student of Doju Choi, Chinil Chang inherited the title of Doju in Choi's personal and complete system of Hapkido on January 15, 1985 becoming the second direct lineage Grandmaster.

On April 5, 1985 Doju Choi personally awarded Doju Chang the only existing 10th Dan certificate in Hapkido history. Doju Chang previously had the unique privilege and honor of receiving the first 9th Dan certificate ever awarded to any hapkido practitioner by Doju Choi in 1980.

A large inauguration ceremony followed on April 11, 1985 covered by Korea Sports News and MBC Korean Television to document the historic event that was attended by Doju Choi, Doju Chang and Doju Choi's son the late Choi Bok-Yeol. Doju Chang is the only Hapkido master ever awarded the 10th dan and the Doju title directly from Doju Choi. Doju Choi left the full documents and recordings of the system to Doju Chang who continued to research and document the full history and development of Hapkido.

Furthermore, the future Grandmaster, who was a personally trained, closed-door disciple of Doju Choi, was given Letter Of Appointment certificates, the second dated December 1, 1977 and the third dated March 5, 1980, that gave Doju Chang more progressive power and authority in Doju Choi's Hapkido Association. These specific certificates that were issued in addition to his Dan ranking certifications amply demonstrate that Doju Choi was clearly grooming Doju Chang for the future Grandmaster and 10th dan appointment that was to come in 1985.

Grandmaster Chang continues to teach in New York City after decades of maintaining a commercial school as well as a stint teaching Hapkido at the United Nations. He currently teaches a small group dedicated to the preservation of Hapkido in NYC. Many detractors have spread conjecture about him and his mission. One lineage has created further controversy by stating Doju Choi passed the system to his only son Choi Bok-Yeol which is incorrect and horribly misleading as well as insulting to the legacy and wishes of Doju Choi. Black Belt Magazine respecting Doju Chinil Chang as the second lineage successor asked him to write a brief obituary on Doju Choi that appeared in Black Belt magazine in the April 1987 issue Vol 25 Number 4.


Many people have claimed to be students of Choi Yong-sool, and it is often hard to verify whether or not these claims are valid. This is a list of people who were long time students of Choi.[12]

  • Chinil Chang (the second direct lineage Grandmaster was awarded the only 10th Dan in Hapkido and the title of second direct lineage Doju by Dojunim Choi on January 15, 1985.)
  • Seo Bok-Seob (Hangul: 서복섭; Choi's first student in 1946)
  • Lim Hyun-Soo (jungkikwan)
  • Ji Han-Jae (Hangul: 지한재; student #14 of Choi in 1955, Founder of the Korea Hapkido Association and Sin Moo Hapkido, and Sung Moo Kwan in Andong)
  • Kim Moo-Hong (Hangul: 김무홍; Choi's student in 1955, Founder of the Korean Hapkido Association and Shin Moo Kwan in Daegu)
  • Moon Jong-Won (Hangul: 문종원; Choi's student in 1955, Founder of Won Moo Kwan in Busan)
    • Kim Jeong-Yoon (Hangul: 김정윤; Secretary General of the Kido Association and founder of Han Pul)
    • Seo In-Hyuk (Hangul: 서인혁; Founder and Grandmaster of Kuk Sool Won)
  • Kim Yoon-Sang (Hangul: 김윤상; Founder of Hapki yusul)
  • Yoo Byung-Don (Hangul: 유병돈; Han Kuk Jeong Dong Hapkido, Orthodox Hapkido)

See also


Further reading

  • Kim, He-Young. Hapkido II. Andrew Jackson Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1994.
  • Myung, Kwang-Sik. Korean Hapkido; Ancient Art of Masters. World Hapkido Federation, Los Angeles, California 1976.

External links

  • Hapkidowon - World Hapkido Headquarters (English)
  • The Korea Hapkido Federation - Official Website
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